16 – Turning traitor

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One of the clearest proofs that apostasy is a danger to genuine believers is the word ‘apostasy’ itself. The root, stasis, means “a standing,” while the prefix, apo, means “away from.”

In the common usage of the day, ‘apostasy’ meant “defection.” In his classic Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson says the Greek historian Plutarch used the word to mean “political revolt.”

If you want to understand apostasy, think about “turning traitor.” Imagine yourself on the battlefield, standing shoulder to shoulder with your platoon, fighting intensely against your enemy. Now imagine one of your squad members stepping away and turning his weapon on you.

That’s apostasy, and the only person who can betray you like that has to be one of you in the first place. No one can become a traitor who was not first a trusted comrade. How can you “stand away” from someone if you never stood with him?

How can someone who was “almost saved” or “never saved” become an apostate – “standing away” from Christ – if he never stood with Christ to begin with?

And what is the eternal destiny of someone who betrays Christ in such a manner? What do you think? Jesus voluntarily laid down his life to rescue him from the enemy, and now the ingrate defects to the other side? Christ bought the slave’s freedom at the cost of his own life, and the slave returns to the evil master? Can Jesus die for him a second time? (Hebrews 6:6)

Of course, when you use the word ‘traitor,’ the first Bible character who comes to mind is Judas Iscariot, the disciple who sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver – ironically, the price of a slave. The “A word” is never actually used of Judas; he was a betrayer (prodotês); he betrayed (paradidōmi). The “A word” is used, however, of Paul separating himself from the synagogue Jews of Ephesus (Acts 19:9), of Mark’s abandoning Paul and Barnabas at Pamphylia (Acts 15:38), and (unfairly) of Paul’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 21:21).

But Judas was a traitor to Christ, no doubt, and the kind of traitor he was illustrates the danger apostasy poses for each of us.

Of the 12 disciples closest to Jesus, Judas was the only one from Judea, the area around Jerusalem. He was raised in the shadow of the Temple, with a front-row seat for the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. Like most Jews of his day, he dreamed of Messiah, who people believed would overthrow Roman rule. Once again, a son of David would sit on the throne in Jerusalem. Judas was willing to lay aside everything to follow the anointed one from God.

Yet in his heart, Judas harbored other allegiances – trying to serve two masters, as Jesus put it. (Luke 16:13) Like the other disciples, Judas had ambitions for power and wealth in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. He wanted to advance the influence of the temple and nation. Perhaps he saw himself as the “realistic” disciple. Judas might have thought that negotiating a deal with the religious leaders would create the right conditions for Jesus to declare himself to the nation. “The other Judas” (not Iscariot) wondered why Jesus would declare himself to the inner circle but not to the world. (John 14:22)

It was not the scheming of the religious leaders that left Jesus in the power of the mob. Nor was it the cowardice of the other disciples. What betrayed Jesus was the double-mindedness of Judas. The traitor was someone who loved him dearly, but not whole-heartedly.

Judas was “a devil” (John 6:70) and “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). Instead of letting those words distance us from Judas and give us false confidence, however, perhaps we ought to realize that our own double-mindedness makes us unstable in all our ways as well. (James 1:8 )

Jesus’ worst enemy was (and is) a friend with divided loyalties – a traitor who once stood with him and then chooses to stand away.

Next installment

Chapter 17
Assigned a place with the unbelievers

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Copyright © 2007, Kainos Press. All rights reserved.

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