Mark 14:17-25 17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
On the night of Jesus’ death, His disciples finally began to understand the means by which His death would occur. The three previous times that Jesus revealed that He will die and rise again He did not mention anything about one of the twelve being an enemy of God. The enemies that would come against Jesus were described as external enemies: the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the Gentiles. But now Jesus gives very specific details that not only would someone betray Him but that the person who would betray Him was actually eating with Him. It would be an inside job. How could this be? The thought was shocking to the disciples. It wasn’t so surprising to them after following Jesus for over three years that He had many external enemies but how could one of them, one of His closest friends be His enemy? The statement immediately shifted the disciples' focus from the external to the internal.
The disciples fell into the same trap that many in the Church today believe is true. There is a natural desire to think that there cannot be any enemies of God within the Church. We all would like to believe that everyone who professes Jesus as the Christ must be a Christian. It is almost like anyone who enters through the front doors of a church is automatically a Christian or will become a Christian or there is a forcefield somehow keeping away anyone who could be an enemy of God. The enemies of God are perceived to always be on the outside and the devil is never able to enter into a church building. We all like to simplify things and make the Christian life just a process or a method. If the enemy of God could be within the Church then each and every Christian would need to examine everything continually. This isn’t what we would like. We prefer to think that everything must be perfect within the Church or among Christians and that everything should just move forward step by step like a fine oiled machine and any and all evil is on the outside and just needs to be kept out. But just like during any time of war, the greatest damage that the enemy can perform is from within by someone who appears like everyone else but is in reality working for the enemy. This is not what the disciples expected.
The wisdom of God is seen in how Jesus reveals to the disciples that one of the twelve would betray Him to death. Jesus doesn’t directly make it known to them who it is. Jesus intentionally lets the disciples question whether they themselves could be the one who would betray Jesus. Instead of singling out Judas Iscariot to them all He makes the statement, “one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” And even for the disciples closest to Him while eating at the table (Peter and John) to whom He does make known that the betrayer is Judas Iscariot, they did not believe Him (John 13:21-28) or understand. In all likelihood Judas Iscariot was on the surface very much like the rest of them and perhaps even better than them. Judas Iscariot was in all likelihood a very moral person who on the surface appeared to be a great Christian but underneath it all was a corrupt heart that had never been born again. He had been following a false Christ and had never repented of his sins. Jesus knew the condition of his heart but no one else did or suspected. Jesus also knew that the rest of the twelve were true followers of Him but He doesn’t disclose this to the disciples as He makes known to them that one of them would betray Him to death. He doesn’t expose the false convert or reveal the true believers. Why? Because He wants each and every one of them to question themselves, “Is it I?”
The problem with a focus only on the external enemy is that it does not promote holiness within. It actually ends up producing hypocrisy where you condemn those on the outside who appear more sinful than yourself while inwardly you are becoming more and more corrupt and evil and may in fact be an enemy of God yourself. Jesus, in a most dramatic and powerful way, is teaching His disciples the need to continually examine their own relationship with God for any one of them could betray Him. You can see how this promotes holiness within the Church: if anyone within the Church could be a false convert and betray God then each and every Christian must continually seek after God. If every Christian recognizes this tendency within them to turn away from Jesus Christ and that they too could betray Jesus like Judas Iscariot did, then it will spur them on towards God in holiness. The very danger from within will cause them never to become complacent and lazy. They will need to be always on guard for the enemy that could be within.
Assurance of salvation is also important and we will see after Jesus rises from the dead how He restores His true followers and confirms to them that they are indeed His disciples but to question, “Is it I?” is in fact very healthy for a Christian. The true Christian knows that His sinful nature is so corrupt that even after following Jesus and knowing the truth of the Gospel, there can be a desire to turn away. The true Christian is so in love with God that they fear God and will do all that they can to keep on the narrow path. They know that the Holy Spirit will be their guide and sustain them to not turn away but at the same time without God actively at work in their lives they know that they could be the one who betrays Jesus. Each and every one of the disciples needed to realize that they were capable of betraying Jesus. This produced sorrow in their heart to recognize this and would have driven them nearer to Jesus, not farther away.
The false convert does not know this fear of God but only knows a selfish fear- a fear with a desire of self preservation and not a fear that their relationship with God could be broken. After all the false convert doesn’t know what a love relationship with God really is like but the born again Christian will do all that he or she can to remain in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. This was the thought as the eleven disciples questioned, “Is it I? No. It can’t be. I will do anything to remain in fellowship with you Jesus.” Judas Iscariot could not say this as he had already met with the chief priests in order to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11)
Have you ever questioned whether you could betray Jesus? Does this bring you fear to think that you could deny Him? This is a good fear. Have you ever known this sorrow as the disciples experienced? Do you recognize that the enemy of God can be within the Church?
Pastor Murray Hack