The "Gospel" of Judas and the heretics
The “Gospel” of Judas debuted Thursday 06 Apr 2006, in Washington, D.C. Marketed by the National Geographic Society, it was apparently discovered much earlier, maybe as early as 1947 as part of the 13 codices discovered at Nag Hammadi. The codex “appeared” to public only recently but has been rumored to exist in the black market waiting for a wealthy buyer for the last 40 years. Ironically, the drama surrounding the discovery was the same problem that Judas had faced, i.e. greed. What does the “Gospel’ of Judas have to offer us? What are the lessons to be learnt from the life of Judas? especially for the gay Christian community.
The “Gospel” of Judas was not written by Judas but by the Gnostics in the 2 nd century more than 150 years after Jesus and Judas died. The copy of the text (4 th century Egypt), claims that Judas wasn't the renegade disciple who betrayed Jesus and committed suicide but was just doing what Jesus told him to do. However, the text does not add anything significant to what we already know about the Gnostics, who were widely condemned by the early Church leaders. The Gnostics believed that Jesus either did not actually appear in the flesh, or he at least wanted to shed his skin as soon as possible. Jesus longed to return to the spirit world. Judas helped make that happen. ("You will sacrifice the man that clothes me," the "spiritual" Jesus tells Judas in this document.). These were not Christians but sects who arose and tried to pervert the Gospel. They became a problem for the church as early as 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection. The eye witnesses of Jesus’ ministry and the events at Calvary were slowly becoming a distant memory as more and more survivors passed away given rise to the opportunity by the Gnostics to distort the events. Many of the Gospels and letters in the bible were written as a defense against the Gnostics based on the credibility of the gospel writers as living eyewitness of Jesus Christ.
The treat of the Gnosticism was one of the major considerations when John wrote his Gospel in AD 90. Against the assertion that God did not enter the world in bodily form, John stressed in his Gospel that Jesus was God’s incarnate Son appearing to men in bodily form as real as you and me but still having th glory of God i.e. full man and fully God.
The major features of Gnostics include a) the separation of the god of creation from the god of redemption; b) the division of Christians into categories with one group being superior; c) the stress on secret teachings which only divine persons could comprehend; and d) the exaltation of knowledge over faith. The Gnostics distinguished between an inferior god whom they felt was responsible for the creation and the superior god revealed in Jesus as the Redeemer. They opposed matter to thought. Matter was seen as, sin-causing; whereas knowledge from matter and animals and was imperishable, capable of revealing god. They rejected the Old Testament, pointing out that the lesser god revealed in it dealt with matter, insisted on law rather than grace. The god who revealed himself in Jesus was not incarnate in human flesh because the absolute god would not enter evil matter--Christ only seemed to be a person (metaphorically). Gnostics divided Christians into groups, the spiritual and the carnal. The spiritual or true Christians had received a divine seed in their beings which allowed them to be redeemed. Alternately, many believed in antinomianism where the moral law is not valid and that the spiritual Christians were not responsible for what they did and could not really sin. The book of John and the letters of the Epistle made a firm statement against these “new” teachings and unequivocally emphasized that :-
a. Jesus is the Son of God, He was with God since the beginning i.e. the God of the Old Testament creation. He made “all things” i.e. matter and without God there was no matter. Therefore matter by itself is not sin causing. The God of creation and the God in Christ Jesus was one and the same. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. Our body is neither inherently sinful nor carnal.
d. Christians are not bounded by law, not because of antinomianism where the law is not valid, but through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We are capable of sinning and are responsible for our sins through the law of Moses, but because of the grace and truth that came from Jesus Christ, He took our sins which was imputed on Him at the cross of Calvary. In essence, antinomianism practiced by the Gnostics was without Grace or truth of Jesus Christ. It was a perversion in that without Christ death and resurrection, they still claimed that Law has no validity. Jesus did not come to take away the law but to satisfy its requirements so that as Christians we are not bound by the condemnation of the law giving us the victory and strength to overcome sin which we are so capable of doing.
e. Christians that are carnal are those that do not have the basic knowledge of Jesus Christ despite claiming to be spiritual and learned. Their faith is in the wisdom of men instead of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. We strive for special knowledge (or Gnost) from “spiritual leaders”, but in essence, without the knowledge of Christ being the core absolute (the non negotiable) and the foundation of our beliefs, all is in vain. Wisdom comes not from learned scholars or special teachers, but building on this foundation through our teacher residing within us, the Holy Spirit.
Christianity has conquered Rome in AD 313 when Constantine, became a Christian. But soon in became clear that it was Rome that conquered Christianity where the foundation of Christ was no more supreme but added the ways of the natural men, the ways of this world entered as a result. The “Gospel” of Judas was written over 1800 years ago. It’s outrageous suggestion brings into question what was the true motivation of Judas to betray Jesus. Judas was an “insider” who could clearly identify Jesus who must have looked very common and difficult to identify even though His movements could not have been a secret. It could be simple greed, for Judas was known to steal from the common fund (John 12:6). Judas was the favorite of the Gnostics because his betrayal led to the bodily death of Jesus and the return of a spiritual God to fit their theology. He was exalted by the Gnostics as their champion and the book apparently by Judas was an attempt to change history. However, the basic truth remains that of betrayal instead of loyalty but what could have motivated Judas beyond greed?
Judas was part of the 12 disciples (Mat 10:4). Not much was written about him and references in the gospels and Acts by Paul, John, Matthew and Mark always highlighted his betrayal. Judas not only betrayed Jesus, he betrayed the Apostles, the core men in Jesus’ ministry. They would have known him well and it would have been a closed knit group and would be severely disappointed. Hence, any recollection of him in the gospels would be few and rather negative with Judas placed last in the lists of the disciples. He died in sorrow but without repentance. Judas was nevertheless a core member of Jesus team, and like the rest spent three years with Jesus. He ate with Jesus, saw the miracles, and experienced the love and relationship with Jesus. Jesus gave him much space and opportunity to change even to the last moment. What could have driven Judas to give up just before he completed the “race”, the final journey of faith, to run the race to completion and to see the resurrection of Jesus from death? Instead, Judas earned the eternal bad reputation as the one who betrayed Jesus and died a shameless death.
Some have suggested that the lesson of Judas is not to believe in absolutes in religion. Judas may have a certain fixed notion of Jesus as a military conqueror and being His disciple would benefit in tangible rewards such as riches, power and authority. But that did not come, and the “band of soldiers” became a popular healing ministry with a gospel proclaiming eternal life and glory not on earth but in heaven above. To subscribe to the notion of non absolutes is naïve with relation to Judas and his Gnostics supporters. It is true that they stubbornly refused to change their wrong theology and Judas and the Gnostics ware determined to make it fit even to the point of perverting history or making history as in the case of Judas. However, their failure is the lack of faith to believe in a scandalous gospel which is based on Jesus Christ, his incarnation and subsequent death and resurrection as God. Christ work at the cross, His duality as God and man is the foundation, the absolute and not a hidden mystery. They believed in the wrong absolutes not that believing in absolutes were wrong. They could not accept the simplicity of the Gospel but was eager to add their theology to it and to subtract the centrality of Christ as fully man and fully God. It takes great faith to believe in one way Jesus instead of all religions leading to the same God. What faith is there when we can be saved in believing gods created by our own imagination? Or to believe that Jesus was just metaphorical created in the mind of the apostles (in an attempt to circumvent the stumbling stone of the cross – 1 Cor 1:22,23). Believing Jesus existed is not enough for Satan also believed thus. It is attributing by faith who Jesus was, and what His death has achieved for us.
The lesson learnt from Judas is that he lacked faith to believe even when so much grace was given and the facts seemingly were so clear and certain, and Jesus at the last supper stood in front of him, not an spiritual abstract but of bodily flesh inviting him to choose. Jesus stood in front of him (not some mystery unseen God or an image of our creation), yet he chose to deny God. Let us run the race of faith to complete the race and not die in shame but rise with Christ. Jesus stands right in front of each of us this very day. He asked us to decide whether to follow Him or to betray Him. Will we betray Jesus for a momentary gain of money or add to the truth of the simplicity of the gospel of grace to satisfy our own theology or even live in delusion that there are no absolutes in essence denying the absoluteness of Christ in our salvation and Hope? but instead offer Jesus an artificial kiss of love and an deceptive embrace just like Judas did when he betrayed Jesus. We should not follow great writers or teachers quoting from them as if they were god. Are we of Rev Kong, Rev Prince, Rev Benny, Rev Ronny, Bishop Solomon, Bishop John Chew? Let no one boast of mere men or the church they attend, because we have all things in Christ, in eternal life to come if indeed we truly believe in Jesus Christ and his completed works at the cross. Rather, let us boast of Christ.
As Gay Christians, the journey is tough. We are filled with self condemnation and oppression from family, society and religion. Many have started the journey to accept themselves as how God created them as a Gay person but have back slide. Others have clung desperately on to the race but have perverted their concepts of Christ in order to reconcile their faith and spirituality whether to the left or right (to social justice and total equality or to the law). Rather than holding on to Christ alone they have clung on to man’s wisdom with no lasting impact to extend the kingdom of God. It is a race much like walking through Bangkok during the New Year festival of Songkran where one is pelted with water and white paint. We must keep on running. Do we give up or run the race of faith looking onto the vision of Christ as the author and finisher of our faith or do we get lost in the myriads of the back lanes where we indulged in one night stands, debates on inclusiveness of other religions instead of the centrality of Christ and debates on the concept of non absolutes (which is itself is an absolute). These basics should have been settled a long time ago but we are carnal, naturally minded and babes in Christ despite calling ourselves wise. Let us move on this journey of faith from being babes, to take on solid food, and to grow to adulthood and doing works such as proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the Gay community who so desperately need the love of God in their lives.
As this time of Easter approaches, do we hold so dear to our lives just as Judas did. Judas loved his life and lost it. We should therefore, die to ourselves as if hating our lives and dying to our natural reasoning and theology that Christ’s death may be made effective gaining us eternal life. The wind of the gospel revival is coming. The final move of God will be to Gays, to the least of the community. Let us die to self, to our will and be instead servants of Christ in the Gay community that others may live and see God and His kingdom extended to the Gay Community that they will know that in Christ, God shows no partiality (Rom 2:11) to our sexual orientation. At the water new year festival of Songkran, at Bangkok, even though the distance was short, it seem so far as we ran into crowds of water pistol firing crowds who mercilessly threw buckets of water and smear paint onto our face. This is Gay Christian life, a life full of obstacles at every corner where we often give up even though we are hardy and a survivor for the opposition is too great. Though battered and wounded, let us run the race of faith until the very ends of the earth till we see His face. Let us run to Jesus for He will confort us. He draws all men, gay or straight as His love demands. We are like a sparrow, unimportant to the world, and to the Christian community, dispensible to politicians but His eyes are upon us, the Gay community. He will keep us safe for His mercy and grace endureth forever. We are called as gays for His purpose even though this calling is so bitter. But we will not give up like Judas in the midst of seeming defeat, because we fight not by our own might or spirit, but according to the truth of the gospel by whom the Holy Spirit who will comfort and be with us through the stroms of life, through the drenching at Songkran. For your glory Lord, may you draw the Gay community to You because of your love and grace in Jesus Christ. Let us Lord live in the glory of your grace that we do not deserve.