I am happy to welcome Colin Smith to The Exchange today. Colin is the Senior Pastor of The Orchard, a multi-campus church in the Chicago suburbs, and the teaching pastor for the daily radio program called Unlocking the Bible. We also have an academic partnership with Colin and The Orchard, offering master’s degrees through a partnership with Wheaton College. Colin recently wrote Heaven, So Near – So Far: The Story of Judas Iscariot.
Ed: Colin, why did you write a book about Judas?
Colin: I wrote the book because there are a growing number of people who are abandoning the faith that they once professed. I’m not just thinking about people in general, but specific people. Like, for example, a guy who was brought up in a Christian home, but no longer has an interest in the faith. Or a person who really extended herself in Christian ministry, but got disappointed and now no longer wants anything to do with Christianity. Or a couple who have experienced great difficulties in their lives, and they’ve moved away from a faith that they once professed so brightly.
I wrote it because I want to see people like these brought back to living faith in Jesus Christ.
Ed: Don’t you think it’s possible that Judas might be in heaven?
Colin: [Smiles] You know, Ed, that is the question I’m asked more than any other in relation to this book. I think part of the motivation is that if people can believe that Judas might be in heaven, it opens the door to believing that everyone will be in heaven.
But there is no way in the world that Judas is in heaven, and there are three scriptures that speak very clearly to this. First, on one occasion, Jesus said to the disciples, “One of you is a devil” (John 6:70). That’s what Jesus said about Judas. That’s not what Judas was at the beginning, but that’s what he became. Second, Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “You are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:10), referring to Judas. Finally, in John 17, Jesus says that he’s kept and preserved all of the disciples, “except the son of destruction” (17:12).
This is a sad truth, but it bears witness to the fact that there is a heaven to gain and there is a hell to avoid.
Ed: How does this relate to the doctrine of eternal security?
Colin: I am absolutely convinced that the Bible teaches the eternal security of all who are in Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this very, very clear. He says that “no one” shall snatch his sheep from his hand. My sheep will “never perish” (John 10:28).
But the question, of course, is: Who are Jesus’ sheep? And our Lord answers that question very clearly. He says that his sheep are the ones who hear his voice, and his sheep are the ones who follow him (John 10:27).
In the Bible, the evidence of true faith is that it perseveres. Now here’s what that means: If a person really belongs to Jesus, he or she will persevere in faith. And if a person has abandoned the faith that he or she once professed, and it was a true faith, you know what? That person will come back.
That’s my biggest prayer for this book: That there will be people who will read it and come back to faith in Jesus Christ, because their faith was real. True faith always perseveres. And faith that doesn’t persevere? It isn’t true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ed: You immersed yourself in the life of Judas in order to write this book. Did you come away with the impression that Judas was some sort of monster?
Colin: Well, none of the other disciples would have seen Judas as a monster. Even at the Lord’s Table when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” none of the other disciples said, “Is it Judas?” They all said, “Is it I?” They all felt that they had the capacity to be the betrayer themselves.
So Judas was right there in the inner circle of those who were going out on mission, casting out demons, proclaiming the gospel, and yet he walked away from Jesus. What that means is that Judas is much closer to me than I might have thought, and he’s actually much closer to any person who professes to be a follower of Jesus.
Ed: Why did you write the story of Judas from a first-person perspective?
Colin: I love the opportunity of writing from the first-person because it gives a way of getting into what’s in the mind and heart of the character himself. This is my second book written from the first person. The first one was Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross.
The Bible gives us a path of references to Judas, stories about him, and things that he said or that were said about him. But what did that feel like from his point of view? I wanted to get inside the skin of this man and really get to the heart of his story.
Ed: Colin, who did you write this book for?
Colin: I wrote the book for people who are struggling with their faith, people who have real questions about their faith, and people who are tempted to abandon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I think there are a lot of folks who are in that position. Matthew Mead said, “As many go to heaven by the gates of hell,
so more go to hell by the gates of heaven,” and this story speaks very powerfully to anyone who is tempted to walk away from Jesus.
Most Christians have someone they are anxious about, someone who may have professed faith at one time, but they are moving away from faith in Jesus. This book is for you to give to that person, with the hope and prayer that the story of Judas will awaken a new sense of following Jesus Christ being worth whatever it costs.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.