12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.Luke 6:12-16, ESV
The twelve that Jesus chose were ordinary men. They were men with talents, abilities, and zeal, but there was nothing outwardly that marked them as specially equipped. Did these twelve me have a better natural attitude, moral courage, or superior intellect that made them better candidates for Apostleship than other men? No. James and John’s natural attitude was ready to call down fire from heaven to consume their theological opponents (Luke 9:54). Peter’s moral courage failed when he was afraid to confess his allegiance to Jesus to a maid who recognized him as Jesus’ disciple (John 18:17). The disciples’ intellect was mocked by the Sanhedrin and identified as uneducated nobodies (Acts 4:13). They were what Paul described as the “weak.”
Not Good Men
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (emphasis mine)” The expressed motive of God’s choosing reveals His freedom and ability to take dust and form a living man out of it. Shaping Adam from the dust and breathing His Spirit into man is how God created man, and it is the pattern of His recreation of men (Eph 2:10). God is the Creator, and He does not choose the wise, the strong, and the prominent. God will not share His glory with another (Isa 42:8). Fallen men often attest to their own glory and boast in their own beauty, for which God has bestowed upon them.
Some imagine God to have uniquely and naturally gifted some men from greatness, and therefore He might be called foolish to pass over such a perfect specimen for furthering His cause. But that is an idea based upon the presumption of humanity’s innate goodness. There are no such men naturally gifted for the service of God. There is no inherent goodness in men (Rom 3:12). God rejects such self-absorbed peoples and commands them to repent or be forever lost (Luke 13:5). No man or woman is chosen on account of their own goodness. Contrary to some modern evangelicals’ belief, God is nothing like a person shopping for “choice meats” and passes by the rest. God’s choice is to reveal His own goodness to the world and not the goodness of those very best humans who have caught His attention. The very thought is blasphemous. Who could catch God’s eye? What human being is so morally clean that God is moved, as it were, to admire? No one. All mankind is fallen, lost, poor, miserable, blind, and naked. The problem with us is that we imagine ourselves to be able to see clearly. We imagine ourselves to be in exactly the place where we have intended to go all along. We imagine that we are rich, happy, well-fed, and well dressed. We lie to ourselves and cut ourselves off from the source of all good by professing ourselves to be wise and without the need of a Savior.
God makes bad men good
Then who does God choose? Christian rejoice because He chooses the weak, humble, despised, nobodies like us. He did not choose us because we saw ourselves as needing our Saviour. Even that realization of our own desperate need was a gracious revelation from the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14). God chooses whomsoever He will (Rom 9:15). His love for you is the basis of your love for Him (1 John 4:19). God is empowered your reception of His grace by His Spirit drawing you (John 6:44). All who the Father chooses (1 Peter 1:2) are drawn by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) and redeemed by Christ (1 Peter 1:19). There is enormous comfort in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for the believer because Jesus will lose none (John 17:12) of His people.
God’s choice of bad men is for His purpose, and He recreates (2 Cor 5:17) us into sanctified men and women (Eph 1:4) who do good (Eph 2:10). God receives all the glory as we are recipients of His grace (Gal 1:5). There is no boasting about grace (Eph 2:8-9). There is no boasting about faith (Rom 3:27). There is only room for boasting in the cross of Christ (Gal 6:14), and that work wasn’t mine. So we do rightly boast about our Saviour and His accomplishment on our behalf. We were still sinners when Jesus died for us (Rom 5:8), and therefore being bad men who were chosen to become good men by the grace of God through the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal 2:15), we glory in God alone.
What about Judas?
When Jesus chose those twelve ordinary men, he indeed made new creatures of them. All of them, except one. He took those ordinary men to Himself who had no intrinsic goodness within themselves, and the Spirit of God began the work of transformation, except in one. They were saved by grace through faith, and none of them would be lost, except Judas. What about Judas? If Jesus’ batting average is less than 1000, then how can he rightly claim “none” will be lost?
Judas is a unique case. First, Judas was never actually one of Jesus’ people. He was known to be a “devil” (John 6:70) and chosen to be among the people of God but never of the people of God. Second, Judas was never sanctified by God’s Spirit. He was chosen despite being known as the “traitor.” King David foretold Judas’ betrayal nearly a thousand years before his birth (Acts 1:16). Was Judas chosen to become a devil and deceiver in the same manner that the other eleven were chosen to become holy men? No. God does make saints out of sinners, and that is a miracle of grace. However, God does not make worse sinners out of sinners. God passes over sinners. In the language of Romans 1, God sometimes chooses to “give up” (Rom 1:24) sinners to their own devices and allow them to destroy themselves through their sinful choosing. It is in this way that Judas was guilty of his own crimes. Jesus did not choose Judas and make him into a traitor, but rather Jesus chose a traitor who would freely choose to destroy himself by betraying Christ. We echo Jesus’ words, “woe unto that man” that would choose to love his own wickedness rather than love Christ (John 3:19).
Even one of the twelve will betray Jesus. Did Jesus know it? Of course, He did. Judas was foretold as Jesus’ betrayer, and Jesus chose him as it was foreordained. Jesus received this traitor as a gracious act for His people. He willingly accepted the death merited by sinners. He lived every day with His betrayer. He ate with, drank with, embraced, taught, and that traitor was made to be his companion as much as any other man, but Judas would never be saved. Jesus’ love for him was real, but it was not saving. Judas betrayed Jesus, not because Jesus caused him to, but upon his own selfish volition. Jesus knew He would betray, but Jesus did nothing to stop the betrayer. Why? This is a mystery of God’s will, and I can not give a definitive answer. We are bound to say what the scripture says. Judas was always going to betray Jesus, and Jesus received the traitor as his own to patiently endure that son of perdition on his journey toward crucifixion.
There are times when we’re unable to understand certain issues, and Judas being chosen as one of the twelve fits that category perfectly. Chuck Swindoll has said, “Do not try to unscrew God’s inscrutability. Don’t try to grasp His profound plan. That’s a waste. Because you’re unable to do that you become increasingly more confused, ultimately resentful and finally bitter. Satan will have won the day.”