Reading the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is bittersweet to me. On the one hand, it is encouraging and uplifting to follow Jesus through His ministry, learning more each time we read what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God. As I observe Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and exercising power over the natural world, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of His authority and deity. On the other hand, I’m continually convicted as He exposes my own “Pharisaical” attitudes; this is painful but necessary and important to our spiritual growth as Christ-followers.
The bitter side of the gospel story is that four times we have to experience that final week when Jesus was betrayed, beaten, mocked, lied about, falsely accused, and crucified. I’d rather skip over the hard parts and pick up with the resurrection, but that would be a disservice to what Jesus did for us. We need regular reminders of the high price He paid to secure our salvation.
As I read through Luke 22 this morning, I’m reminded of how powerful the spiritual forces of darkness and evil are. Satan is always working behind the scenes on his hidden agendas, but every now and then he’s bold enough to show his hand. Take Judas, for example. A few days before Jesus celebrated that last Passover meal with His disciples, Satan entered into Judas (22:3). Judas was already “playing around” with darkness; he was a thief, a pretender. He must have joined Jesus’ band of followers hoping to be part of an insurrection against the Roman government. He witnessed Jesus’ supernatural powers up close and personal, but the darkness in his heart kept him from seeing the truth about his own soul.
Just a few verses after we’re told Judas is possessed by Satan himself, we find him sitting at the Passover table with Jesus, sharing the bread and the cup. Of course, Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart. In the intimacy of the shared meal, He tells them, “Behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table” (22:21). At this point, I doubt Judas even processed what he was doing on a human level; Satan had invaded his thoughts and will, and there was no turning back. He leaves the presence of the Savior to gather the soldiers and Pharisees who will arrest Jesus in just a few hours.
Does this scare you just a bit? That a man possessed by Satan could sit at a table with eleven others and not be recognized as the enemy? That a man who walked with Jesus for three years could give over his soul and body to the evil one, and betray the very Son of God?
Jesus was destined to die; God planned it before the foundations of the world were laid. It was pre-determined in the sovereign mind of the Father and was inevitable. But Judas chose to participate. He willfully decided to serve Satan. Judas had multiple opportunities to repent of his own sins and become a true believer, but at some point, he crossed the line of no return. Deceived by Satan, he took that final step and became the one whose name is synonymous with betrayal.
Jesus said, “Indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed” (22:22).
Later, Jesus warns Peter that Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (22:31). The spiritual forces of evil, led by Satan, are powerfully deceptive and wicked, but they are bound by God’s authority. In Him, we are protected, and nothing can touch us unless God allows it. We access that protection by asking for it. Twice Jesus urges His disciples as they gather in the Garden where He will be betrayed, Pray that you may not enter into temptation (22:40,46), because He knows what they are facing. When His accusers arrive, He acknowledges, this hour and the power of darkness are yours (22:53). For just a moment in time, God allowed Satan to have His way with Jesus, and evil appeared to win.
What’s our takeaway? A few thoughts. First, spiritual darkness is still working in our world. Our enemy is more deceptive, more angry, more evil than ever. We see it every day around us as our culture and world descend into greater depths of depravity, perversity, ignorance, deception, and violence. Another “pivotal day” in history is coming, and Satan knows it. He’s working hard toward it, and we need to be aware of it.
Second, just because someone claims to be a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean they are. We need to pray diligently for discernment of and protection from evil. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of darkness. We cannot play with the things of this world as if they don’t affect us or won’t draw us away from Jesus. I doubt Judas ever intended to welcome Satan into his mind and heart, as well as his body. As we walk through what surely will be some very dark times in these last days, let’s stay close to Jesus, the Light of the world. He will get us through to the other side of the story – our resurrection and life eternal with Him.