How many of you personally know someone at school, at work, or in your neighborhood who is named Peter?
How many of you personally know someone named Judas? How many of you have ever even met someone named Judas?
Why is that? When Wendy was pregnant with our first child, before we knew it was a girl, we began to pick out baby names for boys and girls, and do you know what? We never even considered the name Judas for a boy. You want to know what else? Wendy and I are really into the meaning of names — and the name Judas actually has a great meaning! It means “praised” or “celebrated.”
So how come no one names their little boy Judas? The reason, as you all know, is because the name Judas is synonymous with treachery. If you call someone a “Judas” you are saying that they are someone who will betray you, who will stab you in the back.
Why? Because that is what Judas Iscariot in the Bible did to Jesus 2000 years ago. We look upon Judas in the same way some of us might look upon Hitler, or Osama bin Laden. All of these kind of people deserve the darkest pit of hell. In fact, have you ever read Dante’s Divine Comedy? It is a three volume trilogy written by Dante in which he takes an imaginary tour through Hell, into Purgatory, and then finally to Paradise. In each place, he mentions various levels of existence.
The first volume, Inferno, is his description of hell. He begins at the outer rings of hell where existence there is not too bad. As he journeys deeper and deeper into the pits of hell, he comes, at the end of the book to the lowest, darkest and worst level of Hell. It is there that the Devil resides, and Dante describes him as having three mouths in which he tears to bits the three worst sinners the world has ever seen. Then Dante goes on to say this: “The foremost sinner found that biting to be nothing, when matched against the clawing, for at times his back was stripped completely of its hide.”
Who was this sinner? According to Dante, it was none other than Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus.
After this, Dante journeys through purgatory, which, unlike hell, is a fictional place, and then finally, Dante gets a tour or Heaven. And who should be one of the foremost saints in Heaven, but the apostle Peter? And whereas Judas was described as undergoing the worst torment ever, Peter is described as being as bright and glorious as three rings of fire circling around one another in a dance and singing a song so divine that no imagination can comprehend it (Canto 24). Even today, if you have ever heard, or if you have ever told a story, or a joke about heaven, I am sure the story included something about Peter. You know, “You arrive at the gates of heaven, and Peter is standing there…” and then story goes on from there.
Judas and Peter. Two very different men. When we speak of them, we get very different reactions. We often exalt Peter. We name our kids Peter. We place Peter in heaven. But we often condemn Judas. We name our enemies Judas. We put Judas in the lowest pit in hell. But really, Peter and Judas had a lot in common.
I want to compare and contrast these two men for you. I will show you that they really were almost identical. We think they were so different, but really, there was only one difference that separated them and it is this that made all the difference in regard to their eternal destiny.
But let’s begin with what they had in common. First, the positive things.
Positive Similarities between Peter and Judas
When Jesus walked the earth, hundreds of people were amazed at his teachings and so began to follow him and listen to him, and learn from him. These people were known as his disciples. Among these multitudes were both Peter and Judas. Both of them were disciples. At a certain point in Jesus’ ministry, he knew that he had to pick out a few men to give more attention to. He wanted to train and teach and spend more time with a select few of his disciples. So, he went among his disciples and picked out twelve. These twelve became known as His apostles. This was a wonderful privilege. And among those chosen, were Peter and Judas (John 6). As his apostles, they spent a lot of quality time with Jesus. They followed him around, traveled with him, ate with him, they learned from him, they witnessed all of his miracles. We know that both Peter and Judas prayed, for Jesus taught his apostles to pray. We know that both Peter and Judas, along with all the apostles, read their Bibles and learned Scripture.
Near the end of Jesus’ life, he did for them what only the lowest servant in a house would do, and only then because they were ordered to. In John 13, Jesus and his apostles come back from a journey, and whether it was dry and hot or wet and muddy, their feet were most assuredly filthy and stinking. And Jesus gets a basin and a towel to wash all of their feet. And among them, of course, is Peter and Judas. Jesus washed both of their feet. On the last night Jesus was alive, he and his apostles at a final meal together, and again, both Peter and Judas were present. Not only that, but Judas got a place of honor at the table. He got sit at Jesus’ left hand, when Peter did not (John 13:22-26). (The apostle John was on Jesus’ right hand.) Both took part in the last supper.
So, Peter and Judas had a lot in common. These are all good things. Maybe, now you don’t view Judas as low as you once did. Jesus thought highly of him and loved him, and now maybe you’ve raised your estimation of him a bit.
But we still place Peter pretty high on our scale, right? So, we have raised Judas up a bit, let’s bring Peter down. We’re looking at things they had in common, and we’ve see the positive, now let’s look at the negative.
Negative Similarities Between Peter and Judas
Maybe you remember that before Judas betrayed Christ, Satan entered into him (Lk. 22:3). And we think, “That’s why Judas was so evil.” But did you know that Jesus called Peter Satan? Once, as Jesus was walking along with his disciples, he was telling them what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He said that he would be put to death. Peter didn’t like to hear this, so he took Jesus aside, and rebuked him by saying, “Never Lord! Don’t say such things. This shall never happen to you.” How did Jesus respond? He looked right at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 16:21-23; John 6:70-71).
So in other words, both Judas and Peter were influenced in one way or another by Satan. We can also be certain that both wanted Jesus to be someone he was not: a political, military, kingly ruler. Both wanted Jesus to rule and to reign and to judge. Both wanted him to overthrow the Romans, and set himself up as king, and return Israel to the glory they once had, and which is prophesied they will have again. Both wanted a type of Messiah that Jesus had not come to be. Again, all of us remember Judas for his betrayal, his treachery. But did you know that Peter betrayed Christ as well? Both turned their backs on Jesus. Judas sold Christ to those who wanted to kill him for 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave.
Peter’s betrayal, though, was almost worse. Let me explain why. At the last supper, Jesus told them that they would all deny him. Peter, who was always sticking his foot in his mouth, boasted that even if all of the others denied him, he would not. But we all know what happened. When Jesus was arrested, all of his disciples fled and hid. But Peter, most likely remembering his boast, followed Jesus from a distance. So far, so good. But when people began to recognize Peter as one of Jesus’ followers and question him about it, he denied ever having known Jesus. He even cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus. All in all, Peter denied Jesus three times (maybe six times – see my study entitled “The Six Denials of Peter“). Both Peter and Judas betrayed Christ.
We’ve seen the positive and the negative things they had in common. Now let’s begin to look at what their differences were. There are two main differences, and the first is really quite surprising.
Surprising Similarities between Peter and Judas
Probably, what we have already seen this morning has been surprising for you. Peter, whom we all think is in heaven, and Judas, whom we all think is in hell, have more in common with each other than any of us ever imagined. So why do we honor the name of Peter so much, and despise the name of Judas? Why? Maybe you think it is because Peter knew he was a sinner and Judas didn’t. Well, surprisingly, it appears from Scripture that Judas knew what he had done was wrong before Peter did. Now remember, both thought Jesus was going to set himself up as king and rule the world. So try to imagine what Judas and Peter were thinking when Jesus went to the cross almost 2000 years ago.
Let’s take Peter first. Scripture doesn’t really tell us what Peter was thinking. Movies and fictional books tend to portray him as severely depressed and upset at himself for denying Christ three times. But I think Peter very possibly, could have felt a sense of relief when Jesus died. You see, he didn’t think that the Messiah would come to die, so when Jesus did die, Peter might have thought that Jesus had been a false Messiah.
So in a sense, Peter was probably angry with Christ for acting like a Messiah when He was not the Messiah. Peter was probably angry with himself for being taken in, for being deceived, by a false Messiah. So in that case, Peter might have felt a sense of relief, for although he had denied Christ, and said that he didn’t know Christ, it turned out to be OK, for Jesus was not the Messiah after all. Peter might have even felt a little proud. Maybe he began to justify his actions in his own mind by saying that he denied Christ because Peter was smart enough to realize that Jesus was a false Messiah.
Now this is all speculation, but I can easily imagine that this might have been what Peter was thinking, especially since Peter was not present at the crucifixion. It is very possible that Peter did not think he had done anything wrong, until after Jesus rose from the dead. And then, I am sure, Peter was terrified. Possibly, Peter thought he had not done anything too bad. If Jesus was the Messiah, he wouldn’t have died – in Peter’s thinking. But since He did die, then maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. And if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, the only thing Peter had done was deny a false Messiah.
Judas, on the other hand, when he saw that Jesus had been put to death, he immediately knew that what he had done was wrong! He had done something which ended in someone getting killed! He had taken part in a murder! In fact, Judas, probably more than any of the others, wanted Jesus to be the Kingly Messiah who would restore Israel to it’s rightful place among the nations. And Judas, after spending three years with Jesus, became convinced that Jesus was this Messiah. He had power over nature. He had authority over the rulers. He had strength to cast out demons. Judas was not stupid. He knew who Jesus was. But he thought that Jesus just needed a little help. He thought that Jesus needed a little boost. A little goading. A little kick in the pants to get things going. He knew that Jesus was presently a good teacher, a good rabbi, but Judas thought that Jesus deserved more (cf. Matt. 26:22, 25). And Judas was not content to let Jesus just sit around and teach.
So he developed a plan. He created a series of events in which Jesus would be forced to defend himself against the Romans, and a battle between the Jews and the Romans would result. The end of the matter would be that Jesus would chase off the Romans, and the Jews would have their land back. It was a perfect plan. Judas carried out the details with precision. He told the religious leaders that he would help them capture Jesus. They pulled some strings to get some guards, and on a certain evening, they all journeyed up to the Garden on the Mount of Olives where Jesus was. Things went just as planned at first. Judas, in the typical Jewish fashion, greeted Jesus with a kiss to show the guards who Jesus was. They asked if he was Jesus, and he said, “I Am!” (Mk. 13:6). At this, all the guards fell to the ground. This was the name of Yahweh that Jesus had spoken! This was the name of God! Can’t you just see Judas smiling to himself? Jesus had scared them all to the ground with two simple words! Judas looked up to heaven, expecting to see fire and lightning fall from the sky to incinerate Jesus’ would be attackers. Good old Peter even drew a sword to start attacking the guards! Judas hadn’t counted on that, but it fit in fine. Peter took a swing at one of the guards (John 18:10) and lopped off his ear, just barely missing the man’s head! Everything was going great.
And then, things went terribly wrong. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away. Confused, Peter did. Then Jesus went to the man who was screaming and holding his bloody head, and Jesus healed him! Judas was getting scared now. This wasn’t supposed to happen! You don’t heal your enemies when you are trying to defeat them! But then things got even worse. Jesus allowed himself to be arrested! They took him, and tied his hands behind his back. They knocked him to the ground. A few guards “accidentally” hit him.
And Jesus never did a thing. Can’t you just imagine it? Judas is scared now. But he still thinks there’s a chance Jesus will pull out of his tailspin. In fact, when he realizes that Jesus is going to go on trial, he realizes that Jesus might have a better plan in mind! Maybe he’s going to reveal himself before the court! But hour by hour goes by, and Jesus does nothing. He says nothing. He allows people to falsely accuse him of all sorts of things. He allows people to mock him, and strike him, and spit on him. And still he does nothing. And at the end of the trial, Jesus is condemned to death. Judas had meant for him to take over, not to be condemned.
Wracked with guilt, he returned to the temple and flung the 30 pieces of silver back at the priests who had given it to him, he went home, got a piece of rope, walked slowly to a empty field that was nearby, climbed up into the branches of a twisted, solitary tree, put the rope around his neck, and jumped. Judas went out and hung himself
When Jesus died, Peter thought maybe he had done the right thing in denying Christ. When Jesus was condemned, Judas knew he had done the wrong thing. In fact, Matthew 27:3, says that Judas repented of what he had done. He knew he had sinned by shedding innocent blood.
If that was where the story ended, we might think today that neither one of them went to heaven. We might think, that if anything, since Judas repented when Peter did not, maybe Judas went to heaven when Peter went to hell. But that is not the end of the story. We know from Scripture that in fact, Peter went to heaven, and Judas went to hell. Why? Was it because Peter was better than Judas? Not from what we’ve seen today. We have seen that they were identical in so many ways. And we have seen that in the areas they differ, Judas might have been better than Peter. But still, Judas goes to hell when Peter goes to heaven?
So the question for us today is “Why?” You know, maybe you’ve lived a pretty good life. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you think you deserve to go to heaven. Maybe you realize you don’t. But did you know that you can know where you’re going, whether heaven or hell? Did you know that God tells us in his Word how to know where you are going?
This way we can know what is in store for us after death is the one thing that Peter did which Judas did not. We’ve seen that in so many ways they are identical, but there is one thing Peter did which made all the difference in regard to his eternal destiny. Do you want to know what this one thing was? Let me tell you. I want to read a few verses for you from John 6. In John 6, Jesus has been teaching some of his disciples about himself, and some of them find what he has said hard to believe. So Jesus says this: “Truly, truly, he who believes in me has eternal life. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him (That’s Judas).
At this point, many of his disciples leave him. But some remained, and Jesus turns to them and says, “You do not want to leave also, do you?” Among them was Peter, who answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” What was the difference between Peter and Judas? One believed in Jesus for eternal life, one did not. The one who believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life went to heaven, the one who did not believe, went to hell. (John 17:12; Acts 1:25).
It’s that simple. It’s not because one read the Bible and one didn’t. They both did. It’s not because one prayed and one didn’t. They both did. It’s not because one was a better person or lived a better life than the other. They both had good and bad. The only difference that affected their eternal destiny was the fact that Peter believed in Jesus for eternal life, and Judas did not. And that has made all the difference.
So what about you? If you were to die in 13 seconds, do you know where you would spend eternity? You can know. If, like Peter, you believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. God promises eternal life to you simply by believing in Jesus for it! In John 3:16, he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish (that’s hell), but have everlasting life (that’s heaven).” Peter believed and went to heaven. Judas did not and went to hell. Both of them deserved hell. Just like all of us deserve hell. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned, and Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. If you think you’re not such a bad person, James 2:10 says that even if you keep the whole law, but stumble in just one point, you are guilty of breaking all of it.
So, Peter, Judas, and all of us, deserve hell. But Peter believed in Jesus for eternal life and went to heaven.
Which is it going to be for you? Have you believed in Jesus for everlasting life? If not, won’t you believe in Jesus today? Won’t you believe in what He has done for you? All other religions in the world say that you have to do something to get to heaven. Christianity is the only “religion” in the world which says that everything that needs to be done has already been done for you by Christ. Your responsibility is to accept it by believing in Jesus Christ for it. It’s that simple. What will you do? Are you going to be like Peter or Judas?
Today, it’s up to you. Believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
The following poem sums up what we have seen in Peter, and in us:
I was shocked, confused, bewildered
as I entered Heaven’s door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
by the lights or its decor.
But it was the folks in Heaven
who made me sputter and gasp–
the thieves, the liars, the sinners,
the alcoholics, the trash.
There stood the kid from seventh grade
who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
who never said anything nice.
Herb, who I always thought
was rotting away in hell,
was sitting pretty on cloud nine,
looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?
I would love to hear Your take.
How’d all these sinners get up here?
God must’ve made a mistake.
And why’s everyone so quiet,
so somber? Give me a clue.”
“Hush, child,” said He. “They’re all in shock.
No one thought they’d see you.”