For all readers, this column will not feature any of the gaming news and anecdotes that typically permeate my posts. This is a very serious and important subject that I feel compelled to write on, and to do it proper justice I will be treating this subject matter with the respect it and those who have been affected by these events deserve. We will return to our regularly scheduled gaming output next week.
If you have paid attention to any of the recent news headlines, you have probably heard of some of the celebrity suicides that have occurred over the last few months. To be frank, I am having a very hard time understanding and processing these actions. These were successful, talented, financially secure individuals who appeared to have all of the things most of us fight for and strive to achieve in life. Additionally, these individuals had the means and ability to procure solutions to their problems that many of us do not… their status and financial capabilities provided them access to the best doctors, counselors, and both legal and illegal medication that money can buy. So why suicide, and why hanging of all methods? This brings back some very bitter pains that I still possess around losing Robin Williams to the battles that we weren’t even aware he was fighting.
I am neither a doctor nor a psychiatrist… I am just a guy who works in the video game industry with too much Bible learning to ignore the parallels I have found in the Scriptures. So rather than attempt a post-mortem diagnosis on the possible motivating factors on each of these individuals choices to end their lives that I am truly not qualified to make, I would rather find some answers in the Bible by uncovering the truth behind the most infamous suicide recorded… the suicidal death by hanging of Judas Iscariot.
On the surface there may not seem to be any parallels to the fallen disciple and those who have famously chosen a similar exit strategy from this planet, but we are going to dig deeper into the man who both followed and eventually betrayed Jesus and try to find the connection between their similar methods of passing. To understand where Judas’s life ends, we must trace his path throughout his story. Judas was chosen specifically by Jesus Christ to be part of his group of twelve dedicated followers. Judas was even given a prominent position within the group as the treasurer, in charge of all of the finances of the ministry. Of all the hundreds of people who desired to follow Christ, Judas was of the elect twelve who received this special gift. And then he was endowed with the trust of the Creator to watch over his personal bank account. On the surface, it appears that Judas was given both prominence and power and was in the close circle of the most famous man on the planet. All good things. So what went wrong?
Entire books and movies have been written attempting to explain the frame of mind of Judas. Some paint him as a manipulative shyster who only sought to become rich and famous from his association with Jesus. Others see him more sympathetically, crediting him with the motive of being a freedom fighter who was attempting to thrust Jesus onto the throne of Israel by force. But for this to be a faithful and balanced approach to his rise and fall we will stick strictly to what is documented in the Bible and draw out conclusions from there. We know that Judas had his own demons, because in John 12 we are told that Judas was embezzling money from the ministry’s funds. But in Luke 22 we get the clearest picture of what occurred immediately prior to the most infamous betrayal in history as Scripture records these frightening words… “Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot”.
From there we know the rest… he is promised a reward of thirty pieces of silver for his act, he leads the soldiers to the garden where Christ was praying, and Jesus is arrested. But in Matthew 27 it appears that he has a change of heart, albeit too late to stop the wheels he had set in motion.
“Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
We are going to unpack this a little bit before going further. Let’s roll all the way back to the impetus for these actions, when the lord of darkness literally entered into the body of Judas and led him to an action he would soon regret. Demonic possession is referred to often in Scripture, but for Satan himself to get involved is exceptionally rare. How did Judas get to this point? Matthew 12:43-45 holds the answer, as Jesus enlightens us on how spiritual activity works.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Judas had allowed demonic access to his body through his sin of stealing from the groups moneybag. While he may have experienced victory over this sin at various points as he travelled with Jesus, he was little more than an open invitation for Satanic possession as long as he allowed this sin to linger and kept the space in his heart that is reserved for God empty. This is why so many people, such as the celebrities who inspired this column, are unable to outrun their demons. They can do everything in their power to get cleaned up, clear their minds, receive expensive treatments in rehab and summon all of their willpower to stay on the right course. But all that does is leave an empty room waiting to be occupied, and when the evil spirit returns it brings additional dark forces that plunge the individual into an even deeper darkness.
The sad truth is it is possible to be physically surrounded by Jesus and His followers and still endure demonic oppression. No amount of human efforts, no matter how genuine, can hold back the forces of hell. And when Judas was finally faced with the true ramifications of his actions, he could not deal with the regret. He attempted to cleanse himself of the pain by giving back the money he received, but it did not clear his conscience. And sadly, unable to live with the knowledge of what he had done and oppressed by the demons who were bent on destroying him, he attempted to silence them all by inflicting the death penalty on himself for the crimes he could not forgive and the thoughts he could not escape.
It is Satan who has the mission statement to steal, kill and destroy. If is an unnatural act for a person to intentionally cut off the flow of air to their body. As a matter of fact, the body actively fights against this through its own mechanisms as it is built for self-preservation. It takes an exceptional spiritual darkness to convince a person to reject their body’s natural inclination to live and silence this once and for all. And sadly, more people struggle with this each and every day then we are aware of. They just aren’t famous enough to make headlines, but their tragic battle is identical even if the demons who oppress them are unique.
So what is the answer to this dilemma? Judas followed several of the “steps” that most of us would consider leads to a positive outcome. He acknowledged his mistake and took ownership of it, he expressed true remorse and a desire to repay, and he understood the consequences of his choices and how they affected others. From the world’s perspective that would appear to be progress in therapy, so why did all of this progress end at the knot of a rope? And the answer is found in our previous text… he may have cleaned house emotionally, but his demons returned with ferocity and in greater number and his end result was that of a tragic suicide.
You may be surprised to know that Judas was not all that different from one other disciple who we also know all to well. And this disciple had previously allowed satanic influence into him as well, but his path took a remarkably different turn from where Judas ended up. His name? Simon Peter, the man who launched the New Testament church on the strength of one Divinely inspired sermon. So how did these two disciples battle similar demons and end up in such different places?
Maybe you are surprised to hear that Peter and Judas had much in common. In Matthew 16:23 Jesus delivered a stinging rebuke to Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan”. Combining this with Christ’s proclamation in Luke 22:31-32 where Jesus informs Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat, and we see that Satan had some plans for Peter as well. And the same night that Judas betrayed the Lord once, Peter denied Him THREE times. So why do we find one running hopelessly to the end of a rope and the other running hopefully to the empty tomb of Christ? And this is where we circle all the way back to Mark 3, which is a parallel passage to Matthew 12, for our answer.
As Jesus was casting out demons, He was accused by some of being in league with Satan. His response?
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”
This is our final answer to the problem. We are described in Matthew 12 as a home or place of residence that demons will inhabit if left unoccupied. But JESUS identifies himself as the stronger man who can BIND the demons and drive them out of their abode. The simple answer is it is only JESUS who can kick the demons that harass us to the curb permanently. No rehab plan, no twelve step program, and no amount of counseling has the power to evict Satan. And no amount of success, fortune, or fame can silence these demons. Only Christ, the stronger man, can reclaim possession of our mind and body and restore us to spiritual and mental health. Peter ran to Christ and allowed His Lord to fill him. Judas ran off alone and allowed his demons to consume him. Jesus is the only solution.
As I wrap up, I acknowledge that I have struggled with demonic oppression many times throughout my life, culminating in depression and dark thoughts that would envelop me if I was left without my Savior. The enemy bears down on all of us in different ways, some more obvious than others, but we are all under attack nonetheless. There should be no shame in acknowledging that it feels like the enemy is sifting us like wheat… it is what he does. And he attacks both the young and the old, the Christian and the unbeliever, the strong and the weak without impunity. We do not have a choice of whether or not we will be engaged in battle. We simply choose which direction we run… to Christ or to our own solution. If we choose to allow Christ to reclaim our turf we can send our enemies running off for one more day. There is permanent deliverance for demonic oppression and possession, and a permanent victory has already been purchased for all believers. But make no mistake, they will never stop coming for you. That is why it’s called spiritual warfare. It is up to us, each and every day, to choose to allow Jesus to occupy the throne room in our heart so that no one else, demon, devil or otherwise can move in.