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Judas Iscariot was one heck of a preacher. He was excellent at his missionary job, which is why none of the other disciples suspected him of betraying Jesus. At the very end, he was, of course, outright in his betrayal, but earlier on he was as swept up in the Jesus wave as the other followers. He thought he believed in Jesus, he thought he felt the same about the mission as all the other disciples. It was only toward the end of the three years working with Jesus that his beliefs and feelings changed, and he, the arch-deceiver, began to see Jesus as the deceiver. But Judas carefully hid his doubts, as deceivers do, and doubled down on his enthusiasm in case anyone should suspect his plans.
There are many followers of Judas Iscariot in the Christian preacher community, especially on YouTube. I know preachers who are alcoholics, preachers who are on antidepressants, preachers who just consider preaching a way to make a living and to be looked after in retirement. These are all modern-day Judases, but I doubt that any of them would see themselves as such. They come across as ultra-sincere and committed to Jesus. Sometimes they’re so good at preaching their sincerity, they start to believe it themselves. It’s only when they step away from the pulpit that their doubts creep in.
By God’s Spirit, you can discern the Judases among us. They love to preach, because while they’re preaching, they feel real. The common impression is that Judas Iscariot was bad or at best mediocre at what he did. But he was good at preaching, one of the best among the disciples. His stellar performance as a preacher and subsequent presumed commitment to the mission is what led to his being entrusted with the group’s finances. Scripture tells us that he stole from the funds the disciples held in common. “But surely someone who preaches like that can’t be dishonest!?!”
Televangelists and their latest incarnation, the YouTube prophets, are all Judases. I do not apologize for making that generalization, as I have yet to come across any televangelist or anyone who self-promotes on YouTube who is not a Judas Iscariot-level false prophet. If you want to work on and practice your skill of discernment, pick any televangelist or self-promoting prophet on YouTube and see if you can find their Judas streak. As I said, they all have one. Sometimes it’s blatant, but other times it takes a few minutes to find.
There are two things they all have in common, these followers of Judas. The first is that they’re glib preachers, smooth with their words. Paul, by his own confession, stumbled over his, which is one of the reasons why he relied so heavily on his letters to get the message out. God would have had a hand in Paul’s lack of spoken eloquence, just as he has a hand in the surfeit of spoken eloquence of Judas’s followers.
The second thing that Judas preachers all have in common is their focus on money. They’ll preach for free, but they’ll solicit donations, or they’ll preach for a salary. Money will always be part and parcel of preaching the Gospel for them, as it was for Judas. They worship mammon, so preaching the Word is just a means to an end (the end being making money). Genuine followers of Jesus never accept a penny for preaching the Word. They’ll graciously and with gratitude accept any donations that are offered free-willingly, but they’ll never solicit them. That is one of the key ways to discern a follower of Jesus from a follower of Judas. God will permit the tares to grow among the wheat until Judgement Day, so it’s up to us to discern who’s a tare and who’s wheat, lest we, too, be deceived.
I know a few Judas preachers personally, and it’s difficult at times for me to keep quiet about them, but God wants me to let them be. He well knows who they are and he tells me that even the Judases have a role to play in bringing believers to the Kingdom. God uses everyone and everything to draw his people ever closer to him. Jesus knew about Judas, but he let him continue to preach to the end. He let him continue because Judas had a role to play in the redemption process, which he played willingly.
We’re not to expose the Judases among us, but rather to discern who they are and let them be. There’s nothing to be gained in exposing them, nothing to be gained in confronting them, and nothing to be gained in trying to stop them from preaching. They are an earned reward for people who prefer to have their ears tickled with smooth words.
God lets those people be, too.
He doesn’t force himself on anyone.