GOD HELP USLuke 22:3-4, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot…and Judas went…and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.”
What are we to make of this? Well, there are a lot of things we could “make of it”.
We can rightly say that Satan can “enter” people. Of course we’d still have to work out what that meant. What does “enter” mean in a text like this? Does Satan himself enter people? Does Satan literally “enter” people? Does he go inside their bodies? Or if it’s their minds he enters how does he “enter” a mind? Does he melt into the brain tissue or something like that? Should we conclude from this text that Satan can “enter” anybody at any time? Can he force his way in or must he be invited, so to speak? Once he has “entered” can he make people think and do things? These are all interesting questions but Luke 22:3-4 shows no interest in them. If Luke 22:3-4 shows no interest in them whatever, it’s safe to conclude we shouldn’t go to Luke 22 looking for answers to them. Luke must have another agenda!
What are we to make of the text? We can rightly say that the text shows us treachery so that we can renounce it and pursue honourable loyalty and we can rightly say the text is the fulfilment of scripture (see Psalm 41:9 and John 13:18). Of course that generates numerous questions about what “fulfilment” means and so in what sense Psalm 41:9 is “prophecy”. Again, this is a rich area and these are good questions but it’s John 13:18 and not Luke 22:3-4 that speaks of fulfilled scripture and points us to Psalm 41:9. As far as we can tell from the words of the text Luke has no interest in Psalm 41:9.
You understand it’s perfectly proper for us to say Judas “fulfilled scripture” in doing what he did but the real question before us at this moment is this: is that what Luke wants us to see? It was the immediate purpose of John 13:18 to let us see that Judas fulfilled scripture but we know that only because the text tells us that. It simply won’t do to say, “Luke 22:3-4 wants us to know that scripture has been fulfilled” and when someone asks us how we know, we prove it by going to John 13:18. If our listener says, “I wasn’t asking about John 13:18” it doesn’t make things better if we say, “Everyone knows Judas did that.” Everyone knows Jesus was born of a virgin but is that what Luke 22:3-4 wants us to see?
It’s certainly proper to “draw a lesson” or “infer a truth” from a text that’s written for a purpose other than the one we have in mind. What’s not acceptable is to say this: “The truth I’m offering is what this text means for us to see” when in fact we don’t know that. If we want Luke’s 22:3-4 to be heard we must allow Luke (as much as we’re able) to make his own point. It may be fine that we don’t want to make Luke’s point but if it’s John’s point we want to make we ought to go to John 13:18.
If we read Luke 22:3-4 and don’t let him make his point and instead we silence Luke by putting John’s words in his mouth we miss out on truth—truth that we might desperately need. To “homogenise” scripture like this is not only a poor way to listen to the Bible, in many ways it is not listening to the Bible at all.
I confess I’m not sure what Luke wants us to see in 22:3-4 but that only means I should do my homework and listen to other experienced people who work with Luke’s writings. If we were able to determine the central purposes of Luke in writing to Theophilus that would give us a better chance to understand how each section worked. I say a “better chance” for knowing Luke’s central purpose(s) is no guarantee that we’ll know how each section or verse fits into it.
Certainly Luke insists throughout his two books (Luke and Acts) that the reign of God was publicly exhibited in Jesus Christ who had come to proclaim God’s faithfulness to his promises in rescuing his people and in bringing salvation to the world (see for example, Luke 1:67-79; 4:14-21 and 24:47 and elsewhere through the book).
But if that was so how did it happen, Theophilus might have thought, that the leaders of his own people rejected him? Did they know some things that made rejecting Jesus the right thing to do? Luke 22:3-4 would answer such a question. The leaders in 22:1-2 want to “get rid of Jesus” (see 20:20) and one of his friends gave them a perfect opportunity. Yes, but how do you explain Judas’ behaviour? It wasn’t just a friend turning on a friend; it wasn’t just Judas against Christ. Luke brands Judas’ behaviour as satanic. Two worlds collided that night in that upper room. His betrayal of Jesus epitomized and expressed the world-spirit that stands opposed to the reign of God. Friends had betrayed friends down the centuries (a psalmist laments on his own pain—Psalm 41:9) but Luke makes it clear that what happened that night in that upper room was bigger than it looked. Theophilus is to understand that the opposition to Jesus was satanic in character and not just personal or even national political expediency (compare John 11:50) and much less was it of God or a matter of integrity.
Now, I don’t know that that’s what Luke wanted us to focus on in that text but that’s my guess. Supposing for a moment that it's true, then we won’t read the text as a protest against personal disloyalty or ingratitude; we won’t read the text expecting to learn that Satan “enters” people sometimes—we’d see that Luke takes that for granted but that his purpose goes beyond that.
Whatever we do with Luke 22:3-4, as much as we’re able we need to allow Luke to make his point rather than ours—his point within his over-arching purpose which we look for in the book as a whole.
If we don’t, we may end up with a million “answers” on moral issues but completely ignorant of what the biblical texts are saying. Preachers will fill their sermons with texts that are never allowed to speak and because there’s a host of verses quoted or alluded to they’ll be tempted to think, “Now that’s Bible preaching.” Others will toss in a couple of verses, nod at them and go their merry moralising way one. more. time.
God help us!