In John 17:12 Jesus says in his prayer,
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me, I have guarded them, and not of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
Some might use this verse in an attempt to prove that Judas was saved and then ‘lost’ his salvation.
There is evidence outside of the chapter, outside of this entire discourse (starting back in chapter 14), outside of the gospel of John, and even outside of the New Testament (especially since this is a fulfillment of prophecy) that leads to a “No” answer. However, for the sake of the exercise of observation – the first step in Bible study – let’s limit our scope to just this chapter itself. (Although, to understand some of the words used in chapter 17, we will look at their meanings and usage elsewhere.)
These 48 clues – some of them explicit indications in and of themselves, and some of them repeated within the list – will lead to the answer, “No – Judas did not lose his salvation.” Cumulatively, they will paint a picture of what is truly descriptive of the group “given” to Jesus.
Question: Why is “given” – in the previous sentence above – in quotes?
- Answer: Well, we can start our list, by first observing something in verse 2. By starting here, we can take note that there is a particular group of people in mind, for whom Jesus prays. This implies there are those outside of this group for whom Jesus is not praying. And this leads us to the first item in our list of observations:
- Verse 3 says,
“…they know you, the only true God,”
Question: What does “they” in verse 3 refer back to?
- Answer: “they” in verse 3 refers back to the group Jesus is praying for; in verse 2, Jesus first refers to this group as,
“…all whom you have given [me].”
The first clue, then, in this list of 48 Clues in John 17, is seen in verse 3, and – in particular – the word “know”.
If Judas had been one who “knew” “the only true God” in the same way as all those within the group first referred to in verse 2, then we could be led to believe he was saved – that he possessed a saving faith in Jesus Christ. However, based on the meaning of this word “know” and where else it appears, we can put this piece of evidence in verse 3 in our list of 48 Clues in John 17.
For a proper understanding of this word “know”, it is important to understand it is the Greek word, “ginṓskō“. In the way it is used here it has the meaning: “to know (experientially) v. — to know or have knowledge about (someone or something); normally as acquired through observation or the senses.” (1)
Elsewhere (2), in just one example that sheds more light on the word “know” in verse 3, it is used right after the word for believing (pisteúō (3)):
66 “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”
Tellingly, in a passage that describes Judas and Jesus’ own knowledge of Judas, the word “know” is used by Peter in verse 69. Peter answers Jesus, describing himself and all those who chose to remain with Jesus as those who have “believed” and “come to know” that he – Jesus – is “the Holy One of God”.
To summarize this first clue:
- Judas is simply not a part of this group. The group “given” to Jesus (John 17:2) – the group for whom he prays that they “know” God (v. 3) – does not contain Judas. And therefore, he did not ‘lose his salvation’, having never been a part of that group of genuine believers in the first place.
Additional, Related Reading and/or Resouces:
For reasons why this question matters, it’s important to realize there are some so-called “churches” (like the United Church of God) that believe in annihilationism*** (the belief there is no eternal conscious torment in hell for those who do not trust in Christ for salvation). This article demonstrates their belief that Judas could have died as a ‘saved’ individual and therefore could have retained his salvation. Beyond this difference in belief regarding Judas, the UCG falls outside of orthodoxy with their fundamental denial of the Trinitarian nature of God.
***Additionally, annihilationism finds it support amongst some Seventh-Day Adventists including founder Ellen G. White, and former-Christian pastor Rob Bell.
(1) Faithlife Corporation. “To Know (experientially).” Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon 25 June 2018. Logos Bible Software.
(2) The lemma “know” in this usage and meaning appears 170 times, elsewhere in the New Testament.
(3) pisteúō “To believe, have faith in, trust. … Of a messenger from God, to believe on and trust in him … Generally of Jesus as a teacher and the Messiah sent from God.” Zodhiates, Spiros. The complete word study dictionary: New Testament 2000 : n. pag. Print.