Select Page

Today we look at the disciple who is identified as Judas (not Iscariot) by John, as Judas son of James by Luke, and as Thaddaeus by Matthew and Mark. The King James also uses the name Lebbaeus in Matthew 10:3, though in other translations his name in this verse is Thaddaeus. I’ve looked, and according to my Greek New Testament, the correct translation here is Thaddaeus, so I believe the NIV, ESV and other translations are more accurate. Exactly WHY this discrepancy in the translations arises, I don’t know, but this is not the place to go into the discipline of textual criticism.

For the purposes of this morning unless I am directly quoting scripture, I will refer to “Judas not Iscariot, the son of James” as Thaddaeus.

Thaddaeus

The first thing I want to do is spend a few moments on this name, Thaddaeus.

You may remember when I spoke about James and John, I looked at Jesus naming them Boanerges because of their hot tempers, and noted the custom of naming people according to their attributes. So as well as the example of James and John, we have the encourager Joseph of Cyprus being called Barnabas (meaning son of encouragement), and most notably, Simon was called Cephas (Peter in English) by Jesus which means rock. Since using names with meaning was not unusual, it is at least possible that calling Judas by the name “Thaddaeus” was not a mistake.

But why call him Thaddaeus? There are several possibilities: Thaddaeus may have been a family nickname he used. It might have been a name given to him by the other disciples or even by Jesus. How he came to be called Thaddaeus we just don’t know, the Bible is silent on this matter. What we do know is that the name Thaddaeus in Hebrew literally means “breast child”, and the Gospels use it to identify him, and if the custom of naming people because of some attribute they had holds true for Thaddaeus just as it did for James, John and Simon Peter, this is significant. John MacArthur suggests in his book that it may have a meaning similar to our term “mummy’s boy”, but we cannot be sure whether that was the reason or not.

What I do believe is that the name Thaddaeus speaks to his heart nature, to the man he was, to his character. Even the name Lebbaeus which as I’ve said is used by the KJV has a similar meaning “heart child”. I suspect that Thaddaeus was a gentle man, one with a tenderness in his heart towards God, towards Jesus, and indeed towards his fellow man. I believe this is revealed in his question, which we will turn to later on.

I think this is important because Jesus is clear (in fact the Bible repeatedly asserts) that it is in our heart that our true nature lies. So if you want to know the true nature of a man, you don’t look primarily at his actions, you look at his heart, Jesus says it is what is in a man’s heart that dictates his actions. In the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5–7) He says that the heart determines the sin, so:

  1. Lust in the heart IS adultery.
  2. Anger in the heart IS murder.

And so on.

Jesus says elsewhere that it is not what goes into a man which makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart, so for example, “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:16–20)

So, the key to our being right with God lies not in our actions, but in our hearts, which is why the promise of God is not that he will make us do good things, but rather that he will change our hearts:

Ezekiel prophesies it twice: Ezekiel 11:19: I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. And Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Jeremiah says: I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)

Paul alludes to this change in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says, “_Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”_

So, Christ comes not to change our actions, but to renew our hearts and Spirits. When our hearts are changed, we have a new nature, and consequently, our actions follow. So for example, Ezekiel follows his prophecy about God giving a new heart with this promise about what will happen when we are transformed by him:

Ezekiel 36:27–28: And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

We often miss this, and I frequently find people seeing faith in Christ and the role of the Church as a mechanism for controlling what we do, not changing what we are. This belief couldn’t be more of a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do, and it reaches right back to Biblical times, and even then, people thought holiness was primarily a matter of keeping the law, and not a matter of the heart. It was about what you did and not who you were.

In Acts 2 Peter preaches to the people, Luke records the reaction as “they were cut to the heart”, yet they thought they had to DO something “brothers what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

Interestingly, people ask Jesus on numerous occasions what they should DO to inherit eternal life, and on one occasion he is asked “What must we do to do the works God requires?”, his response is “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28–29), and Paul talks of belief being a characteristic of the HEART and not the intellect …

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”. (Romans 10:9, 10)

This is ultimately why Christians are not (or should not be) in the business of imposing rules and restrictions on peoples actions, but in the business of offering them a change of heart, a change of their very nature from enemy of God to his friend.

And, counter-intuitively, when we do that, our actions follow our beliefs in any event and we live the life and do the things which God requires anyway…

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8)

Even here note, three things: 1 Action (Act Justly), 2. Heart (love mercy) and 3. Faith (walk humbly with your God). Neglect any one of those and you are not living up to the requirement God himself has laid down.

The Question

These are the only recorded words of Thaddaeus: “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22).

It does put me in mind of a very common objection to the message of the Gospel which is “what about people who have never heard?” This question is usually disingenuous in the sense that all too frequently it is asked not because the questioner genuinely wants an answer, but because he or she wants to justify rejecting the Gospel.

Thaddaeus is not doing that, he is articulating a common belief among the Jews of his day that the Messiah would be a recognised, national figure who would bring his people back to freedom and restore the nation as a force to be reckoned with in the world, and why, if He is the Messiah, doesn’t he act in the way they expected?

Aside: I am sure I am not unique in this: over the years I’ve dreamed about the future or mulled over a particular situation, and pondered about what God would do in it. “Wouldn’t it be great if God did (such and such) for us?” Rarely, if ever did things work out the way I’d dreamed. This is very similar in nature to the expectation of the Jews about what the Messiah would be like.

God rarely works to our expectations. In Isaiah, he says: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. (Isaiah 55:9)

and the writer of Proverbs tells us this: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Jesus didn’t come to bring political freedom to the Jews, he didn’t come to overthrow the Roman occupation, he came to release people from the slavery of sin. He was never going to come as a national leader in a large, visible way. His life and ministry showed that again and again. He even withdrew at one point because he knew people wanted to come and make him king by force (John 6:15). This is a lesson to us about predicting how God will work in our lives or the lives of those around us, otherwise we may find ourselves saying to him “why did you do it that way?”

So let’s unpack the question, which is like a coin with two sides:

  1. Why us? (i.e. what make me so special?)
  2. Why not them? (i.e. don’t they deserve to know as well?)

Why us?

Hebrews 2:6 says “What is man that you are mindful of him the son of man that you care for him?” (a quote of Job 7:17 / Psalm 144:3,4).

“Why me, Lord?” We often say this when something happens to us which is unpleasant or unexpected, but Nathanael isn’t saying it in this sense. He is saying “what makes us so special?”. We live in a culture which is preoccupied with self-esteem. Sometimes it seems that people believe that a healthy self-esteem is the answer to all of life’s problems, that if we can somehow change the way we think about ourselves, start seeing ourselves positively and stop thinking negatively, then all our problems will suddenly disappear. Yet, we also have a deep-rooted mistrust of people who have no humility, we use expressions like “he thinks he’s God’s gift”, or “He’s too big for his boots” to express how we feel about such people. If someone’s assessment of you is “You think you’re too good for me”, you will find it hard to impossible to say anything meaningful into their life.

There was an attitude which the Pharisees had which mirrored this, Jesus tells a parable we are told which was aimed at those who “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9). This was not seen as a good thing. In fact, he goes on to say that when you compare such a person with one who kneels before God in humility, that it is the humble man and not the confident one who is deemed justified. This parable actually answers the question “why us?” It says that those who ask “who am I” are exactly the people God will reveal himself to That is, those who do not have too high an opinion of themselves. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14

Paul writes “do not think more highly of yourself than you ought” (Romans 12:3), rather our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus who Paul says “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8)

Isaiah says “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word”. (Isaiah 66:2), and “For this is what the high and exalted One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit”, (Isaiah 57:15)

Thaddaeus’s question revealed that he was just such a man, it showed that his heart is one which God esteems. The one who is lowly and contrite of heart and who just can’t quite believe that Jesus would come to him and not someone else. The question itself is the answer.

Jesus could have answered “because you asked the question “why me?””

Why not them?

The answer to that question is obvious if we think about it, spiritual sight is, unsurprisingly something which is not a characteristic of the unspiritual man.

1 Corinthians 2:14 says this bluntly: The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Thaddaeus is responding to Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit, and Jesus has just made these comments:

  1. The world cannot accept the Holy Spirit because it neither sees Him nor knows him. (John 14:17)
  2. In a short while the world will not see me (Jesus) any more (this is a hint about the crucifixion). (John 14:19)

It is interesting that Paul declares in Romans, God IS visible in creation, and if we will just look we will find him there. In fact if we can’t, the fault is ours.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

The reason we are told that people don’t see God is that “_the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God_. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Acts 10:41–42 :- “He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead”.

John 14:23 is Jesus’ answer to Thaddaeus question:- “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus explains that seeing God, having Jesus revealed is a pretty simple thing. Anyone, he says, can see me, “I will reveal myself to anyone who loves me and obeys my teaching”.

Given that the world neither loves Jesus nor obeys his teaching, and that the world is blind to Him shows us that the blindness of the world about him is largely self-inflicted.

Many people will say “I won’t believe unless you can show me Jesus”, but Jesus says “you won’t see me unless you believe”, and your belief is characterized by obedience.

And finally …

This is implied by though not explicitly revealed in the text there will come a time when Jesus returns, and that time it will not be missed!

Revelation 1:7 — “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

Matthew 24:26,27 says “if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”, and he goes on to describe that “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”

This event is spoken of in great detail in Revelation 19:11–16, I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Titus 2:13 describes the second coming as a “glorious appearing.”

He will one day reveal his glory to the whole world!

Share This

Share this post with your friends!