Q&R with Brad Jersak – “Son of perdition”?
I’m curious as to know what Jesus means by “…except for the son of destruction…” when he prays to his Father, “Of those whom you have given me, I have lost not one…” (John 17:12). What do you think he would mean by that among all the other inclusive things he had to say? Of course, he is no doubt referring to Judas, but as “the son of perdition,” could Judas also represent something in all of us that will ultimately perish? Are there other ways to interpret verse 12 without negating the truth that God includes and saves even a betrayer such as Judas?
It sounds like both your premises and your instincts are right on target. You begin with the assumption that the person, ministry, and gospel of Jesus Christ are inclusive and that God’s salvation extends even to betrayers such as Judas. It’s refreshing to proceed on that basis without having to re-establish that fundamental truth of grace.
Further, you didn’t simply ignore or dismiss this difficult phrase. Instead, you immediately moved to the question of how to interpret this passage through a Christlike gospel lens. You didn’t assume one text negates the rest but prioritized the big picture to address a strange particular. Bravo!
Best of all, you began to see Judas as a symbol who represents some potential character defect in each of us. Say, for example, the impulse to take control in order to manipulate outcomes or our vulnerability to scheming that backfires on us in destructive ways. That is, you internalize a Judas principle at work in many (or all?) human hearts. But then you also take the next step, assuming correctly that what must ultimately perish is not Judas or you or me. Rather, it is a “false self” or deception-that-destroys that must die so that we might live. You seem aware that the judgments of God are restorative, not retributive, even for a “son of destruction.”
In other words, the answer to your question was in your question and in the premises between its lines! That only leaves me to offer a few footnotes of clarification for our readers.
Can one be both a “child of God” and a “son of destruction”? Yes. In a previous post (“Are all people God’s children or only Christians?”), I explained that the Bible can use “children” to refer to (1) every human being, (2) the faith family of Jesus-followers, or (3) to “children by imitation.” Judas was certainly a beloved child of God, probably in both of the first two senses. But by conspiring with the Judean Temple authorities for Jesus’ arrest, Judas left the Jesus Way to follow the path that leads to death. A “son” of destruction is, in this case, an “imitator of the Destroyer” (aka the satan), which is exactly how the story played out.
Is destruction or perdition the final word? A Christ-centered theology begins with the revelation of the Good Shepherd, who never gives up, and whose mercy never fails. Yes, there is such a thing as “lost.” A lost coin, a lost sheep, and even a lost son… like Judas. We don’t diminish that reality or how seriously destructive our lostness can become. But the Good News Jesus announced was that because of our heavenly Father’s self-giving love and relentless pursuit, “lost” is not the last word. We hold out hope that even Judas (and therefore, even I) will testify at that end, “I once was lost, but now I’m found/was blind, but now I see.”