19. Did Jesus “Fellowship” Judas?
This is the sort of question for which there is no provable
answer, if by “fellowship” is meant merely the technical
participation in the “Last Supper”. A reasonable reading of the four
gospel narratives leads to the conclusion that Jesus did indeed break bread with
Judas, knowing full well his traitorous intentions. Brothers Thomas and Roberts
both subscribed to this view, as their writings show. But nowhere do the records
specifically spell this out.
The partaking of the emblems, however, is not the actual
issue. We know that Jesus would have broken bread with Judas, even if it
is felt that Judas in fact excused himself and went out before that point in the
evening’s activities. We know this because Jesus did wash the feet of
Judas, as well as the other eleven. We know that because Jesus offered the sop
to Judas. (This was traditionally a mark of great love and esteem, for the host
to give the choicest morsel in the common bowl to a special guest.) Indeed, we
know this by a simple observation: for more than three years Judas ate and slept
and traveled with Jesus and the other apostles, and never once did Jesus do or
say anything that might have led the others to suspect that Judas was the one
who would betray him. These were all instances of “fellowship” just
as much as the symbolic common partaking of bread and wine; all together, they
show that Jesus had admitted a man whom he knew to be a hypocrite into the
innermost circle of his companionship for an extended time.
In 1847, after learning the Truth and being baptized,
Brother John Thomas was the subject of certain charges made by the hierarchy of
the Campbellite (“Church of Christ”) congregations. They demanded
that Brother Thomas leave the “fellowship” of their congregations,
because his “Confession and Abjuration” (written March 3, 1847)
implied that many members of those congregations did not believe the full
gospel. At such a demand Brother Thomas became highly indignant and fired off
the following reply:
“Without comparing you [some of the Campbellite “brethren”] to
Judas, I would inquire, Was not he in his sins when Jesus broke the loaf with
him as well as the rest of the twelve? This will be a sufficient quid for your
quo, that I necessarily abjure churches, because there are those among them who
on my principles are in their sins....There are many in the American
reform-churches who believe in....the ‘immortality of the soul’. We
have learned, however, the important lesson of bearing and forbearing with one
another, in hope that all will come to see the real truth....But your dogma is
that I ought to reject them....We, however, do not think so” (From a
personal letter, quoted by Robert Roberts in Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work,
1954 Edition, p. 168).
We must not, of course, suppose that Brother Thomas retained
such a “liberal” view of “fellowship” for the rest of
his days. There did come a time when it was desirable from his viewpoint, as
well as those who made him their enemy, that he no longer be affiliated in any
sense with the “reform” churches. But we might note with care that
this was at least two years after his true immersion into the hope of Israel.
And at any rate his point about Judas may be well taken, as far as it goes, even
by us today. We see Brother Thomas as a man much like the apostle Paul, willing
to recognize holders of false doctrine as “brethren”, so long as
there was reasonable expectation of their further enlightenment and reform.
Robert Roberts, in his “True Principles and Uncertain
“Judas was a thief and Jesus knew it, but tolerated him till he manifested
himself. Was Jesus responsible [i.e. for Judas’ sins] while he
fellowshipped him? Certainly not” (The Christadelphian, Vol. 92,
No. 1097 — Nov. 1955 — p.