THE BENEDICT ARNOLD OF THE BIBLE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 5, 2019
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
— Luke 22:1-6, ESV
When I say the word “traitor,” whose name pops into your mind? If you need a clue, look in the history books. Better still, look in the Bible. Then, take a long look in the mirror.
If you look up the word “traitor” in an American dictionary, you will likely see a picture of Benedict Arnold, who was born in 1741 in the colony of Connecticut and died in 1801 in London, England.
Benedict Arnold burst on the fledgling American scene at a most historic moment. It was the American Revolution, a rebellion of the colonies against the tyranny of Great Britain, a war for independence that birthed the United States of America. Arnold fought for our country valiantly and brilliantly, under General George Washington and alongside famous countrymen like Ethan Allen. H was severely wounded in battle while leading his men, and eventually achieved the revered rank of Brigadier General. Had he died on the field before 1779, he would be hailed today as among the greatest of our early American heroes.
But temptation surrounded Benedict Arnold. His second wife, Peggy, came from a family of British loyalists. His best friend, John André, was a British spy. Arnold did not come from old money, had struggled to make a fortune of his own in the new world, and feared poverty worse than death. When André proposed a £20,000 bribe for inside information (which would be worth about $750,000 today), Arnold took the money and ran to the Red Coats with plans to give them the key fort at West Point, the place where the United States Military Academy stands today.
Benedict Arnold abused his high office. Benedict Arnold betrayed his countrymen and fellow soldiers. Benedict Arnold failed miserably, twice, once in life and again in death.
The plot for which he accepted a bribe failed. John André was caught by the Americans and hanged for espionage. Arnold escaped to the British, who gave him only £6,000 for the failed coup. André got a statue in Westminster Abbey, while Benedict Arnold eventually died in debt and disgrace. The London press reported his obituary with these words: “Poor General Arnold has departed this world without notice, a sorry reflection this for him and other turncoats.”
But Benedict Arnold is not the worst traitor in history.
The Benedict Arnold of the Bible
If you look up the word “traitor” in a Bible dictionary, you will likely see a picture of Judas Iscariot. He was born at about the same time as Jesus and died on about the same day.
Judas was raised a devout Jew (consider his Jewish name, Judah), probably belonged to the Zealots (an extremely nationalistic and messianic party), and burst on the scene when he was personally recruited by the Lord Jesus Christ to be one of the twelve original Apostles. This was the most historic moment in the history of history, the days that divide history into BC and AD.
Though the Gospels reveal his actual character, written with reflection decades after the fact, the eleven who stood shoulder to shoulder with Judas during Christ’s public ministry would have hailed him a hero, that is until the end. Judas walked with them, talked with them, preached with them, performed miracles with them, and was entrusted by them to keep the offerings given to them for ministry and charity. Even when Jesus tried to point Judas out as the traitor in the Upper Room, the other Apostles were paralyzed by perplexity and did not perceive it.
Temptation got the better of Judas Iscariot, along with the fact that Jesus just refused to do things Judas’ way. The personal Satan took a personal interest in Judas because of his personal status as a right hand man of Jesus. The priests kicked in thirty pieces of silver, a kickback akin to the £20,000 promised to Benedict Arnold. Some speculate Judas was merely trying to force Jesus’ hand and make the Lord come out as a militaristic Messiah. But a careful study of Judas’ character, especially in John’s Gospel, tells a different tale. Temptation turned him into the real Judas, the man on the inside came out, because money and security were more important to him that honesty and fidelity, more important than the Lord Jesus Christ, more important than the true kingdom of God.
Judas Iscariot abused his high office. Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord and his brothers in Christ. Judas Iscariot failed miserably, twice, in his life and at his death.
Judas’ betrayal ruined him, and he knew it in real time. He tried to return the bribe, but the corrupt priests who counted the money into his pocket refused to receive it back. Perhaps Judas caught a glimpse of Jesus walking along the Via Delarosa with the horizontal beam of the cross bearing upon His shoulders. Judas must have known he was of no account to his fellow conspirators. He must have feared he would never be forgiven by the Christ and the Christians he betrayed. Judas’ life was more than miserable, so he ended it in the most miserable way possible, suicide, and Matthew’s Gospel tells us it was by hanging from a tree, a most miserable irony.
Judas Iscariot has no memorial, other than a burial ground for vagabonds called the “Field of Blood.” His name is avoided at best and mocked at worst. In the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, a cousin who betrays his cousin is called “Judas Iscariot Hogwallop,” whose only defense was, “I got to do for me and mine.” That’s what Benedict Arnold thought, too, and it describes Judas Iscariot to a T.
Putting yourself first at the expense of God and others is a betrayal of God and others, and such betrayal lurks in every single sinful human heart.
The Benedict Arnold in Us
Isn’t it funny how the lives of two famous traitors run on parallel tracks. They both lived during a key moment in history. They both had high offices and great opportunity. They both succumbed to temptation for personal gratification. They both betrayed good men and a good cause. And they both became miserable for it, in life, in death, and in eternity.
It seems the only proper way to process this brief mention in Scripture of the Benedict Arnold of the Bible is to use Judas Iscariot as a cautionary tale for confessing Christians. He was a sinner. So are we. He professed to be a follower of Christ, and for a time offered what seemed to be incontrovertible evidence. So do so many today. He was tempted and tested, as we have been and will be. In the end, he chose his own pleasure and pocketbook over fidelity and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have today our own moment in history. We do not live in the days of the American Revolution, nor the days Jesus walked upon the earth, but our days count for us and all with whom we have contact, family and friends and fellow church members, neighbors and colleagues and fellow citizens.
We who are Christians have been granted the greatest office and the greatest opportunity in history. We are called Christians. We are called to follow Christ. We are called to spread the gospel. We are called to purity and integrity. We are called to love, and love is expressed by obedience to the truth and charity towards all.
We are surrounded by temptation, by the lure of the autonomous self, by the sirens’ call to “do for me and mine” at the expense of Christ, church, family, and our fellow man. The tempter delights in infidelity and offers sex, money, and sometimes fame to corrupt our hearts and cause a ripple of pain. But the so-called prize is a trap that ruins lives, destroys families, splits churches, and silences the gospel.
We cannot claim victory over selfishness, sin, Satan, and certain betrayal until we cross the finish line. Jesus did not say the one who makes it almost to the end will be saved. Our Lord said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (ref. Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13). As my old New Testament professor Ken Easley said, “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.”
If Benedict Arnold had stayed an American for just a few more years. If Judas Iscariot had stayed an Apostle for a few more days. If those who drop out of Christian and church had only stayed. If seems to be the boundary between two entirely different characters and two entirely different eternities. Betrayal is the opposite of perseverance, and Judas Iscariot is the ultimate warning to all of us who name the name of Christ.
It was a British statesman quoting another British statesman who said, “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.” Benedict Arnold was British, too. So let us learn from he Benedict Arnold of the Bible, Judas Iscariot, and let us be better men and women for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org