I was reading in your book about lordship salvation. It mentioned that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus and was saved. Judas was also a disciple of Jesus but not saved. How do you know for sure that Joseph was saved before he begged for the body of Jesus, seeing that they were both referred to as disciples?
Thank you for your question and for reading Repentance and Faith: Two Sides to One Decision. Your reference is to the chapter addressing lordship salvation, the concept of secret believers (e.g.: Joseph of Arimathaea), and this contradicting the idea of having to make Jesus lord of all as the condition of salvation. It is a fair question regarding the use of the word disciple. All four Gospels mention Judas and Joseph of Arimathaea, so let’s consider the biblical contexts that provide specific clues as to the heart condition of both Judas and Joseph of Arimathaea to help us discern whether Joseph was a believer in Jesus:
The name Judas and the word disciple in the singular do not occur together in the New Testament. This is significant. The biblical text never specifically refers to Judas individually as a disciple of Jesus.
Six times, Judas is designated as “one of the twelve” (Matt. 26:14, 47; Mark 14:10, 43; Luke 22:47; John 6:71) and once, he is noted as “being of the number of the twelve” (Luke 22:3). These contexts refer to the collection of apostles Jesus gathered, and Judas was part of that corporate group. However, Judas is only mentioned as being in this group known as “the twelve.” This is not the same as saying he himself was a disciple. One time, Judas is referred to as “one of his disciples” (note the plural of disciple used here), but this simply indicates that he was one among the twelve.
Judas was definitely in the corporate group of those Jesus chose to be close to Him, but the Scripture never refers to him individually as a disciple. On the contrary, when Judas is named, the Scripture specifies that he is the one who “betrayed” Jesus (Matt. 10:4; 26:5; 27:3; Mark 3:19; John 18:2, 5). In forward-looking passages, John twice identifies Judas as the one who would betray Jesus (John 6:71; 12:4) while Luke designates him as the one “which also was the traitor” (Luke 6:16).
The fact that the Scripture never refers to Judas as a disciple couples with specific descriptions of him as a betrayer to confirm he never was a believer in Jesus. He was in the corporate group of the twelve apostles/disciples but was not a disciple himself.
- Joseph of Arimathaea
Matthew 27:57 says, “When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple.” The word was (an aorist tense verb) conveys the fact of an action in the past. The idea is “who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.” Unlike Judas, Joseph is specifically and individually described in the singular as Jesus’ disciple. The past tense of was along with being named a disciple indicates Joseph of Arimathaea was a disciple/believer some time before the crucifixion of Jesus.
Mark 15:43 says, “Joseph of Arimathæa, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.” The word waited is in the present tense which conveys linear or continuous action. The idea is “who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.” In other words “who himself was in the process of waiting for the kingdom of God.” Again, although the verb tense is present tense, the various translations reveal he was already waiting for the kingdom.
Luke 23:50-51 says, “And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathæa, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.” Here the word waited is in the imperfect tense which conveys linear action in the past. The idea is “who was waiting for the kingdom of God.” The imperfect tense along with the detail that Luke provides about not consenting to the evil counsel and deed implies Joseph was a follower of Jesus before begging for His body.
John 19:38 says, “And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.” The verb being is in the present tense, conveying that which is ongoing. The specific singular reference being a disciple of Jesus indicates Joseph (unlike Judas) was a disciple, a believer, a true follower of Jesus. The qualifying phrase, but secretly for fear of the Jews, employs the perfect tense which conveys the fact of a past action with continuing ramifications. Therefore, Joseph of Arimathaea was a believer prior to the crucifixion.
All four contexts use verb tenses and/or precise wording to convey that Joseph of Arimathaea was a believer in Jesus well before asking for His body. The phrase but secretly for fear of the Jews (John 19:38) explicitly states he was a secret follower of Jesus. The demand of full surrender to the lordship of Christ as the condition for the moment of salvation does not fit the biblical narrative regarding Joseph of Arimathaea. He was first a believer in Jesus and later would come out openly, thus surrendering to the lordship of Jesus.
Believing in Jesus is the condition for salvation (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:47). This is when one becomes a disciple. Yielding to the lordship of Christ brings one into the full blessings of discipleship and growth.
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