The Judas who changed his name
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
We that are parents, have all undergone one of the problems that has faced all parents throughout history. What name shall we give to our soon-to-arrive child? I remember the process that Amy and I went through, three different times. Since we did not know the gender of any of our children before they were born, we had to come up with a name for a boy and name for a girl. And since it is the custom to give at least two names for each child that meant we had to come up with four different names for each birth, two that would fit a girl and two that would fit a boy.
We would think of a name that had a pleasant sound or was significant, then we would test it out to see what would happen if it got shortened and rejected some on that ground. Then we would come up with a name that was meaningful and sounded right, but then we would think of a person who wore that name, and who had left an unpleasant association to the name and we said “I think not.”
Some names, you see, get spoiled. Some of those names have been spoiled for all time for all children. No one calls their children Rudolph any more. A reindeer with a red nose wore the name and took sole possession of it and made it un-selectable, though for centuries it had been a good name.
Before the second world war there were many families in North America who bore the name Hitler. After the war, families changed their last names and the name Hitler disappeared from the telephone books. The man had spoiled a good name for ever.
And there is a Biblical name that was a great name. Multiplied thousands of children were given this best of all names. The name was Judah or Judas. It was a name that meant “praise”. It was the name of the Son of Jacob, Judah, from whom Judaism gets its name. But one day a man named Judas betrayed the son of God and the name was no longer one of praise, but one of ignominy.
The Name Change
Two of the disciples of Jesus are named Judas. Whenever two disciples share the same name, a nickname or a second name is given so that the two can be distinguished from each other. It is interesting that the disciple who gets our focus today ended up carrying four different names or titles.
Luke, the precise historian, calls him Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). That is his given name. His parents gave it to him as their act of praise to God, and with the hope that he would be like Judas their great ancestor or more probably, that he would be like Judas Maccabaeus the recent great hero of Judaism. He is Judas the son of James.
When the Gospel of John refers to him, the author just calls him Judas, but then adds a very intriguing note. He writes “Then Judas (not Iscariot) said to him….” Judas not Iscariot. Quite the title. (John 14:22)
John knew that the name Judas when standing alone had picked up so much baggage that when he records the words of Judas he wants to assure us that the speaker was not the betrayer.
It may well have been that as Judas the Son of James traveled throughout the church and when people heard his name, they invariable asked the question, “You are not that Judas are you? And he would have to say “I am Judas, but not Iscariot.” That process of explaining his name may have been such a nuisance that it may have been the reason for him using another name.
Mark does not tell us that he was called Judas at all. In the list of the 12 apostles he just calls him Thaddeus. (Mark 3:18) We know it is the same man simply by elimination. We have 11 men who carry the same names in all the Gospels. Judas or Thaddeus is the same man, with two different names.
When Matthew lists him, in the King James Bible he is given two names. (Matthew 10:3) He is called “Lebbaeus also called Thaddaeus”. The two names mean the same thing in two different dialects. Lebbaeus is Hebrew and Thaddaeus is its Aramaic equivalent.
A Man of Heart
We do not know when Judas the Son of James took on the name Thaddaeus. It could have been given to him by Jesus, as the nicknames of Simon Peter or the sons of Zebedee, the Sons of Thunder. It may have been given to him by Jesus to help make a distinction between men of similar name but dissimilar nature.
Or it could have been given by others who knew him well. Those who knew Judas well, knew that the nickname Thaddaeus was a more fitting name.
Of course, It could have been selected by Judas himself, to solve the embarrassment of always being called “Judas not Iscariot.”
But what does this name in two languages mean? It means a man of the heart. A man with a warm heart. A man of compassion. A man who felt deeply about people. Judas, now called Thaddaeus, was a person who cared deeply about others.
It is an interesting Biblical phenomenon this matter of naming. Parents named their children in hope. They gave them names that often indicated the dream they had for their children.
But in the same scriptures new names are given when something has happened or enough time has transpired for the person to have earned another name.
After Jacob wrestled with the Angel of God his name was changed from Jacob meaning “heal grasper” to Israel, meaning “a Prince with God.”
Naomi in her depression wants her name changed to Mara meaning bitterness.
In the New Testament a man named Joseph gets his name changed to Barnabas because he is a son of consolation.
And Saul of Tarsus gets his name changed to Paul, a name meaning “the little one.”
And it may be that Judas the son of James cared so much for others that he was given the name “Man of the heart.” A change of name to indicate a change of nature.
What name would I choose?
I have been thinking throughout this week about my own names. I was named by my parents David Nelson Ashton. But if someone in authority said to me, “those names are now inadmissible. You must choose another name by which to be called.” What name would I choose?
William Faulkner wrote a book in the 1950’s called “the Town”. The town was a microcosm of the moral condition of the nation. The names of the inhabitants are all significant. One of the children is named “Montgomery Ward Snopes” The perfect name for a child being trained to be a consumer. To this child buying and consuming were expected to provide his primary identity. (E, H. Peterson, Run with the horses. P. 29) In Canada we might call the same child Sears Eaton’s Walmart. Born to shop!
But the question was before me? What new name should I choose for myself that described my character?
If I let my neighbours choose my name what would it be? I do not know the variety of names that might come my way. But I do know that some would please me and others would pain me, and I would get a bit defensive and say “But you don’t really know me.”
If I let my family choose my name what would it be? Again I cannot read the mind of the four ladies with whom I share life. I’d just be guessing. I hope they would be nice names! But would they be true names?
What if God Himself were to choose my name? My neighbours and my family may not know the whole truth about me. But God knows me better than I know myself. If He were to assign me my name I wonder what it would be? The book of the Revelation tells us that at the end of history we are all to receive a new name, that fits us to a tee. And when the Omniscient God who knows me infinitely well, gives me my new name, I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was something like Thaddaeus, a man of the heart.
But if I were to choose my own name what would it be? Should it be a description of what I already am? I’m not sure that I would like that.
Maybe it could be a name to describe what I would like to be? Perhaps a name could be chosen that would reflect my aspirations. I would like to choose a name filled with hope and anticipation to act as a guide to me. That is one of the reasons that a saint’s name was given in baptism to each person. A name that would help guide character as well as give us a sense of identity.
If you were to be given a name that fits you, do you know what it would be? It is a question worth asking. I am not sure what name I should wear, but I know what I want to be like. No. Let me say it better. I know whom I want to be like. “O To Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer!”