Judas Iscariot is one of the most recognized names in the New Testament; not as well-known as Jesus Christ, but probably as readily recognized as Peter, James or John and more so than the other apostles. Sadly, Judas is known for the treachery that is his only claim to fame; his betrayal of Jesus is his whole identity, his sole purpose in history. The traitor or betrayer label is attached to every mention of his name. In the lists of the twelve apostles Judas is always named last, and always as the betrayer.
BEFRIENDED BY JESUS Jesus had become a close friend with Judas, as he had with each of His twelve carefully hand-picked special agents. During three-plus years of close company up and down the land from Judea to Galilee – including adventures at sea, lengthy teaching sessions and ministry to the sick, bereaved and spiritually needy – these privileged men became intimately acquainted with each other and with Jesus. Jesus loved them all, Judas no less than the rest.
Jesus’ sadness was palpable as He declared that one of them would betray Him, saying, “It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mt. 26:24 NIV). Psalm 41:9 foresees Jesus’ betrayal and pain: “Even My close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me.”
When Jesus sent the Twelve out in pairs, there was no hint of anything amiss with Judas. They were sent to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near,” empowered to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mt. 10:7-8). Judas worked alongside the rest of them without the slightest indication of anything sinister.
As one of the Twelve, Judas walked, ate and slept with Jesus, listened to His inspiring teaching, and witnessed many miracles. How could his conscience not have been touched, his heart not moved as he fellowshiped so intimately and constantly with the Son of the Most High God in human form? Were the meager finances in the treasurer’s bag under his care so compelling that he missed ever really knowing Jesus? John tells us that he was a thief who “used to help himself to what was put into it” – the money bag (Jn. 12:6).
BLINDED BY SATAN Obviously, whatever object filled Judas’ vision obstructed his view of the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” that the others saw “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Yet the enemy of Jesus, and of all who seek to live for God, “blinded” him to the reality of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:4). But this enemy (Satan) could only accomplish what Judas allowed; he made choices that left him exposed to Satan’s manipulation.
No one ever had a better opportunity to know Jesus than did Judas. Yet he never really knew him. Peter’s confessions of Jesus’ deity are well documented. By contrast, Judas’ highest evaluation of the Savior – his only reported confession – was that Jesus was “innocent” (Mt. 27:4). But He was infinitely more, and Judas missed it completely.
Judas is a frightening example of how near to Jesus one can be – hearing Him, fellowshiping with Him for three years, watching Him as He demonstrated the love of God in all kinds of interactions with all kinds of people – without ever truly knowing who Jesus was, never surrendering to His Lordship.
SOMETHING WRONG The first suggestion that something was wrong with Judas was his reaction to Mary’s worshipful anointing of Jesus with a costly perfume (Jn. 12:1-11). He asked why it wasn’t sold to benefit the poor. It sounded noble, but John reveals that Judas didn’t care about the poor at all, but had his hand in the bag (Jn. 12:6). At the time, no one suspected anything; some actually joined in Judas’ criticism, calling this use of the perfume a “waste” (Mt. 26:6-9; Mk. 14:4-5).
This sequence of events suggests that this incident was probably the last straw for Judas, triggering his decision to “sell” Jesus to His enemies for profit. Immediately he “went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’” (Mt. 26:13-15).
Jesus’ attitude and behavior toward Judas were expressions of extreme grace and compassion. He never exposed Judas publicly. When He announced that there was a betrayer among them, He did not finger Judas except quietly, privately. They all asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” but showed no suspicion of Judas. Then Judas too asked, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” but, again, Jesus’ response seemed to have gone unnoticed: “Yes, it is you” (Mt. 26:20-25).
John also witnessed these events. When Jesus announced a betrayer and they all stared at one another, Peter asked John (who was nearest Jesus) to ask whom it would be. Jesus responded by dipping bread in the dish and handing it to Judas, marking him as the traitor. But that, too, seemed to have been in a private tone so that no one else noticed. Moments later when Jesus told Judas to do it quickly, “no one at the meal understood why”, but “since Judas had charge of the money, thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor” (Jn. 13:21-29).
John tells us that, as soon as Judas took that bread, Satan entered him, and he left the room and went out into the night (Jn. 13:27-30). No one suspected Judas. And Jesus did not give him away.
BETRAYING WITH A KISS In Gethsemane, having arranged a signal for the arresting authorities, Judas approached Jesus to kiss Him, saying, “Greetings, Rabbi!” Jesus asked, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Then Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him (Mt. 26:48-50; Lk. 22:47-48; Mk. 14:45).
Jesus was not given to cynicism; we cannot suppose that His words were anything but sad. “Are you betraying … with a kiss?” might well have been calculated to reach Judas’ conscience at this last moment. Jesus seemed to brush off the kiss, urging Judas to get to the point: “Friend, do what you came for,” He told him without animosity or sarcasm. He spoke to his betrayer as a “friend” – a sincere expression of regard for a loved companion. Jesus was still Judas’ friend but Judas was no longer Jesus’ friend.
Jesus held out hope for Judas to the very end, not to avoid the betrayal, but to rescue the betrayer. To have identified the betrayer earlier would have exposed him. As far as Jesus was concerned, Judas could still turn back.
I personally believe that even after the betrayal and arrest, Jesus would still have forgiven a truly repentant Judas. Jesus’ mission was, and still is, to save sinners, every one of us. His career ended at the cross, that is why He came. The very soldiers and religious leaders who carried out His crucifixion were eligible for the salvation He purchased. “Father forgive them,” pled Jesus from the cross. No doubt Judas could have been forgiven even then!
At the same time, Jesus recognized that Judas was “the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (Jn. 17:12). His heart was grieved to have lost Judas. He did not condemn him, but He willingly bore the penalty that would have pardoned even Judas Iscariot.
CONDEMNING HIMSELF Judas condemned himself, deliberately choosing his course. It was written beforehand from the perspective of God’s omniscience, not as a script that Judas had no choice but to follow. Was he unaware of the prophecy (Ps. 41:9; Ps. 55:12-14; Zech. 11:12-13)? Judas chose other objects for his attention and affection, willfully committing to a course that led to damnation.
I believe Jesus would have forgiven Judas to the end. But, for Judas’ part, he had already crossed a line past which he could not turn back. He had finally rejected Jesus, leaving himself open to satanic possession. Satan had “prompted Judas … to betray Jesus” (Jn. 13:2), then, “Satan entered Judas” spurring him to go to the Jewish leaders to offer to betray Jesus (Lk. 22:3-4). Finally, after he took the bread from Jesus during the Passover meal, we’re again told that “Satan entered into him” (Jn. 13:27). Satan entered in two stages, initially to impel him to offer the betrayal, then to assure that he would not change his mind. What horror was on his conscience and his damned soul through all eternity in the lake of fire!
Though Satan’s pawn, Judas still had the capacity to grasp what he had done and the hopelessness of his guilty situation, and he was “seized with remorse” – not repentance. He saw no way out but to end his life (Mt. 27:3-5). I firmly believe that the compassionate Savior of sinners was still willing to save Judas, but Judas sealed his own fate by his ultimate rejection of Christ by taking himself out of this life.
JUDAS AND PETER AS EXAMPLES Some have been confused by a perceived similarity between Judas and Peter. Weren’t their sins somewhat identical? No doubt, Peter’s denial of Jesus was a kind of betrayal. But the two men were on very different footings. Peter clearly confessed Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah on at least two occasions (Jn. 6:68-69; Mt. 16:16). Before that he had confessed himself a sinner unworthy of the Lord’s presence and had been graciously forgiven. Jesus said, “Fear not.” He would never leave a sinner in his sins and say that. “Fear not” means that Jesus had forgiven Peter’s sin of unworthiness (Lk. 5:8-10).
Peter loved and served his Lord with his whole heart, in spite of many failures. Jesus knew his love for and commitment to Him were genuine. He knew not only who would betray Him but also who would prove weak under pressure, and He said to Peter: “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat (not enter him and take over his will). But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:31-32). Jesus implied that Satan had permission to work on Peter. Like Job, Peter was untouchable to Satan without his Lord’s consent. Peter belonged to Jesus since he had surrendered himself to Him. Judas had retained his “rights” to his own life and will and was not under Jesus’ protection. There is no suggestion that Jesus prayed for Judas in view of and during his conniving and betrayal. Judas acted as an independent agent.
Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. And it didn’t! Peter never denied the faith he had expressed in his three confessions of Jesus’ identity and deity. He did deny knowing Jesus, and his courage did fail – but not his faith. His confessions came while surrounded by sympathetic friends; his denial came while surrounded by Jesus’ enemies, when the pressure was greatest. Jesus’ intercession saved Peter. The Father would never deny his Son’s petitions. As Jesus was warning Peter about his pending failure, and assuring him of his prayer support, He also promised Peter that he would ultimately be useful to the Lord, ministering to his fellow believers (Lk. 22:31-32).
Of course, Judas was not really an independent agent. He did not really sell his Lord to his enemies. He sold his own soul to Satan. Satan was his lord. Jesus could not pray for him as he did for Peter.
A SOLEMN LESSON Judas is a solemn lesson and warning for all who would “believe” in Jesus casually or superficially. But Peter is an encouragement.The person who has confessed and trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord is born again and belongs to God. The apostle Paul wrote that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ” (Rom. 8:35-39). Jesus’ intercession is an almighty resource. He will never let believers fail like Judas. Like Peter, every believer is untouchable by Satan, except with God’s permission. And He only allows Satan to work on us to refine us for our own good and God’s glory.
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org