In recently discussing the scripture surrounding Holy Week with my sister, we got on the topic of Judas. Why did he do what he did? And did he have a choice?
Judas was one of the 12 apostles of Christ. He was one of the people closest to our Lord. So why did he betray Jesus? When we look at the time leading up to the crucifixion, we see a lot of turmoil. Riots had become commonplace events. Those in power were struggling to prove to Rome that they had control of the events taking place. Jesus had already attracted negative attention by those who disagreed with His beliefs or who felt threatened by the power He held. In Luke 22:1-6 we read:
“Now the feast of the Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put Him to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and the temple guards to discuss a plan for handing Him over to them. They were pleased and agreed to pay him money. He accepted their offer and sought a favorable opportunity to hand Him over to them in the absence of a crowd.”
In Matthew 26: 14-16 we read another, shorter account of Judas approaching the authorities:
“Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand Him over”
Let’s move ahead a bit to Matthew 26:20-25:
“When it was evening, He reclined at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to Him on after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord.’ He said in reply, ‘He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.’ Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ He answered, ‘You have said so.'”
There are several key points in this passage. The first I would like to look at is this: each of the Twelve asks if they are the one who will betray Jesus. Here is the difference. One after another they all ask “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Judas asks the question in a different way. He asks, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” The other eleven refer to Jesus as Lord. They verbally acknowledge that He truly is their Lord and God. Judas has not fully given himself over to the fact that Jesus is Lord. He instead refers to Him as Rabbi. The term rabbi means teacher. While Judas holds Jesus in great esteem, the fact the he is the only one who approaches the question with the word Rabbi rather than Lord, alludes to the fact that Judas had doubts. When we begin to doubt God,we open up space in our hearts for the devil to enter in. Judas had doubts about Jesus. He also had a deep love for money. He chose to go to the authorities in the midst of political turmoil for the promise of money. The doubt he had, coupled with the fears he probably held over what would happen if he was associated with Jesus, opened up room in his heart for Satan to enter in. And he did. Once Satan entered into his heart, he made the arrangements to betray money. He let Satan control his actions and gave into the worldly pleasures of money.
So now that we have looked at what may have motivated Judas, the next question is, did he have a choice? Some people read the passage of the Last Supper and think that because Jesus could already tell that Judas was going to betray Him, there was no out. That Judas was doomed and had no choice but to betray Jesus. I do not believe this at all.
When we talk about God, one of the words we often use us omnipresent. The word omnipresent means always present. God is always present. Jesus is God and therefore is also always present. This does not only refer to being everywhere in the present. God is not restricted to our human confines of time. He is present in the past, in the present, and in the future simultaneously. The future is not set in stone because we all have been given free will by God. He does not know who among us will fall to sin. He knows what choices we may face and what potential consequences may follow. But ultimately the choice is ours. So Jesus knows what will happen if Judas goes through with his plan because he is already present in the future. It’s a lot to wrap your mind around and we will never fully comprehend God’s omnipresence but keeping that in mind allows us to see the choice that Judas had more clearly.
When Jesus says to the Twelve, “One of you will betray me,” He is speaking in reference to the fact that one of the Twelve already has. Judas may not have gone through with his actions yet, but in his heart he had already betrayed Jesus by going to the authorities to arrange for His arrest. When Jesus stated that it would be better if the betrayer had never been born, I do not believe He is saying that Judas should have never lived because his sole purpose was to betray Christ. No. I believe He is issuing this as a warning. I believe He is saying to Judas in that moment, I know what is in your heart, I know what you have planned, if you go through with this, you will be filled with such sorrow and grief at what Satan will have done through you that you will wish you were dead. Of course this is merely my interpretation, but I think it makes sense. Judas still had the choice. Jesus had to die for our salvation, but it could have been accomplished with another had Judas chosen differently. I think we see another clear example of the choice Judas had in John’s account of the discussion surrounding who was the betrayer in John 13:26-27
“Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.’ So He dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”
Jesus says clearly that the betrayer is the one who takes the morsel after Him. He then hands it to Judas who takes it. Judas did not have to take the morsel. He just heard Jesus say whoever did would be the betrayer. And if we combine this with the passage with the other Gospel accounts, we know Jesus had already warned Judas that if he goes through with this he will wish he was never born. Mark’s gospel even places the two statements right next to each other in Mark 14:20-21.
Judas had already let fear, doubt, and greed open him up to the power of the devil. In his heart, he had already betrayed Jesus. Jesus knew this and knew that Judas was learned in the teachings that stated the Son of Man would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:10.) He knew that Judas probably felt he had no choice at this point. And so he warned him. And when he offered the morsel to Judas, Judas was filled with doubt and fear and allowed Satan to again enter into him. Once the devil was inside him, he takes the morsel to finalize his intent of betrayal.
Jesus loved Judas. Even when Judas comes to Jesus in the garden to arrest Him, Jesus greets him Friend (Matthew 26:50.) Jesus came into the world to save us all. He doesn’t want any of us to fall to sin. He gave his very life to save us from sin! Certainly He did not do this only to condemn his friend to sin without any chance of redemption. Jesus, because He is God, is omnipresent and knew what God’s plan was. He knew what was in the heart of Judas and knew that Judas was being used by Satan. He tried to warn him but his heart was hardened and his will was weakened. Judas knew after seeing Jesus condemned that what he had done was wrong. Matthew 27:3-10 tells us that he regretted his actions and even tried to return the money and tell that Jesus truly was innocent. So filled with grief and remorse, Judas ran away and killed himself.
The story of Judas is a sad one. It is easy to look at the story in brief and say ‘Oh Judas was a terrible person he betrayed Christ.’ But when we look at it more closely we see a man tormented by fear and doubt who succumbed to the devil. We see a man who, even though he was warned, went through with the betrayal as Satan worked through him and despised what he had become enough to kill himself. How many times do we doubt God and His will for our lives? How many times are we afraid and do not place out trust completely in God? How many times do we turn to money and material things instead of focusing on heavenly treasures? How many times do we open ourselves up to the devil? Certainly we have been warned. We know what is good and what is bad. Judas was unable to shake the hold that the devil had on him. We have the chance to choose for ourselves what path we take. We have to remain strong in the Lord. We must heed the warnings we have been given and strive to place all our trust in the Lord so that there is no room for the devil in our lives. The devil is very real and will try to steer us away from God. Through prayer and faith in the Lord, we can resist his temptation and live with our Lord in heaven for all eternity.