Every so often I get asked questions about how to understand Christianity and read the Bible that I think lots of people are asking. I want to provide a space where some of those questions can be answered. If you have a question you would like me to think about and help with then feel free to email me or send me a message on Facebook. I have a few questions to get to at the moment – I will always answer them if I can but it may take me a bit of time! I will always keep the identity of the questioner anonymous.

I received this question from my friend Jean-Paul’s mum, Jane.[1] Part 2 is coming on Good Friday morning.

Dear Phil,

When I read my Bible every Easter I am puzzled by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. It seems to have been predicted in the Old Testament and that without it Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and the overcoming of death and Satan could not have happened. Was it necessary?

Best wishes,

Jane

Dear Jane,

I’m thrilled that you’re reading the Bible; this must be where J-P gets his passion from. Keep on with it and you will find it is ‘a lamp for your feet, a light on your path.’[2]

This is a good question to ask at Easter. It seems to me that it raises two issues that are distinct and that I’ll treat separately if I may:

  1. Was it necessary or inevitable that Jesus would be betrayed?
  2. Was it necessary or inevitable that it would be Judas who betrayed him?

Both of these issues touch on questions of time, God’s sovereignty and our freedom (as we perceive it). As I said to J-P in my answers to his last question, these are areas where we have to be careful and humble since we are limited and finite beings and therefore find it impossible to comprehend what it means for and infinite and eternal being (God) to interact with a limited and finite world. Nevertheless, the Bible and Christian thought does have something to say about this.

I’m going to follow the Julie Andrews rule and start at the very beginning (because it’s a very fine place to start).

Was it necessary or inevitable that Jesus would be betrayed?

In short, yes, it was inevitable that once God had decided to rescue humanity, Jesus would be betrayed (although I am not sure that I ever want to say something is ‘necessary’ when talking about God since he is completely free).

God’s Choice to Rescue Us

Once humanity had begun to mess up our relationships with God and other people through pride and selfishness (usually referred to as sin) we needed a Saviour. Put simply, we had opened our hearts to the possibility of evil and become spiritually sick. That sickness would lead again and again to actions that separate us from God’s love and mercy and cut us off from each other.

This left us with a problem:

  • As we are sick we need a healer;
  • As we are captive (in that we just can’t help doing wrong) we need a saviour;
  • As we do wrong we need a redeemer to take our punishment; and
  • As we have become estranged from God we need a way back to him.

Only God himself can provide all of these things and he could only do it from within humanity.

This is the story of the Bible:

  • The Old Testament is of God preparing the way for his Son to come and undo the damage done by, to, and through humanity.
  • The Gospels are the story of how he did it.
  • The rest of the New Testament is the story of what happened next.

At this point we should note that God did not have to rescue us. It was not necessary for him to save us nor was it inevitable (if we mean that he was bound to do it). God came to save the world because of his overflowing, overwhelming love for us.[3]

We Would Inevitably Have Rejected Him

We all have within ourselves a tendency to selfishness, to pride and to desire to be free from any constraint whether in favour of others or God. It is as if there is a glitch in our programming that came about at the beginning, a hereditary illness that affects our souls, a corruption that spreads through our actions. It is what Christian tradition has called sin.

The Bible puts it in this way:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way.[4]

This may be difficult to accept, yet it is basically true. It is the part of us that we try to learn to control and suppress, that leads us to yell at our kids, to take more than we need, to cheat, to judge, to gossip. It is the part of us that we don’t like to admit is there but affects us all.

It was inevitable that, having come into a world capable of good yet still corrupted by selfishness, pride and its rejection of God’s rule, God’s Son would be rejected by us and that that rejection would include those who seemed to be his friends. At some point one of us would have found that we did not like God’s ways of humility, love for all, purity, hope; they conflict with our desire to be in charge.

It is the genius of God’s plan of salvation that he took the inevitable expression of our rejection of him and used it to redeem us. This is the message of Easter.

God Knew This

We can go further than this, however. It was not only inevitable that Jesus would be betrayed by someone, it was also certain.

God knew that his Son would be rejected by us.

In the Old Testament the prophets, inspired by God, predicted that this would be the case in passages like Isaiah 53:1-12, Psalm 22, and Psalm 41:6. God’s predictions do not fail – they are sure to be fulfilled. Jesus was aware that Scripture had predicted that he would be betrayed by one of his friends and therefore he knew it would happen; he was not taken by surprise.[5] It was therefore certain that it would happen.

It is interesting to note that following Jesus’ death and resurrection, St Peter also understood that the consequences of Judas’ betray were predicted in the Psalms.[6]

Again, we can rejoice that God was not ignorant of what would happen to his Son. He knew the full extent of what we are capable of and what we will do. He is not taken by surprise, nor is he powerless to respond. He took the inevitable betrayal of his Son and turned it to achieve the redemption of humanity. This should give us enormous confidence in God’s ability to achieve what he sets out to; there is nothing he cannot anticipate, nothing he cannot use for good.

In summary, once God had decided to save humanity through his Son, it was inevitable that Jesus would be betrayed; that is who we are. Moreover, it was certain that it would happen because God had predicted that it would happen. The fact that God used even the betrayal of his Son to achieve the salvation of humanity should give us confidence that in the end his love will inevitably triumph.

In my next post I will consider whether the betrayal would inevitably have come through Judas.

[1] Not my friend’s real name or the name of his mother. Jean-Paul is the name of Charlie’s rival for Zoe’s affections in season 4 of the West Wing. Jane sounds like Jean so I thought it would be funny. The question is a composite of others I have been asked.

[2] Psalm 119:105

[3] John 3:16.

[4] Isaiah 53:6.

[5] See, for example, Matthew 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 22:22.

[6] Acts 1:15-20.

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