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]

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,

In my last post I broke your question down into two parts. I argued that 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. In this post I will consider whether it was necessary or inevitable that it would be Judas who would betray him.

My own view is that while it was both inevitable and certain that Jesus would be betrayed, it was not (from our perspective) always inevitable that it would be Judas who would be the betrayer. With that said, however, the story of Judas is a serious warning that once we start down the path of rejecting God’s grace, it can be increasingly difficult to turn back.

The Story of Judas

Judas is not identified by name as the betrayer of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Indeed, there was little to suggest that he was inevitably going to betray Christ throughout most of their time together.

Judas was called and chosen by Jesus.[2] He was among those who went proclaiming the love of God, doing miracles, resisting evil, and giving freely of their possessions.[3] He was among those described by Christ as a ‘sheep among the wolves.’[4] Jesus himself prayed that he ‘kept’ and ‘guarded’ Judas, as he did the other disciples.[5]

Yet there was a growing problem in his heart. When Peter announced that the disciples believed that Jesus was the Holy One of God, Jesus, who had already said that some of those following him did not believe, corrected him and said that one of them was the devil or adversary.[6] Judas had begun to give in to unbelief. What is worse, he came to love money even at the expense of stealing from the collection for the poor.[7] This is the road to spiritual ruin.

At no point in this story is Judas named by Jesus as his inevitable betrayer. What we see is that over time Judas is moving further and further away from Christ. He has gone from being a missionary empowered to do good work, to giving in to unbelief and beginning to oppose Christ in his heart, to loving money and stealing from the poor. Finally he negotiates to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.[8]

The Betrayal

In the Gospels Jesus makes several statements about his betrayal. The clearest is recorded in Matthew 26:24-25:[9]

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

It strikes me that Jesus does not name Judas as the one at that point even though Judas has already negotiated a price for betraying Jesus. Instead Jesus gives as strong a warning as he can that the one planning to betray him should not do so. Then, when Judas asks if he is to be the betrayer, Jesus throws the question back to him. Jesus has warned him but Judas has reached a point where he has to make a choice.

Later in the meal, hours before the betrayal was to take place, Jesus identifies Judas as the betrayer for the first time. We are told in John’s gospel that Jesus takes the bread (from the first communion) and tells Peter that the person to whom he gives it will be the betrayer. When Judas takes the bread Satan enters him and he immediately went out to betray Christ.[10]

At this point it was inevitable that it would be Judas who betrayed Christ. He had hardened his heart to God and opened it to the love of money. There came a point where he could not turn back and his heart was given over to evil rather than good.

A Sober Reflection

The whole story is almost unspeakably sad. The choices Judas makes are so real for us. His life seems so full of potential and hope, he achieves so much good. Yet there is nothing so destructive to our faith, to our families and friends, as unbelief and the love of money. When we stop believing in the love and redeeming work of Christ we open ourselves to selfishness and greed. When we love money we move further from others and from God and open our hearts to evil.

There were moments when Judas could have turned back. Even to the last moment Jesus was offering him a way out of the course he had started to pursue. Yet by that stage it was too late for him to turn back. Not because Christ would not have accepted him; he received any sinner who would come and seek a new life. Rather it was because he had so hardened his heart to the love and grace of the Son of God that he could receive nothing but Satan.

Jane, my friend, as you ponder the story of Judas let this be the message you take from it: do not harden your heart to the love and goodness of Jesus. Do not pursue riches or glory in this world. Once you set off down that path you do you may find it impossible to return until you have destroyed everything that matters to you.

Concluding Thought

God’s purposes and plans cannot be shaken and will not fail. Yet as we experience life we make choices with the grace God gives us. Those choices matter – they shape our hearts and lives, they change the world around us, and under the sovereign hand of God they determine what role we play in the great drama of creation and redemption.

Choose well.

And remember this: Jesus took Judas’ failure, hatred and betrayal and made something beautiful from it. There is nothing, and no one, beyond the love and redeeming power of God. Wherever you are, whatever you have done, there is a way back for you through the work of Jesus.

[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] Luke 6:13

[3] Matthew 10:4-8

[4] Matthew 10:16

[5] John 17:12.

[6] John 6:70.

[7] John 12:1-8 see also John Piper’s sermon extract at < https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/loving-money-is-suicide > [accessed 28 March 2018].

[8] Matthew 26:14-15.

[9] Compare, Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22.

[10] John 13:21-30.

Advertisements