Jesus and Sinners: Judas

Jesus and Sinners: Judas

Jesus and Sinners: Judas.

“So Judas came straight to Jesus, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ he exclaimed, and gave Him a kiss. Jesus said, ‘My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.’ Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested Him.” (Matthew 26:49-50).

The tragic life of Judas Iscariot is well documented in the Gospels. He was hand-picked by Jesus to be in the original group of twelve disciples. He was soon the treasurer of that group’s common purse as they traveled from place to place. Judas was greedy and dishonest, though, and he occasionally stole from the purse when he wanted money. Judas followed Jesus for three years, listening to all His parables, witnessing the countless miracles, observing Jesus in his interactions with everyone from the Pharisees to the lepers. Judas was with Jesus around the campfires at night, at meals, in synagogues, on the road. But Judas never really believed in Jesus. He was going through the motions of following Him without actually taking Him in.

Judas had some type of agenda for Jesus, and the Lord never followed it. Judas finally gave up on Him. Judas’ betrayal could have been for any number of reasons: maybe he wanted a political savior instead of a spiritual one; maybe he wanted a new government instead of the Kingdom; maybe he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be offered a plum position in Jesus’ new order; maybe he wanted status and favor from the religious establishment instead of being rejected around every corner with Jesus; maybe he simply rejected Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah; maybe it was just a matter of simple greed, a desire for money, 30 pieces of silver at that. We don’t know the initial motivation exactly, or the convoluted way he arrived at his treachery. But Judas committed the gravest sin in human history. He betrayed someone who loved him, he betrayed his friend and his Lord.

With all these spiritual complications in Judas’ psyche, he became ripe for manipulation in the hands of Satan. The enemy used Judas, plain and simple. Satan gleefully moved Judas from one square to another on his checkerboard. But while the evil one was playing checkers, God was playing chess. And Judas chose to become a pawn. Judas used his free will to become a fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan:

  • “Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.” (Psalm 41:9; also refer to Jesus’ words in John 13:18).
  • “It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend. What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.” (Psalm 55:12-14).
  • “I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations even as I am praying for them! They repay evil for good, and hatred for my love… Let his years be few, let someone else take his position.” (Psalm 109:4, 5, 8; also refer to Acts 1:20).

In the end, Judas was filled with remorse. He finally realized that he had betrayed an innocent and good man. Instead of seeking forgiveness, though, he sought self-destruction. He committed suicide and left no room for redemption in his guilt. The tale of Judas and his treachery is completely tragic. As Jesus said on that fateful night, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” (Mark 14:21).

How did Jesus respond to someone who could literally be called the chief of sinners? What was Jesus’ reaction as He saw Judas start spinning a small web of dishonesty until it became a giant web of betrayal? Through the whole process, Jesus displayed forbearance, friendship, and forgiveness.

Forbearance. Jesus knew at the start that Judas was stealing from the common purse. And He knew Judas wasn’t about to change. There are no secrets from Jesus, because no one can look into the human heart quite like Him. (John 2:25). “Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and He knew who would betray Him.” (John 6:64). Jesus knew of Judas’ early thievery, but He didn’t do anything about it. As Jesus said in Luke 4:19, quoting Isaiah 61, this is still the time of God’s grace and favor, “the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus’ kindness here towards Judas was intended to give Judas a chance at turning his life around. “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Alas, Judas continued hardening his heart, and repentance was not forthcoming.

Friendship. Jesus knew what was going on in Judas’ heart, and yet He continued to offer Judas acceptance and friendship. Jesus never wavered in His commitment to Judas. On the one hand, early in His ministry He called Judas “the devil.” (John 6:70). But on the other hand, Jesus remained faithful to Judas throughout their years together in ministry. Just before His betrayal, Jesus actually washed the feet of Judas! (John 13). How could Judas have allowed that to happen in good conscience? By that time, Judas had no conscience. Shortly later at the Last Supper, Jesus dipped a piece of bread into a bowl and offered it to Judas. This was an extraordinary gesture in this situation, because in their culture to perform that simple act in particular was a display of intimate friendship. It was at this point that Satan entered Judas’ heart for good. (John 13:26). And finally, when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus addressed Judas with, “Friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” (Matthew 26:50). There are two Greek words for friend. One word, philos, means true friend and intimate companion. The other Greek word is hetairos, which means false friend, someone who attaches himself to a one-sided friendship for selfish reasons. Aware of all the dynamics in this complex situation, Jesus called Judas hetairos. Jesus acknowledged that with Judas He indeed had a one-sided friendship.

Forgiveness. As Jesus gasped for breath on the cross, He uttered this famous intercessory prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Jesus could very well have been fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12, which declared that the Suffering Servant was “interceding for the rebellious.” Jesus seems to be asking the Father not to charge certain people with the depravity involved in killing the very Son of God in all His innocence and purity. Overlook the wrongs of these perpetrators, Jesus is pleading, since they do not understand the profound role they play in this cosmic drama. They can’t grasp how they are part of God’s grand scheme of prophecy fulfillment and eternal salvation. Some biblical scholars claim that the Greek text implies a repetitive action, that His prayer on the cross was not a one-time prayer. Evidently, Jesus kept asking the Father to forgive all those who had done Him wrong during His Passion. Can one imagine the amazing love displayed by the Lord as He in His depleted and tortured state, hanging on the cross, mentally goes through an inventory of who needs to be forgiven? Certainly at the top of the list was none other than Judas, His betrayer. There is a deep mystery here… Did the Father comply with Jesus’ request to forgive Judas? Or was Jesus accurate when He earlier said that “none of my disciples are lost except the son of perdition, the one headed for destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12).

During His time with Judas, Jesus put up with him, befriended him, and ultimately forgave him. That is the very definition of agape love.