Lessons from Judas
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
There are some people in the Bible that get much attention. They get mentioned often in sermons and other settings, and people research them. There are also people in the Bible that don’t get that much if any attention. Sometimes that is because they are not mentioned that often and we don’t have much information about them. Sometimes it is because they don’t provide the “wow” factor like David and Goliath or Samson. Yet there are some people in the Bible that we can learn much and receive inspiration from, although they are more “obscure”. Many people read the Bible with the approach of personal interest. For example, they skip over the genealogies and Leviticus because they find them to be too much “dry” information and not very interesting. We should take the approach that space in the Bible is precious, and its contents are there for a reason which we should seek out. Instead of complaining about the information the Bible leaves out, we should seek to understand what it includes and why.
There are people in the Bible that we don’t hear talked about very much, and yet they are some of my personal “heroes”, such as Ezra, Apollos, and Joseph the husband of Mary. There are also people in the Bible whose errors we can learn much from so we can avoid making the same mistakes. Some of these are popular to talk about such as David and Bathsheba, Samson, and Peter’s denial of Christ. However, there are others that are infamous in the Bible for their evil but don’t get the same attention, such as Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, and Herod. One such person we have all heard of but seldom try to learn from is Judas Iscariot. He made perhaps the greatest personal error in human history by betraying Jesus Christ, yet we mostly fail to discuss the lessons we can learn from him. So, let us examine some things we can glean from what the Bible tells us about him. We should as always stick to the facts given in the scriptures and not venture into conjecture.
Perhaps the most obvious and important question is, “Why did Judas betray the Lord?” The first thing we should understand about this is that Judas gives us a lesson in the foreknowledge of God. The Lord knew from the beginning of time that He would have to come in the flesh and die for us (1Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). Prophecies in the Old Testament show us that details of how that would happen were also in the foreknowledge of God. Specifically, the fact that He would be betrayed by one of His own was spoken of (Ps 41:9, Jn 13:18). Zechariah predicted that the betrayer would do it for thirty pieces of silver which would later be cast down in the temple and used to buy a potter’s field (Zech 11:12-13, Mt 27:3-10).
Jesus spent a night in prayer and in the morning chose the twelve apostles (Lk 6:12-16). Judas was specifically chosen by the Lord to be one of the twelve. He knew from the beginning Judas was the betrayer (Jn 6:64 & 71, Jn 13:11-12). Jesus knew why He came into the world and that the scriptures had to be fulfilled (Mt 26:54-56, Lk 24:25-46). At the last supper, Jesus clearly knew what Judas was up to, told him in front of the others, and even told him to hurry up and get it done (Jn 13:21-30). When Judas approached the garden to do his evil deed, Jesus knew that he was coming and why (Mt 26:45-56, Lk 22:48).
So, this brings up the question, “Was Judas foreordained before his birth to be the betrayer?” The Old Testament never specified who individually would be the one. It only says that someone would do it. Judas had a character flaw in him which led him to do what he did. He was greedy. He was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, and he stole from the money which was meant to support the mission (Jn 12:4-6, Jn 13:29). He betrayed Jesus for money. Yet there was an incident which sheds further light on what happened in the heart of Judas which led him to this terrible act. When Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus, Judas complained about the waste of money (Jn 12:1-8). Not only does this show his greed, but his view of Jesus. To him, anointing Jesus was just a waste of money. His heart was where what he valued was (Mt 6:19-33). This shows us the true nature of greed when it consumes the heart. That is why the Bible warns us so severely against it (Mt 13:22, Mk 10:13-21, 1Tim 6:5-19, Jam 2:5-9). It wasn’t that Judas individually had no choice and was compelled by prophecy to be the betrayer. It was that someone was going to do it, the Lord saw his heart from the beginning, and He incorporated that into the execution of His will and plan. Jesus said to the apostles, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil (Jn 6:70)?” The word devil means false accuser. Jesus also called Judas the son of perdition (Jn 17:12). The Pharaoh that withstood Moses is another example of this (Ex 9:16). It is noteworthy that right after Jesus rebuked Judas for complaining about the waste of money he went to the high priest to plan his betrayal (Mt 26:14-16, Mk 14:10-11). So, the betrayal was foreordained but not the betrayer. So it is with the church. God foreordained that there would be a church, but not which specific individuals would be in it. God wants everyone to be saved (2Pet 3:9), but He gives us the choice. As for where Judas ended up eternally, it is not our job to decide who is saved or not. However, he did choose to commit suicide by hanging (Mt 27:5) and therefore “went to his own place (Acts 1:25)”. “Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree (Deut 21:23, Gal 3:13).”
Also related to the question of the foreknowledge of God is the issue of unconditional eternal security or “once saved always saved” as taught by Calvinism. The heart of Judas was clearly not right with God and his behavior shows that. Satan filled it and moved him to betray the Lord (Lk 22:3, Jn 13:27). It does not say a devil, but Satan himself. It would be a difficult task to explain Biblically how someone can be filled with Satan and be saved without repenting and after committing suicide (Heb 9:27). There are over 100 verses in the New Testament alone that have the word “if” attached as a condition of salvation. There is eternal security for those who are saved according to the scriptures and abide in that salvation, but it is not unconditional. We must choose. God has already chosen to come in the flesh and die for our salvation. The choice is now ours to receive it or not. We must also consider that the same night Judas betrayed the Lord, Peter denied Him three times. There are similarities between these two. They were both chosen disciples. They both followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. They were both warned beforehand by Jesus at the last supper of their failures and questioned the warnings. The betrayal and denial were both grave failures. Peter was there when Jesus said, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Mt 10:33)”. Jesus specifically said this in the context of doing it to avoid being persecuted which is what Peter was doing. Yet there is one huge difference between Peter and Judas. It was how they responded to their failures. Judas went out and hanged himself, and Peter went out and wept bitterly (Lk 22:62). Peter was restored by Jesus (Jn 20) and returned to his place in the church (Acts 1-12, etc.). The difference was how they responded to their failure. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All have failed the Lord and none lives an absolutely perfect life even after they are saved. The issue is our response to failure. Do we repent, get back up, and go on; or do we “go out and hang ourselves” literally or figuratively? It is mostly up to us.
As Judas approached the Lord in the garden, Jesus called him friend (Mt 26:50). Jesus knew why he was there. It would seem that Judas was His enemy and not His friend. That is how we perceive things, but God's view is the eternal perspective (Is 55:8-11, Is 57:15). Jesus knew what the plan was all along, and He understood that Judas was actually fulfilling part of that plan. Jesus told us to love our enemies, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them (Mt 5:43-48). This seems difficult, but when we understand that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose", and that "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:28 & 31), then we can realize that even those people and situations that seem to be against us can actually be used by God to accomplish His plan, even though it may be unpleasant at the time. Even the devil is subject to God and ultimately can be an instrument to fulfill the word and will of God. Satan entered into Judas and thought he was using him to destroy Jesus (Lk 22:3, 1Cor 2:6-8). Yet he was unwittingly fulfilling God's plan for our salvation. Judas was lost by his own choice, but it was toward the fulfilling of the scriptures (Jn 17:12). The question is not, "Is God in control?". The question is, "Do we put our trust and faith in Him?". God doesn't expect us to be gullible or to enjoy adversity, but He does want us to have peace in Him despite contrary earthly circumstances (Jn 14:27, Jn 16:33).