Monday, April 02, 2007

The Fate of Judas

This morning we heard the Passion narrative from Matthew’s Gospel read in Chapel. Each of the tutor groups are taking a Gospel each morning, and doing a dramatic reading of the story of the crucifixion. And it was during the reading that my mind was jolted by a phrase in the middle of the reading.

‘When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”’ (Matthew 27:3-4 RSV).

Judas repented, according to the RSV text. Did he? So that made me wonder about Judas, and to explore the Biblical texts again to see about him. First, we’ll check the same verse in other versions, before looking at other texts concerning him. Was he saved? Or what was his fate?

First, on the repenting verse, the NIV says that Judas ‘seized with remorse’, and the ESV says that he ‘changed his mind.’ So was this a repentance, a turning from sin to life? Given his words, it may appear that he was indeed repenting – he acknowledges his sin, and you could say he confesses it.

But was this enough? Will we meet Judas in heaven? Some would argue that we will, because Judas had played the role that was expected (or even predestined) for him – chosen to be the betrayer, which was essential to the plan of salvation. Further, with the evidence of repenting that we’ve already seen, was he right with God?

Using my concordance, there are 31 references to ‘Judas’ in the New Testament, but some of these refer to ‘Judas called Barsabbas’, who travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch after the so-called Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. This is probably also why Judas the betrayer is referred to as ‘Judas called Iscariot’.

The references include him among the twelve that Jesus picked to be ‘apostles’ (Matt 10:4, Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16). But after that, the references all tell the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus – taking the initiative to go to the chief priests and offering to betray Jesus to them. Luke attributes this action to Satan (Luke 22:3), as does John (John 13:2), although from John’s account, it appears that Satan has put the thought of betrayal into Judas’ heart earlier, but only enters him at the Last Supper when Jesus identifies Judas as the betrayer (John 13:27). Indeed, the other disciples thought that the thing he was going to do quickly was an act of charity or of urgent supplies for the feast.

So Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, a symbol of closeness, a sign of friendship tarnished and degraded by the act of betrayal. In doing what he did, Judas fulfilled the Scripture written of him – ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’ (Ps 41:9 quoted in John 13:18). The friend became the servant of the devil, in advancing the wicked scheme of silence and kill Jesus.

So where is Judas now? Is he in heaven or hell? Some would argue that, because he had fulfilled Scripture, he must have been doing the will of God – that Jesus couldn’t have died unless Judas had done the deed. But surely this does not excuse the act of sin, or the guilt pertaining to it? There must still be the personal responsibility for his actions. Or you might wonder why Jesus picked Judas to be a disciple if he knew Judas would betray him. Again, the plan of God had to be fulfilled, yet Judas is responsible for his own choices. Just because Satan tempted him does not mean he would have to fall. Just because Satan knocks on the door doesn’t mean we have to let him in!

It seems that Judas was quite happy to invite Satan in, being greedy and with an eye to his own profit. So, we find that in Matthew’s account, Judas says to the chief priests “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt 26:15) Further, John tells us that Judas’ indignation about the costly sacrifice of the expensive ointment was not because of the impact it could have had on the poor, but rather ‘because he was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.’(John 12:6) The other Gospels tell that he was delighted when the chief priests offered him money for the betrayal.

So what of his end? Did Judas repent? He certainly was overcome by remorse, seeing Jesus condemned despite being innocent, but did he direct it in the proper channel? He went back to the chief priests and certainly tried to make amends. He confessed his sin to the priests, not that they were particularly interested or bothered. He threw the money back at them, which they then piously used to buy a field because they could not put their own blood money into the temple treasury.

But did Judas confess to God? While trying to sort the horizontal relationships, did he sort the vertical? Did he find salvation on that Good Friday? No doubt another criminal and thief did – the dying thief on the cross beside Jesus found grace and salvation. But what about Judas?

In an earlier time, the church would have said that Satan was obviously in hell because he committed suicide. On that, I’m not sure. But let’s look at the Scriptures. Judas wasn’t the only one to fail Jesus on that Thursday night. The other disciples fled from Gethsemane and abandoned him. Peter, the big man, went one stage further, and called down curses on himself to strongly deny knowing Jesus.

Yet Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter, who was restored to fellowship by the risen Jesus. Peter in the days between the ascension and Pentecost chaired the meeting that picked the new ‘twelfth man’ to fill Judas’ place. At that meeting, the church prayed that they would know whether Joseph or Matthias should be appointed, and said “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:24-25). Judas turned aside to go to his own place. Where was that place? Would it be the paradise promised to the dying thief?

Jesus spoke of the one who would betray him in strong words. “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.” (Matt 26:24). How could not being born be better than being in paradise? It would suggest that Judas had not been right with God when he died – nor indeed at any time. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had called him ‘a devil’ (John 6:71) and ‘the son of destruction’ (John 17:12). So, using 2 Corinthians 7, which says that ‘For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death’ (2 Cor 7:1), we must conclude that Judas’ sorrow was that worldly grief that only produced death.

One more thing before we leave Judas and the betrayal, though. And this is perhaps the most fearful thing of all. At the Last Supper when Jesus said that one of the Twelve would betray him, they didn’t all turn round and point at Judas. They didn’t expect it to be him. Rather, ‘The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke’ (John 13:22). Indeed, as the passage goes on, even when Jesus identifies him, the disciples still don’t realise what is going on, thinking that he is away to buy something or give money to the poor (John 13:28-30).

The disciples didn’t imagine it would be Judas. Rather, they were all taken by a guilty conscience, or a godly fear. ‘And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”’ (Matt 26:22). We’re used to those words being used in the chorus of the hymn ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’ – ‘Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord, I have heard you calling in the night’. Yet here the disciples ask ‘is it I’ out of fear that they are the betrayer! And if the disciples, those who had spent the three years with Jesus, could have such doubt about their own faithfulness, then do we also need to take care about our walk with Jesus? Could I turn to be a betrayer? Is there a danger that I might betray my Lord, or deny the faith?

Thankfully, we have the promise of Jesus: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’ ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.’ (John 6:37; 10:14)

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