Jesus, the son of God, needed nobody to tell him about people because he knew what was inside them. When he began his work, he chose twelve men to be his closest friends for three years. He talked with them, traveled with them, corrected them, forgave them, and died for them. Yes, for all twelve.
Jesus knew all about Judas. He knew who Judas was. He knew what Judas was. Judas was Everyman. It is popular to view Judas as the supreme traitor of all time, but the fact is that he was no different than the rest of us. He was no different really than Peter, who denied Christ three times during the trial initiated by the betrayal of Judas. We point the finger of scorn at Judas, but all the disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested. We are all alike. When Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I don’t think he muttered under his breath, “except for Judas.”
There are two different stories in the Bible about the death of Judas. The differences in detail matter little. The common thread is that Judas clearly regretted his actions and fell into deep despair when he realized what he had actually done. His story is a lot like many other human stories. People sell out and then realize that the price they were paid didn’t touch the value of what they sold.
I think most people assume that there is a particularly gruesome, painful, overheated spot in a dark corner of hell where Judas suffers for eternity in an agony that is still not painful enough to wipe out his memory of Jesus’ face. If human beings were in charge of the universe of time and eternity that would certainly be the case. Humans love retributive justice. They like to see people get what is coming to them. Most people applaud when a righteous fake is exposed and punished. That was Judas – a righteous fake. We would not be human if we did not think he deserved and thoroughly earned his place in hell.
We are human, however, not God, and God is not so much about retributive justice. God is about forgiveness. If he were about retribution, Jesus would never have died on the cross. Jesus himself said that his life, death and resurrection happened because God loved the whole world. On the cross, one of the thieves suffering beside him was promised paradise, even though he had already confessed that he deserved to die that terrible death.
I won’t pretend that I know what became of Judas in eternity. I do know that when Jesus met Peter after the resurrection, Peter was forgiven. It seems pretty obvious to me that Judas repented of his betrayal with just as much bitterness as Peter, who burst into tears when that rooster crowed. Jesus loved both of these men and knew their weaknesses as well as he knew their strengths.
I have always treasured Peter’s life story, because Peter seems to be a lot like me. Like most people, I don’t even try to delve into the life of Judas, because he is the bad apple. Still, when I think about it now, I wonder if we know as much as we think we do.
Some people say that Jesus chose Judas specifically for his role as a traitor. I don’t believe that is the way God works. God can accomplish his purposes without the necessity of evil. However, Satan is at work in the world, and Satan works deftly in the human heart. In the heart of Judas, Satan apparently found ready material for his work. Judas made a choice that led directly to Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet I believe that Jesus did not exclude Judas when he prayed for the forgiveness of all who took part in his execution. On the day Jesus met Judas, he knew all about him, yet he brought Judas near. He touched Judas and loved Judas.
Here is what catches my attention and makes me pause in my judgment of Judas. I have lived a long time and I have claimed the name of Christ for a long time, yet when I examine myself honestly, I know that I have betrayed Christ many times. Every time I am aware of it, I ask for forgiveness. Knowing that I don’t recognize all the betrayals, I often ask for forgiveness for all the times I “knew not” what I did. I trust that as a baptized believer, marked with the cross of Christ forever, that God will forgive me and that my salvation is sure. I trust that Jesus won’t throw me out in retribution for all my sins. I trust that Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead for me. He forgave Peter for betraying him, and I believe he forgives me as well.
So I wonder – what about Judas?