Anyone who is familiar with the Christian Gospels should be highly acquainted with the story of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. It is a horrific tale with a morbid end. There is graphic detail regarding the consequences Judas endured physically, but furthermore, spiritually. Jesus himself said, “It would have been better for him that he were never born.” – Matthew 26:24. That seems incomprehensible when coming from the lips of mercy Himself. I can’t see how that would’ve been easy for him to say, though it was the truth.
Personally, I have somewhat struggled reflectively with Judas’ story. The title of this article is a question that had frequented my mind almost every time Judas was even mentioned, let alone when reading the gospels. The question became synonymous with his story for me. If there were a poll asking this question conducted among believers, or really anyone familiar with the story, I would bet money that the outcome would most likely be 50/50. Many would claim yes, because the rest of the gospel is about repentance and forgiveness; many would say no, because what he did was beyond heinous and worthy of hellfire.
Truthfully, I can’t say with any certainty that Judas could or couldn’t have been forgiven. However, as I have meditated on this question, I have come to believe that the answer to the question may not be what is expected. Apropos, between forgiveness or un-forgiveness.
God sees and judges the heart
There is a difference between a one time murderer and a serial killer. Motive is an irreplaceable puzzle piece that can place someone in the respective aforementioned classifications. A murder suspect may have truly had a brief bout of insanity caused by an onset of uncontrollable circumstances. Sequentially producing a loss of the faculties of self-control, spawning a severe lapse in judgment, and finally, birthing the crime of murder. Ergo, if this ultimately is the verdict for this convict, sentencing usually won’t be as harsh as it would be for someone who evidently had premeditated motive. Why is this important though? Isn’t all sin the same in God’s eyes? Eh.. yes and no. Brass tax, sin is sin and it displeases God… no getting around that. However, let’s look at what our beloved spiritual ancestor, Paul, states in First Corinthians,
“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”
This scripture has an undeniable connotation that reveals inequality in sin– i.e., the seven deadly sins are more consequential than lesser sins, such as a personal conviction of whether or not to drink alcohol.
Now, regarding the case of Judas, I didn’t mention the things above to compare to his sinful betrayal. I am only attempting to set up a foundation for my explanation.
John 6:64-70 is an imperative passage of scripture when it comes to understanding Judas’ heart.
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.”
John 6:64-71 NKJV
We see that many of the other disciples that are not of the original twelve had departed, never to follow Jesus again. Furthermore, in this passage, Judas was indirectly called out by Jesus. Jesus knew Judas’ heart was far from him because Judas’ heart was of the same corruption as those who departed.
In pondering this, the phoniness of Judas becomes very transparent. At this point, Judas must know Jesus is referring to him, yet he is sticking around like a leech trying to absorb whatever fame might be produced in being a follower of the Messiah. Or maybe it was just part of his plan all along in conspiring with the Priests.
Judas’ betrayal wasn’t singularly committed in his final, recorded actions; that was just the end result of where his heart concluded during the tenure of his discipleship. It was the eventual summation of his belief, or lack thereof, that drove him to betrayal. Did Jesus know this? Of course He did. Again, as we see above, Jesus called him out indirectly on multiple occasions.
Further down the rabbit hole, a subconscious question arises within all this…
Why did Jesus choose Judas as a disciple if He foresaw the betrayal?
I haven’t studied Calvinism, and never intend to. But there is no doubt in my mind that somewhere in that doctrine this is a question that has been answered incorrectly. Predestination is not where this is going.
Yes— God knows the heart of a man, knows the end from the beginning, and knows every decision we will make. But does that mean we are just a bunch of dispensable pawns in His game? Absolutely not. That completely negates the grace of the living God, and the purpose thereof. Also, if this were the truth, it puts God on the same field as tyrants, oppressors, and slave drivers, and vice versa. God’s divinity gifts us with choice. Also, as beings created in His image and likeness, we are created with that divine ability to choose.
Jesus chose Judas. Judas chose to betray Jesus.
There is a scripture that resonates within me regarding this situation. II Peter 3:9–
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
This is coming from the heart of a man that knows The Father deeply and walked hand in hand with the Messiah. He was well acquainted with grace. He uses definite words such as any and all. Anyone who knows God and walks steadily with Him, breathes Him, worships Him, trusts Him wholeheartedly, knows that God purposefully creating someone just to condemn them is erroneous.
“Well, what about Romans chapter 9?!”… What about it? Be careful, because basing a belief on a small set of scriptures and letting them dictate how you understand the rest of the Word of God is how bad doctrine is born. Is Romans chapter 9 wrong? No. Is it misunderstood? Yes. Paul’s underlying point in this passage is to prove that God has a choice, and whatever His choice may be, who are we to consider Him evil for the choice He made? Let’s analogize this. If a man’s family was murdered in cold blood, and whether that man decided to vengefully kill the murderer or spare his life, who are we to judge his decision? As a man with a family, I can tell you it would be effortless to sympathize with him if he chose to kill his family’s murderer. Truthfully, I wouldn’t disagree with either of his decisions. Paul’s theme in Romans 9 is this– God, who is perfect and wholly righteous, and we, who are the ones who have failed and sinned against Him; where do we stand on being able to judge His decisions as good or evil? The answer is nowhere. We have no place. It doesn’t exist. Furthermore, Paul gives us insight in Romans 9 that God’s choice is absolutely not predicated on the works of a person. Please read Romans 9:11-13. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot to misinterpret with this passage. But if we let the whole Word of God interpret itself we will not be deceived. The main point is, God has the ability to choose and we have no grounds to judge His choice as good or evil. With that said, Jesus deliberately chose Judas despite knowing the outcome of their relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen, our God is hope. I propose— why wouldn’t He choose Judas? He also chose Peter, whom He foresaw denying Him three times. Regardless of knowing the definite outcome, God extends His hand to sinners constantly in hope that they will come to Him and repent. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance!”, said Jesus in John 5:32. It is innate for Him to do so. It is who He is. Knowing the outcome of how far off someone’s heart ends up is not going to stop Him from offering His goodness to those who need to repent.
Judas is no different from you or me in the degree that we previously did not know The Lord, but eventually were chosen by Him, and we answered the call. However, what occurred within Judas is what diverted him from the truth and eventually is what spawned his demise. I’m fairly confident that Judas, in the beginning of his walk with Messiah, trusted Him and have even walked wholeheartedly with Him. I am also confident in my assumption that something rattled him deeply, and a seed of doubt was planted in his heart. I can’t say when this happened, but if you have an understanding of how sin works, the death it produces doesn’t happen in a day. It takes time. It poisoned him to the core, and Jesus could see it happening. He made mention of it on more than one instance. Judas may have not verbally denied his doubt (at least it’s not recorded that he did), but it was there like scales on a fish. Could Judas have approached Jesus and asked for help; begged for mercy to have the doubt and unbelief erased from the depths of his heart? Yes and yes. Would Jesus have helped him and strengthened him with grace and the tender mercy that exudes from His being? Beyond a shadow of a doubt— Yes. But did Judas do that? Obviously not. He must have been so convinced in his heart that Jesus was a lawbreaker and worthy of betrayal, long before he ever accepted the silver.
What’s the difference between Judas and Peter?
Peter had struggled with doubt and unbelief as he walked with Messiah before the crucifixion. Like Judas, Peter was called out by Jesus about how he will sin against Him. We all know he denied having association with The Savior three times as Jesus stood trial. This, of course, is very heinous and worthy of condemnation. But what’s the difference? Why did Judas’ life seem so unredeemable and Peter’s the opposite? Were the motives of their hearts equal? Resoundingly no! Thank God He sees the heart! God knew Peter truly believed before Peter even knew he truly believed. God knew Peter would have penitence and would seek forgiveness from The Messiah at the first given opportunity. God saw the love for Messiah in Peter’s heart. This Love eventually was nowhere to be found in Judas, and much like Esau when he sold his birthright, there was a point of no repentance for him. The fault was all on him.
Judas’ life is a warning to us all. The same spirit that entered Judas has entered thousands of professed believers. The writer of Hebrews gives us detail of the consequences for recanting faith in Messiah. Even the closest followers of Jesus are susceptible to betrayal and corruption. The corruption of the heart is the culprit for un-forgiveness, not the acts committed. It’s not the sin committed that condemns, it’s the lack of repentance afterward that is damning. Judas believed there was no repentance for what he did, which ultimately proves he lacked the faith for forgiveness. God didn’t condemn Judas. Judas condemned himself.
As you can see, the eternal salvation of a person can not be determined with a simple yes or no answer. The heart can be very complex, only to be truly known by The Father. The position of our heart reflects the level of dependence we have in Jesus for our salvation.