I once heard a Pastor say from the pulpit without any distinguishable doubt, “Judas is in Hell.” These words were unsettling to me for two reasons: Firstly, because they were spoken by a highly respected preacher, and secondly because I could not find any evidence in the Bible which agreed with his statement.
Does any good come from a proclamation of another man’s judgment? And why is it always Judas who is singled out? I challenge you to bear the slight discomfort if you disagree with me and see the case I present through to the end, or at least open your Bible and attempt to prove me wrong.
There were at least three recorded noteworthy figures in the Bible who denied Jesus. James, Jesus’ brother, (Mark 6:4) who denied him once, Judas, who denied Jesus twice; once in his dealings with the Chief Priests (Luke 22:3-6) and again with a kiss at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:47-48), but it was Peter who denied Jesus on three separate occasions (John 18:17, 25-27). Over the course of recorded history enumerable men from every walk of life have turned their back on God. Why is it always Judas who receives a more than generous share of negative attention? How is it we name our children after a man who denied his Lord three times and shame the man who confessed his sin, repented by returning the money he had received and paid the spiritual debt of his sin with his own life (Matt 27:3-5)?
There was once a boy who turned on a water faucet which consequently flooded a junior high school lavatory. The same boy, after buying into the teacher’s notions about the rewards which come from confessing our sins, admitted to the offence and was immediately expelled. No consequence however was considered for the boy who stopped up the drain or the hundred other boys who could have shut off the water but chose to do nothing. In this analogy, the boys who did nothing could easily represent Jesus’ disciples, the boy who was punished for turning on the faucet could be Judas but the boy who stopped up the drain in the first place showed the cunning and destructiveness of Satan.
So many of us make it a pastime looking for the worst in others, and it is certainly easy to find fault in Judas’ case, but by placing the guilt solely on Judas we miss a valuable lesson. God never uses the lukewarm middle-of-the-road to make his point. If God wants to show his strength he will manifest himself in the weakest of us, and if he wants to show us our weakness he will humble the strongest. Judas was one of the greatest of the twelve. It was Peter who was being groomed for the headship of the early church, but it was Judas who was responsible for the money. In other words, if Peter was the Minister of Defense, Judas was the Secretary of the Treasury.
To assume Judas was responsible for the events which ensued is to assume God is not ultimately in control. It was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 10:1). It is God who fulfills his word as spoken through the profits. It will be God who places a strong delusion in the minds of them who are waiting to witness a rapture before they choose to believe (2 Thess 2:11). Satan was allowed to enter into Judas (Luke 22:3) only after Jesus acknowledged Judas as the traitor (John 13:26-27). What most fail to grasp is it was Jesus who told Judas he knew he was the traitor. He told Judas to do what he must do, as well as how to do it, (e.g. John 13:27, “That thou doest, do quickly”). Someone needed to fulfill the prophecy of Zech 11:12-13, (i.e. 30 pieces of silver for a potter’s field). Someone needed to turn on the faucet. Judas was chosen.
In defense of Judas, his subsequent actions showed true remorse and repentance. Judas did not take the thirty pieces of silver and live out the rest of his days on a beach. He knew the wages of sin was death and paid for what he must have thought unforgivable with his own life. Judas’ action in response to his betrayal of Jesus, though misguided, made him the first disciple to die for his faith.
Every recorded mistake in the Bible is designed for the benefit of those who follow over the course of time. When the people did not know what to do when they found the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath and brought him to Moses, God said to stone him (Num 15:32-36). Little did our anonymous forefather know picking up a little extra firewood would immortalize him as an example for all time. His life was designed to remind us God’s word is to be obeyed. From God’s perspective, if he had shown leniency at the outset instead of a firm hand, people would be testing God’s boundaries for all time. Uzza was the man who attempted to help protect the Ark when the ox stumbled (1 Chron 13:9-10). His life was taken as an example God does not need our help. Judas was no doubt an example for all of us, and, if he had not convicted himself, I am fairly certain he would have looked into the same forgiving eyes the rest of the disciples saw when Jesus returned.
Judas may have been willing to identify Jesus for a price but he had no way of knowing the course of events to follow. If we take a closer look, we see Judas’ motive was not to harm Jesus. On the contrary, Mark 14:44 states, “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away SAFELY.” Judas may have betrayed Jesus openly but the others denied him in their hearts by their hiding. The Sanhedrin may have used Judas like a pawn in their conspiracy against Jesus to preserve their jobs and/or status, but it was and is and will be our sin which forced God to provide his perfect sacrifice for himself in order we might be forgiven of our transgressions. It may be true, after walking three years with Jesus, Judas should have known better, but who among us has not ignored their own good judgment only to fall not once or twice, but over and over again?
Some would argue the reward for suicide is damnation, however those who profess such nonsense usurp the authority of God. Besides, Judas was forced to convict himself due to the fact the only ruling body able to chasten him were the same one’s indirectly responsible for his actions. Furthermore, the sentence Judas placed on himself would have exceeded the punishment bestowed by even the harshest of judges.
If Judas died before Jesus, he would be in need of God’s mercy – not his grace. The Bible is not specific as to precisely when Judas died. The gospel of Matthew does mention Judas’ death shortly after he saw Jesus was condemned which was before the release of Barabbas (Matt 27:3-5, 15-16). If Judas’ self-execution preceded Jesus’, how could Judas have forfeited God’s gift of salvation since salvation would not be available until after Jesus had fully paid for it with his death several hours later?
Judging Judas is tricky business. Is Judas in Hell? Only God knows. It would be enlightening though to know what great work Judas might have done had God not seen fit to make an example of him. The tragedy here is not merely one life being cut short. It is the fact for 2000 years we have been distracted from the fullness of the Master’s truth and have been unable to see the whole purpose of this fallen disciple. Judas and Peter were great men, but, illogically, Peter who did nothing that fateful day later received eternal reward while Judas who acted immediately received condemnation. But why?
The bible instructs us to love one another as Jesus loved us. One of the ways we can manifest love is through forgiving others. God has promised to forgive us in the same proportion we forgive others, but it does not end there. Jesus will also be defending those who believe on him against evil itself. So there is a connection between forgiveness and defending that which has been forgiven. Have we forgiven others? More importantly, have we forgiven the Judas’ in our lives? If we have, we should be willing to defend them. For how can we expect Jesus to defend us if we are not willing to first forgive and defend those who have denied us?
My junior high school classmates who did nothing – not unlike the disciple’s behavior. I was the one who was expelled. No one knows who stopped up the drain with paper towels, but it was the school administrators and teachers who placed all the burden of guilt on the shoulders of one small boy in order to relinquish their own responsibility, which is what duly represents our sin. Nowhere in the Bible does it imply Judas was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, and if Jesus did not blame him why do we?
Did Judas do something worse than we have done? Is God unable to restore whatever he deems worthy of restoration? Why spend time defending someone like Judas? Because Jesus chose to defend someone like me.