In Defense of Judas

I’m not a biblical scholar – I won’t pretend to know everything about the Bible.  In fact, I know very little.  I only know what I hear, read, and study.  And, based on everything I have seen, heard, and discussions I have participated in, I have to conclude Judas gets a bad rap in Christian history.  Yes, he betrayed Jesus – he sold Him out for a purse of silver coins.  Based off that arrest alone, the wheels were set in motion for Jesus’ Passion, Death, and ultimately, Resurrection.

But, was he really the villain history has portrayed?  Or, was he just the “right player, at the right time”?  And, can we truly say “we” would not have done what Judas did, or that we don’t do what Judas did, albeit to a lesser degree?

The first 3 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all tackle Judas’ betrayal with Jesus stating words to the effect of, “…woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that one not to have been born” (Matthew 26:24).  Many people I have spoken with have shared their interpretation that Jesus was, in effect, condemning Judas right then.  However, my take is a little less harsh – I think Jesus knew that Judas’ guilt would eat him alive, and Judas would ultimately end his own life because of what came to pass.  I think the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” depicts Judas’ struggle so poignantly, with Judas seeing Satan everywhere he turns after Jesus’ Passion has begun.

John’s account differs slightly from the previous three mentioned Gospels.  In the New Revised Standard Version translation, John 13:26, Jesus dips some bread, and gives it to Judas.  John 13:27 reads, “So when he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.  Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

That leads me to contend, Judas was a conduit for ensuring the Passion of Our Lord began.  I’m not 100% certain he was a willing conduit, given that he had followed Jesus and learned from Him throughout Jesus’ ministry.  While Satan may have entered Judas through sins of pride, jealousy, greed, or other avenues that people have bounced around during discussions with me, I struggle to condemn Judas’ actions.

Because Scripture had to be fulfilled.

Someone had to have the dirty job, in order to fulfill Scripture.

The unenviable task could have just as easily been one of the other disciples, but for whatever reason, Judas was the player chosen to have his name go down in history as the ultimate betrayer.  God could have chosen one of the lesser known followers of Jesus, perhaps one of the ones who left the Last Supper when Jesus announced they were eating His Body and drinking His Blood.  But, Judas was dealt the cards that solely handed him the role of betraying the Son of Man.

Recently, I had someone say that Judas was condemned when he killed himself.  But, again, I assert we could not have known Judas’ state of mind when he realized what he had done.  For all we know, when Satan entered Judas, Judas himself had a dissociative break, and wasn’t in the right state of mind leading up to all his subsequent actions.

And, I firmly believe as painful as the events were for God to watch/witness, because of His Son’s Passion and death upon the Cross, God’s mercy would see fit to take all of the accounts into consideration when deciding Judas’ final judgement.

I am the first to admit, just because someone suffers from some mental health disorder (like a dissociative break), it does not mean they should not be held accountable for their actions.  So, I fully agree that Judas might, very well, have been (or still be) the oldest soul in Purgatory.

Let’s face it – Purgatory allows for a cleansing of the soul.  After turning God Incarnate in to be headed toward His (Scripture-fulfilling) death, and then killing one’s self, I think it’s safe to say Judas’ soul needed some cleansing.  But, was Judas condemned to Hell, the way many people automatically assume?

I don’t think he did.  I think God would still have shown His mercy toward Judas.

Finally, in looking at what actions Judas took, I can’t condemn the man because I recognize similar actions.  How many of us are guilty of putting our personal desires before God’s routinely.  That is one of the struggles I find many of us have – trusting in God’s will to be done, at the potential expense of our desires.  Judas, instead of trusting God to provide for him, decided to sell the Divine Son for monetary gain.  Even though he had a change of heart and attempted to return the money, he still tried to profit.  If Judas were all-trusting in God’s plan for him, Judas wouldn’t have been enticed by money.

How many of us have had jealousy of someone else we have known in our lives?  How about when someone else wins an award, or is given public accolades for an accomplishment, when you feel you have done more, or done better?  Essentially, how many of us have been guilty of poor sportsmanship (both literally and figuratively) in our lives?  If so, could we be accused of having acted like Judas – if he had been jealous of Jesus’ following or teaching capability?

How many of us have thought we have done better than others in our life?  How many of us have looked at our neighbor (in the figurative sense, not necessarily literal) and smugly thought, “I look better than she does,” or, “my car is cleaner than theirs – ha!”  If so, could we be considered a Judas, if Judas was acting out of pride when he agreed to the deal to turn Jesus over?  

So, as many of us enter this Easter weekend, and we hear the readings of the Passion, or watch the Hollywood releases of movies centering on Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection, before you jump to hasty conclusion about how evil Judas was, or how “you could never do what Judas did,” perhaps this post will give you something else to ponder…

Someone had to betray Jesus in order for Him to suffer through His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, and in order to bring us to His Resurrection for our sins.

Someone had to play that role.  And, we all are motivated by the same reasons that can be argued for Judas’ decision in accepting that role, at various times in our life.  So, perhaps Judas serves a secondary purpose – to be a cautionary tale for us as we travel on this journey of life.

So, I will be praying for Judas, as well as for humanity, this Holy Week – will you join me?

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Judas

  1. I've thought about all of this too! He's a fascinating character in the Gospels.

    I don't think we can say that Judas doesn't have personal responsibility simply because someone had to do it. He did.

    I interpret “better if he had never been born” as essentially saying Judas was going to hell. We don't know for sure, but if he was eventually going to enjoy heaven, it wouldn't be better to never have been born. Of course, it's just a phrase too.

    Given that Judas died at the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new, we have to judge by old testament standards, too. Before Christ, who got to go to heaven? Certainly some faithful Jews will be there. But in Jewish law, suicide basically precludes that.

    Good thing we don't have to judge, and someone wiser and more knowledgeable than us will do it!

  2. I agree he is a fascinating character, and he did have responsibility. Although, I can't see him as the “villain” in the way he is portrayed.

    It is my understanding that, when Jesus Died, he descended into Hell for those three days. When He rose, He brought the souls from Hell that had repented for their wrong-doings under the Old Covenant with Him. That was my understanding with the reason why He descended into Hell.

    But, I agree – it is so much nicer that we aren't the ones to judge! And, I found out after this post was published, that we are not alone in these thoughts, and are in what I would consider, good company! Apparently, St. Teresa of Avila also prayed for Judas' soul, too:

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