Did Jesus forgive Judas?

Q. Did Jesus forgive Judas, or was he damned to hell?

There’s no question in my mind that Jesus forgave Judas.  On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  This applied to everyone who was responsible for his crucifixion—not just the squad of Roman soldiers who actually put him on the cross, but also the crowds who shouted “Crucify him!”, the religious and political leaders who conspired against him, and yes, even Judas who betrayed him. Indeed, Jesus’ words also apply to all of us, whose sins put him on the cross.

The real question is whether Judas accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and so was saved.  I’d like to argue that he might have been.  I realize this is not the majority view among Christians. (In the Inferno, for example, Dante put Judas in the very mouth of Satan, in the lowest circle of hell!)  But hear me out.

The Bible tells us that once Jesus had been condemned to death, “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’” This, to me, sounds like genuine repentance.  There is open and specific confession of sin, and there is restitution—what John the Baptist once called “fruit worthy of repentance.”  If Judas had not been genuinely repentant, I don’t think he would have returned the money he got for betraying Jesus. But apparently Judas had not expected that the Jewish leaders would attempt, successfully in the end, to have Jesus put to death. He had only thought he was delivering him to arrest and detention. When he saw where his actions had led, he repented.

This, at least is the reading of many English translations—that Judas “repented.” (The KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, Good News Translation, and several others have this reading.)  But other English Bibles suggest instead that while Judas “was seized with remorse” (NIV) or “changed his mind” (ESV), he didn’t actually repent, he just felt regret.

The Greek term is metamelomai, and it does seem to mean something like “regret” or “change one’s mind” when it is used in 2 Corinthians (“if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it”) and Hebrews (“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind”).  However, it clearly means “repent” when it is used a little earlier in the gospel of Matthew. Shortly before the passage about Judas, Matthew quotes Jesus as telling the chief priests and elders, “John [the Baptist] came to you to show you the way of righteousness,” but “you did not repent and believe him.”  (This is the NIV’s translation of the term there.)  So a good case can be made that Judas did repent of his sin of betraying Jesus, that he confessed it, and that he sought to make what restitution he could.

Unfortunately, the chief priests and elders, whose appointed role was to help shepherd repentant sinners like him back into the fold, turned him away, saying, “So what? That’s your problem.” In order to accept Judas’s confession, they would have had to admit that it was just as wrong for them to have conspired to put Jesus to death, but their pride and vested interests did not allow them to do this. When Judas did not receive the spiritual counsel and restoration that he was seeking and desperately needed, in despair he went out and hanged himself.  But we should be very careful not to conclude that his suicide proves he went to hell in the end.  People tragically commit suicide when they lose all hope–not when they lose all faith.

And so I believe there is enough in the gospel narratives about Judas to conclude that he may have been a sincerely repentant sinner whom the religious leaders of his day unfortunately failed.  But God knows what was ultimately in his heart, and He will judge him on that basis.  One vital lesson for us is never to become so compromised by sin and pride ourselves that we cannot show the way to someone who, whether genuinely repentant or merely remorseful to begin with, might be led back to God through wise and compassionate counsel.

Some may read this post and wonder, “But didn’t Jesus and the apostles say it was predicted in Scripture that Judas would betray Jesus and be lost? Doesn’t that settle the question?”  I’ll take up that concern in my next post. Rembrandt, Judas Returning the Thirty Silver Pieces

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister who served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

23 thoughts on “Did Jesus forgive Judas?”

    1. Jesus also said that the one who betrayed him it would be better for him that he’d never been born. Im up in the air on this one but I do know that when it said and done we better have Jesus or well be dammed no doubt

  1. this is a poem i wrote about this years ago. i don’t know if it is any good because i am totally incapable of judging my own poems.

    Eloi, Eloi

    bloodshot eyes
    dirty hands

    nowhere to hide from the Living God
    who carries the sword of judgment

    i dare not look into His eyes
    to see hatred for

    the despised one, the betrayer
    groaning under the guilt, the weight of
    thirty pieces of silver
    enough to buy a field
    my blood for His

    quivering lips
    trembling hands
    put the noose around my neck

    my God, my God, why did i forsake thee?

    …an anguished cry tears apart the heavens…

    child, child, what hatred?
    did I speak to you of vengeance?
    you dared not look into my eyes?
    you dared not look into them?

    child, they would have saved you.
    judas, i would have loved you.

  2. But he did not believe in Christ as his saviour. Yes he recognized his sin and was eager to make things right, the Pharisees didn’t offer help, he stood condemned . He whom has the Son has eternal life, he whom rejects the Son will not see life for Gods wrath remains on him John 3:36

  3. Shouldnt we be thanking Judas for betraying Jesus instead of putting him down..if Jesus never had been cruxified we would never been forgiving by Jesus..

    1. I personally have a problem with this line of thinking. I don’t believe that God needs humans to sin and disobey in order to fulfill His purposes. I discuss the idea that the fall of humanity was necessary in this post. Now we are at the other end of redemptive history and considering whether Jesus had to die in the way he did, specifically by being betrayed and unjustly convicted, in order to be our Savior. I don’t think so. While I do say in another post that “God works effectively with the free choices, good and bad, of human moral agents to accomplish His own purposes,” I believe that God’s purposes advance most directly when we obey, and that our disobedience is never necessary for God’s purposes. Otherwise God would be telling us to do one thing—”live a righteous life according to My principles and commandments”—but at the same time hoping we would do something else. Even if God does this only in the case of one person, such as Judas, I think it’s insincere and hypocritical, two things that I believe God never is. So I don’t think we should thank Judas for betraying his Lord and ours, even if God worked through this betrayal to bring about His purpose to save the world. Jesus expressed this paradox in his own teaching: “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.”

    2. Quite accept what you have written albeit leaving out certain clauses/statements in the Bible where some would consider it as being corrupted.
      The question and answer should be on post crucifixion, pre-crucifixion shall denote that the Human Jesus as having divine powers where only God can forgive.

  4. The truth is starring right in your face and you failed to address it.
    Book of Revelation Chapter 21 verse 12…”It had a great high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were the three gates on the East, three on the North, and three on the West. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

    Wasn’t Judas name on it and if he wasn’t forgiven, the Apostle’s names would probably be eleven.

  5. when God’s prophecy has been given, it can not be changed by man. the best we can do is to pray that we will be used positively if it involves us. according to psalms 41:9 jesus had to be betrayed by someone close to him. he himself said in john 13:18 that the scripture had to be fulfilled. by that time nothing suggested that judas was putting his plan in place. he is not excluded in matthew 26:22, mark 14:19 and john 13:22 when all the disciples were puzzled and upset about who jesus meant would betray him. in matthew 26:25 judas individually asks, “surely teacher, you don’t mean me?” our lord realises that his time has come before judas realises it if we follow the sequence of the events. then jesus in john 13:26-27 gives judas the piece of bread witch seems to trigger the next series of events. the devil enters judas. to me, the piece of bread opens the way for the devil to enter judas and he loses control. in verse 27, jesus urges judas (or is now the devil) to be quick. so off goes judas. peter promised to remain with jesus through it all. but because jesus had spoken, in my opinion, peter lost control and denied jesus. he only came to his senses after the cock crowed. here is a man who had made a vow but could not keep it because of the word spoken by jesus. so much as judas or peter might have wanted, they could not reverse the word of jesus. for this reason i doubt that the lord would hold anything against judas in the circumstances

  6. Just because God knows how you will choose, does not mean your choice is not free. You have freedom of choice, you can choose this or that, God just knows which you will choose.

    1. Your formulation leaves open the question of how Jesus could invite Judas to become his disciple knowing that he would choose to betray him. To have acted in good faith, Jesus would have had to explain to Judas that he was actually being invited to play the role of betrayer and ultimately lose his soul. But instead he simply called Judas to be his follower, as he did for the other disciples. Jesus never deceived or misled anyone, particularly not when it came to the cost of following him. So it makes more sense to me that Jesus did not know, at the point when he called his disciples, which one of them would betray him. This was something that not even an omniscient person could know at that point, because it was the result of a truly free choice that was not determined in advance.

  7. The Gospels were written 30 years after Christ. I personally believe that they all believed in his return and that it would be soon.

    Before I go any further I wish to bring up Paul’s reference in the scriptures where he points out that it was his opinion and not I Gods. Yet that opinion remained cannonized.

    For me that establishes opinions in the Bible . These men were together and it is clear they had differences . Two of the Godpels say he died via suicide. One says nothing and one actually places him at the appearance of Jesus to the 11 disciples. Thomas the 12th came later. So, there is a human side and I think some of them had an axe to grind with Judas. I believe he clearly repented. There are many things that over the years took legs of their own as demonizing Judas.

    The book of Revelation is a prime example. It was not looked at as an end time gloom and doom for its first 300 years of existsnce. People understood the symbolic meanings. Then that changed. I have zero doubt Judas repented and if he had committed suicide., that has no bearing on salvation. Good Article

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