So here’s the script. Jesus needs to die for the sins of the world, but to do that, he needs to be betrayed. So God chooses someone, Judas Iscariot, before all time to be the betrayer. In the mysterious interplay between divine sovereignty and human moral responsibility, Judas is somehow also personally culpable for this, so he pays for the deed (and all his other sins) by going to hell forever. Not that he ever had a chance of salvation; he was a “son of perdition” and so “doomed to destruction” anyway (as some English versions translate this phrase). Jesus himself knew, from an early point in his public ministry, that Judas would betray him. “I chose the twelve of you,” he says, long in advance of the betrayal, “but one is a devil.” John explains that “he was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray him.” And by this John means not that the “devil” Jesus refers to here would eventually be recognized as Judas; already at this time it was known, at least to Jesus, that Judas was the betrayer.
I’m not buying it. Why not? Because there’s absolutely no way that Jesus could have recruited Judas to be his disciple on this basis. “Come and follow me, because I need you in my inner circle to betray me at just the right time, though for performing this necessary service you’ll burn in hell forever.” Nobody would take that offer. Instead, Jesus would have had to make Judas think he was inviting him to join in announcing the good news of the kingdom of God, proclaiming liberty to captives, healing the sick, helping the poor, while all along he was actually setting him up. In other words, the only way for Jesus to get Judas to sign on as a disciple, so that he would then be the betrayer, would have been to deceive him. And when true reason for his “calling” came to light, we could not blame Judas for feeling that Jesus had betrayed him.
But such a course of action is simply not consistent with the character of Jesus as it is clearly and consistently portrayed in all four gospels. I think we have to conclude instead that Jesus chose twelve disciples in good faith, all as potential true followers, but that he knew at the same time that one of them would betray him. How can this be?
Jesus told the disciples themselves, when he sent them out to announce the good news of the kingdom, that when his followers went out in the same way, they would face opposition, persecution, and betrayal themselves. Specifically, “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed.” But even though Jesus knew that this would be the inevitable result of the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God to a hostile world, this didn’t mean that he could tell a given disciple, for example, “Now you have four brothers, and this particular one, specifically, is the one who is going to betray you.” Or, “This specific one of your children will turn you over to the authorities.” The statement is based on a general knowledge of human nature, and so, I believe, is the statement, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.” I think John’s explanation that “he was speaking of Judas” is retrospective, describing what became clear in light of later events.
This series of eight posts has been written in response to the original question, “Did Jesus forgive Judas?” In my first post I answered, “Yes, when he said of everyone who put him on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them.'” But then the question became whether Judas received Jesus’ forgiveness, and I observed that there is good evidence in the gospels, especially Matthew, to suggest that he did—unless the Bible says explicitly that Judas was doomed to destruction from the start. All the rest of these posts have been devoted to showing what the implications are of that view. I’ve gone into considerable detail in discussing the notion of Scriptural fulfillment and its specific application to the case of Judas. But at this point, I believe we can state the case for Judas’s possible repentance and salvation much more simply: Jesus didn’t betray him.