The Bible’s View
Is There a Defense for Judas Iscariot?
IN AN address to a Protestant church group during the 1977 Easter celebrations, a Swiss professor spoke out in defense of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. He said that a betrayal can be either “harmful” or “wholesome,” and claimed that Judas’ act of betrayal was “wholesome,” because it set “the wheels of salvation in motion.” In the opinion of that professor, Judas “should be freed from his role as scapegoat.”
Similarly, during the 18th century, writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of Germany theorized that Judas acted in faith so as to force Jesus into asserting himself against the Roman rulers and into laying claim to his rightful position as king of the Jews. It was claimed that Jesus’ reluctance to take advantage of the opportunity held out to him by Judas caused the betrayal to turn out in a negative way.
Others say Judas cannot rightfully be condemned for fulfilling what the inspired Hebrew Scriptures had foretold. (Ps. 41:9; 55:12, 13; 69:25; 109:8; Acts 1:16-20) Would we be justified in defending Judas?
Before choosing his 12 apostles, Jesus “continued the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, 13) The responsible positions of apostleship logically were not to be entrusted to wicked men or to those weak in faith. Hence, the selection of Judas as one of the 12 would indicate that both God and Jesus viewed him favorably at that time. Furthermore, he was entrusted with caring for the common finances of Jesus and the 12. That points to his dependability at the time, especially since Matthew had experience with money and figures but did not receive this assignment.—Matt. 10:3; John 12:6.
But would not John 6:64 indicate that Judas had been unfaithful from the time that Jesus selected him as one of the 12 apostles? That verse states: “From the beginning Jesus knew . . . who was the one that would betray him.” However, the Bible also describes the Devil as being sinful “from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8) In the case of the latter, that does not mean from his creation as a faithful son of God, but from the start of his course of rebellion against God. Likewise in the case of Judas Iscariot, Jesus knew “from the beginning,” or at the outset of Judas’ wrongful course, that Judas was the one who would betray him. This went unnoticed by others, for we recall that shortly before the betrayal took place, the 11 faithful apostles still had not recognized Judas as the potential betrayer.—John 13:27-30.
Judas approached the chief priests and offered to hand Jesus over to them for 30 pieces of silver. When the priests agreed to this, Judas “began seeking how to betray him conveniently.” (Matt. 26:15; Mark 14:10, 11) So the betrayal was planned ahead of time and was a deliberate act, not one committed impulsively in a moment of weakness. Luke 22:3 says that “Satan entered into Judas,” likely in the sense that the traitorous apostle succumbed to the will of the Devil, allowing himself to be used as Satan’s tool. While the foretold betrayal helped to identify the true Messiah, it was not needed to set “the wheels of salvation in motion.” Man’s salvation depended on Jesus’ blood being shed, not on his betrayal.
Judas later realized what he had done and, after unsuccessfully trying to return the 30 pieces of silver that he had received for betraying Jesus, threw them into the temple and committed suicide. Had Judas acted faithfully in the hope of accomplishing good, would he have allowed himself to be paid for his services? When giving instructions to the 12, Jesus stressed the principle of doing good without any expectation of monetary reward, saying: “You received free, give free.” (Matt. 10:8) Also, it is hardly likely that a person convinced that he had done something wholesome would kill himself. In fact, Judas even admitted to the chief priests: “I sinned when I betrayed righteous blood.”—Matt. 27:1-5.
Were the Other Apostles Traitors Too?
The Swiss professor, mentioned at the beginning of this article, went on to play down the seriousness of Judas’ act, saying that in actuality the other apostles were no better. He claimed that they, too, were traitors, because they betrayed the Jewish religion to become Christians. Is this true?
The apostles were Jews, born under the Mosaic law and under obligation to keep it. At no time did Jesus disregard the Law. He said: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17) After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the obligation for Jews to observe the Mosaic law would come to an end. (Col. 2:13, 14) The apostles did not betray the true religion that God gave to Israel; they simply strove to keep up with advancing knowledge.
Judas, on the other hand, did show disrespect for the law of Moses. The Law certainly did not condone his being a thief. Nor did it sanction his greediness, his accepting a bribe or his betraying an innocent man. (Ex. 20:15-17; Deut. 27:25) So it was Judas, not the other apostles, who was a traitor—even to the Jewish law.
The Bible does not give us all the details as to what was going through Judas’ mind. Some say he may have had political aspirations and was disappointed that Jesus did not set up an earthly kingdom in which he, Judas, could have played a prominent role. Be that as it may, selfishness and greed must have been involved in some way. This is indicated by what took place two days before Jesus’ death. On that occasion, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed Jesus with perfumed oil worth 300 denarii, about a year’s wages for a laborer. (Matt. 20:2) Judas strongly objected that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. “He said this, though,” states the Gospel of John, “not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box and used to carry off the monies put in it.”—John 12:2-6.
Judas’ personality, as revealed in the Bible, shows him to have turned from being a faithful servant of God into a selfish, greedy, deceitful hypocrite. No wonder Jesus, on the final night of his earthly life, said about Judas: “It would have been finer for that man if he had not been born”! (Mark 14:21) According to the Bible, there is no defense for Judas Iscariot.