22 Mar Was Judas Totally Evil?
Recently I was asked: “was Judas created for the sole purpose of betraying Jesus? Was he always destined for evil? Did he even have a choice to be good?”
These are important questions and I think the story of Judas in Scripture should bother us and cause us to think about our own destiny and whether our choices matter. If Judas, one of the closest followers of Jesus, could still fall into sin and betrayal than is there any hope for us.
God does not create anyone evil. Scripture tells us that “God looked at everything He had made and behold it was very good” and God works together with our parents to create each new human life so all of us, including Judas, were created good. We see further evidence of this in the life of Judas. He was chosen by Jesus to be one of the Twelve. Jesus must have seen good qualities in Judas or He never would have chosen him for such a close relationship. As Christians we must trust in Jesus’ choice of Judas as one of the Twelve.
We should also be careful of adopting extreme positions. We can’t say Judas was totally evil and only existed to betray our Lord, but the opposite position of venerating or thanking Judas for his role in our salvation is equally wrong. Some Christians throughout history have tried to argue that without Judas’ betrayal Jesus never would have died for our sins so Judas is a sort of hero in the story of our salvation. Both these extremes are not in accord with tradition and I believe the truth falls between them.
Judas was not created evil and he was not totally corrupt, at least not at first. He chose to sever his relationship with our Lord. Scripture mentions on a few occasions that Satan entered Judas (John 6:71-72, John 13:2, Luke 22:3-6). This tells us that Judas was a good man who succumbed to Satan’s temptations. Judas was a loyal follower of Jesus but at some point he began to doubt Jesus and started to fall away from Him. One theory is that Judas’ fall began at Capernaum during the Bread of Life discourse. It is here that Jesus tells His followers that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you” (John 6:53). His disciples said “this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60) and many of His followers left Him (John 6:66). The theory is that while many people left Jesus physically that day and no longer traveled with Him, Judas may have left Jesus spiritually that day even though he was still physically present with our Lord. I think this makes a lot of sense because as a Jew the thought of eating flesh and drinking blood would have been revolting and bring to mind cannibalism (which it still does for our Protestant brothers and sisters). Also it was a clear violation of the law of Moses (Leviticus 17:14). On the other hand Judas, as one of Jesus’ closest followers, would have witnessed many miracles, and understood Jesus’ teachings and come to believe that He was the Messiah that was promised. So the Bread of Life Discourse may have started a conflict in Judas between the revolting and scandalous statements Jesus made and Judas’ belief in Christ as the Messiah.
This may also explain why Judas betrayed Jesus right after the Last Supper because Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper would have brought back memories of the Bread of Life discourse. Also John 6:70-71, right at the end of the Bread of Life discourse is the first mention that we have that Judas will betray Jesus.
So to summarize Judas was a true follower of Jesus and must have possessed good qualities and received great graces from his close relationship with our Lord, but despite these graces he was still a man who wrestled with sin and ultimately chose to forsake Jesus and ended up betraying Him. Judas, like all of us, had a choice to make; will we serve and trust God, even when He asks difficult things of us, or will we serve ourselves and seek our own gain? Selling out our Lord for the things of this world (like 30 pieces of silver).
In the end Judas recognized his mistake but his pride did not allow him to seek our Lord’s forgiveness so he ended up taking his own life in despair. His story can be contrasted with Peter, who also betrayed Jesus. Peter was also called Satan (Matthew 16:23), he also betrayed Jesus by denying Him during the passion, but Peter repented and asked Jesus for forgiveness. Peter’s faith in Jesus as Messiah is what enabled him to overcome his sins and eventually be the great apostle. Judas in contrast remained stuck in his pride and refused to humble himself to seek Jesus’ forgiveness. When we are caught in sin and refuse to let our Lord in we end up in despair which ultimately leads to death. Eventually we get to the point when we can no longer live with ourselves. We can either humbly ask God to forgive us or remain stuck in our sins and despair. Judas repented outwardly but didn’t open his heart to the healing love of God. He felt his sins were too big for God to forgive so he chose to end his life.
Judas’ story is a grim reminder to us of what can happen when we stray from our Lord. The longer we stay stuck in our sins the harder it is to humble ourselves to seek forgiveness and the more likely we will despair. This is why the Church has always recommended frequent confession because it provides us with the opportunity to learn humility and it prevents us from straying too so far from God that we despair.