– “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Mark 14:21b
“If you are not born again, the day will come when you will wish you had never been born at all.” Warren Wiersbe
Perhaps the place to begin is at the end of the story. It is now early Friday morning in Jerusalem—sometime between midnight and dawn—and the Jews are finished with Jesus. They have had their kangaroo court with their trumped-up charges and their false witnesses. Annas has had a round with Jesus and so has Caiaphas. Their verdict is clear—this man is a blasphemer who deserves to die. The assemblage of religious leaders set out to take Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor. He is the only one who can order Jesus put to death.
There is movement, noise, and clatter as the group moves down the rocky hillside toward the Praetorium inside the ancient walled city. In the shadows one man, now forgotten, watches, his face strained, his eyes puffy, his head slightly bowed. It has been a long night, the longest of his life. How many hours have passed since that meal in the Upper Room? Six, maybe seven, who knows? After he left, he went straight to the chief priests to make the final arrangements. Then there was the short walk in the darkness across the Kidron Valley and up the wooded slope of the Mount of Olives. The whole thing had not lasted five minutes. Just a blur, a few words, a kiss, some angry comments by Peter and the others, then Jesus was arrested and taken away.
By Sunrise He Changed His Mind
In his hands Judas held the little bag that contained the 30 pieces of silver. He hadn’t even bothered to count it. No one noticed him now. It was like he was yesterday’s news. No one had any use for a traitor. Through the long night he had waited, hanging around the edges of the crowd, listening for some word of how things were going. What exactly did he expect? No one knows for sure. But if at midnight he wanted to see Jesus die, by sunrise he had changed his mind.
Memories flooded his mind. Things Jesus had said, little jokes the apostles used to tell, stories Jesus had told over and over again. Little pictures painted themselves in the darkness—the smile on the face of Jairus’ daughter when Jesus raised her from the dead, the look on Peter’s face when he walked on the water and it actually held him up, the picture of those 12 baskets of food left over after Jesus fed the 5,000. He could see it all and hear it all and the memories were almost too much to bear.
Then the rumor spread that Jesus had been condemned to die. He shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. For a moment, there was a commotion in the courtyard and Judas saw Jesus as he was being led away to Pilate. He didn’t see him clearly, just a glimpse of his face from a distance, but he knew it was him.
Overwhelmed. That’s the only word to use. Judas was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus was going to die. In that moment it came to him in a blinding flash: He had made a great mistake, the greatest mistake of his life, so great a mistake that he must somehow find a way to make things right.
With that thought filling his mind, he took the bag of money and tried to give it back. But the chief priests laughed at him. They had no more use for him or his money. They had what they wanted. In desperation, Judas cried out, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Every word was true. He had done it; what he had done was the worst sin imaginable; he had betrayed the Lord Jesus who, though he was innocent, was about to pay with his blood for Judas’ crime.
With that, he threw the money back into the temple, the coins clinking and ringing as they hit the stone pavement. As Judas turned to go, the 30 pieces of silver stayed behind. Judas not only lost his Lord, he also lost his money. Very shortly he would lose his life.
About his suicide, very little needs to be said. The Bible tells us that “he went away and hanged himself.” It is the final act of a man who could not live with himself and the memory of what he had done. In the ultimate irony on this tragic day, Judas died before Jesus did.
The Way It Was
But it was not always that way. If we go to the beginning, we find a remarkable series of facts about Judas: He was personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ.
He forsook all to follow the Lord.
He spent 3 1/2 years traveling the length and breadth of Israel with Christ.
He saw all the miracles of Christ in person.
He heard Christ give all his famous discourses.
He watched as Christ healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons.
He, along with the other apostles, was sent out to preach the gospel.
He was one of the leaders of the apostolic band.
No one ever suspected him of treason.
In terms of experience, whatever you can say about James, Peter and John, you can say also about Judas. Everywhere they went, he also went. He was right there, always by the side of Jesus. He heard it all, saw it all, experienced it all. However you explain his defection, you cannot say he was less experienced than the other apostles.
If anything, he was one of the leaders. After all, the other apostles chose him to handle the money. You don’t pick a man whose loyalty you suspect to handle your money. That’s crazy. You pick your best man, your most trustworthy man, the one man you know you can count on. That’s why they picked Judas.
The most interesting part of this story is that the other apostles apparently saw only the positive side of Judas. It wasn’t until they looked back after the fact that they could see the negatives. Before his betrayal of Jesus, he looked as good as any of the rest, and in fact he probably looked better than most. In that light, let us note it for the record one more time: No one suspected Judas. No one.
I. Two Questions For Judas
There are two things that perplex us about Judas. First, why did he do what he did? Second, after he had done it, why did he feel so guilty? He was so evil that he sold the Lord Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Yet afterwards, he felt such remorse that he committed suicide.
Question 1: Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?
Why did Judas do it? What forces conspired to make him betray his Lord? Over the centuries, great minds have pondered that question. If you want an interesting study, pick up a Bible dictionary and read about Judas. You will discover a bewildering array of theories. The gospel writers offer us very few clues. It is likely that they never knew the answer either. Since Judas committed suicide within a few hours after his betrayal, we have no statement giving his side of the story. Therefore, we are left to speculate about his motivations. Three theories seem most likely:
• He betrayed Jesus for money. This makes sense in that John 12:6 tells us that Judas stole money from the money bag. But if he betrayed Jesus only for money, he sold him too cheaply. Thirty pieces of silver would be something like $20 today.
• He betrayed Jesus because he was disillusioned. This is probably the prevailing theory. It suggests that Judas expected Jesus to lead an uprising against Rome. When he found out that Christ had no such intentions, he became angry and betrayed him.
• He betrayed Jesus because he was frightened. As he saw the storm clouds gathering in the final few days, he betrayed the Lord in order to save his own skin.
All of those theories make sense, and all three of them might contribute to the answer. After all the discussion is over, we still don’t know exactly why Judas did what he did. But this much is sure: When Judas betrayed Jesus, he made the biggest mistake any man has ever made.
Question 2: Why Did He Feel Such Remorse?
The answer is that Judas was like all of us on the inside—torn by opposite impulses. He should have been better or he should have been worse. If he had been a better man, he would never have betrayed the Lord. If he had been worse, he wouldn’t have felt so miserable. He died a tragic death—miserable and guilt-ridden with the blood of the Son of God on his hands.
II. One Question For Peter
Where is Judas today? Is he in heaven or is he in hell? The Bible is very clear on that point: Judas is in hell. In Acts 1:25, Peter spoke of Judas who left his apostolic ministry “to go where he belongs.” Literally, the verse reads “to go to his own place.” “His own place” is hell. If that seems harsh, consider the words of Jesus in John 6:70-71 when he said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
He did not literally mean that Judas was a demon, but that Judas was even then (about a year before the crucifixion) acting under Satan’s influence.
Listen to Jesus as he prays in the Upper Room on Thursday night. Judas has left to make the final arrangements. Even now the soldiers are gathering for the march to the Mount of Olives. The final act is about to play itself out. Meanwhile, Jesus is praying for his disciples: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
Judas is in hell today. He has been there for 2,000 years and he will be there forever. He has paid the ultimate price for the crime of betraying the Son of God.
If someone asks, “Did Judas lose his salvation?” the answer is No. He didn’t lose his salvation because he never had it. Whatever else you can say about him, he was never a follower of Jesus Christ in the same sense as the other apostles. He was not saved and then lost. He was lost because he was never saved in the first place.
But someone else may ask, “Did Judas go to hell because he committed suicide?” Good question, and the answer is once again No. Suicide is a sin, but it is not why Judas went to hell. Judas went to hell because he never truly committed himself to Jesus Christ. His betrayal proved that fact; his suicide merely sealed his fate.
One final question. “Doesn’t the Bible say that Judas ‘repented?’” The older translations do indeed use that word in Matthew 27:3. A more accurate rendering is “seized with remorse.” Although Judas was gripped with the wrongness of what he had done, he never asked for forgiveness. There is a world of difference between those two things. Many people who truly feel sorry for their sins never come to God and ask for forgiveness. Judas tried to undo his betrayal, but it was too late. I do not doubt that he wept bitter tears as he threw the money back into the temple. But his remorse (as sincere as it was) was not true repentance and it did not lead to forgiveness. It led instead to suicide, the ultimate proof that Judas died an unforgiven man.
III. Three Questions For Us
As we think about the strange, sad story of Judas, several questions rise to the surface. These are questions not about Judas but about you and me. They ask us to consider how much of Judas lives inside each of us today. And before we consider these questions, consider this: The more religious you are, the more likely you are to do what Judas did. If Judas were alive today, the best place to find him would be in church on Sunday morning. He would come early, sit near the front, sing the hymns with gusto, clap during the choruses, and say Amen during the sermon. If Judas lived in Oak Park, I don’t doubt he would attend Calvary Memorial Church. He was that kind of man. Who knows? He might be sitting next to you in the pew. Or he might even be closer than that.
A. How Has God Disappointed You?
If there is any way to understand Judas, it is at the point of personal disappointment. Perhaps he truly believed that Jesus had let him down and in his own twisted way felt justified in his act of treachery. But is that so much different from the way we feel when we think God has let us down? So I ask the question: How has God disappointed you? For some, it comes from shattered dreams and fond hopes never realized. For others, it comes from a failed marriage or children who turned against you. Perhaps you prayed and prayed for a loved one to be healed of cancer only to attend their funeral later. Maybe you feel deep inside that God simply hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. Though you would never say it in church, you feel cheated by the Lord.
Let us face the fact that God often fails to live up to our expectations. Sometimes he simply doesn’t do what we think he ought to do. We have certain standards for the God of the universe—and he doesn’t always meet them. Judas couldn’t live with disappointment so he betrayed the Lord. What about you?
B. What Would You Trade For Jesus?
One of the ironic parts of this story is that Judas didn’t get much for his money. In those days, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave—about $20. Judas went to hell and the cost of his ticket was 30 pieces of silver. What would you trade for Jesus?
• Would you betray him for money?
• Would you betray him for a better job?
• Would you betray him to keep the job you have?
• Would you betray him to save your own skin?
• Would you betray him to get a better grade in school?
• Would you betray him for a date to the prom?
• Would you betray him for a new contract?
• Would you betray him for a million dollars?
• Would you betray him to find a husband or a wife?
• Would you betray him because he didn’t live up to your expectations?
• Would you betray him because you thought he let you down?
• Would you betray him if you thought you could win the favor of important people?
The story of Judas asks us to probe at the level of our personal motivation. Why do you serve the Lord anyway? How much is the Son of God worth to you?
C. Are You a Second Judas?
Many years ago I heard an evangelist preach a sermon with the arresting title: “A Second Judas.” It was aimed at church members who were not truly born again. As I recall, he told the story of Judas and then talked about himself—how he had grown up in the church, attended Sunday School for years, gone to a Christian college—and if my memory serves me correctly—had even become a pastor before he realized that he had never truly been born again. He himself had been a second Judas. It was humbling and painful for him to face the fact of his own self-deception, but when he did, he was wonderfully converted by the Spirit of God. It can happen to any of us. Judas kissed the door of heaven but went to hell. Jesus picked him as an apostle but he went to hell. He lived with Jesus for three years and still went to hell. He watched Jesus walk on the water and still went to hell. He listened to the Sermon on the Mount and still went to hell. He ate with Jesus, talked with Jesus, walked with Jesus, and listened to Jesus day after day, month after month, year after year. He knew Jesus as well as one has ever known Jesus and still he went to hell.
And remember this. None of the disciples suspected him. That’s why he was chosen to be the treasurer. They trusted him to keep their money. Even at the Last Supper, when Jesus identified Judas publicly, they still couldn’t figure it out.
Search Your Own Heart
Do you know who is most likely to be a Judas in this church? I am. As the Senior Pastor, I stand in the closest analogy to the place where Judas stood. Someone says, “Surely not you, Pastor.” That’s what they said about Judas. Remember, the shock of Judas’ betrayal was that he looked so good on the outside. If I can tell you this story without searching my own heart, then I have missed the point. I want you to know that I truly believe in the assurance of salvation through the Word of God and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. I’m not in favor of constant introspection about whether or not you are a Christian. But there is a place for healthy self-examination in the Christian life. No one should take for granted his hope of heaven. I wish to say clearly that as I have considered the matter this week, the thought occurs to me that if I am a Christian at all, it is not because I am a pastor, an elder, a church member, a husband, a father, or a doer of good deeds. None of those things matter in the least when it comes to eternal salvation. If I am a Christian at all, it is because I am trusting in Jesus Christ and him alone for the forgiveness of my sins. I’m staking my hope of heaven on the fact that Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. If he can’t take me to heaven, then I’m not going there.
Judas does us a favor if his story causes us to rethink our basic commitment to Jesus Christ. You call yourself a Christian. But are you a true follower or are you just going through the motions? Are you a pretender or a true believer? Have you truly turned from your sins and trusted Jesus Christ as Savior? Are you a fair-weather friend of the Savior?
These are searching questions that may be easier to ask than to answer. I ask you not to take them lightly. The one main lesson from Judas’ life is lost unless we at least ask ourselves the questions.
After all, if one can be an apostle of Christ and still be lost, what about you and what about me? Perhaps we may conclude the matter this way. One apostle was lost, that none should presume. Eleven were saved, that none should despair. In the end, most of us who call ourselves Christians will search our hearts and conclude that Yes, although we fail him in many ways, we do love Jesus and claim him as our Savior. That is as it should be. The story of Judas is in the Bible for many reasons, not the least of which is that before we take anything for granted, we at least ask the question the other apostles asked that fateful night: “Lord, is it I?”