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Judas was one of Jesus’ twelve chosen disciples. He likely spent close to three years with Jesus, wandering the countryside, preaching and teaching in cities, and witnessing Jesus’ miracles. At some point in Jesus’ public ministry, Judas contacted the chief priests and temple guard to discuss how he might secretly hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted and agreed to pay him thirty pieces of silver. Judas completed his act of treachery on the evening of the last supper. A crowd approached their group and Judas kissed Jesus as a sign to indicate that he was the one. Later, after Jesus was sentenced to death, Judas, with deep regret over what he did, returned the silver, and hanged himself.
Was Judas forgiven?
The question matters because we want to believe in a God that can forgive any sin. The question matters because we want to believe that no matter what wrong we commit, if we experience remorse, like Judas did, there is always hope for redemption. The question matters because we want to understand the relationship between faith and forgiveness.
Before studying the scripture, I was sincerely hoping the answer would be yes. Public opinion concerning Judas has shifted due to discoveries such as the Gospel of Judas (which incidentally was not written by Judas). He’s no longer viewed as a purely evil figure. There’s evidence to support that Jesus forgave him and there’s evidence that Jesus did not, or that Judas rejected any forgiveness that Jesus offered. Let’s weigh the biblical evidence for both, reach a conclusion, and examine the implications.
Jesus' public predictions of both Judas' and Peter's respective betrayal and thrice denial seem to indicate God’s forgiveness for their sins. Both prophesies are located together in the text in all four gospels - Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13. We know Peter was forgiven and became a pillar of the church. Jesus was aware of both the gravity of his predicament and his disciples’ role in selling him out and/or deserting him.
In addition, Jesus did not exclude Judas from the Last Supper in any way. Judas also participated in the communion, a ritual memorializing the forgiveness of Jesus. So there’s evidence that Jesus loved Judas in a similar way to the rest of the eleven disciples. Besides the prophecies, Jesus does not appear to have discriminated against Judas.
But the evidence that Judas was not forgiven is stronger. Although Judas was one of the twelve disciples, he does not seem to have internalized any of Jesus’ teachings. He didn't get Jesus. In John 12, Mary Madaglene pours a liter of expensive perfume at Jesus’ feet. Jesus celebrates her act of devotion but Judas is angry that the perfume should have been sold and given to the poor. The text indicates he was the treasurer of the group but he didn’t give money to the poor. Rather he stole money for himself. In John 6, Jesus says he chose the twelve disciples but that one of them is a devil and the narrator indicates this is a reference to Judas.
In three of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, during the Last Supper, Jesus says in reference to Judas “woe to the one who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” That’s not good to hear.
But most damning of all, in Acts 1, Peter makes a speech about raising up leadership to replace Judas, the one who “left to go where he belongs”. There’s no indication in the context of that verse that where he belongs is heaven.
Based on the biblical evidence, I feel comfortable stating that Judas was not forgiven.
Does that mean Judas’ sin was unforgivable?
Perhaps. If you can betray the Son of God to death after spending years with him as a companion, your heart has to be solidly bent on evil. Even during the Last Supper, Jesus’ words to Judas are almost like a plea for Judas not to go through with it – as if he had one last chance. It’s instructive to note that Judas got everything he wanted. He betrayed Jesus and got his reward. He was never interested in forgiveness. God is in the business of giving us the desires of hearts, He does not impose what He thinks is good on any of us.
But did not Judas experience remorse after he betrayed Jesus? Does not that indicate a change of heart?
Judas did indeed experience remorse after he saw Jesus condemned at the trial but instead of seeking forgiveness or even confessing his own sin, Judas returned the silver he took as payment and took his own life. I believe God can forgive the sin of taking one's own life. The problem with suicide is that it's hard to evidence faith through actions when you're dead.
What are the implications of Judas’ example in regards to forgiveness, faith, and remorse?
Forgiveness: It seems that there are sin acts that are so extreme as to escape God’s forgiveness. I’m not sure how instructive that is since Judas was placed in a singularly unique situation.
Faith: It would be more helpful to look at Judas’ life and attitude towards Jesus as a whole rather than any one action. There’s no indication that he loved Jesus or believed that Jesus was who he said he was. Forgiveness is not a one-way encounter. The person being forgiven trusts in the beneficence of the forgiver. That means forgiveness is realized by faith. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Judas was forgiven but repeatedly rejected Jesus’ entreaties.
Remorse: Remorse, by itself, is not enough. You could argue remorse, on its own, reaps self-destruction. Judas felt his situation after betraying Jesus was hopeless. If you don’t believe Jesus is who he said, in what possible way could his forgiveness benefit you? Feeling remorse without hope is worse than hopefulness without remorse.