In his book “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins states: “As another aside, it has occurred to various people, including Robert Graves in his epic novel King Jesus, that poor Judas Iscariot has received a bad deal from history, given that his ‘betrayal’ was a necessary part of the cosmic plan. The same could be said of Jesus’ alleged murderers. If Jesus wanted to be betrayed and then murdered, in order that he could redeem us all, isn’t it rather unfair of those who consider themselves redeemed to take it out on Judas and on Jews down the ages?” (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 247).
Richard Dawkins’ sentiments are in line with many atheists who have pointed to Judas Iscariot to suggest he was a scapegoat, or pawn, who had no choice but to act out what had been pre-ordained for him to do. It would seem unfair if Judas had no choice, especially given indications in the Bible that we have free will (c.f., Joshua 24:15; John 7:17; and Proverbs 16:9). Accordingly, the intention of this article is to examine Judas’ actions as presented in the New Testament in the context of his free will and God’s foreknowledge. I will further examine whether Judas was merely a pawn or an intentional actor – or both.
What Did Judas Do During Jesus’ Ministry?
Judas Iscariot had accompanied Jesus and the other apostles during the three years of Jesus’ ministry. In the book of John, Jesus’ foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal was offered early on.
Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him” (John 6: 63-64). John 6:66 states, “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” Judas remained.
While in Bethany, Jesus had dinner at with Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Judas (John 12:3). Mary poured a pint of an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. This upset Judas, who blasted: “‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” “‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’”
During the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles that one of them would betray Him (John 13:18-28). He said, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” His apostles stared at one another upon hearing Jesus’ prediction and then asked Him to identify His betrayer. Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” He gave the bread to Judas and when Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him to do what he was about to do quickly.
Jesus and His apostles then went to the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed and demonstrated His obedience to the Lord. Judas soon arrived with a large crowd of people with swords and clubs whose intentions were to capture Jesus. Judas said to them, “the one I kiss is the man; arrest Him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.” Jesus replied, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). “Do what you came for, friend.” (Matthew 26: 47-50). Jesus was then arrested and all of His disciples deserted Him and fled.
Judas Iscariot fulfilled what the prophets Jeremiah (19:1-13; 32:6-9) and Zechariah (11:12, 13) predicted that he would do around 600 B.C. and 520 B.C., respectively. Matthew (27) describes how he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, yet later regretted his decision, so he returned the money to the chief priests before hanging himself. The chief priests could not use the “blood money,” so they purchased a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners with it. Acts 1:18 says “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas [symbolically] bought a field; there [after hanging himself] he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.” The field was named the Field of Blood.
Did Judas Have a Choice?
Along with several other verses in the Bible, Joshua 24:15 makes it clear that Judas had a choice.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Judas’ god was greed. Although he had witnessed Jesus’ ministry and been exposed to Jesus’ love, empathy, humility, authority, and miracles, Judas chose to steal donations and to betray Jesus for thirty silver shekels.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus made it clear to us that “no one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Judas made the choice to love money over God, which opened the door to Satan. People who choose to worship the god of money also expose themselves to Satan, who’s the great liar, manipulator, and accuser. His intentions are malicious and his desire is to destroy us.
As indicated above, the prophets Zechariah and Jeremiah foretold Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, indicating that God foreknew the events that occurred. God is omniscient and while He foreknew of Judas’ actions, He did not determine Judas’ actions. Judas determined his own actions because he had free will. God foreknew his actions because He is omniscient and He is omnipresent. Omnipresence means that He is concurrently in the past, present, and future (c.f., Revelation 1:8) so all at once he sees and has seen our lives. He transcends time.
Does Judas’ Betrayal Indicate Victory for Satan?
Satan is more powerful than any man, but his power does not come close to that of God’s. He is not omnipresent nor omniscient, whereas God is (Psalm 139; 147, John 3:20; Revelation 1:8). Satan is finite and limited (Revelation 12:7-12).
If Satan had realized when he entered Judas that Jesus would go on to be victorious by resurrecting from the dead and freeing humanity from the binds of our sins, he would not have played a role in making that possible. Colossians 2:15 states: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
If God Is Omniscient, Why Does He Allow People Like Judas to Live Among Us?
The Parable of the Sower answers this question.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” “When He said this, He called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’”(Luke 8:5-8).
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8:11-15.
Judas exemplified the seed that fell among thorns, while Jesus’ other disciples and apostles, such as Peter, James, John, and Mary Magdalene persevered and produced a crop. They came out of hiding when they witnessed the resurrected Jesus and they preached for Him illegally for decades before (in most cases) they were martyred. By the year 313 A.D., when Christianity was finally legalized by Constantine, between five and six million people worshipped Jesus (Wawro, 2008). Now that’s quite a crop!
In conclusion, Judas Iscariot was both a pawn and an intentional actor. He was a pawn for the devil when he deliberately chose to worship the god of money. And he was an intentional actor with free will who made his own choices. God sometimes uses evil for the sake of love, as demonstrated by Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ, respectively.
Thank you for your time.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. London. Bantam Press.
Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.
24 Replies to “Was Judas Iscariot a Pawn or an Intentional Actor – or Both?”
Well said. Love the connection with the parable of the sower. It has always intrigued me that Jesus knew Judas would betray Him but selected him as a disciple anyway.
Thank you!!! God makes my work so easy.
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This is a question I have tossed around for some time. We cannot ignore the fact that Judas was possessed by Satan, TWICE. Not just Demon possessed, which is bad enough, but possessed by the HIGHEST in the order of Demons and leader of the pack. Why would Satan go into someone if not to control them? Or influence their thinking so much they might as well be a puppet.
Whatever the case, I thank God for Judas, who wittingly or not, played a major role in my salvation. Now here is another question…. will Judas be in Heaven?
Interesting questions. It seems from what Jesus said that we won’t find Judas in heaven. But we also must note that he made his own bed – and that God is more forgiving than any of us can imagine as He is the standard of forgiveness. It may be so that we encounter a reformed Judas in heaven. I look forward to finding out!
Very interesting and thoughtful article, thank you so much for writing about these difficult issues 🙂
I personally see a problem in terms of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and Judas’ freedom to act. Foreknowledge, to me, implies certainty. But free will implies freedom. There seems to me to be a contradiction between the two.
I personally have a very high view of the sovereignty of God (I believe He is sovereign over all events, including any activities of Satan), and this is necessarily so because He is literally omnipresent, so there is nowhere God is not. He is boundless. It logically follows that He is in control of all events. If there is freedom then God’s being must be limited in some way – there must be parts of creation where God is not (which would be to deny His omnipresence, which is an attribute I firmly believe He has).
I understand and sympathise with the objection from Dawkins, that it seems rather unfair that Judas was predestined to destruction. But I don’t see myself as able to judge God’s actions, and as a previous commenter highlighted, we don’t know what Judus’ state is in the afterlife. I have a hope that God is ultimately gracious and merciful to all sentient beings, and I spend time praying for God’s mercy for all creatures, because I believe all of existence unfolds in accordance with His will, and His sovereign plan.
Apologies for the long comment!
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God’s knowledge isn’t time bounded as ours is.
A few questions:
First, you write, “Judas Iscariot fulfilled what the prophets Jeremiah (19:1-13; 32:6-9) and Zechariah (11:12, 13) predicted that he would do around 600 B.C. and 520 B.C., respectively.” What exegetical warrant do you have to make that claim?
Second, you quote Acts 1:18 and insert your own wording to reconcile the Matthean account with the Lukan (i.e. “symbolically” and “after hanging himself”). What exegetical warrant do you have for the insertions?
Third, both Luke (22:3) and John (13:27) say that Satan entered Judas, the implication being that he was posessed by Satan himself. But we know from other Lukan pericopes wherein Jesus interacts with demons that the idea of being demon posessed implies that the will of the posessed is overridden by the will of the demon. This is clear in in the pericope of the Gerasene Demoniac in Luke 8:26-39. The demoniac had been “seized (Greek, synērpakei; cf. Acts 6:12 where the verb is used of the arrest of Stephen)” by the demons and had been “driven by the demon into the wilds” (8:29). Also, once the demons are exorcised they “entered the swine” (Greek, eisēlthon eis tous choirous) which caused the swine to rush down into the lake and drown (8:33). When Luke (22:3) describes Satan entering Judas he uses an almost identical Greek construction – Eisēlthen…Satanas eis Ioudan.
Luke describes the exorcised demonianc as being “in his right mind” (8:25), implying that while demon posessed he was not in his right mind. The question then is, if it is the case that Judas was posessed by none other than the prince of demons and if demon posession implies that the will of the posessed is overridden by the will of the demon (as the above textual evidence suggests), how then does Judas act of his own free will in any sense?
Our opinions on this differ, possibly due to our divergence in our regard for the Lord. As for the dating, if my dating is incorrect, please let me know how. I used several sources from pastors to determine the dates.
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I wasn’t being clear enough on the first question. My apologies. I’m not questioning your dating at all. Instead, what I am asking is how you can support the claim that the texts from the Hebrew Bible are actually about Judas. What exegetical warrant do you have for making that claim?
I am also interested in how you would address my other two questions as well.
What warrant do I have to make the claim that Jeremiah and Zechariah foretold of events surrounding Judas? Well, I make that claim because the New Testament authors who spoke of Judas made the claim. As for demon possession, Judas – when he decided to turn Jesus in, he used his free will. That opened the door to Satan. What happened next was he turned Jesus in, just as he intended to do.
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So because the New Testament authors claim that Jeremiah and Zechariah were speaking of Judas then they must have been speaking of Judas? That seems very simplistic and entirely eisegetical. After all, no one reading the book of Zechariah would have thought that it was about the betrayal of Jesus since the passage about the thirty pieces of silver talks about the payment being made to Zechariah, God’s prophet.
You write, “Judas – when he decided to turn Jesus in, used his free will. That opened the door to Satan.” Except that isn’t what the text says. In Luke, first Judas is posessed (22:3) and *then* Judas goes to the religious authorities (22:4-6). So Judas is clearly posessed by Satan *before* he goes to the authorities. Ditto for the Gospel of John. Judas is posessed by Satan and *then* he (presumably) goes to the religious authorities to make arrangements for Jesus’ arrest. Your version has no textual support whatsoever.
Perhaps in one of your future video discussions we could discuss texts like these and you could offer a defense of how you read them.
AE: perhaps you missed this passage, which occurred quite clearly before the Last Supper. It’s from Matthew 26:
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
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It appears you did not read the Lukan passage in context because Satan enders Judas (22:3) before the Last Supper (22:14-23). So my point stands. Unless you have a version of Luke where the order of events are switched.
Apparently I can’t speel today. 😉
Ah. I stand corrected. We know from the text that Jesus was aware of His betrayer far in advance – and we also know that people who accept God are protected from Satan and his demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, Judas’ corrupt heart at some point led to Satan’s entry. And it seems he entered twice. When we’re not armored by the power of the Holy Spirit, we open the doors to evil.
I’m not sure why my reply isn’t showing up, so I’m entering it again. It appears I was mistaken and Satan entered Judas twice. What we do know from the text is that Jesus was well aware of His betrayer during earlier times in His ministry. Judas had a corrupt heart and so he left the door open to Satan. He was greedy and he was stealing from Jesus’ ministry. We also know that when we arm ourselves with the armor of God, we are protected by the Holy Spirit from such entry. Hope this helps. Bye now.
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In Luke’s Gospel, Satan only enters Judas once (22:3) and in John it only happens once (John 13:27). The only way you can claim it happened twice is if you try to stitch the two accounts together, something the authors never intended.
You write, “What we do know from the text is that Jesus was well aware of His betrayer during earlier times in His ministry.” Do we? Let’s take Luke’s Gospel. The narrator lets us know that Judas is the one who betrays Jesus (6:16) but nowhere are we told that Jesus knows he will. Ditto for both Mark (a source for Luke’s Gospel) and Matthew. Only in John’s Gospel does Jesus have the foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal (John 6:71). Don’t you find that curious?
Finally, you claim that “Judas had a corrupt heart and so he left the door open to Satan.” Whether that is true or not is beside the point. If Judas was posessed by Satan then his will was overridden. This renders your view that Judas acted according to his own will false. His betrayal of Jesus ocurred only *after* Satan posessed him. How is he culpable for his own actions?
I will leave it all at that.
You can’t say Satan only entered once. The Gospels don’t say that. You’ve added your own biases. You’ve also said you know their intentions. How? This conversation is rapidly deteriorating.
Judas also betrayed Jesus when he stole from His ministry. He chose the god of money. My post expanded on this.
There is no reason we shouldn’t weave the four accounts together. Detectives, academic and medical researchers and reporters do that all the time to enhance validity. It would suggest a bias if we didn’t.
Just one minor comment: You write: “when [Judas] decided to turn Jesus in, he used his free will. That opened the door to Satan. What happened next was he turned Jesus in, just as he intended to do.” If that were so, wouldn’t Satan be irrelevant to the story? What was Satan’s role if Judas did was he was going to do anyway?
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Are you saying that the only reason Satan may have had for entering Judas was to control him?
Since Satan is finite and temporally limited as we are, it’s likely he’d enter and exit when his pawns (who willingly accepted him when they rejected God) most needed his assistance. Others may have needed him during Judas’ downtime.
You fielded some tough questions. You fielded them well.
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