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.