Judas Iscariot: Apostle to the Reprobate

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles; Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16)

Ray Anderson invites us to imagine the scene. Jesus goes up the mountain to pray. It is time to select the men who will serve as the eschatological representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through the night he prays. He has many followers. Perhaps he names each of them before the Father, asking for guidance, illumination, confirmation. In the morning he calls his disciples together and announces his election of the Twelve. Each one is an answer to prayer, including Judas Iscariot!

Perhaps we might have counseled Jesus differently. “Are you sure about Judas,” we ask him. “It would probably be wise to do a background check. A more thorough vetting couldn’t hurt.” But Jesus did not ask us; he asked only his Father:

What is clear and unavoidable in this account of the choosing of the twelve is that Jesus prayed all night and then chose the twelve in full assurance that these twelve had been given by him by the Father in answer to prayer. However difficult and unreliable the twelve might have become, Jesus would always consider them given to him by the Father. Yet they were also chosen, as he often liked to remind them. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16). Jesus later acknowledged in his prayer to the Father that they had been given to him: “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. … I am praying for them” (John 16: 6, 9).

Judas, the one who became a traitor, was an answer to prayer. This man was given to Jesus by the Father in heaven. (The Gospel According to Judas, p. 46)

Upon his election Judas is irrevocably tied to Jesus in mission to Israel and the world. From that moment on, his life no longer belongs to himself but to the Father and the Son. He is no longer just the son of Simon. He is now an apostle of the Messiah and one of the Twelve.

“But Judas became a traitor!” we retort. “He betrayed the Lord and forfeited his apostolic privileges; his office was filled by Matthias (Acts 2:15-26). What role can he possibly play in God’s plan of salvation, except perhaps as an example of eternal reprobation?” But Anderson proposes an alternative vision for Judas. Do not forget, he reminds us, that Judas—like Peter, James, John, and the others—was an answer to prayer and therefore “had been grasped by an intentionality that could not be shaken by his act of betrayal” (p. 49). Divine election precedes and grounds human freedom and destiny. Despite his perfidy, Judas has been assimilated into the mission of Jesus and is everlastingly intended by the divine mercy and providence. God may use evil to redeem evil. We must not think that God has now cast Judas into the garbage heap of Gehenna, as if admitting that he took a gamble on him that just didn’t pay off. “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Rome (11:29). Judas did not cease to be the elect of Christ because of his treason; but by the grace of God, suggests Anderson, he is given a different role in the work of salvation:

Judas is not only one representative of the twelve tribes of Israel chosen as the elect of God; Judas is a representative of every one who is the non-elect. Judas stands as the disqualified one, who forfeited his election and squandered his inheritance. Judas stands as the apostate Jew and the uncircumcised Gentile. The placing of Judas within the divine election by which the Son is beloved of the Father and the Father loved by the Son is an answer to prayer for all humanity. (p. 49)

If Judas became enemy and reprobate, he became so for the good of that world that stands under the judgment of the cross. The words of Paul regarding disobedient Israel surely applies to the Jew who betrayed his King:

As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. (Rom 11:28-32)

To meditate on the tragic figure of the Iscariot is to enter into the mystery of sin and divine providence. If we use the occasion to retreat into scholastic disputation on the conundrums of predestination and human freedom, we obscure the terrifying mystery that is Judas. How was it possible for a man chosen by the incarnate Son, a man who had left behind everyone and everything to follow the Lord, who was privy to his Master’s mind and heart, to betray Jesus to his enemies? Surely this is the “impossible possibility” of which Karl Barth wrote in his Church Dogmatics: “sin can only ever be the impossible possibility” (II/1:505). Called and embraced by absolute Love, his feet washed by incarnate Grace, Judas inexplicably, self-destructively gives his God over to crucifixion and death. “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27). His perfidy cannot be minimized. Judas perverted his apostolic office and executed the violence of Satan upon the Son of God, and yet in so doing, he paradoxically accomplishes the atoning work of God:

We have seen what was involved in the case of Judas. He brought Jesus into the situation where nobody but God could help Him. He seems to have perverted his apostolic function into its opposite by this act. He seems to have served the devil. And not only seems—for if we look at this act as such, its intention, execution, and consequence in the sphere of the human history of Jesus and his own history, we must undoubtedly say that he actually did this. He revealed and willingly and wittingly executed the final consequences of the fact that the Word of God became flesh, willing to have and actually having a human history, the history of one man among others. By his action he completed the reaction of these other men to the man who was the Son of God. He condemned this very man, and in that way revealed the justice of the condemnation which lies on all other men. He decisively confirmed that the world of men into which God sent His Son is the kingdom of Satan: the kingdom of misused creaturely freedom; the kingdom of enmity to the will and resistance to the work of its Creator. …

The act of Judas cannot, therefore, be considered as an unfortunate episode, much less as the manifestation of a dark realm beyond the will and work of God, but in every respect (and at a particularly conspicuous place) as one element of the divine will and work. In what he himself wills and carries out, Judas does what God wills to be done. He and not Pilate is the executor Novi Testamenti. But with his vile betrayal of Jesus to His enemies he is also the executor of the surrender which God has resolved to make and is now making for the benefit of hostile man, and therefore for his benefit. … For this reason, although the earlier saying of Jesus to Judas: “That thou doest, do quickly,” is the bitter judgment upon him, it is also the clear command with which Jesus, as it were, takes from his hand that which he is planning, Himself deciding that what Judas intends to do with Him shall actually be done. It could not remain undone. In one sense Judas is the most important figure in the New Testament apart from Jesus. For he, and he alone of the apostles, was actively at work in this decisive situation, in the accomplishment of what was God’s will and what became the content of the Gospel. (Barth, CD, II/2:501-502)

By his free decision and intent, the apostle chosen by Christ to serve the mission of the gospel becomes the chosen reprobate. His halo is black. Yet he remains an answer to the prayer of Jesus.

We find it easy to despise and condemn Judas. But was his infidelity really so unusual? “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me,” Jesus told the Twelve at the Last Supper. In sorrow and perplexity, they looked at him and asked, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matt 26:20-22). When Jesus chose Judas, he knew that he was a potential traitor and saboteur … but so were the others … so are we all.

Kyrie eleison.

(Go to “The Greed of Judas”)

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7 Responses to Judas Iscariot: Apostle to the Reprobate

  1. brian says:

    These are insightful questions, Father. Yesterday, I read a blog post on Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence, written by Brandon Watson. I am still not especially fond of his manner of philosophizing, but he is an insightful reader of literature.

    http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2014/08/shusaku-endo-silence.html

    Here is a relevant quote from the article linked to above:

    Human goodness is frail. It does not matter how good you are, how strong you are, how forceful your will. There is some pressure, applied long enough, or in just the right point, where you can at some point shatter. There is some point beyond which you can guarantee nothing. You might last. But call it luck or grace, your doing so would be utterly out of your hands.

    I think this is right. Surely, there is something presumptuous and frankly, lacking in self-knowledge, in those who can look with simple moral indignation at human failure. I do not say that repulsion at evil is misguided. It is not. Yet the traditional revulsion — already apparent in the New Testament — held out towards Judas easily gives way to a reckoning that dismisses the repugnant Other as a loathsome being beyond our care and also somehow beyond our own limits of disaster. Judas can become a convenient evil, a betrayal so bad it justifies a tepid faith; ironically, the latter may be much worse than Judas.

    The notion that Judas might actually have an apostolate, a distinct mission wrapped up in his betrayal, despair, and suicide is perhaps a bridge too far. Is it sentimental to assert such? I am uncertain, but I do believe Judas’ fall is incorporated into the unique, saving mission of the Christ.
    When I look at the current state of the world, I am deeply dismayed. I can understand the frustration of the Jewish zealots. One cries out against the unchecked gloating of wickedness that cherishes power and continually panders to, while oppressing the poor it holds in contempt. Greek spiritedness, thumos, is awoken. Wrath at injustice and sadistic menace engenders a heart to destroy the foul enemy. This is not utterly wrong, but it is tragically weak. The victory of the Cross cannot appear as anything other than ignominy and defeat to ungraced eyes. The agonic metaphysics of the ancient world could not possibly comprehend or even imagine the agapeic peace of Triune creation. Victory in war involves the vanquishing of one’s enemies. But the war of the Christ ends in the redemption of the lost, the refusal to accept the nihilation of the foe as the last word on what is possible. In this light, the easy dismissal of Judas, the eternal mastication in the jaws of a bestial Satan imagined by Dante, appears more a vindictive, pagan justice, than the miracle of the gospel.

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  2. Mike H says:

    A poignant post. Haunting questions.

    I’m assuming that this is the same Ray Anderson who wrote Dancing With Wolves While Feeding the Sheep (which can be viewed online at WIPF and Stock’s website). It includes a chapter entitled “Will Judas Be In Heaven?” that’s worth the read.

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  3. What a fascinating article. This has always haunted me, since the time I began to really think about what it means to be a Christian rather than to just take up space in a pew so I could check off my box marked “Attended church on Sunday, therefore I am a good boy.” I have to say that in the penal substitutionary world of God’s unrelenting justice (“I will get even with my enemies!!”), Judas was a tragic figure precisely because I felt that he had no choice in the matter. After all, he was elect to the job, wasn’t he?

    Judas had a role to play, I realized, and his choices were … not only limited…they were simply not there. What real choice did he have at that moment? To say no to the temptation to push Jesus into the limelight and thus force a Messianic, albeit terribly misunderstood, conflict with the Jewish and Roman authorities? His hope perhaps to bring in the kingdom? Surely Jesus would, when corralled by the corrupt, rise up in indignation, using the very same power that Judas had seen raise the dead, to vanquish the foes of the Kingdom and bring in the Age of Messiah.

    Ultimately, it pushes the question in our faces – if Judas was that instrument for God to redeem the world, how can God cast him into the devouring jaws of the bestial Satan and yet be just? It is too easy to slough off the blame to Judas and not look at the greater picture, the whole purpose of God, both restorative and instructive.

    I am becoming a heretic because I want to believe in a Love that will even love Judas and forgive his transgression. So be it.

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  4. Marshall says:

    Despite his perfidy, Judas has been assimilated into the mission of Jesus and is everlastingly intended by the divine mercy and providence.

    Given this, which I think is right on the text, what should we make of Acts 1:15ff, where Peter moves to elect Matthias in Judas’ place? Presumptuous?

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