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)

Judas Isacriot.jpg~original.jpegUpon 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, 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.

(25 October 2016)

(Go to “The Greed of Judas”)

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9 Responses to Judas Iscariot: Apostle to the Reprobate

  1. Wayne Fair says:

    Serendipitously came across this right after viewing this post – there seems to be a deep resonance…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. armsopenwide says:

    Those of us that see mercy for all as a reflection of God’s character must be ready to provide a defense for this conviction, and for this hope for all of us who are not completely convinced.
    And so I feel an answer needs to be given to those who stand against mercy for all in regard to to the saying of Jesus, “it would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
    The only answer I can think of is that this was a later insertion by a scribe, or even simply an angry but erroneous sentiment of the Evangelist. These answers would not at all satisfy those who believe that this would not accord with the inspiration and reliability of the gospel texts. But if that is the answer, it would have to do. Can a scholar in lower criticism scholar speak to this answer? Or can anyone think of a better answer to this saying of the Lord!

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    • Gary Hughes says:

      According to the Preacher, it is better to have not been born than it is to live to see the evil that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)
      In this scenario, the statement that it is better to have not been born is a statement of commiseration for the one who was born and who will live to see that evil.
      Judas saw Jesus condemned. (Matthew 27:3)
      Boy, did he come to regret his involvement in that deal.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Deliberate hyperbole was a common practice and to draw a definitive conclusion from one verse isn’t a good one, but alas common as well. See comment section in previous post about Judas.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      There is I think a serious danger in deciding what is the ultimate fate of all the world based on the subtleties of the Greek grammar of a phrase translated from an Aramaic original.
      The unredeemed Judas at the point of his betrayal in Easter Saturday when he believes he has destroyed the Christ and all hope for the world is, undoubtedly, at that moment, worse off than if he had never been born. That this will always and ever be so from an eternal perspective, that he can be and never will be redeemed, is I think rather too much to glean from the precise parsing of this one sentence.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cristina Herrera says:

      Mary Pezzulo had this to say on her blog over at Patheos:
      “It would have been better for Judas, had he not been born.
      Not because of some vengeful God eternally roasting Judas over the fires of hell. Remember, we’re not required to believe that anyone is in hell. But because Judas was a human being born to live in the freedom of the sons of God, and instead he was enslaved– enslaved to finding something that would make him happy, and never finding it, because happiness is not something that can be gotten in that way. Happiness cannot be grasped. Happiness cannot be secured by chasing the things of this world: power, money, the favor of important people like the High Priest. Eventually, those things will demand that you forfeit your soul and betray your God. And they will give you nothing in return.

      Perhaps Judas was feeling that nothing at the very moment he demanded a kiss, and the kiss was freely given.

      The Lord was free. He gave everything freely, and did not seek his own happiness.

      And there was Judas, clutching a bag of silver, wondering where happiness could be found.

      And then he heard the Lord saying, “I am He. Whom do you seek? I have told you that I am He, now let these others go.”

      You can read all of it here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/steelmagnificat/2019/04/tenebrae-responsories-iudas-mercator-pessimus/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. armsopenwide says:

    I now see that this matter was dealt with in the previous post, which I missed. The answers provided here and in that post are possibilities. I think, that there is no argument strong enough to satisfy the opponents of universalism (specifically in regard to Judas, and otherwise), because of the ambiguity of the referent and the unstated consequences of Jesus’ words.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Unfortunately, there will always (well not quite always) be those holding out against holy scripture, love, beauty and reason.

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  4. Logan Polk says:

    While reading this article, something struck me across the face with the hand-cross of my favorite priest. If Hell was completely emptied following the Resurrection, as St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Isaac the Syrian, and so many other Saints attest to, would this not include Judas as well? After all, Judas died BEFORE the Crucifixion. Interesting food for thought.

    “Wherefore the Lord preached the Gospel to those in Hades. Accordingly the Scripture says, “Hades says to Destruction, We have not seen His form, but we have heard His voice.” It is not plainly the place, which, the words above say, heard the voice, but those who have been put in Hades, and have abandoned themselves to destruction, as persons who have thrown themselves voluntarily from a ship into the sea. They, then, are those that hear the divine power and voice. For who in his senses can suppose the souls of the righteous and those of sinners in the same condemnation, charging Providence with injustice? But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that. the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept “in ward and guard”? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades.

    For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

    And, as I think, the Saviour also exerts His might because it is His work to save; which accordingly He also did by drawing to salvation those who became willing, by the preaching [of the Gospel], to believe on Him, wherever they were. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance thorn the death of a sinner; and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly, because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.

    If, then, He preached only to the Jews, who wanted the knowledge and faith of the Saviour, it is plain that, since God is no respecter of persons, the apostles also, as here, so there preached the Gospel to those of the heathen who were ready for conversion. And it is well said by the Shepherd, “They went down with them therefore into the water, and again ascended. But these descended alive, and again ascended alive. But those who had fallen asleep, descended dead, but ascended alive.” Further the Gospel says, “that many bodies of those that slept arose,” — plainly as having been translated to a better state. There took place, then, a universal movement and translation through the economy of the Saviour.

    One righteous man, then, differs not, as righteous, from another righteous man, whether he be of the Law or a Greek. For God is not only Lord of the Jews, but of all men, and more nearly the Father of those who know Him. For if to live well and according to the law is to live, also to live rationally according to the law is to live; and those who lived rightly before the Law were classed under faith, and judged to be righteous, — it is evident that those, too, who were outside of the Law, having lived rightly, in consequence of the peculiar’ nature of the voice, though they are in Hades and in ward, on hearing the voice of the Lord, whether that of His own person or that acting through His apostles, with all speed turned and believed. For we remember that the Lord is “the power of God,” and power can never be weak.”

    – From Book 6, Chapter 6 of St. Clement of Alexandria’s “Stromata” (Delphi Edition)

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