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Did Judas Have a Choice, or Was He Predestined to Betray Jesus?

Did Judas Have a Choice, or Was He Predestined to Betray Jesus?

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

Is our salvation pre-destined by God? Or is it a result of our own free will to respond to God's grace?

Could Judas Iscariot have changed his own destiny by choosing to ask God's forgiveness like Peter did, instead of committing suicide? Or was he pre-destined to betray Jesus and become the vessel for God's wrath?

Thank you, JST

Dear JST,

John Calvin was a leader of the Protestant Reformation who concluded that somewhere in eternity past God elected, or predestined, or chose some people to go to Heaven and some to go to Hell. Individuals have no say-so in the matter of their eternal destiny. The implication from the Bible, when seen from a Calvinistic perspective, is that mankind has little, if any, free will. Calvin based his predestination interpretation on New Testament terms like: “elect” (Titus 1:1 ); “predestined” (Romans 8:28-29); “foreknown” (Romans 8:28); “chosen” (Ephesians 1:11) and “called” (Romans 1:6).

There is a strong biblical case for a world where there is little free will; where most, if not all, of our choices are planned and mapped out before we are even born.

If you have yet to hear the term "Quantum Enigma," you will soon. Every day quantum physicists are learning more about the workings of the universe. One of the strange findings in quantum mechanics is that every action of sub atomic particles is determined by choices made for them by a higher level observer. For example, people can predestine and foreknow the activities of light particles and those particles will obey completely. Things above other things make the decisions and plan the actions of things lower than they. This is called "downward causation." The implication here is that everything we do and say, including the choices we make, are planned for us by a higher authority. In our case, God.

As Christians we would say, "God is the Agent of downward causation." The implication here is that we have no free will and all we say or do is planned by God for us. This perspective fits well with Calvinism.

Arminianism, on the other hand, stands in direct contrast to Calvinism. It is based on free will. Arminianism may be summarized by John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life." In other words, anyone can come to Christ for salvation at any age, at any time or in any place.

The Bible is filled with free will pictures of an open-armed God Who is longing for the Lost to return to Him. All who come will receive full welcome and reprieve. Luke 15, for example, has three parables which picture God searching for things Lost in order to bring them safely home: the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. He is not electing or predestining them, He is pleading with them.

In a nutshell, Calvinism declares that the only ones who can be saved are the ones God has already chosen in eternity past. On the other hand, Arminianism puts no such restrictions on receiving God’s love, salvation and grace. The foundational teaching of Arminianism is: "Whosoever will may come." Salvation is not the domain only of the Elect. Salvation is a free gift—offered now in the present—to all who believe in Christ by faith.

It seems to me that "whosoever will" is a better reflection of the biblical picture of God's heart than the idea that He made arbitrary choices to determine the eternal state of certain individuals before the foundation of the earth.

Considering all the issues involved, I arrive at the following conclusion as one way to settle the debate: before the foundation of the universe, God predetermined that a group (known as "the elect") composed of all who freely receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior are predestined to be "conformed to the image of Christ" (Romans 8:28-29 and Ephesians 1).

Therefore, no one is predestined to Heaven or Hell. We are given the free choice to receive Christ. Those who do are called the “elect,” chosen and predestined not in regards to whether they go to Heaven or to Hell, but instead they are predestined to mature to look like Jesus.

With that being said, let's address the issue of whether or not Judas was predestined to betray Jesus.

The final days of the life of Jesus on earth were foreordained to include the betrayal of Judas, just as were the cross and resurrection (Mark 14:17-21; Acts 1:16 and Psalm 109:5-8). The implication of these verses was that Judas was chosen by God to betray Jesus.

Both Jesus and Peter, in the above passages, verify that Judas was specifically chosen for the job of betrayal. We may say that Judas was predestined, called, elected, and/or chosen to betray Jesus. He had no free will and thus no choice in the matter.

(By the way, Judas' bargain for 30 pieces of silver was also foretold in Zechariah 11:12-13 and fulfilled in Matthew 26:14-16.)

Did Judas have any choice in the matter? It seems not. He could not avoid or change his destiny. He was foreordained to commit this brutal act. The moment Satan entered Judas the die was cast (Luke 22:3).

Now we come to the free will part. Once Judas had completed his ungodly mission he was free to make things right with Jesus. Jesus died for Judas, too. You know that if Judas had fallen on his knees, repented and asked for forgiveness that Jesus would have welcomed him into the kingdom.

Peter also betrayed his relationship with Christ; but he is in Heaven's glory. Why? Because he returned to Christ and repented. The Bible says Peter not only felt shame and despair, he repented and asked for forgiveness.

The Bible tells us Judas felt so badly about what he'd done he went out and hanged himself. He would have needed some spiritual warfare to exorcise Satan out of his life, but he didn't have to kill himself.

The story of Judas is a paradox. He is the epitome of predestination along with its opposite, free will. He had to betray Jesus, but he was free to return to Christ if he had so wanted. Wouldn't that have made a great story of redemption and salvation!

One of my readers shared an intriguing way to see how predestination and free will might interact. It's interesting to think about this in the context of an age-old question: do we have free choice or is everything predetermined? I think the answer is: YES. Everything is predetermined AND we have free choice. It's like when we play a card game. We get dealt a hand. And we have no control over the cards we get dealt. It's predetermined.

But we also get to play that hand. We also have free choice. Ultimately, it's the COMBINATION of the hand we're dealt and the way we play it that determines the outcome. And it's the outcome that shapes my view of the original hand I was dealt. God deals us a hand. There's nothing we can do to change that. But we get to play that hand. I get to respond to the events of my life. And it's my response, my actions in the future, which determine the meaning of the events in my past.

Finally, there are two differing biblical accounts of the death of Judas.

Acts 1:18: With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.

Matthew 27:5: So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

So what gives? I think I know what happened. The Bible says that Judas bought a field. This was predicted and predestined by God. On a sturdy tree branch he hung himself by the neck. For several days he hung in the breeze, flies and maggots covering his decaying body. Finally, some merciful soul decided to cut down the rotting corpse. When he did, Judas' bloated body hit the ground and burst open.

So, JST, I hope that this helps.

God bless,

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: August 28, 2014