Did Judas Have Free Will?
- Dave Jenkins Christianity.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 13 Mar
The best way to spot a fake is to study the real thing. The United States Secret Service is an excellent example of this as they study the original dollar bill to be able to spot any counterfeit bills. The brightness of light, for example, is best understood when it is set against the backdrop of utter darkness. Salvation is best understood when contrasted with the inability of men and women to save themselves.
The Generosity of Mary and Judas’ Betrayal
In Mark 14:10-11, we get a better understanding of the wicked premeditated betrayal of Judas. Mary showed her devotion to the Lord publicly pouring out perfume on Jesus in front of others. Judas met with the chief priests in secret to execute his devious plan while Mary gave away something of great value showing her devotion to Jesus. Judas was paid blood money by the religious leaders to display his hatred for Jesus (Mark 14:3-11). Mark, by contrasting Mary with Judas, helps readers understand the praiseworthy nature of what Mary did and the awfulness of Judas’ actions.
Judas’ meeting with the chief priests set in motion the final course of events that culminated in our Savior’s crucifixion. Acts 2:22-23 teaches that Judas did not act outside of the sovereign plan of God, for the Lord determined these things would happen. Even so, this does not eliminate Judas’ responsibility for his actions.
Lawless men like Judas put Jesus to death (Acts 2:23), and they are responsible for their actions before the Lord. John 12:6 tells readers that Judas was a lover of money who stole funds intended to help the poor to deepen his pockets. Such acts reveal Judas' heart to betray God Incarnate Jesus and to deliver him into the hands of wicked men.
The Repentance of Peter and Judas’ Betrayal
All four gospels describe the betrayal of Judas when he first appears on the scene (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; John 6:71). Peter is not defined by his threefold denials of Jesus since he repented and was restored by Jesus (John 21:15-19). As a result, Peter is remembered as the rock, not the denier of Christ. Judas, though, unlike Peter, never repented and bears the shame of his deed forever.
Matthew’s gospel picks up on this point as it contrasts Peter’s denial with Judas’ death inviting us to compare the state of their souls. Judas, like Peter, is sorry after the fact, changing his mind about what he has done (Matthew 27:3-4). Unlike Peter, Judas is not genuinely repentant (2 Corinthians 7:10). Judas’ change of mind (Matthew 27:3) is not one that is used to describe repentance, for Judas does not try to stop what he has started and will not testify of the innocence of Jesus before Pilate.
Were Judas repentant, he would have acted to tell Pilate and done all he could to undo the evil act he did to Jesus. Godly sorrow leads people to run to the Lord, but Judas ran instead into the arms of death (Matthew 27:5).
The Jewish Leaders and Jesus’ Death
Interestingly enough, the religious leaders of Israel often cared about the ceremonial regulation of the law, but in the case of Jesus, they didn’t care about the killing of an innocent man. Instead, they used the blood money paid to Judas to buy a place to bury Gentiles (Matthew 27:6-8), which fulfilled prophecy (Matthew 27:9-10). Matthew is using Jeremiah 19:1-14 and Zechariah 11 as a background here, which alludes to Israel’s rejection of the shepherds God sent to them and the destruction that resulted. The Lord sent His prophets to shepherd the people of God, but the people of Israel rejected them, and then the destruction of exile occurred. Now with the condemnation of Jesus to die for sinners, the leaders rejected the “Shepherd and Overseer” of their souls (1 Peter 2:25). Now sinners make themselves even more worthy of God’s wrath than the people of Israel by rejecting Jesus.
Judas’ Sin Was Not Believing in Jesus
The betrayal and suicide of Judas is not the unforgivable sin. What Judas did that was unforgivable was not to seek the grace of the Lord. Peter and Judas both committed sins that violated the commands of God. Peter, unlike Judas, found forgiveness in Jesus when he repented. Only through repentance can sinners be saved by looking to Jesus, knowing He alone can give pardon to those who trust Him.
Judas and the Question of Free Will
We now come full circle to the question, “Did Judas Have Free Will?” and the question is a challenging one to answer briefly. Judas, on the one hand, knew what he did was wrong and did it anyway, which is why he was morally guilty. Even so, Judas had the choice to either choose Jesus or reject Jesus. Judas chose to reject Jesus, and by so doing, revealed the state of his heart.
No sinner is morally neutral. Jesus says out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). James 2:14-26 teaches that faith without works is dead because genuine faith follows Jesus and demonstrates itself in good works. The faith of Judas was never genuine, which is why he was not a Christian.
Biblical freedom is not an either/or proposition. In the life of Judas, we see he had the opportunity to serve as the treasurer of the disciples but chose to steal from the same treasury. Judas’ greed led him to betray Jesus and ended up in his rejection of Jesus and suicide.
Judas, not Jesus, is responsible for Judas’ decisions. Judas had free will to choose, but his response to that choice had consequences. Consider someone who hands over their wallet full of money to a mugger. At that moment, the person cares more about themselves, most likely than they do their money, so they give over their wallet full of money to the mugger to save their life.
That decision means they lose their money but save their life. Judas cared more about money than the eternal destiny of his soul. Thus, Judas revealed he was responsible for his choice and will be held accountable by the Lord for the state of his eternal soul at death because of his rejection of Jesus.
What Does This Mean?
Apart from the Lord Jesus, every sinner is dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1) and only wants darkness, so they freely choose to reject him. Only those who are born again love and serve Jesus, and only as the Holy Spirit brings them from death to new life (John 3:1-8). In Romans 7:18, Paul describes those regenerated by the Holy Spirit face a conflict in desires.
Even though Christians believe the promise of God and have new desires, our old sinful nature raises their ugly head. Some days may be more than others, we decide to not rely on the grace of God, and we let evil desires (indwelling sin) be stronger than our desire to love Jesus. In such moments, we sin, and yet by the Holy Spirit, we may strengthen our desire for the Lord and choose righteousness. Pray today that you might worship and wholly serve the Lord by His grace.
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.