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Did Judas Have a Choice?

Spoiler: the goal of this article is not to give you a yes or no answer but instead to give you some points to think about. This topic can be a sensitive matter. This topic can divide churches, friends, brothers in Christ. This topic tests the depths of theology. This topic is at the foundation of doctrinal belief. Let us go forward in grace, prayerfully seeking wisdom and understanding for these weighty matters.

I would like to be lightheartedly serious in this article so please don't take me wrong. Sometimes we can discuss weighty matters with no sense of reverence and in turn we disrespect the creator of the universe. Other times we take things so seriously that we allow this one question to cause us to be rife with anger towards our brother. I think Jesus said something about that (Matthew 5:21-26). Allow me to lay to rest any uncertainty right out of the gate: whichever way you answer this question doesn't make you a heretic nor does it send you to hell. It's just a question. Now, there are answers to this question that are misleading, emotionally driven rather than scripturally driven, or plain naïve. For the sake of time and unity I will not be handling those answers directly, but there may be some passive objections sprinkled throughout.

Elevation: 30,000ft

When we have our heads in the clouds and not in the scripture, it's easy to answer this question without questioning the implications of our rapid-fire response. There's nothing wrong with a plane ride every now and then, am I right? If we are constantly living at ground level, as I tend to do quite often, we can come off as cold hearted Bible thumpers.

Now, to immediately answer "Yes" to the question we are considering is to look away from a wide array of scripture. Answering in the affirmative is to say that the Holy Spirit just got lucky when he prophesied through David: "Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9) Jesus quotes this in John 13:18 in a clear reference to Judas' betrayal. Generally speaking, answering yes would also be to deny the God of scripture of His sovereign freedom of decree. The overwhelming theme of scripture is that God is all powerful and all knowing and what he plans will come to pass. God has predetermined all things by the glorious counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11, Isaiah 46:8-11)

To immediately answer "No", on the other hand, is to refuse to see an overarching fact of scripture: man's responsibility in the eyes of a sovereign God. There are countless texts throughout the Bible that go something like this: "Israel, because YOU have denied me, YOU have turned to other God's, YOU will not hear my voice and walk in obedience to me, who brought you out of Egypt, I will send my wrath upon you." In all of those texts it seems clear that Israel, and likewise ourselves, had a responsibility to walk in the ways of the Lord.

Elevation 10,000ft

Let's come on down out of the clouds and take this a little further, shall we? To get a little deeper in the discussion let's pose this question: What if God, being all-knowing, looked down the tunnel of time and saw that Judas would make the decision to betray Jesus? Then, knowing that this would come about he snuck in little hints all throughout the Old Testament, what we call prophesy. This sounds viable right? It doesn't challenge God's all-knowingness and it gives way for man's free will to work itself out. But, have you ever wondered why God knows all things? Did God create the world in a giant bang and sit back just to watch everything unfold however it would according to the laws of nature that He created? Does scripture paint the picture of a laissez faire ruler? Let's check:

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;

he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,

the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11)

Remember this and stand firm,

recall it to mind, you transgressors,

remember the former things of old;

for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

calling a bird of prey from the east,

the man of my counsel from a far country.

I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11)

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:11)

In these passages we see quite clearly that God knows all things because He decrees all things. All that comes to pass is "according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of His will." But how could we be so quick to strip Judas of his free will? Judas had a wicked heart from the beginning and worshipped manna (money) rather than God. Clearly this is the outworking of an unrepentant, evil heart who cared not for Jesus and the riches that he could give but for money and the riches he could receive. How could God possibly decree that Judas would betray His own son?

Perhaps God decreed that someone would have to betray Jesus and if it was Judas, fine. Could've been James, could've been John, doesn't matter who chooses to betray him so long as he gets betrayed. Maybe so. However, there's a glaring issue here that still has to be resolved. Had it been James that betrayed Jesus, he was still predestined to do so according to the scripture. Replace everywhere you see the name Judas in relation to betraying Christ with the name James. The problem still persists. Did James have a choice if someone had to betray Jesus? How do we feel about serving a God who planned before the foundation of the world that these twelve men would be His son's closest friends, apostles even, but unfortunately they would have to unknowingly compete over who would own the fatal mistake of betraying the Son of God. That's like a scene out of a Saw movie. "Okay guys, I have hand selected you all to be in this room with Jesus Christ. However, the only way to get out and enjoy the kingdom to come is one of you will need to kill Jesus..." I know I have probably taken this a bit too far but all analogies break down at some point, even if it's at the beginning.

Like I said, these are weighty things. Let's land this plane and break down one more idea that has viability.

Ground Level

At ground level the easiest thing to concede to is the sovereigness of God's sovereignty. Emotion, a lot of times, can obstruct our lens of viewing the scripture. It tends to put a veil over our glasses, or rather it's like trying to read the bible through a kaleidoscope. Everything is colorful with awesome shapes that make you feel good inside. Though we have to be unmistakably committed to man's responsibility before God as portrayed in scripture, we also must make room for God's sovereignty to do as He pleases with His creation. See below:

Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? You plant them, and they take root. (Jeremiah 12:1-2a)

God plants the wicked. Why? He works all things for the good of His sheep. The wicked are instruments in the hands of a righteous God.

But there are some of you who do not believe. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6:64)

Jesus knew when he selected Judas to follow him that he would be betrayed by him. How did he know? He was in on the counsel of God's will before the foundation of the world. He maaaaay have had some insight.

Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you."

Another verse to show Christ clearly knew Judas would betray him

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Judas was prophesied to be lost. It was God's plan from the beginning.

and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:8)

In reference to those who rejected the living stone, Jesus, Peter says they were destined to disobey the word.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. (Luke 22:3)

Just as we see in the story of Job, God uses secondary causes (Satan in this case) to fulfill his purposes that he may not be the author of sin.

Last but certainly not least, actually the most important:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28)

No comment.

How do we reconcile these things? In all of my young reading I have yet to find an easily explainable answer. I will tell you this though, if I have to choose between stripping God of His freedom to mold the clay pot however He wishes or strip man naked of his absolute freedom of will, I'm going to jail for indecent exposure. It may be, however, that we do not have to choose. Maybe on this side of the fixed chasm we have limited capacity to understand the working of God. "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33) I hope that this may have at least prompted you to consider some ideas you have never considered, and I would like to leave you with one more thought below sea level.

Bonus Round - New Orleans

Why didn't Jesus pray for Judas like he did Peter? One of the common answers to the question proposed in the name of the article is that Judas didn't have a choice to betray Jesus, but he did have a choice to repent afterwards, which he chose not to do. Peter however did repent from denying Christ three times. Thus we have an analogy to man's response to the gospel.

I don't buy this because the only reason Peter was able to recover from His denial of Christ was because Jesus himself, knowing Peter would deny him, said these words:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

So, one of the hard questions we have to challenge ourselves with as Christians is the one that began this section: Why didn't Jesus pray for Judas to to "turn again?" I will submit to you that God works all things to the counsel of His will, He works all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose, and the Son submits in all things to the will of the Father. At the end of this debate we can argue as we have above from either side of the fence, but it all comes down to Christ's perfectly righteous decision not to pray for Judas.

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)

I won't give you a yes or no answer. I'm not sure this question has a yes or no answer. But from reading, you should be able to tell what I believe makes the most sense.

God bless you and your family. Thanks for reading.

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