I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke for the last few weeks and was struck by the contrast between two of Jesus’s disciples, Judas, and Peter, in the days leading up to the crucifixion. Scripture comes to life in their stories, and I believe we can apply them to our own journeys with God and others.
Both men were with Jesus for the entire three years of his earthly ministry. Peter continued to be a disciple after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even after shamefully denying Jesus and their relationship three times, he was restored to become a trusted, Spirit-filled leader of the church. He would faithfully oversee and expand the work of Jesus’s kingdom until his martyrdom.
Judas, on the other hand, was an imposter, a wolf in the flock. He opened himself to Satan, entered into a demonic conspiracy to torture and crucify Jesus, and despite his remorse, found no place of restoration. Filled with incurable shame, he hanged himself. His apostleship was transferred to a more worthy disciple.
What happened to Judas that led him down the path of becoming the betrayer, whereas Peter got past the moment of his bitter weeping and regret to be fully reconciled and restored?
What do we know about Judas? Of all the people Jesus could have chosen who were living in that region, he chose Judas as one of his Twelve. Judas responded and began following him.
Some important details about Judas are revealed in the story of the immoral woman who “wasted” an expensive flask of perfume, pouring it out on Jesus’s feet at a dinner party. The three synoptic Gospels state that some of those present complained, believing the perfume should have been sold instead and the proceeds given to the poor.
John’s Gospel singles out Judas in the scene:
“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4-6).
This passage reveals much about Judas’s character: He was a thief, he stole from Jesus and his friends, and he was greedy, not caring about the needs of the poor. He was also a hypocrite, pretending to be a loyal disciple, while serving his own interests over Christ’s.
Why would Jesus, who knew what was in the hearts of people, allow a thief to be in charge of the money? This is a curious detail in the text. I don’t know the answer exactly, but I think this is an example of God’s amazing sense of irony. Jesus’s money manager would be the one to sell Jesus out for a mere thirty pieces of silver.
What the other disciples didn’t yet know was that Judas had already departed in his heart from Jesus. He had already discussed with the chief priests and temple police the best way for them to capture Jesus so they could kill him. He had already taken a bribe to hand him over. He was watching Jesus’s movements, seeking the ideal moment to betray the Messiah.
This was the progression. Divorcing himself from his devotion to Jesus (if he ever had it), Judas became an accomplice in a dark conspiracy with evil men, accepting financial reward for his participation. He committed himself. He chose the dark side.
The only step that was needed at that point was for him to open himself to the satanic spirit. This occurred right at the Passover table. Jesus discerned the moment. Looking Judas in the eye, Jesus said simply, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27). Off went Judas, sealing his doom.
While the disciples, minus Judas, were gathered with Jesus in the garden after dinner, the troops approached. Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss, identifying him as the target of their mission. They now could carry out the rest of their conspiracy to unjustly try, persecute, and crucify Jesus.
After Jesus was arrested, Judas felt the full weight of what he had done. In torment, he tried to give the blood money back, but the priests wouldn’t accept it. His treachery couldn’t be undone.
Jesus knew that Judas was one of the many characters God would involve in the terrifying story that had to be told, the cup that must be drunk. He told his disciples,
“The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matt. 26:24)
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt.27:5).
How is Peter different? He also skirted along the edges of betrayal. He refused to accept the reality of Jesus’s suffering and death, even after Jesus had clearly and repeatedly declared what would happen. At one point, Jesus famously said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt. 16:23).
I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t want Jesus calling me Satan! Yet Jesus knew Peter’s heart, and he had a unique role in mind for Peter later on. He poignantly told Peter,
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, emphasis added).
Though Peter so often misinterpreted the prophetic destiny Jesus was walking though, he didn’t turn away in his heart from his love for the Lord.
Wouldn’t you love hearing from Jesus’s own lips that he has been praying for you? And that he is going to trust you with a position of leadership and service in his name?
Obviously, if we have read and known the stories of these two men, Judas and Peter, and had to walk in their shoes, every one of us would choose Peter’s and not Judas’s.
Jesus protects us in our ignorance, our weakness, our confusion. He intercedes for us. He restores us and gives us good work to serve others. This is what Peter’s story teaches us, and it is very reassuring.
Judas’s story teaches us that we have the capacity to open ourselves to the influence of Satan. This then leads us to walk with the ungodly, stand with sinners, and sit with scorners and mockers (Psalm 1:1). It can even lead us to deny, despise, and betray our beautiful Savior and the people called by his name.
We must carefully guard our hearts.
As flawed as Peter was, I want to be like him. As we are restored day by day in God’s infinite grace, we can strengthen others. What a privilege.