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Was Judas Predestined to Betray Jesus?

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

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 [email protected].

Dear Roger,

Is our salvation predestined 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 for God's forgiveness like Peter did, instead of committing suicide? Or was he predestined to betray Jesus?
Thank you, JST

Dear JST,

You have asked two basic questions. One is about free will versus predestination, and the other is whether or not Judas was destined to betray Jesus.

I’m glad that you asked both. Answering the question about predestination and free will is the basis for understanding whether or not Judas was predestined to betray Jesus.

Predestination Versus Free Will

John Calvin was a leader of the Protestant Reformation who concluded that God elected, predestined, or chose some people to go to heaven and some to go to hell. Individuals had no say-so in the matter.

He taught that if they were predestined for hell, they were going to hell. If they were predestined for heaven, they were going to heaven.

He based his predestination interpretation on New Testament terms like “predestined” (Romans 8:28-29); “foreknew” (Romans 8:28); “chosen” (Ephesians 1:11) and “elected” (Titus 1:1).

Arminianism is just the opposite.

Arminianism 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.

The operative word here is “whoever.”

In other words, since we all have free will, anyone can come to Christ for salvation at any age, any time, or any place.

We personally have free will to choose Christ as our Savior … or not.

The Bible is filled with “free will” pictures of an open-armed Jesus who is longing for people to come to him for salvation. All who come will receive a full welcome and reprieve.

In Luke 15, Jesus taught three parables that show God as searching for the lost in order to bring them safely home: the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. 

Notice that Jesus is not electing or predestining the crowd He’s teaching–He is pleading with them: “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). 

It seems to me that free 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.

In summary, predestination declares that the only ones to be saved are those whom God has already chosen to be saved. Arminianism puts no such restrictions on receiving God’s love, salvation, and grace. 

Considering all the issues involved, I arrive at the following conclusion: Before the foundation of the universe, God predetermined that everyone who received Jesus as Lord and Savior would be saved. 

Charles Spurgeon, a powerful pastor and evangelist of the last century, put this in perspective:

I wish that God had painted a stripe down the back of all the elect. I would spend my time pulling up shirttails. But since he hasn’t, I will preach the gospel to every person.

Was Judas Predestined to Betray Christ?

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

According to Jesus, Judas was predestined to betray him.

When evening came, he arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “I assure you: one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me!” They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?” Jesus said to them, “It is one of the Twelve—the one who is dripping bread with me in the bowl. For the Son of Man will go just as written about him, but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would’ve been better for him if he had not been born.” (Mark 14:17-21)

According to Jesus, Judas was predestined, called, elected, and/or chosen for this betrayal. He had no free will and thus no choice in the matter.

Brothers, the Scriptures had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 

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

Did Judas have any choice in the matter? It seems not. Judas could not 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. 

If Judas had fallen on his knees, repented, and asked for forgiveness, Jesus would have welcomed him into the kingdom. But, sadly, that’s not at all what happened.

Compare Peter’s response with Judas. Peter also betrayed Christ, but he is in heaven’s glory. Why? Because out of a sense of shame and despair, Peter returned to Jesus, repented, and asked for forgiveness. 

The Bible tells us that Judas felt bad about what he’d done; but instead of returning to Jesus, he hanged himself.

The story of Judas is a paradox. He is the epitome of both predestination and free will. He had to betray Jesus, but he was free to return to Christ and ask for forgiveness.

God Deals Us a Hand

Let me use an illustration that might clear things up a bit. Do we have free will or is everything predetermined? I think the answer is “yes.” 

It’s like when we play a card game. We have no control over the cards that we are dealt. Our hand is dealt to us as if predetermined.

Now we play that hand. We have free will to play it any way we want. Ultimately, it’s the combination of the hand we’re dealt and the choices that we make as we play that hand that determines the outcome.

God deals us a hand. There’s nothing we can do to change that. So, we play that hand. We get to respond to the events of our lives. It’s my response (in other words, my actions in the future) that determines the meaning of the events in my past.

There are two different Biblical accounts of the death of Judas. 

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.” (Acts 1:18)

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

Judas bought a field. This was predicted and predestined by God. Then, on a sturdy tree branch, he hung himself by the neck. For several days his body swayed in the breeze. Flies and maggots covered his decaying body. Finally, some merciful soul decided to cut down the rotting corpse. When he did, Judas’s bloated body hit the ground and burst open.

And that is the end of a very sad story.

So, JST, I hope that this helps.

God bless, 

Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/gabrielabertolini

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 35-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.

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