History is sadly ironic at times. Next to Peter, this man has got to be the most famous of Jesus’ disciples (unless you count Paul, who wasn’t one of the original Twelve). He’s been the subject of countless psychological studies, and with good reason. Why would he do this? What could possess a man to do it?
First, we need to get some side-issues out of the way. Since I don’t believe that Christians can lose their salvation, I don’t believe that Judas lost his. Obviously this would mean that the man was never saved to begin with, since Jesus called him “doomed to destruction.” This'd also mean that he preached, taught, and performed miracles (including driving out demons), all while being unsaved and a pawn of the Enemy. Let’s take a lesson from this: Do not be impressed by a preacher who claims to heal sickness and perform miracles. Maybe he can—but that’s no indication that he’s right with the Lord.
So why would Judas do this? There are several theories out there, some more credible than others. Some scholars link his last name with the sicarii, a band of Jewish nationalists who assassinated any collaborators who cooperated with the hated Roman government. The theory goes that since Judas was a zealot, he agreed to join Jesus’ band (remember, he was hand-picked by Christ himself) only because he thought that Jesus was going to be the political and military conqueror who'd smite their enemies and free Israel. Once it became clear that Jesus wasn’t going to be that type of Messiah, Judas planned to betray him, possibly in order to force Jesus’ hand and turn some of the miraculous power he’d displayed as a show of force against Rome. I do admit it has some appeal to it, but it does seem to be reaching. Others, pointing to the fact that he was pilfering the treasury of Jesus’ ministry, think he was simply looking for some more money.
I don’t think we know exactly why, and we won’t until Eternity. We do know that Satan “entered” Judas, but just like in our discussion of Joseph’s brothers, there’s no indication that Judas was not responsible for his own actions. God planned it, Satan influenced him, but Judas had a decision to make, and he made the wrong one.
“The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me” just heightens the guilt. In ancient Middle Eastern culture (as today), to share a meal with someone was a sign of friendship and trust. John’s account notes that Jesus handed this piece of bread directly to Judas, probably as a last private appeal of love.
So did Judas perform an unpardonable sin? Leaving aside all questions of predestination, if Judas had asked for forgiveness, would Jesus had granted it? Of course he would. 1 John 1:9 promises that if we confess, he will forgive, cleanse, and restore, and it has no conditions on the heinousness of the sin. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers whom we’ll meet someday in heaven. As someone pointed out to me, the problem was that Judas ended up looking up to the wrong tree. One tree was one of final regret and condemnation, while the other one promises mercy and forgiveness, no matter what we’ve done.
So what does this mean for us? First, we need to examine ourselves to make sure we’re really in the faith. For about three years, Judas had eaten with, slept next to, performed miracles in the name of, and had spent his lifetime with the Lord Jesus. But in the end, for whatever reason, he turned his back on all that. I thoroughly believe that he's the quintessential example of the unsaved church member, who's heard tons of sermons, heard plenty of Bible teaching, and who's even served in leadership positions but who has no personal relationship with the Savior.
Second, this passage should put a nail in the coffin of a disbelief in eternal punishment. If there were no such thing, or if there was an end to hell’s agony, then there is no way Jesus could have said about Judas “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” That could be the personal epitaph of everyone who has died outside of Christ, but it'd make no sense if the ultimate fate of the lost is annihilation and oblivion.
The bad news is that there is a real place called hell. The good news is that no one has to go there. Our Lord Jesus bled and died a horrible death to redeem us out of that horrible place. From the darkness of Judas’ soul let’s turn our focus to the Man who loves us and who'll one day gather us to himself.
Lord Jesus, I know that sometimes I’ve sold you for much less than 30 pieces of silver. And you keep forgiving me, and cleansing me. Please help me, change me, and remake me.