The Love of Jesus for Judas

Yesterday was “Spy Wednesday,” so named because it recalls Judas’ decision to betray Jesus.  Luke 22:1-7 says:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. 

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

So sometime right before the day of the Last Supper, Judas agreed to betray Christ.  Last year, I noted that depictions of Judas’ betrayal coincide with the depictions of the Eucharist.  The first time Christ predicts Judas’ betrayal, it’s tied to Jesus’ Eucharistic proclamation in John 6.  Christ has just finished explaining that He means the Eucharist literally because “My Flesh is real food and My Blood is real drink” (John 6:55).  This wasn’t a one-off comment — if you read through John 6, you’ll be struck by the manner in which He says it over and over again.  After the crowds have left in disgust (John 6:66), Jesus asks the Disciples if they’ll leave, too (John 6:67). At this point, for the first time, Jesus announces that He will be betrayed (John 6:70-71). This is right before the Passover (John 6:4), and it’s at this time the next year, when Jesus fulfills His promises in John 6 at the Last Supper, when Judas gets up to betray Christ.

This year, I wanted to point out something equally fascinating.  The incredible love that Jesus shows for Judas.  It’s easy to miss, so let’s look at a few key passages.  First, there’s John 13:21-30, at the Last Supper:

After Jesus said this, he was very troubled. He said openly, “I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me.” The followers all looked at each other, because they did not know whom Jesus was talking about. One of the followers sitting next to Jesus was the follower Jesus loved.24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus whom he was talking about. That follower leaned closer to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” 

Jesus answered, “I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me.” So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus said to him, “The thing that you will do—do it quickly.” No one at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. Since he was the one who kept the money box, some of the followers thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the feast or to give something to the poor. Judas took the bread Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night.

Jesus is telling Judas He knows what Judas is planning, but He’s doing so in a way which is both (a) discreet and (b) intimate. Jesus’ words become obvious to the Disciples after the deed has been done, making it clear that He knew exactly what was going to happen, and did not resist it. But at the time, the Apostles are confused by it, and think He’s sending Judas out for more food, or to give alms.  So even as Judas is about to betray Him, Jesus avoids humiliating him publicly. But look at how Jesus signals him: by feeding him bread.  It’s one of the most intimate actions imaginable, and it’s done both knowing Judas will betray Him, and letting Judas know the same.  Despite this, Jesus still shows incredible love to him.  Judas’ willingness to simultaneously take Jesus’ love and betray Him is when we see the forces of darkness take control: “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him” (Jn. 13:27).  It’s fitting that it’s here that John announces: “It was night” (Jn. 13:30).  The double meaning is clear: it’s both literally night, and we’re beginning to see the forces of darkness launch their final assault on Christ, through Judas.

Jesus explained why He chose this means of signalling who His betrayer was, saying, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.‘” (Jn 13:18).  He’s quoting Psalm 41:9, so it’s worth seeing the full verse:

Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me.

The allusion wouldn’t have been lost on a Jewish listener.  Jesus is saying that not only is the traitor someone who has dined with Christ but is someone He considers a close friend.  What a shocking thing for Jesus to say about Judas, given that He’s been well aware of the coming betrayal, as passages like John 6:70-71 make clear.

Now, just as Jesus chose the intimate signal of feeding Judas to signal who the traitor was, Judas chose an intimate signal to signal to the arresting party who Jesus was: “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The One I kiss is the Man; arrest Him.”” (Matthew 26:48).  It’s sickening here.  When Jesus did it, He was showing affection to the morally sick man who was in great need of a showing of Divine love.  Judas, having rejected that love, now uses an intimate sign as an ultimate betrayal.  He thinks he can trick Jesus by a show of affection, silently betraying him.  The sheer depravity of this particular signal is so cruel that St. John’s right to point to the influence of Satan himself.  But even here, Jesus’ response is remarkable (Mt. 26:49-50):

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.

It’d be easy to read Jesus’ reply as sarcastic, but that reading would be wrong.  It’s Judas who feigns intimacy, kissing Christ and calling Him “Rabbi.”  In doing so, as one of my friends noted last night, he shows his lack of faith.  Throughout it all, he always refers to Christ as “Rabbi” (see, e.g., Mt. 26:25, Mt. 26:49), instead of calling Him “Lord,” as the others do (see, e.g., Luke 9:54, John 11:12, Jn. 13:37).  He still thinks Jesus is a mere teacher. Jesus’ response is devastating love: He again shows Judas that He sees through his deceptions, and once more calls Judas to intimate friendship.

Certain Protestants, particularly Calvinists, claim that God hates the damned.  This is the historic view of Calvin and Luther, although it’s one proclaimed today largely by fringe groups, like the Westboro Baptist Church, who claim that God hates gays, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and most other people. But Christ clearly does not hate Judas.  And of this same Judas, He said at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:21-25):

And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”

Again, note that the others call Jesus “Lord,” while Judas will only go as far as “Rabbi.”  More importantly, note that Jesus makes it pretty clear that Judas is inviting damnation by betraying Him.  If anyone in Scripture is depicted as damned (and the Church stops short of declaring any specific person damned), Judas comes the closest.  Yet Christ isn’t hateful towards Judas.  Instead, He tries, constantly, to bring him back gently, by warning him about his sinful ways, and by inviting him to loving intimacy with Himself. Quite plainly, Christ loves even His enemies. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have died for any of us, who had made ourselves His enemies through sin (Romans 5:10).

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