I find that Luke’s treatment of Judas offers an important message. There are some major differences between Luke’s account of Judas and what the other Gospels say about him — and in our day and age, it might be good to hear about Judas — at least Luke’s presentation of Judas.
First of all, there is some significant agreement about Judas in all the Gospels. All indicate that he was one of the select 12 of Jesus’ followers. All indicate that Judas betrayed Jesus. That’s about where the similarities end. Three gospels say that he received money for betraying Jesus. John says nothing about money. But John says that Judas was the disciples’ treasurer and a thief. None of the other gospels describe him in this way.
Judas is mentioned by name four times in the gospel of Luke. The first is in the list of the chosen 12. Jesus has spent the night in prayer. He calls together all his disciples — of which there may have been hundreds — and he selects 12, whom he designated apostles. Judas was one of those selected 12. He wasn’t just a plain, ordinary disciple; he was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ apostles.
The next time Judas is mentioned, it is in the verses that began the passion reading. Satan enters Judas — “one of the twelve,” the text reminds us. Judas could say, “The devil made me do it.” In Matthew and Mark, Judas acts all by himself. He decides to betray Jesus to the authorities. He doesn’t need any demonic help in those gospels. He acts on his own. Why? We aren’t told why. In John, the devil is mentioned, but only as one like the serpent in the garden. He makes a suggestion to Judas about betraying Jesus. It is still up to Judas to follow that suggestion or not. Luke says that Satan entered Judas. Does Judas have a choice in this matter or not? Is he really guilty of his dastardly deed or not? Is “the devil made me do it” an acceptable excuse or not? We will see, but remember the name Satan. We will hear it later.
The next story is Jesus celebrating the Passover Meal with his disciples. At this meal Jesus has the first celebration of Holy Communion. In the other gospels, Jesus talks about the betrayer before sharing the bread and wine, so Judas may have left before the communion celebration. But in Luke, Jesus says nothing about a betrayer until after the Supper. Luke makes it clear: Judas is at this meal. The one who will betray Jesus; the one whom Satan has already entered shares in the bread and wine with the other disciples.
Jesus, throughout Luke, is eating with people. He is criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors, yet he also eats with Pharisees and other church leaders. In the upper room, he eats with his betrayer. He eats with Peter who will deny him. Jesus eats with sinners. The sacrament is a meal for sinners.
After the meal Jesus says, “My betrayer is sitting at the table with me. The Son of man must keep going to meet his destiny, but woe to that man who betrays him.”
The first thing to notice about this quote is what Luke does not say. Both Mark and Matthew include this sentence: “It would be better if he had not been born.” Luke doesn’t say that for a very important reason which will come later.
The second thing is the irony in this quote. Jesus must keep going to meet his destiny. Jesus must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. That is his destiny. That is God’s plan. So, on one hand, Judas is helping Jesus meet his destiny by betraying him. But on the other hand, Jesus says, “Woe to that person!” What he is doing is wrong! Even if God is going to use it for good, that doesn’t make the betrayal a good thing.
Even though Judas’ betrayal led to Jesus death and then to the resurrection and salvation for all who believe, it was still not a good thing. I think that in our day and age we desperately need to call sin, sin. We need to say some things are wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Fornication and adultery are always on lists of evils we need to avoid. Drunkenness is wrong. Even if such sins make you feel good. Even if no one gets hurt. Even if some good might come of it. It is wrong.
Sin is wrong and you shouldn’t do it. What Judas will do is wrong. He can’t blame Satan for his evil.
A little bit later in the upper room, Jesus says: “I am giving you the right to rule, just as my Father gave me the right to rule. You will eat and drink from my table in my kingdom and you will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The only other gospel to have this saying of Jesus is Matthew, and in that gospel it occurs before Jesus and the disciples entered Jerusalem. It occurs before Judas has decided to betray Jesus, so, of course, Jesus would talk about the 12 thrones — one for each of the 12 apostles.
But Luke has this saying after Satan has already entered Judas! Judas has already accepted money to betray Jesus. Jesus has pronounced a woe on the one who will betray him. Shouldn’t Jesus have said eleven thrones? Or said, there will be twelve thrones for twelve judges? Jesus says to the apostles, “You will sit on twelve thrones.” Judas, at this point, is still one of those twelve, with the promise of a wonderful future in God’s coming kingdom. How can that be?
A major theme in the gospel of Luke is repentance. Even though Satan has entered Judas; even though Judas will betray Jesus; even though what Judas will do is wrong; he can repent and be restored as an apostle of Jesus.
The next words Jesus speaks in Luke are: “Simon, Simon! Watch out! Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat. I have pleaded for you so that your faith might not fail. When you repent, come back and strengthen your brothers.”
Remember, I told you to remember that name, Satan. Here it is again. Satan is going to work on Simon Peter next. Will Simon’s faith fail or not? You know that it will fail. He will deny knowing Jesus. Satan succeeds in Simon just as he succeeds in Judas; but repentance is possible for Peter, but even more than that, he will be restored to the twelve and be able to strengthen them. Good will come of Satan’s attack on Simon, but denying Jesus is still wrong. But Peter repents and is restored. After he realizes his wrongs, he weeps bitterly. With a mistake like that in his life, he probably couldn’t be elected president of the United States, but he became the head of the ancient Christian church. I believe that with repentance, forgiveness and restoration was available also for Judas in the gospel of Luke.
Only Matthew and Luke record what happened to Judas after Jesus is arrested and tried and their accounts are quite different. In Matthew, when Judas sees that Jesus was condemned, he repents. He brings back the money he had been paid and says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” He repents, but he isn’t restored. He doesn’t feel God can forgive him. He goes out and hangs himself. Maybe Jesus statement in Matthew: “It would have been better if that one had not been born,” means that there was no hope for Judas.
There is hope for Judas in Luke. Luke has no such condemning sentence about him. In Luke, Jesus says this about those who actually crucify him, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Certainly, the same forgiveness was available for Judas. Certainly, the same forgiveness is available to each of us, no matter how bad a sinner we might be or how many wrongs we have committed.
However, Judas, according to Acts, also written by Luke, never repents. In the first chapter of Acts we are told: “With the money that Judas got for his evil act he bought a field, where he fell to his death; he burst open and all his insides spilled out.” Only after Judas is dead do the eleven apostles decide that another one has to be chosen to be part of the twelve. I think that Judas through repentance, could have been forgiven and remained one of the twelve. He would not repent.
What Judas did was wrong. Much of what we do is wrong. We might blame the devil. We might blame society. We can rationalize it away. God pronounces woes on those who do wrong. But God’s proclamation doesn’t end with a woe against wrong-doers, but with forgiveness for wrong-doers.
The Gospel of Luke ends with Jesus telling the disciples: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins shall be proclaimed in my name to all nations.” That is the primary message of Jesus in Luke. Forgiveness was available for Judas, but he wouldn’t receive it. Forgiveness is available for each of us, will we receive it?