“Are You Beyond Hope?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6.63-64)
This is the earliest hint we receive, in any of the Gospels, that Jesus already knew which of his disciples would turn against him. It’s not the first acknowledgment of Judas’ future, of course—the other three Gospels all make that point very clear from the time Judas is introduced, saying things like,
“…and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6.15-16)
Several of the Apostles need extra details to identify them, because names like Simon, James, and Judas were so common among the Jews. So, the second James is “the son of Alphaeus,” the second Simon is “the Zealot,” and the second Judas is “the traitor.” Yet, that’s not quite what Luke said, is it? As John told us, Jesus “knew from the beginning…who would betray him,” and yet Luke points out, Judas wasn’t a traitor from the beginning—he became one. Perhaps this should have been obvious, since a traitor must first have an attachment or allegiance, in order to betray it. There were many others seeking to arrest and kill Jesus, and while they were his enemies, none of them was a traitor. Judas was, because he had been a trusted member of the group. His consistent placement at the very end of the list suggests that he was among the last to join up, but he wasn’t a late addition to this number.
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles… (Luke 6.12-13)
Judas was one of the many who followed Jesus around in Galilee, before he was chosen and named an Apostle. Even though Jesus knew from the start that Judas would eventually betray him, he selected him from the crowd, and treated him exactly the same as the others for nearly three years, even entrusting the group’s treasury to him. When Jesus told his assembled apostles at their final Passover that one of them would betray him, no one thought, I bet I know who it is—Judas has always been a little shaky. Rather, they “began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Mt 26.22).
Let’s leave aside Judas, and compare the last Apostle on the list, to the first: Peter. Peter wasn’t the first of the disciples to begin following Jesus; he was beaten to that honor by his brother Andrew, and another, who remains unnamed but may very well be John (Jn 1.35-42). Nevertheless, he is consistently the first on the list of Apostles, and his aggressive personality meant that he generally took the initiative, got the ball rolling, and said what needed to be said—or, in some cases, what he mistakenly thought needed to be said. His outspokenness included a strident devotion to Jesus, and one which the others were happy to imitate. Shortly after Judas had left to do his evil deed, Jesus took the remaining eleven out of the city, to the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26.31-35)
Peter was certainly vocal in his insistence! He wasn’t shy about throwing his brother and the rest under the bus—even if all of them fall away, you can rely on me! But, just like with Judas, Jesus knew what Peter was going to do, and the rest, as well. Was a triple denial less of a sin than Judas’ betrayal? Judas’ action was more severe, and had more severe immediate consequences; but Jesus had said, not long after calling Peter, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10.33). They both failed spectacularly.
But that is where the similarities end. It’s tough for us to imagine events playing out in any other way than they actually did, with Judas betraying and Peter denying, then a contrite Peter reconciling to Christ and a remorseful Judas fleeing responsibility (and running headlong into judgment). It seems as if it had to take place just like this; and certainly it was prophesied just so. But the prophecies are not constraints—they don’t compel anyone to fulfill them. Jesus’ foreknowledge of Peter’s denial and repentance didn’t force him to fail the test, or to come back. His foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal and abandonment didn’t force him to commit those sins. Judas chose his own course; and Peter, likewise, chose his.
Jesus accepted Peter back after a horrible betrayal, of sorts. Would he have rejected Judas, if he had similarly repented and sought forgiveness? We have only to look at the Apostle Paul’s conversion. Paul was on the same mission as the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees who killed Jesus, and yet Jesus brought him into the fold and used him to accomplish great things for his kingdom. So, what have you done, that’s so unforgivable? We’ve all done horrible things, things that deserve eternal punishment. Jesus’ blood is equal to the task of cleansing you, even so. Turn to him, seek forgiveness, put away the sin, and be redeemed for honorable purposes, instead.