For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. (Mark 14:21, NASB)
Christ had spoken often about his betrayal, death, and resurrection. Mark records three specific times – Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34. He spoke openly of his rejection and his betrayal. The word translated “betrayal” means literally “to give up to another.” It is the idea of having been entrusted with someone or something but, instead of protecting it, to place it in the hands of someone who will misuse and abuse it.
The word was used of Paul in Galatians for Christ’s own commitment to go all the way to the cross for our salvation – Christ “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Judas was not the power, genius, or impetus behind the cross. It was planned by God and by God alone; Christ is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). God the Father planned our salvation and Christ the Son willingly and obediently agreed to carry out the plan. Christ said: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18).
Betrayal is different from denial: Judas betrayed Christ, placed him to whom he had sworn allegiance into the hands of those who desired to kill him. The religious authorities had wanted to have him put to death for some time, but they were afraid of the crowds because they still held that Jesus was a miracle worker and prophet (Mark 12:12). Judas betrayed Christ by telling them when and where they could catch him alone, vulnerable, without fear of the crowds.
Judas’ betrayal was premeditated, planned, and intentional. He literally took Christ and placed him into the hands of those who meant to harm him, and he did this knowingly and for personal profit. The tense of the verb in the original Greek has the idea of continual action, “the Son of Man is being given up.” This was not the reaction of fear or a flush of anger. It was cold, premeditated, thought out and intentional.
Peter denied the Lord, and as wrong and shameful as that was, it was by its nature a different sin. To “deny” means to renounce, or to say that you have no association with a person. Jesus used the word when he said, “Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). We are called to reject or to disown ourselves and our self interest, and to take up the cross, to die to sin and self, and to follow Christ.
Peter did precisely the opposite from this that same night. He denied that he knew the Lord or that he was a follower of Christ. As despicable as this action was, it was done out of fear, not intentionally, and it was a passive reaction, not a premeditated and planned choice. Peter repented and went on to serve the Lord for the remainder of his life. Christ forgives and cleanses us when we repent and confess our sins to him.
Christ’s appeal to Judas: Judas might have taken false comfort in the thought that the betrayal of Christ was foretold and convinced himself that he was by his betrayal fulfilling an essential part of the plan. We are so easily duped by Satan, fooled into thinking that wrong is right, and Judas might have justified his actions to himself along many lines.
But Christ called to him at the Passover Meal that night and gave him a chance to stop. No matter what we think of Judas, he was called of Christ and had within the makings of a disciple. Christ would have preferred to see Judas becoming obedient, like the other disciples, filled with the Spirit and becoming a great missionary. Christ loved Judas.
The other disciples seemed to be unaware of Judas’ intentions. They had been caught up in their own power struggles, arguing among themselves about which was the greatest, that they lacked the personal honesty and clarity of soul to see into the heart of Judas. Ambition gets in the way of clearly seeing people as we should. James wrote, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16). But Christ knew what was in his heart – we may deceive others but we can never deceive God.
Better never to have been born: The hardness of these words clarify the moral situation before Judas. He will not be able to escape his responsibility. He deliberately chose to betray Christ. God did not force Judas to betray Christ, and Judas will not be able to escape his punishment. The freedom of choice – relative freedom that we are given by God – does not mean that our choices escape his notice or that one choice is as good as another. We will be held accountable by God for what we do and what we do not do. Judas later took his own life, standing in agreement with these words that he wished he was dead, wished he had never been born in the first place.
There has been some question among Christians ever since whether or not Judas was saved. Some think that the scripture says somewhere that suicide is an unforgivable sin, bu there is no verse in the Bible to suggest that. That is leftover Catholicism in our minds, the teaching of an imagined difference between mortal and venal sins. James said, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Suicide, as wrong as it is, is like every other sin in terms of guilt, judgement and forgiveness.
Personally, I do not believe Judas was saved. This passage seems to describe someone who had, in the end, rejected Christ and “it would have been better if he had never been born.” This shows us that someone may have a good opinion of Christ along some lines, someone may like his teachings, may admire his answers to his critics, even desire that he would bless and help him, even pray to him for miracles, and even serve him in some capacity, but still fall short of true faith.
Faith has it in the nature of obedience and submission. We cannot accept Christ as Savior without also acknowledging him as Lord. This is what Judas lacked. And we are wise in such a study to stop and ask ourselves if we truly believe in Christ. Better yet, we are wise if we ask the Spirit to search us and enable us to “examine [ourselves] to see if [we] are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).
It was inevitable that Christ would be betrayed. Holy God could not come to earth and “become flesh among us” without having opposition, rejection, and even betrayal. But this inevitability did not mean that the betrayer would not be held accountable.