There are few more perplexing questions of the Bible than this: If he knew that he would betray him in the end, why did Jesus choose Judas as a disciple to begin with? The perplexing question comes specifically from a podcast listener named Austin. “Hello, Pastor John. I have been studying through the book of John lately, and I began to wonder why Jesus chose Judas to be one of his disciples in the first place. And what does Jesus have to teach us by choosing someone to be his disciple, knowing full well he would betray him? Are there any takeaways for us in this?”
John 6:64 says, “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.” So, Austin’s question is biblically based and urgent. Jesus chose his own betrayer to be part of his apostles. Why?
I’m going to give five answers that I see in the Scriptures for why God ordained, and Jesus chose, Judas the betrayer to be part of his team.
1. Scripture cannot be broken.
The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that this would take place. So Jesus chose Judas to fulfill the Scriptures. In John 13:18, Jesus says to his apostles, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled.” And then he quotes Psalm 41:9: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” And Peter, on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 1:16, says, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled . . . concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”
Step by step, Jesus moved toward the cross, taking pains to fulfill every Scripture concerning his death, right down to the details of how he would be handed over. The point was to show that the Scriptures cannot be broken, and that God is in control.
2. Spectacular sins serve God’s purpose.
By choosing to be betrayed by a close friend, and even by a kiss, Jesus shows us that the most despicable act in the history of the world — the betrayal and consequent murder of the Son of God — was part of God’s saving plan. That’s explicitly said in Acts 4:27–28, that by his hand and his predestination these things took place.
In other words, the lesson of Judas is that the most horrible sins in the world are used by God for his saving purposes. Just when people think they’re getting the upper hand, they find that their hand is serving the very one they are opposing. That’s a great lesson for us to learn.
3. Saving faith is not the same as religious activity.
By choosing from the beginning an apostle who was destined for apostasy and destruction, and by including him in his closest relations, and by giving him power over unclean spirits and over diseases, Jesus shows us that religious associations and religious practices and miracle-working are no sure evidences of being born again. Matthew 10:1–4 describes the choosing of the twelve. It names Judas and says Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1). Judas walked with Jesus, ministered with Jesus for three years, and he worked those miracles.
“Jesus moved toward the cross, taking pains to fulfill every Scripture concerning his death.”
Judas becomes a vivid illustration of the people in Matthew 7:22–23: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” That’s Judas — and many, many other people in history. And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” What a vivid lesson to learn that right doctrine (“Lord, Lord, we know who you are; we’ve got our doctrine right, Lord, Lord”) and religious activity and miracle-working (“We’ve cast out demons; we’ve healed people”) prove nothing about saving faith and being born again. That’s the lesson of Judas.
4. Sovereignty does not undermine human responsibility.
Judas serves as an illustration that predestination and human responsibility go hand in hand. Judas’s destiny was set before his betrayal. Jesus said that he kept all his disciples from apostasy except Judas, “the son of destruction” (John 17:12). In John 6:64, it says, “Jesus knew from the beginning . . . who it was who would betray him.” And then Jesus explained in the next verse, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). In other words, Judas didn’t repent because it was not granted to him by the Father; his destiny was sealed. And yet he was guilty — really guilty, really accountable, really blameworthy. He was really responsible for what he did. He himself said in Matthew 27:4, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
So, we learn from Judas not to stumble over the fact that a person may be destined for destruction and yet be totally responsible for what he does.
5. Satisfaction in money corrupts our souls.
Judas serves as a vivid example of the terrible, terrible power of the love of money, and how it blinds us to what is true and beautiful and valuable in this world. In John 12:4–6, when Mary anointed Jesus, Judas said, oozing with hypocrisy, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” And John comments, “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” He did that under the nose of the very Son of God, who would give his life as a ransom for many, whose teachings he had heard for three years, in whose power he did miracles.
Judas loved money more than he loved Jesus. That’s horrific, unbelievable, unspeakably evil. It should make every one of us tremble at the thought of the power that money has in our lives to blind us to what is true and beautiful and precious. So, when Judas got his chance, thirty pieces of silver is all it took to sell the very Son of God.
I’m sure there are more answers to Austin’s question, but these are at least five answers that I see in the Bible as to why God would ordain, and Jesus would choose, that a betrayer be included among the apostles from the beginning.
- To fulfill Scripture: Scriptures cannot be broken, and God is in control.
- Even horrific sins serve the saving purposes of God in his sovereign plan.
- Time with Jesus and miracle-working are no proof of saving faith.
- Predestination and human accountability go hand in hand.
- The love of money is behind the worst sin in the world.