A few years ago I wrote a monologue for Good Friday, performed at my church, in which Judas muses over what’s it’s been like to be Judas. All the while he’s fashioning a noose for himself, because, as we all know, he did hang himself. And boy was his face red!
It’s easy to dehumanize Judas. In fact, his name has become synonymous with villainy, treachery, and betrayal, none of which make anyone’s short list of admired human traits. But they are, after all, human traits, indeed. And if we are to take the Gospels seriously, the primary mission of Jesus Christ was to save human beings, despite our deep flaws. So what can we say about a human being as deeply flawed as Judas?
Jesus did not simply teach us to love God and love our neighbors. In addition, he taught us, specifically, to love our enemies. Bear in mind, our enemies are, indeed, our neighbors (in the broadest sense of that word), but Jesus felt it necessary to explicitly name them as fitting recipients of our love. That means, of course, that Jesus must have loved Judas. And if we assume the divinity of Jesus, then he must surely have known that Judas would betray him in the gravest manner imaginable. In fact, the Gospels say as much, and in as many words.
One of the most interesting questions we can ask on Good Friday is: Did Judas need to betray Jesus, and, if so, why? We don’t know at what point Judas turned, in his heart, from a true Apostle to the great betrayer. It seems likely that he was not chosen as one of the Twelve simply because he was likely to betray Jesus, but neither can we wholly discount this possibility. What we can say with some certainty is that Jesus had to be betrayed.
Consider: The death of Jesus was, in fact, the final sacrifice in a cycle of sacrificial offerings which had been mandated to the ancient Jews from the time the Law was given to Moses. The sacrifice of Jesus was to be the last such sacrifice, a single, ultimate sacrifice which, once and for all, would permanently cleanse the sin which the endless, complex cycle of temple sacrifices has been intended to do. But a lamb (or a Lamb) must be led to the slaughter. If a lamb simply wanders up to the altar and lays its head down under the knife, this does not fulfill the spirit of sacrifice, which involves willingly leading a prized animal to the slaughter. It is, in a sense, an act in which the trust of the innocent is betrayed.
Thus, Jesus had to, likewise, be betrayed. It would not have sufficed for Him to simply surrender Himself. Nor would it have sufficed for the authorities, either Jewish or Roman, to have seized Him in the absence of an act of betrayal, since they placed no value on Him to begin with. Someone from the inner circle had to lead this Lamb to the altar.
Consider the price Judas paid for fulfilling this role. Again, if we assume the divinity of Christ, surely he could have taken this bitter cup from the hands of Judas. But, instead, in the process of betraying Jesus, Judas himself was sacrificed. In leading the Lamb to His slaughter, Judas himself had to be sacrificed. And for Judas there was no resurrection. Judas was wholly lost.
Is it likely that Jesus loved Judas, even after Judas betrayed Him? Of course He did. No other conclusion can possibly be drawn, given the teachings of Jesus. And if Jesus forgave and loved his betrayer, how, then, are we to feel about Judas?