This is a deep question and one that has baffled people for generations. Many books about Christ's life, especially many movies made from the books, give the impression that Judas didn't fully understand who Jesus was. Sometimes they portray Judas as meaning well. He was just trying to accelerate events so that Jesus finally confronts the Sanhedrin and asserts his authority. The famous movie Jesus of Nazareth gives that impression through the startled look on Judas' face when Christ told him to "go and do what you are about to do."
As for me, I think nobody knows people better than Jesus does. Jesus has a far clearer understanding of all people, especially troubled people, than the best psychiatrist. It is not likely that Jesus would leave Judas confused over who Jesus is and what Jesus intends to do. So what explains the decision that Judas made?
It's similar with Pontius Pilate. Jesus could have told Pilate that he is not just some ordinary person to be pushed around. He is special. He is, really, God in human flesh. Pilate may not have believed it. But, if he did, he would have released Jesus. My point is Jesus did not tell Pilate. Jesus did say earlier that, whatever you do to anyone; you might have as well done it to me. Pilate's mistake was not that he misjudged Jesus. He misjudged an innocent person that, to Pilate, seemed to be of no importance.
I think the answer to these questions lies in the free will God has given us. This is a tremendous gift. It makes us almost sovereign when dealing with God. If we freely choose to obey, we can say that nobody, not even God, coerces us into obeying. I think our free will is the main thing that makes us "created in God's image."
Free will carries a big price. We must obey God in everything because God knows what must be done to make peace and happiness for everyone. But God will not force us to obey, trick us into obeying, or compromise us into obeying. God will do nothing that diminishes our free will in the slightest way. It is we who must obey. It's our own free choice, but we must choose.
Jesus could have given Judas or Pilate special insight into who Jesus really is, but would they have accepted it? There are many people alive today, speaking boldly on television, who give the impression that they don't care what Jesus says. They will do their own thing. Some angels disobeyed God, yet none of them were ignorant of anything. They are not like we are: ignorant from the moment of our birth. They knew to begin with, yet they rebelled anyway.
The nation of the Israelites, blessed with a public revelation from God, and called to become a chosen nation through the covenant given through Moses, were given the opportunity to represent God. They were called to be God's ambassadors, as it were, so that other people, less blessed, might recognize who God is and anticipate the Savior that God will send to save all people.
We all know that the Israelites failed God many times, and were disciplined severely for their unfaithfulness. In spite of their unfaithfulness, Christ, the Savior, finally came into the world. Incredibly, people who should have been anticipating him, failed to recognize him. Herod tried to have him murdered when he was still a child. The Judean elders could not or would not recognize him. They opposed his mission every step of the way. Finally, they had him crucified. Amazingly, almost every person in Jerusalem, even those who had been helped by Jesus, went along with the crucifixion, or at least did not try to stop it. There were considerably more that a million people in Jerusalem during the Passover. If they wanted to, a crown that large could easily have shouted down those who wanted Jesus crucified.
What did Jesus do wrong? How could he botch his ministry by an inability to get his message across? The fact is he did not botch his ministry. Being divine, he made no blunders at all. It was his audience, having free will, who made the blunders. Why am I pointing this out? Because the Church, made of Gentiles, has been doing the same foolish things the Israelites and Judeans did before the Church was established. Free will is a great gift, but it carries a big price. God wants total submission to God's will. Anything less leads to catastrophic problems for the people who do not accept God's will.
Revelation is a book of symbolic visions that illustrate the underlying realities of who Jesus Christ really is and what Christ and his father expect of us. All through the Church age, some people have resisted God's will and have contradicted it. To really please God, one has to recognize God's will and fully comply with it. Very few people do that. For one thing, nobody can surmise what God's will is or what God is like. God's nature surpasses our human ability to comprehend.
We can surmise that a god must exist because we see a complicated, yet functioning universe surrounding us. But who could surmise that God always existed and always will exist, that there is only one God, that God is unchanging, that God is three persons in one God, and that God can and did become a human being? Every one of these concepts is beyond our experience, beyond our understanding. The only way we can know details like these about God is if God made a revelation. God did make a revelation. Even though God has revealed these concepts, we still lack the power to understand them. The best we can do is accept God's word and believe what God revealed.
This is what happened to Judas. He did not believe; and, because he did not believe, he was easily tempted into betraying Jesus. I wonder how many of us, if we were present during the crucifixion, would have made the same misguided choice. Free will carries a big risk, but, if we choose correctly, free will offers a tremendous opportunity to show we believe no matter who, human or demon, tries to convince us not to believe.
Maurice A. Williams
Author of "Apocalypse: Four Horsemen Three Woes." http://www.geocities.ws/mauricewms2003.
Williams is a semi-retired Director of R&D and still works as a consultant. He is married, lives at home, and has four children and six grandchildren.
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