The story of Jesus choosing Judas Iscariot as one of his twelve disciples has puzzled Bible readers for centuries. Why would Jesus, who knew people’s hearts (John 2:24-25), choose a man he knew would later betray him? A close look at the biblical evidence provides some helpful insights.
Jesus chose Judas to fulfill prophecy
The Gospel writers point out several times how the events of Jesus’ life fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Judas’ betrayal was no exception. The Psalms contain several prophetic references to the Messiah’s betrayal by a close friend:
- “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9)
- “For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.” (Psalm 55:12-14)
In his prayer on the night before his death, Jesus quoted the Psalm 41 verse, indicating Judas as the fulfillment (John 13:18). By choosing Judas, Jesus demonstrated how all that happened was according to God’s sovereign plan.
Judas was given opportunities to repent
Despite knowing Judas would betray him, Jesus patiently gave Judas opportunities to repent. At the Last Supper, Jesus said “one of you will betray me” but did not specifically expose Judas (Matthew 26:21). When Jesus said “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27), it was likely giving Judas a chance to reconsider. Judas was not singled out or trapped; he made his own decisions. Jesus was willing to receive Judas back up until the moment Judas betrayed him with a kiss in the garden (Matthew 26:49-50).
Jesus chooses imperfect people
The other eleven disciples were far from perfect. Peter denied Jesus three times. The disciples argued over who was the greatest. James and John asked to sit on Jesus’ left and right in glory. All the disciples deserted Jesus after his arrest. Yet Jesus patiently worked with these men, teaching and correcting them for over three years. Judas’ betrayal was definitely worse, but the disciples shared his human weaknesses.
Jesus does not just choose those who are “good enough.” He is willing to work with deeply flawed people like the disciples, tax collectors, and prostitutes to transform their hearts. Judas shows that what ultimately matters is how we respond to Jesus’ patient love and correcting words.
Judas was given a place of honor
As one of the twelve, Judas was given a place of honor and authority. He preached the kingdom of God, healed the sick, and cast out demons like the other disciples (Matthew 10:1-8). On one occasion, Judas helped feed five thousand people from just five loaves and two fish (John 6:5-13). Judas was entrusted with keeping the money for Jesus’ ministry and would have been respected and admired.
Yet Judas betrayed Jesus after being given this privileged position. Jesus warns, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). By choosing Judas, Jesus shows the danger of spiritual privilege without personal humility.
Judas highlights the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice
Jesus knew he would suffer a horrific death as payment for sins. By choosing one disciple who would betray him, Jesus vividly showed the personal cost of his sacrifice. David wrote graphically of the emotional pain of betrayal by a close friend (Psalm 55:12-14). Jesus fully experienced this grief and pain in order to redeem humankind.
Judas rejected Jesus’ love and friendship. But Jesus was willing to be betrayed by a friend because of his deep love for humanity. As prophesied centuries earlier, “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).
Judas acted according to his own purposes
Although Jesus knew what Judas would do, Judas made his own choices. After criticizing Mary for anointing Jesus’ feet, Judas went to the chief priests of his own accord and offered to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16). Judas listened to Satan’s temptation, acting out of greed and opportunism (John 13:2, Luke 22:3-6). The Gospel writers hold Judas responsible for his actions.
God’s sovereignty does not absolve people of responsibility. Judas highlights the dangers of trusting in our own limited understanding rather than accepting God’s ways. His negative example serves as a warning for all disciples.
Jesus brings good from evil choices
God let Judas’ betrayal happen, but then used it to bring about humanity’s salvation. Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Similarly, Peter preached that Jesus was “handed over by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). God works through human evil to accomplish his ultimate purposes.
Judas’ tragic story shows all people the depths Jesus was willing to go to redeem sinners. His sacrifice would cover even Judas if he had repented. Ultimately, God seeks the redemption and restoration of all people, even those who reject him.
Judas was replaced by Matthias
After Judas’ death, Peter declared from Scripture that a replacement should be chosen (Psalm 109:8, Acts 1:20). The disciples nominated Justus and Matthias as candidates to take “the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25). After praying, the disciples chose Matthias by casting lots.
Replacing Judas showed the continuity of Jesus’ ministry through the apostles. Despite the betrayal, Jesus’ work continued in those who faithfully carried the gospel message. The Bible records Matthias’ selection but nothing more about his ministry. Still, he occupied the position Judas once held.
Jesus offers forgiveness to all
After originally denying knowing Jesus, Peter repented when Jesus looked at him (Luke 22:61-62). Peter went on to become a pillar in the early church. Scripture records conversions of many priests and Pharisees after Pentecost as well (Acts 6:7). Jesus readily forgave Paul, the zealous persecutor of the church.
Tragically, Judas did not repent, seeing only his guilt rather than Jesus’ mercy. But Scripture suggests Jesus would have forgiven even Judas if he had turned back. Jesus died for all sins and calls every person to repentance and true life (2 Peter 3:9). No one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.
Judas serves as a warning
The New Testament authors pointed to Judas as a sobering warning. Paul said false teachers would arise from among believers, “men whose condemnation was written about long ago” (Jude 4). Jude says those who pervert grace into license to sin face darkness like Judas and the fallen angels (Jude 6,11). Revelation twice calls the Antichrist the “son of perdition,” a name also applied to Judas (John 17:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
These warnings against apostasy remind believers to be alert, resist complacency, and walk in humility and sound doctrine. While no one is beyond redemption, Judas illustrates the danger of becoming hardened in sin and unbelief.
Judas Iscariot fulfilled Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah’s betrayal by a friend. Though Jesus knew Judas’ heart, he patiently gave him opportunities to repent. As one of the twelve, Judas was given a place of privilege and honor. Yet he betrayed Jesus for money, subjecting Jesus to greater depths of sacrificial suffering for humanity’s sin.
Though Jesus was betrayed, he brought good from evil by accomplishing salvation through his death and resurrection. Judas acted by his own free choice yet within God’s sovereign plan. Tragically, he did not repent as Peter did. But Jesus’ forgiveness is available to all. Judas serves as a sobering warning against spiritual complacency, greed, and unbelief.