Matthew 27:3-5 BDC: What was it that Judas Iscariot regretted? Could he have been saved?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Matthew 37:3–5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Judas Hangs Himself

3 Then when Judas, the one who had betrayed him, saw that he had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins[1] to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

[1] I.e. silver shekels; it takes 50 shekels to equal 1 mina, and 60 minas to equal 1 talent.

Judas “betrayed innocent blood” when he gave Jesus into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. The Greek term (metamelomai), which is rendered “regretted,” means that Judas felt remorse and sad about what he had done, he changed his mind, wishing that things could have been different. After having betrayed Jesus, he tried to return the bribe.

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Nonetheless, Judas did become completely, inexcusably corrupt. No doubt, it is for this reason that he is placed last in the list of the apostles and is described as the Judas, “the one who betrayed him” and “who became a traitor.” (Matt. 10:4; Lu 6:16) Whatever Judas may have felt in his heart, we cannot say with absolute certainty. However, his action of committing suicide means that his regret, and remorse was over what was going to happen to him, not what he did, so he was not fully repentant.

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We have no Scriptural evidence that Judas truly fully repented. Instead of praying to the Father to confess his sins, he chose to confess them to “the chief priests and the elders.” Judas likely realized that he had committed “a sin leading to death,” and he rightly became overcome with feelings of guilt and anguish, and hopelessness. (1 John 5:16) Therefore, Judas’ regret stemmed from his realization that he was in an irreversible unforgivable state. Again, it appears that his regret was not about what he had done, but the consequences that he now realized were to follow.

The magnitude of his crime and the terrifying certainty of divine judgment against him obviously overwhelmed him. (Compare Hebrews 10:26-27, 31; James 2:19.) He felt the shame, regret, and remorse of his guilt, despair, and even desperation, but there is no Scriptural evidence to show that he expressed the godly sadness of the inner heart, the seat of motivation, that leads to repentance (metanoia). Basically, Judas committed treason against the king of the coming kingdom. He was guilty of the death of an innocent man. To these heinous crimes, Judas goes on to commit self-murder. His suicide was not from some overwhelming mental illness that may impact the judgment he would receive from God.

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We can contrast Judas with Peter. Matthew 26:75 tells us, “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly,” for having denied Jesus Christ three times. Peter showed genuine heartfelt repentance, which resulted in his being restored to the fold. (Luke 22;31-32) Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, when he truly realized the enormity of what he had done, did not go and weep, turning to God, but rather went to the Jewish religious leaders to confess his sins with them. He returned the thirty pieces of silver, likely thinking that maybe this could lessen the egregious crimes he had committed. – See James 5:3-4; Eze 7:19.

Let it be made clear that God did not predestine Judas Iscariot or coerce him to act against his own free will. How do we correctly understand Judas’ freedom as it relates to God’s foreknowledge? Because God has the power to exercise his foreknowledge of everything in advance, some have suggested that it was God’s foreknowledge before Judas’ birth that would fate him to betray Jesus. In short, yes, God foresaw that Judas would betray him; however, Judas had the free will choice to change his mind at any point of such an idea entering it. If Judas had changed his mind, God would have foreseen something else. However, we must keep in mind that God can also foresee heart conditions and heart attitude, not just events. Therefore, God would have not only foreseen the decision Judas made but also his unreceptive heart.

Many Bible critics say that knowing that Judas will betray Jesus hundreds of years in advance makes it foreordained to happen. As a result, human freedom is removed. Based on this reasoning, God foreordained even the sin of Adam and Eve, and thus they never had the free will to do otherwise. The Bible says that God is not the author of sin, but this would argue otherwise, contradicting Scripture. However, with this equation, sin is the result, not the result of Adam’s choice, but of God’s choosing, which should make us feel uncomfortable.

 The best solution to this problem is to deny this equivalence. Foreknowledge does not equal foreordination.

FOREKNOWLEDGE

Does Not =

FOREORDINATION

It is better to understand that God knows in advance what choices people will freely make. The free decisions of human beings determine what foreknowledge God has of them, as opposed to the reverse.

FOREKNOWLEDGE

Determine

FREE DECISIONS

Or

FREE DECISIONS

Determine

FOREKNOWLEDGE

Foreknowledge does not determine the free decision. Instead, it is the free decisions that determine foreknowledge. In this, we can distinguish what we might call Chronological Priority and Logical Priority.

Chronological priority would mean that Event “A” [God’s knowledge], as it relates to time, would come before Event “B” [the event God foreknows]. Thus, God’s knowledge is chronologically before the event that he foreknows.

CHRONOLOGICAL PRIORITY

God’s foreknowledge

Before Event

However, logically speaking, the event is before God’s foreknowledge.

LOGICAL PRIORITY

Event

Before

God’s foreknowledge

In other words, the event does not happen because God foreknows it, but God foreknows the event because it will happen. The event is logically before the foreknowledge, so he foreknows it because it will happen, even though the foreknowledge is chronologically before the event.

We can see foreknowledge in this as the foreshadowing of something. When you see the shadow of someone coming around the corner of the building, you see their shadow on the ground before you see the person. You know that person is about to come around the corner because of their shadow, but the shadow does not determine the person; the person determines the shadow.

God’s foreknowledge is like the foreshadowing of a future event. By seeing this foreshadowing, you know the events will happen, But the shadow does not determine the reality; the reality determines the shadow. Therefore, we should think of God’s foreknowledge as foreshadowing future things. Therefore, just because God knows something will happen, this does not prejudice or remove the freedom of that happening.

If the events were to happen differently, God’s foreknowledge would also be different. An illustration of this is an infallible barometer of the weather. Whatever the barometer says, you know what the weather will be like because it is infallible. However, the barometer does not determine the temperature; the temperature determines the barometer’s findings. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is like an infallible barometer of the future. It lets him know what the future will be, but it does not constrain the future in any way. The future is going to happen anyway the free moral agent wants it to happen. However, the barometer will track whatever direction the future will take.

Thus, those who believe God’s foreknowledge removes a person’s freedom are mistaken. They posit a constraint upon human choices, which is really quite unintelligible.

Let us use another illustration.

Suppose this is the timeline ________________________

Let us place an event “E” on the timeline, i.e., Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

Let us suppose God is back here in time, and by his foreknowledge (the line), he knows that “E” will happen (Judas will betray Jesus). How does God’s knowledge about “E” constrain “E” from happening? How can God’s knowing “E” will occur, make “E” occur?

 How has anything changed if you were to erase the line and say God does not have foreknowledge of the future? How would “E” (Judas’ betrayal) be affected if you erased God’s foreknowledge of it? “E” (Judas’ betrayal) would occur just the same; it would not affect anything at all.

 Therefore, the presence of God’s foreknowledge really does not prejudice anything about whether “E” will occur or not. Therefore, those who think foreknowledge is incompatible with freedom are simply mistaken.

What we need to understand is this, if Judas (“E”) were not to betray Jesus, then God would not have foreknown Judas’ betrayal (“E”) of Jesus because it would not have been on the timeline. In addition, as long as that statement is true, “E” being able to occur and not occur, God’s foreknowledge does not prejudice anything concerning “E’s” occurrence.

Let us review without the “E” getting in our way of thinking it through. God can see the timeline similar to a man in a helicopter looking down on a parade. Just as the man in the helicopter can see things before they get to the spectators, so too, God can see down the timeline to things that have not taken place yet. God knew way back in Genesis 3:15 when it was prophesied that the serpent (Satan) was to bruise Jesus and that Satan’s agent for doing so was going to be Judas Iscariot.

Just because God has the ability to see down the timeline, this does not affect Judas’ free will choice that he would come to make. On this, Andreas J. Köstenberger writes, “This does not alter the fact that Judas made his decision as a responsible agent and that he will be held accountable and judged for his evil act (see Mark 14:21 = Matt. 26:24)” [6] If we look at the diagram below, it gives us a visual aid of what God can see. Let us take persons such as myself, one who struggles with understanding deep scientific information. Just because I cannot fully understand the scientific areas of astronomy (the scientific study of the universe), this does not mean that an astronomer’s in-depth explanation of the motions, positions, sizes, composition, and behavior of astronomical objects is any less true because I am baffled. When they go into an in-depth discussion of how these objects are studied and interpreted from the radiation they emit and from data gathered by interplanetary probes, I cannot just blurt out, “you are wrong” because I do not understand the how of things. However, some in science would do just that to a far more intelligent person than all of them combined, namely, God.

[6] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 494.

God can step into the timeline and tweak anything to create a different outcome if he chooses to do so, which will alter many future events because it will create a ripple effect in the timeline. If God were to change anything that was already going to happen, making different choices outside of what was already going to occur in the present would have a ripple effect on future events. Let us use Willian Tyndale, which I believe God did step into the timeline to protect Tyndale from the Catholic Church that was hunting him down for translating the Bible from the original languages of Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) into English. Let us say that God did step in to alter things, allowing Tyndale to survive to the point of bringing us the first printed translation in 1526. It would have had an impact on all English translations that lay ahead in the future: the Coverdale translation of 1535, Matthew’s Bible of 1537, The Great Bible of 1539, Cranmer’s Bible of 1540, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and the King James Version of 1611, and all other down to the Revised Version of 1881, the 1801 American Standard Version, the 1952 Revised Standard Version, the 1960-1995 New American Standard Bible, and the 2001 English Standard Version. Think of the impact of the English translations had the Catholic Church executed Tyndale in 1523.

Does God Foreknowing​ That Judas Iscariot Will betray Jesus, Predestine Him, or coerce Him to act Against His Free Will?

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Matthew 27:5 BDC: says that Judas hanged himself, while Luke at Acts 1:18 says that “falling headlong he [Judas] burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” So, which is it?

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