“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” – John 13:21-30 (ESV)
They make an interesting comparison. Peter and Judas, two very different men who ended up at opposite ends of the passion story. For Peter, he would go on to fulfill his God-given call: “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV). Judas, however… his fate was far less noble. His name will forever be an epithet that means “betrayer.”
In essence, Peter and Judas were guilty of the same sin: both turned their backs on Jesus Christ. Both would feel great shame for their actions. But that is where the similarities end (at least within the framework of the events of Holy Week). The reason boils down to what so much of what we learn in Scripture comes down to: heart, motive – why did they do what they did?
All the evidence seems to point to Judas having a weakness for money. He was, after all, the treasurer for the twelve. And he traded his eternal reward for around half-a-year’s wages – enough “blood money” for the temple officials to buy a plot of land to use as a cemetery (see Matthew 27:3-10). Judas felt great remorse for his actions, and dealt with his guilt and shame the only way he knew how: he returned the silver to the temple priests, then went off alone and hanged himself.
I sometimes wonder if we are too harsh on Judas Iscariot. Granted, he put pay to Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all evil (not the money itself, but that’s another lesson for another time). The greed that Judas harbored was the weakness the enemy needed to slip in and do his work. (John makes sure to point out twice – in 13:2 and 13:27 – that this was the work of Satan done through Judas.)
We will later in the week take a closer look at Peter and his denial of Christ, but – here comes the spoiler – there is an essential difference between the two men that I want us to see today. While Judas and Peter both felt remorse and shame, their reactions were very, very different. We see both men sidelined by what happened to Jesus. Judas fell victim to his sin.
But Peter repented. All through the gospels, we see the repeated Petrine motiff of trying and failing, trying and failing… He loved Jesus. He didn’t understand it all, but he was faithful. He believed, despite his triple-blunder in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial. Both men messed up – big time. But it comes down to heart. Peter was faithful. His actions didn’t save him. His love for the Lord and acceptance of Christ brought him salvation.
Judas succumbed to greed. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). Peter and Judas each chose their master. And each received their due reward.
A cautionary lesson for all of us as we go through Holy Week.
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 (ESV)