Judas and Peter
The Betrayer and Denier
"There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7 NASB).
The actions of both Judas and Peter in the final hours of our Lord’s earthly walk were undoubtedly heartbreaking. Similarities between the two existed, and comparisons can certainly be drawn to Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal of our Lord. Both Peter and Judas had respected positions among the apostles. Judas was charged with the role of treasurer (John 12:6), while Peter was among Jesus’ closest friends as evidenced in the account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-7). Both were publicly rebuked during their time with Jesus (John 12:7-8, Matthew 16:23). Also, both Peter and Judas were directly forewarned by our Lord of the actions they would each take in Jesus’ last moments on earth. However, despite these similarities, his view of each of them differed greatly.
The scriptures do not reveal much about our Lord’s betrayer. The few instances recorded do not speak favorably of Judas. This is one evidence that Jesus’ view of Judas may not have been complimentary from early on. Jesus had the ability to read the heart (Mark 2:8). This is a critical point in trying to understand the thoughts of our Lord. Outward conduct was of little importance to Jesus if one was not in line with the proper heart attitude.
We are given insight into Judas’ heart condition by the Apostle John, who tells us how Judas criticized Mary for using her perfume to anoint the Lord’s feet when she could have sold it and given the money to the poor. Judas "said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief " (John 12:6 NASB). John wrote this with crystal-clear hindsight. However, it would be naive to think that our Lord was not fully aware of Judas’ thievery and corresponding concealment throughout his ministry.
Jesus knew early on who Judas really was, his nature, and his eventual role in the fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 41:9, Zechariah 11:12-13, John 13:18). We are told in John 6:70 that Jesus was well aware that Judas was "a devil." If we take a moment to place our own fallen flesh into our Lord’s position, what might our attitude be? Suppose a brother or sister was discreetly and consistently stealing from the brethren while concealing and lying about his intent and actions. He may even outwardly appear to be quite righteous and faithful in the eyes of others. Our flesh might view this individual with an attitude of bitterness or resentment.
However, if we view the situation through the eyes of Jesus, the perspective changes completely. Jesus’ heart and mind were perfect, and his outlook was not with the eyes of flesh but rather with the spirit of our Heavenly Father. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB) that "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." It does not imply that Judas’ heart condition was different than what was manifested by his actions. On the contrary, his heart was indeed corrupted by the devil (John 13:2, Luke 22:3). Our Lord knew very well the events that needed to transpire in order for him to fulfill the prophecies pertaining to his first advent. At some point he would have had to come to terms with the fact that one would be lost from his flock without the potential for reconciliation. How he dealt with this is the key to unlocking how Jesus viewed Judas. Jesus felt a measure of sadness and grief, but certainly not bitterness toward Judas. Was he angered by both the actions and deceit of Judas? Yes! Jesus’ overturning of the tables of the money changers is an example of his potential in that respect. Proverbs 6:16-19 speaks of six sins that God (and presumably His son) "hates." Judas was guilty of most, if not all of these sins. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Jesus was angered by the actions of Judas throughout his ministry, as well as saddened by the eventual outcome of his crimes. After all, like God, Jesus "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4 NASB).
Did Jesus merely choose to look the other way and "put up" with Judas, knowing full well that it would be of little use to attempt to save the "son of perdition?" Certainly not! In 2 Peter 3:9 we are told that "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (NASB). Passively allowing Judas to continue on his downward course would not be in harmony with this scripture. As mentioned previously, Jesus, at least once, publicly rebuked Judas. Additionally, Jesus made it clear that he knew what Judas was planning in his heart. Though it is not recorded in scripture, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus made many more attempts to correct Judas’ behavior.
The State of Judas’ Heart
The state of Judas’ heart at the end of his life was the culmination of many years of heart-hardening behavior. He did not in a single moment suddenly let Satan in and decide to betray our Lord. We should take this to heart, not allowing the unwarranted fear of failure to fill our hearts. We should also take Judas’ example as a strong warning to constantly examine ourselves and be rid of the "little foxes that are ruining the vineyards" (Song of Solomon 2:15 NASB). Additionally, we must never take the Lord’s grace for granted (Romans 6:15-23). Under the law, thieves found guilty of their crime were required to pay back the full amount they stole with the payment of an additional 20 percent. They were required to make a guilt offering as well. Jesus did not impose such a punishment on Judas. Judas was then guilty of taking the Lord’s grace for granted. Much like an undisciplined child, when Judas received no immediate penalty for his sins, he was able to rationalize his actions more easily. This most likely disappointed our Lord, as Judas was clearly not internalizing the very cornerstone teachings of Jesus’ ministry. Judas rather used his freedom for evil. In our own walks we are to take the words of the Apostle Paul to heart and not use the freedom granted by Christ as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather through love we are to serve one another and in doing so, serve our Lord (Galatians 5:1, 13).
Interestingly, Jesus’ desire for his church to serve one another was spoken directly to Judas in his last days, and to Peter, after his resurrection. When Jesus condemned Judas for criticizing Mary when she anointed Jesus with the costly perfume, he was, in fact, still trying to instill in Judas the proper heart condition. A service to the brethren is a service to our Lord, as well as to our Heavenly Father. Jesus taught the same lesson to Peter when he appeared on the shore and repeatedly emphasized that in order to display his love for Jesus, Peter must feed Jesus’ sheep. Though these admonitions are similar in nature, our Lord’s view of the Apostle Peter was quite different than his view of Judas.
Jesus’ View of Peter
Peter is often labeled a "denier" of Jesus. Peter did, in fact, deny our Lord. However, to let the label of denier define Peter’s role and purpose in the service of Christ would be a mistake. Peter may very well be the most accessible example to us in our Christian walks. Peter’s life teaches us volumes by successes in faith and failures of the flesh. Since his walk was filled with highs and lows, we might suppose that our Lord’s view of Peter followed a similar path. That was not the case. The key difference between Jesus’ view of Peter and of Judas related to their heart conditions. Judas sinned from the heart, while Peter’s faults were those of his fallen flesh — fearfulness. While at times disappointed, Jesus recognized the difference in their heart conditions and felt comfort knowing that the errors of Peter’s flesh were molding his character as life’s experiences should.
Our Lord recognized Peter’s true heart condition and willingness to serve. We sometimes dwell on the negative actions of Peter. After all, Peter started to sink when his faith began to fail while walking on the water with Jesus. Peter resorted to violence when he struck the guard in defense of Jesus. And he denied our Lord three times in the courtyard of Caiaphas. But who else leapt out of the boat into the stormy sea without regard for himself in order to be with our Lord? Who risked imprisonment, or worse, by fighting in defense of our Lord? Who was brave enough to enter the courtyard in order to follow our Lord in his last moments? Though Peter may not have always chosen the best course of action to display his faith, his heart was of the proper spirit, a spirit we should all strive to attain. Jesus most certainly knew Peter’s heart and cared enough to stick with him even through his failings.
Remorse and Repentance
In a discussion of Peter and Judas, it is important to examine the ideas of remorse and repentance. Both Judas and Peter felt a great deal of remorse for their actions (Matthew 27:3, 26:75). Peter wept bitterly while Judas was driven to commit suicide. However, as similar as their feelings toward their respective sins were, we must conclude that the Lord viewed them differently once again.
Why was Peter received back into the fellowship, whereas Jesus said of Judas, that it would have been better had he never being born (Matthew 26:24)? The answer has little to do with their remorse. Remorse can be defined as feeling regretful or guilty for doing something wrong. Remorse is felt by most of humanity, albeit to varying degrees. God has little interest in one’s sense of remorse for sin, if that remorse is not acted upon. For the same reason, we are reminded in the scriptures that works displaying our faith and heart condition are required. Repentance however, is a change in behavior and a correction of character. Jesus, while aware of the remorse of Judas and Peter, rejoiced to see the repentance and spiritual development of Peter. Proverbs 28:13 (NIV) tells us, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Peter learned from his correction and pressed on as a faithful servant for the remainder of his earthly walk. Judas repeatedly concealed his sins throughout his walk, and ultimately chose to end his life without reformation.
Another key difference in the characters of Peter and Judas is the nature of their respective denial and betrayal. Judas was warned and rebuked by our Lord early on about his greed and sinful heart. God’s view of greed is serious (see Colossians 3:5-6, Matthew 6:24). Judas was a bondservant of mammon, not of God. Peter, on the other hand, was a servant of our Lord and because of that he eventually came under the blood. The apostle says, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1NASB).
The scriptural account of Peter and Judas reveals much about how they were viewed by our Lord. Both suffered from the effects of Adamic sin, but only Judas allowed the devil into his heart. Perhaps the most insight we are given into Jesus’ love of Peter is best described in Luke 22:31-32 (NASB). "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Peter allowed the Lord into his heart and in doing so earned a place Jesus’ heart.