What Did Jesus Do to Show He Forgave Judas?

In a recent passion play, Judas leads the Romans to Jesus.
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Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus who betrayed him, has long been thought of as the worst kind of villain. But if Jesus himself forgave his betrayer, shouldn’t all Christians? The evidence in the Bible, and in other texts as to whether Jesus offered that forgiveness is confusing. What should Christians believe about Judas?

1 The Story of Judas Iscariot

Judas was the treasurer of Jesus' group.
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The Judas story is basically the same in all four gospels. The Gospel of John adds some extra detail. That book tells how Judas earlier objected to Jesus' allowing a woman to anoint his head with ointment. Judas asks why the ointment wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. John is careful to point out that Judas didn’t actually care about the poor. He was the treasurer of Jesus’ organization and planned to embezzle the money. John also tells us that Satan came into the heart of Judas. John adds that Jesus knew full well that Judas would betray him.

2 An Alternative Version of the Judas Story

The Gnostic Gospels are later versions of events described in the New Testament. In the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, Jesus and Judas plan the betrayal together. Judas takes Judas aside and tells him, “the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it.” Telling Judas he can get into heaven is the same as forgiving him. However, it’s been reported that those words are mistranslated. Jesus actually says, “it is not possible.” The book describes Judas as a “demon.” That doesn’t sound like forgiveness.

3 Evidence That Judas is Not Worthy of Forgiveness

From the beginning Judas is different than the other disciples. Jesus even singles him out in John 6:71-2 as a “devil.” None of the gospels reveal details about his biography, but his name, Iscariot, means that he comes from the town of Carioth in Judah, making him the only non-Galillean in Jesus’ cohort. Another interpretation is that “Iscariot” indicates that he was one of the sicarii, a group of knife-wielding assassins.The gospels rarely mention Judas without adding that he will be the betrayer. Finally, Jesus says in John 17:12 that all of his disciples are saved except “the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” Presumably he is referring to Judas. (What Christians Want to Know: Judas Iscariot)

4 Possibilities that Judas Was Forgiven Anyway

Though Judas is a villain throughout the Gospels, when the enormity of his deed hits him, he’s crushed by guilt. He tries to return his payment for turning Jesus in and when that fails, he kills himself. Jesus never tells Judas that he forgives him, but he does kiss Judas when he predicts the upcoming betrayal. Perhaps the best evidence that Jesus forgives Judas is that, as he is dying on the cross, Jesus forgives everyone (Luke 23:24), famously uttering the words, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He never says that his forgiveness leaves out the disciple who betrayed him.

Jonathan Vankin is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He has written for such publications as "The New York Times Magazine," "Wired" and Salon, covering technology, arts, sports, music and politics. Vankin is also the author of three nonfiction books and several graphic novels.