Was Judas “Predestined” to Betray Christ?

A sincere reader wants to know whether or not Judas was “predestined” to betray Christ. He feels that certain New Testament passages suggest that he was. This week’s Question discusses this issue.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

“Was Judas Iscariot predestined to be lost? If not how are the following passages to be explained (Mt 26:25; Jn. 13:27-30; 17:11-12; Psa. 41:9; Acts 1:16)?”

No, it is not the case that Judas was “predestined” to be lost. The passages listed above may be explained easily without resorting to the unscriptural, Calvinistic theory of predestination.

Was Judas’ Question, “Is It I?” Sincere?

According Matthew 26:20ff, during the course of the Passover supper Christ informed the disciples that one of them would betray him. Each of them began to question the Savior, “Is it I, Lord?” It is amazing that each could plumb the depths of his soul, wondering if he could be the culprit.

Presently, Judas framed the same query. “Is it I, Rabbi?” [Note the change in the address.]

The Lord responded (perhaps in almost a whisper), “You have said so” (v. 25, ESV). This was an affirmative answer, to the effect: “Yes, you are the one.”

But did Judas’ question imply that he did not know that he was the one who would betray the Lord? Certainly not, for already he had bargained with the chief priests to deliver Christ unto them (Mt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10-11; Lk. 22:3-6). One must thus conclude that the traitor’s question was insincere — a mere parroting of what the other apostles had said.

Was Judas A Helpless Pawn?

Some would suggest that Judas was but a helpless pawn, unable to resist the invasion of Satan into his life. That certainly is not the case, as even Judas himself conceded. He never pled: “I could not help myself; Satan made me do it!” Rather, he confessed: “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood” (Mt. 27:4).

It is a remarkable oddity when modern man, twenty centuries removed from the event, can profess to know more about the situation than the culprit himself!

How Was Judas’ Betrayal a Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy?

But what did the apostle mean when he stated that Judas perished “that the scripture might be fulfilled” (Jn. 17:12; cf. 13:18)?

The “scripture” most likely alluded to is Psalm 41:9. There, the sacred writer (likely David; see superscription), referring primarily to someone who had turned against him, wrote:

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

It is interesting that when the Lord cited this passage, he omitted “whom I trusted” (13:18), the reason being, he “knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him” (Jn. 6:64). The Lord never trusted Judas. The prophecy, therefore, has a primary (personal), and a secondary (Christological) application. Acts 1:16 must be viewed in the same light.

Foreknowledge Not Predetermination

Another important fact that must be recognized is that foreknowledge does not demand predetermination. God foreknew that Judas, exercising his own freewill, would betray his Son.

These passages, therefore, reflect Heaven’s foreknowledge, but not a predetermined action over which the betrayer had no control. Even Presbyterian scholar Albert Barnes, in commenting on John 13:18, wrote: “It does not mean that Judas was compelled to this course in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (320).

A further illustration of this principle is seen in the fact that Christ was delivered up to death by the determinate counsel and the “foreknowledge” of God (Acts 2:23), and yet the ones who were involved in the Savior’s crucifixion were held accountable for their evil deed (23b; cf. 36-38).

The frequent rationalization, “I can’t help what I do; I was predestined to do it,” is a false notion, but one that finds ready acceptance in a modern world that seeks to escape from personal responsibility.

The Scriptures teach that men will give an account on the day of Judgment for their own conduct (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10) — not for actions thrust upon them by God. The very idea of such is an affront to the Almighty.

  • Barnes, Albert. 1954. Notes on Luke and John. Baker: Grand Rapids, MI.