In awards programs, competition participants who win second place or do something noteworthy are often given some sort of honorable mention. Sometimes, however, participants are disqualified for dishonorable behavior. And it is for this dishonor that they are most remembered. We see something along these lines with Judas Iscariot in the Bible.
Judas was chosen to be an apostle by Jesus, and while the disciples occasionally squabbled as to who among them was the greatest (e.g., Matt 20:17–28), their apostleship was not a competition. It was an honor and privilege for them and will continue to be so in time to come (cf. Matt 19:28; Rev 21:14).
But not so with Judas. Though he and the other apostles cast out demons and preached the kingdom of God (Mark 6:7–13), he is never recorded in a positive light when his name is explicitly mentioned in Scripture. Of the 44 uses of the Greek Ioudas (Judas), this name is used 22 times to refer to Judas Iscariot, and every single use of his name has a context that reeks with condemnation. In 12 of these 22 uses, they involve some form of the word betray—he is the one “who would betray him,” “was going to betray him,” was about to betray him,” did so, and was thus “his betrayer,” “a traitor,” and the one “who betrayed him” (Matt 10:4; 26:25; 27:3; Mark 3:19; 14:10; Luke 6:16; 22:48; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2; 18:2, 5). 3 of these 12 uses are found in three of the four lists of the apostles’ names in which he is always last and always described as the one who betrayed Jesus (Matt 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16). In the fourth of these lists (Acts 1:13), it is after the resurrection when Judas is obviously absent because he committed suicide in trying to escape the guilt and grief that only he could know for having betrayed our Lord as he did.
In the other 10 uses of his name, though the word “betray” is not used within the verse that bears his name, Judas is described as somehow going about the act of his betrayal—he was possessed by Satan, went to the chief priests to sell Jesus out, came with a great crowd to arrest Jesus, was identified as the betrayer, or was described as having turned aside to go to his own place, which was no less than eternal destruction (Matt 26:14, 47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:3, 47; John 13:26, 29; 18:3; Acts 1:16, 25).
Adding insult to injury, of the 34 times that the apostles are referred to as “the twelve” (whether as twelve apostles, disciples, or just the twelve), 9 of these times are used with reference to Judas to highlight just how sinful it was for someone in his position to betray our Lord (Matt 26:14, 47; Mark 14:10, 20, 43; Luke 22:3, 47; John 6:70, 71). After the Lord’s resurrection, the reader of Scripture would have thus easily thought who the missing twelfth was when the disciples were called “the eleven” 5 times after the suicide of Judas (Matt 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9, 33; Acts 1:26).
Yet worse, Jesus Himself called Judas “the son of destruction” who was “lost,” which meant that Judas was not kept by Jesus in the Father’s name, Judas had not been given by the Father to Jesus, and Judas was not guarded by the Savior for eternal life, something he never had to begin with (John 17:12). How painful it is to read of Judas from the lips of Jesus, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24).
As awful as it is to consider the life and end of Judas, we can nonetheless learn a couple of lessons from having considered the above.
First, those who knowledgeably reject the gospel will find it impossible to later repent. As sorry as Judas was on an earthly level, the grief that led to his suicide (Acts 1:18–19) gave him no help in the life to come. I realize Hebrews 6 is debated, but I believe that to have tasted the heavenly gift and the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come—all of which Judas did—and to then fall away (again, like Judas; cf. Acts 1:25) makes it impossible for such a one to be restored again to repentance (Heb 6:1–6). As we read of Judas above, Peter likewise states that such people would be better off if they had not even heard the gospel at all—their judgment is all the worse for having heard it and then denied it (2 Pet 2:20–22). Beware, lest we, too, follow the steps of Judas and find ourselves unforgivably hardened in sin and unbelief.
Second, with that warning in mind, we should make sure that we are indeed God’s children and not just doing good things as bad people who have not been transformed within (see especially Phil 2:12–13 and 2 Pet 1:10–11). Good works without knowing Jesus gains no one entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Matt 7:21–23). And it’s not like Judas was perfect for three years with Jesus and then suddenly turned away. He was a thief whose love for money eventually led to his demise (cf. John 12:6; Matt 26:14). Little sins can lead to bigger sins and perhaps eventually confirm someone in his looming eternal destruction. May we stay close to our Savior, keep short accounts with Him, and live out the life He lives in us.
Having considered the Bible’s repeated dishonorable mention of Judas, we could ask ourselves this—what will our mention be? We do not find our names in Scripture, but will they be found with honor in the book of life? Or will they be registered with a list of dishonorable deeds that will bring the judgment of God (cf. Rev 20:13)?
May we all find an honorable mention in the day of Christ because of the honor and righteousness He gives to us by faith in His glorious person. And until then, may we give all honor and glory to Him.