Was Judas destined to betray Jesus? If so, in what sense is God just in this case?

Quesiton:

About Judas , it seems that he was destined to betray Jesus? If so, then
it seems that God isn’t just. Please correct me if I am wrong. It seems
that God caused Judas to betray Jesus so the scriptures would be
fulfilled. What do you think about this?

Answer:

You raise one of the most difficult theological questions one can ask. I
believe there is no easy answer to this question. The general issue
raised by your question is what appears to be a contradiction between two
aspects of the character of God.

1. Although the term free will is not mentioned in the Bible, it certainly
seems that God gives us free choice to follow him or not. God holds us
accountable for what we do with that freedom.

2. It is clear that God intervenes in the world through the lives of human
beings to carry out his soveriegn will.

There are a number of examples of the second aspect of the nature of God.
The situation with Judas is certainly one of these. In Zechariah 11:12
one can find a clear prophecy that God would be “priced” at thirty pieces
of silver. Clearly, God knew long beforehand that Judas would betray
Jesus into the hands of his enemies. If God knows we will do something
bad ahead of time and does not stop us, is he not responsible for the evil
we do? Actually, there is a seemingly even more troubling question. It
would appear that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was at least in some sense
caused by God. Jesus even said to Judas, “what you do, do quickly.” (John
13:27). Immediately after that, Satan entered into Judas. In this case,
it appears that God somehow prompted Judas to do an evil thing so that
something better, ie. the death of Jesus for our sins would result.

The case that God will harden a person’s heart for his own reasons is put
forcefully in Romans chapter nine. Here, Paul puts the following words in
God’s mouth; “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is
formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not
the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some
pottery for noble and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20,21). Perhaps
even more striking is the statement in the same chapter, “What then shall
we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have
mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have
compassion.” It does not, therefore depend on man’s desire or effort, but
on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for
this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name
might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he
wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans
9:14-18)

When we read this passage it certainly can appear that God is pushing
people around and that he is being unjust. Yet God makes it plain that he
is just. How are we to find agreement between the idea of free will and
God’s soveriegn power?

I have thought about this apparent conflict quite a bit. Please let me
express my opinion about this, and let you come to your own conclusions.
First of all, I do believe in free will. There are many passages in the
Bible which clearly lay out that God gives us a choice. Deuteronomy
30:19,20 makes this case. “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses
against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and
curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that
you man love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to
him.” As another clear example of ultimate choice on the part of humans in
their relationship with God, I would mention Joshua 24:15, “But if serving
the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day
whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the
River, or the gods of the Amorites,?” Jesus clearly believed in “free
will,” even if he did not use that philosophical term. “If anyone would
come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow
me.” (Luke 9:24). And consider John 7:17, “If anyone chooses to do God?s
will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I
speak on my own.” Evidently, God has a particular will for our lives, but
also evidently, he allows us to choose to accept that will or to reject
it. Dozens of passages which clearly teach at least the idea of free will
could be mentioned.

So how are we to understand free will and God’s soveriegnty? Let me make
two points about this. First of all, God exists outside time. He knows
past, present and future. He knows the end before the beginning.
Therefore, when God prophesies the future, that does not necessarily mean
that he is forcing it to happen in the sense that it would seem to us.
When God prophesied that Judas would betray Jesus for thirty pieces of
silver, that does not necessarily mean that he forced the events, because
God is not effected by time as we are. Second, it is my opinion that God
will intervene in individual’s life so that his will is carried out, but
he does not arbitrarily choose people to go to heaven or hell. Consider
Judas. God may have used the fact that Judas’ heart was turned toward
greed as part of his plan to fulfill prophecy and for Jesus to die for our
sins. I believe, however, that Judas was ultimately given a choice by
God. He could have repented after betraying Jesus. Peter betrayed
Jesus. He could have ended up with as tragic a fate as Judas, but he
repented. Judas chose to take money from the money bag. He chose to
conceal his sin. It may very well be true that God manipulated the events
to acheive his soveriegn will, but I see no proof that Judas’ ultimate
free will was violated.

Many other examples could be mentioned. Romans nine has God challenging
us to say who are we to talk back to God? That is a good point. If we
try to challeng God on his justice, he does not have a lot of patience
about that. This may explain the tone of the passage. God is just. God
is loving. Who are we to question him? Yet, even in the case of Pharaoh,
I believe that God did indeed “harden his heart.” God set about a series
of events which led to the Pharaoh’s choice to not only let Israel go into
the desert to worship. Pharaoh’s heart was so hardened that he finally
sent Israel away entirely. Yes, I see God intervening here. I see God
exercising his will over Pharaoh in order to bring about the prophetic
events of the Passover. However, I would hold out that even Pharaoh had
the choice to soften his heart. He could have repented, even after
letting God’s people go. He could have humbled himself and been “saved”
from his sin.

My conclusion is that God will intervene in history and in human lives to
bring about his greater will. I trust God, although I cannot absolutely
prove it, that he is just–that he may remove our completely free will in
order to bring about the greater good, but that even when he intervenes in
history and individual lives, he still gives each of us the ultimate
freedom to choose to serve him or to serve Satan. For you or me, this
would be too much power. It would be a responsibility we could not bear.
But God is great. He claims to be just and the one who justifies him who
has faith in Jesus. God is sovereign over the nation, yet somehow he
still gives each of us a choice to serve him or not. That, at least, is
how I see it.

John Oakes

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