What do we know about Judas? Was he forgiven for betraying Jesus? Do we know if he went to heaven or hell?
Judas Iscariot is shown in the Scriptures as the betrayer of Jesus. Even though he walked with Jesus, listened to Him preach, and saw Him heal the sick, his faith in the Lord did not last. He was the apostle who carried the purse and made purchases on behalf of Jesus and the apostles (Jn. 13:29). His concern with money became his motive for betraying Jesus.
AN EVIL SPIRIT
The Gospel writers assess Judas negatively, asserting that an evil spirit entered him. John says that Jesus questioned the apostles: “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you [Judas] a devil?” (Jn. 6:70). Luke explains that before the Last Supper, Satan entered into Judas (Lk. 22:3). John says that Jesus pointed him out, knowing that he would betray Him. Jesus identified His betrayer: “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel, after I have dipped it.” After Judas took the morsel, the devil possessed him (Jn. 13:26-27).
According to the Scriptures, Judas conferred with the chief priests and elders about betraying Jesus. From that time on, he “looked for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mt. 26:16). While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas led a crowd— armed with swords and clubs—to Jesus. Judas approached Jesus and kissed him, signifying that He was the one they should arrest (Mt. 26:47-50).
Matthew is the only Gospel writer to indicate the price of Jesus’ life: the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received in exchange for the betrayal (Mt. 26:15). This price fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head…” (Mt. 27:9). According to Matthew, Judas regretted his choice. He returned the bounty, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood” (Mt. 27:3-4).
DEATH AND JUDGMENT
Matthew’s Gospel is also the only one to mention Judas’ death by hanging (Mt. 27:5). Another tradition is found in the Acts of the Apostles, where it says he purchased land “with the wages of his iniquity,” and there “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out.” The place became known as the Field of Blood (Acts 1:17- 19).
The Church does not teach that any particular person is in hell—even Judas—despite its belief in hell’s existence and the certainty that there are people in heaven (the saints). Most think it is likely Judas is not in heaven because of Jesus’ words referring to him: “It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:21; Lk. 22:22). This would seem to indicate damnation, but there is no certainty.
DARE WE HOPE
The 20th Century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar asked, “Dare we hope that all men be saved?” Without proposing that all are saved, he asked whether desiring the salvation of others might demand such hope. The Christian tradition offers many examples of conversion, and we trust salvation— even for those who lived manifestly sinful lives.
Peter denied Jesus and was forgiven because he sought forgiveness. He is the “rock” on which Jesus built the Church and is numbered among our great saints. Judas, however, turned in on himself, and while he regretted his choice, he may not have asked for forgiveness. Still, we hold out the possibility of his conversion (as we do for every person) at the moment of death, no matter the gravity of the sins they have committed.
Father David Endres is professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology.
This article appeared in the March 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.