Was Judas Iscariot a helpless victim of biblical prophecy? Did he have a choice about betraying Christ?
Wheat and Weeds
Jesus prophesied that there would be tares growing amongst the wheat, and only at harvest (or Judgment Day) will the weeds be separated from the wheat. Jesus gave an indication that we’re not to uproot the weeds, lest we take some of the wheat by mistake. This is because only God knows the heart (1 Sam 16:7), but Jesus gave the Parable of the Weeds, and in it He said that “the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them” (Matt 13:27-28), and Jesus’ surprising answer is, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matt 13:29-30). God is not caught off guard by these false converts. He knew it would be so. In fact, Jesus knows there will be many and not a few tares in the church. Many will think they’re saved but aren’t, and these same “many” will hear on the Day of Judgment that Christ tells them to depart from Him, forever (Matt 7:21-23). Jesus later explained this parable by saying, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42). God knew the weeds would grow alongside the wheat, but only God can truly tell the difference between these two.
The Church Treasurer
We know from Scripture that there have been false converts in the New Testament church, but clearly, there are also false converts in the church today. I don’t know who they are and neither do you. Some may become obvious in time, but God alone knows who is and isn’t saved. It’s obvious that today there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, but these too will be identified on the Day of Judgment (Matt 25:31-46). Remember, no one suspected that Judas would betray Jesus. He’d been robbing money from their money bag already, and now, he was about to betray Jesus, but Judas’ cover was good. He was the church treasurer, so to speak, so no one would have ever suspected him. Only later would they discover that Judas was the one who betrayed Christ. Jesus warned his followers that, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Tragically, many will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name” (Matt 7:22), but Jesus will say to those who thought they were believers, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). These false converts may have fooled just about everyone but God, but God is not mocked. He knows the heart.
At it is Written
Jesus often used the phrase, “As it is written.” Of course, He is referring to the Scriptures, but Jesus used this phrase in referring to John the Baptist too, saying, “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you’” (Matt 11:10). Here He cites Isaiah 40:3 or Malachi 3:1, but when He refers to Judas Iscariot, He refers to another prophecy and says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). This may refer to the Messianic Psalm where it says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). It was during the Passover Meal when Jesus was betrayed, but beforehand, He identifies him by saying it is he “who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me” (Matt 26:23). In referring to the one who would betray Him, He told His disciples, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’” (John 13:18), and again, that’s a reference to Psalm 41:9, and it was fulfilled. Obviously, this refers specifically to Judas Iscariot, so was Judas a helpless victim of prophecy? Did he have no choice in the matter?
A Victim of Prophecy?
Was Judas Iscariot really a helpless victim of prophecy? Did God force Judas to betray Jesus? Was Judas responsible or was God responsible since the prophecies of God always come true? The answer is the same for all of us. We are responsible for our choices. What we sow we shall reap, and that’s just what Judas reaped. Judas was not a helpless victim of circumstances or prophecy. He made a decision from his own free will, partly based upon his desire for wealth. Judas did not care about souls or care “about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). Judas sought more and 30 pieces of silver would add more to his personal treasure on earth. Today, 30 pieces of silver would be about $200 or so, but in Juda’s day, that was a substantial sum. He could have lived a life of ease for the rest of his life, but his life would not be long. Scripture indicates that Judas was not so much a victim of prophecy as he was a victim of his own lusts and desires to be rich. Of course there were other motives for Judas to betray Jesus. Perhaps he was disenchanted by Jesus’ not starting the kingdom then and overthrowing their Roman rulers. Whatever else led to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus doesn’t matter. He was responsible for his own choices, and the consequences for him were eternal damnation, while for sinners, it was eternal life (Mark 10:45). Much evil brought much good. That’s the sovereignty of God at work (Gen 50:20; John 3:16).
Judas was one of the most popular names in the Jewish world in Jesus’ earthly days, but after Judas’ betrayal, few would ever use that name again. Now, no one was hardly willing to name their child Judas because of the stigma of that name. Judas’ name became synonymous with betrayal. His name brought up such horrid thoughts of betrayal that few would ever want it. I must say, I can’t blame them. He made some very bad choices, but no one forced him to.
Here is some related reading for you: Judas Iscariot: Bible Story and Profile 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.