You know that scene in movies and television shows when the wife walks in the front door to find her husband and another woman on the couch in their underwear and the husband then says, “This isn’t what it looks like?” Then the wife says, “Then what is it?” and the husband responds, “Let me explain.” Well, that’s a little like Judas. It’s a different kind of betrayal, but it’s still pretty hard to explain.
What are we supposed to make of Judas? All four of the gospel writers make him out to be the ultimate bad guy. John calls him the “son of destruction” and makes it clear that Satan himself had entered into him. Why would Jesus have called Judas to be a disciple when Jesus should have known what Judas was going to do? If Jesus had been a good teacher and mentor, wouldn’t he have been able to guide Judas away from his evil intent? When Jesus said to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do,” does that mean that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him? Was this part of the plan all along? Were they in on it together?
In the first century, when the case of Jesus was being built for the first time, one of the hard parts that the church struggled to explain was Judas. How are we supposed to convince people to follow Jesus as the Messiah if he can’t even get twelve people to follow him without one of them stabbing him in the back? We’ve had a couple of thousand years to get over that and to see Jesus and the Christian movement through the lens of history. I don’t think any of us finds Judas as threatening as he once was. He’s just a part of the story—another player in the drama.
The deeper question for the church today is how bad things fit in with God’s plan. How are we supposed to make sense of people who become so obsessed with evil that they act out in deeply harmful ways? How do we explain things like cancer and tsunami and car crashes? How do we maintain belief in a God who is supposedly God when the walls come crumbling down over and over and over? Where is hope in a world so consumed by hatred?
Part of the answer is that there is no answer. Sometimes it takes hundreds of years and the lens of history to help us see that the story keeps playing out. But part of the answer comes in the moment itself. After Judas had departed, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” It would be easy to think that Jesus is completely shifting gears—that there is no connection between Judas and his statement about glorification—but John makes it clear that the two are linked.
What does that mean? It means that God’s glory—what it means for God to be God—is expressed not only in the moments that are easy to explain but also in the moments that defy explanation. God’s glory is revealed when darkness comes and yet that darkness does not defeat God. Even Satan himself, working through Judas, could not hold Jesus in death. Our hope, therefore, is found not in the avoidance or the explanation of the defeat but in the triumph over defeat which is promised one day. Judas’ betrayal demonstrated that nothing can overcome God’s plan. His glory is revealed in that fact. Even if our hope takes longer than three days, our hope is still fixed on the one who defeats evil.