“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘’I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’”[Matthew 27:3-4]
Knowing and applying theology in the real world is hard. For years, I have struggled with betrayals, and I have tried to understand what Jesus would have us to do when we are betrayed by our brothers and sisters. Have you ever been betrayed by a friend or coworker? Have you ever wanted to really go after someone and give him or her payback for the pain, embarrassment, and damage he or she caused you? Is there anything that Jesus teaches us about how Christians should respond when others betray us?
Scripture reveals that both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus Christ. These were both men whom Jesus had called and discipled for more than three years. Therefore, we must understand that believers, who betray us, are our brothers and sisters with whom we have invested ourselves. Scripture also gives us two key reasons for Christians betraying other Christians. It appears that Peter betrayed Christ out of fear. Jesus’ reign was ending and he was fearful for his life. While there are varying views, it appears that Judas betrayed Jesus for personal gain. Peter was remorseful and Jesus forgave him and used him mightily after his betrayal. Judas hanged himself. Was he remorseful, sorrowful, did he regret his action? Some say that he was remorseful, but that it was an emotional remorse (regret) that led only to guilt and despair. Matthew 27:3 uses the Greek word transliterated metamellomai, which is best defined as having regrets and changing one’s mind. Because Judas changed his mind, and not the Spirit of God, it signals a mere regret like what a thief might experience upon being caught.
While I do not claim fully to understand how we are to act when Christians with whom we have invested our very lives betray us, here are a few thoughts.
- Jesus, God in human flesh, was betrayed by those closest to him, just as God the Father has been betrayed by his own followers throughout history. Therefore, we can take comfort that we are not the only ones to experience betrayal.
- As exampled by Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, those who betray us are those, whom we have invested part of our lives, giving them a chance to move ahead, or perhaps even leading them to salvation and mentoring them in the faith. Therefore, their betrayal brings us much pain.
- As a Christian, we are to forgive those who betray us so that Satan does not use our unforgiveness as a spiritual weapon against us. Just as Jesus, in Luke 23:34, prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Christ expects us to forgive those who betray us.
- When the brother or sister that betrayed us, like Peter, shows true remorse and seeks our forgiveness, we must be joyful and restore the relationship with them, welcoming them back into our arms as the father welcomed his prodigal son.
- If we try to work the betrayal out with our brother or sister and they refuse, I believe Matthew 10:14 applies when Jesus said “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Yes, sometimes the other person, like Judas, even filled with remorse continues a spiral of self-destruction rather than a restored relationship.
I asked my oldest son Mark to reflect on the subject of Judas’ betrayal and to read an early rough draft of this blog. I think his words serve as a fitting conclusion to this devotion. He wrote,
“I have given this quite a bit of thought. I cannot begin to think on how Jesus would have reacted, because I cannot wrap my mind around him knowing but still allowing all the events to take place. However, given the demonstration of the cross, I would say his immediate reaction would be forgiveness, and that he must have felt heartbroken. I find solace in knowing that he is a God of forgiveness. Surely, we all have betrayed him at one point or another. Although forgiveness is offered, it does not mean it was accepted. For me the fate of Judas remains unclear.”
Prayer: Lord, I have done wrong and often wounded and betrayed you. I am sorry for betraying you. Please forgive me. I ask that you cleanse me from all that cause me to betray you. I ask that you empower me with your spirit that I never betray you again. Likewise Lord, I pray for those who have betrayed my trust in them. I ask that you convict them that they might desire to renew our relationship, as you have so lovingly done for me. Enable me to be gracious and forgiving when they ask it of me, and work with them to restore the relationship. Strengthen me to be able to go forward when those who betray me refuse my efforts to seek reconciliation, and give me courage and strength to shake the dust of the relationship from my shoes and move on to others in need of what you have gifted me to share. Amen.