What If Judas Decided to Not Betray Jesus?

Holy Week brings a number of thoughts to the mind. Among them are the various what if scenarios. This past Sunday, Pastor Bryan gave an amazing and forever-memorable monologue from Judas’ perspective. Instantly we find Judas back at the table at the Upper Room, shortly after Jesus is beaten and sentenced to be crucified. We see a bewildered Judas, guilt-ridden, and reteling the accounts from his mind. You can watch/listen to it here.

It’s in these moments that we are reminded the Scriptures can come to life if we would let them. Personally, I love how the same story can bring various angles to a brilliant, deep truth. I love how the Holy Spirit illuminates, I love how the Word invites me to imagine, to consider, to press, and hopefully grows and stretches me as I live my faith and follow Jesus.

And so I find myself wondering, “What if Judas decided to not betray Jesus? I consider a few “what if” scenarios:

The first speculation is the exact opposite of what happened, “What if Judas was heroic?” What if he sensed the nearing danger and acted to protect Jesus? What if Judas intentionally misled the high priests and told them that Jesus would be at a different location? Having led them far away from the Upper Room, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is answered, the cup has passed over him, his time had not come – there are more hours.

I picture the guards finding a disguised Judas impersonating Jesus. Upon discovery, Judas dramatically proclaims, “Jesus the Lord is not here! Take me instead.” They arrest him, question him, flog him, and maybe even execute him. The priests, and now the Jerusalem council, have been betrayed, Pilates hands remain clean of this and Jesus has slipped away again. And today we are talking about John the Baptist preparing the way and Judas guarding the way.

Then I consider the scenario where Peter betrays Jesus the following Passover. Does Peter become the name we despise and Judas becomes an endearing, responsible disciple of Scripture?  Church treasurers are honored by calling them “Judas – The Lord’s most faithful steward!” I think of the dear people in my life that are named Peter. In this scenario, they are virtually guaranteed being given different names.

What if John betrays Jesus and Judas is the one writing that fourth gospel? My mind winces with that thought, unlearning who John is and replacing it with this thought? I feel a headache looming.

Finally, what if no one betrays Jesus and the Scriptures are fulfilled in a different way? Maybe Jesus turns himself in … the following year … or ten years from then.What if Jesus turns 60, and then is arrested and crucified? There is quite a bit that bothers me in that scenario, but if Jesus truly is divine, I would not mind 27 more years of His teaching, signs and wonders. Who knows we might end up with 12 gospels, a longer New Testament, more extra-biblical historical accounts of this first-fentury Jewish rabbi.

I could go on for quite a while, maybe you could do too but at some point we must ask, “Is there anything to be gained by such an exercise? I find myself asking both trivial questions, important ones, and discovering that some trivial ones are actually important.

When I consider what if Jesus dies of old age instead of crucifixion, I’m faced with a Christian theology that no longer functions. Therefore, we must unpack why Jesus needed to die. Why then did He need to be raised from the grave and defeat death and why must we consider the relationships between sin, evil and death and forgiveness, life and salvation? These are the meditations of Holy Week that a single blog post cannot do justice to but let us return to our what if scenarios of Judas.

As much as I would like to disdain Judas, he is not the central problem, my sin is. Jesus’ dying for my sins and all of humanities’ is due to the likes of Judas, me and you. The problem is shared. Had Judas not betrayed Jesus, the solution to death and sin would still need to be solved and Jesus was committed to doing this through love and life. This of course, endears us to Jesus the more.

In my love for Jesus, I hate that he was betrayed by someone near him, yet I recognize the real problem is me. In my preoccupation of Judas, I am invited to see Jesus’ resolve a little sharper, I understand why the prayers in Gethsemane a little more and I may even be able to read into the moment of Jesus giving the bread to Judas a little better now – Jesus might as well gave me the bread.

It’s in considering these various “What if?” scenarios that I can look deeper into my own brokenness, to see more of our shared flawed humanity and then, I get to see an even more loving Jesus. These Scriptures are beautiful and rich, may we always be faithful with what they can show us.

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