Should Judas have been forgiven?
Recently a member of one of our congregations showed me an article claiming that Judas Iscariot has had a "Bad Press". Surely, it asked, if Peter was forgiven by our Lord shouldn't Judas have been? A clergyperson and a diocesan Bishop are quoted in support of this idea. The article, based upon a document known as "The Gospel of Judas", made me consider again the whole matter of forgiveness.
The so called "Gospel of Judas" was written about 250 AD and never circulated widely. Similar apocraphal Gospels are the basis for Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code".
The article shows a very common misunderstanding of what forgiveness is. God is a Holy God. He is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity". Forgiveness is a very costly matter; it is far more than just "overlooking" wrong. God never says sin does not matter - if He did, He would have no basis for judgement and no reason to condemn a Hitler.
The article goes on to suggest that Jesus forgave those who were crucifying Him so why not Judas? However, in fact, Jesus did not forgive those who crucified Him.
He prayed for them to be forgiven which is quite different - that is in line with His teaching, to pray for our enemies and would have required their repentance for the prayer to be answered.
Throughout the Bible, God's forgiveness is shown to be very costly, dependent upon repentance on the part of the sinner, and then only on the basis of sacrifice. In the Old Testamnet this was seen symbolically in the sacrificial system within the Temple worship.
Under the New Covenant, instituted by Jesus, we know that it is the even more costly sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, that enables a repentant sinner to approach God and receive his forgiveness. The Apostle Peter makes the extraordinary statement that "God made Jesus to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him".
Yes, the Gospel proclaims that forgiveness is free, but it is not without cost - the cost of the sacrifice of God's own Son upon the cross. The freedom is available to us, only because the cost has been paid by none other than the Son of God!
Such is the love of God!
As far as Judas is concerned, we must not confuse feeling guilty with repentance. Guilt may well lead to repentance and gloriously often does - but not always and it is quite possible to die in our guilt without being forgiven.
After Peter's denial he "went out and wept bitterly". He know his guilt but was truly repentant.
There is no record of Judas repenting - only feeling sorry for himself and committing suicide.
That is not repentance so, sadly, he died unforgiven, and like all unrepentant sinners, must now face the judgement of a Holy God.