Judas Iscariot’s One Betrayal and St. Peter’s Three Betrayals

This Lent, do what St. Peter did and be reconciled with the Lord

Gerard Seghers (1591–1651), “The Repentance of St Peter”
Gerard Seghers (1591–1651), “The Repentance of St Peter” (photo: Public Domain)

The name Judas Iscariot will always be synonymous with betrayal.

As the account of the beginning of this sequence of betrayal in Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand [Jesus] over to them. When they heard him, they were pleased, and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mark 14:10-11). Matthew’s Gospel provides us with the further detail that Judas asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15). Luke’s Gospel features the famous line “Then Satan entered into Judas…” (Luke 22:3).

When comparing the scant details included in the three Synoptic Gospels, we can see that Judas had made up his mind that he was going to do this. It is significant to recall that Jesus never somehow “forced” Judas Iscariot to betray him, and Satan was only able to enter into him based on his openness to that “possession,” if you will. God never causes us to sin: “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then, desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity, it gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).

As we now know, Judas did accomplish this most notorious of betrayals in the midst of the Last Supper, and we are left to ruminate on some of Christ’s perhaps most chilling words: “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24). In other words, what Judas Iscariot had chosen to do, and then did, was no sort of good thing. After the Last Supper, we see Jesus captured in the Garden of Gethsemane and then taken before the Sanhedrin in the darkness of night. Note what occurs next, because this is the crux of this tragic scenario: “Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They asked, ‘What is that to us? Look to it yourself.’ Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5). There is a great deal to unpack here, including that the religious authorities even openly admitted their awareness that Jesus was innocent (see verse 4), but suffice it to say that Judas expressed remorse… but did not subsequently return to the Lord to repent; instead, he opted to give into despair, following his one betrayal, albeit a monumental one.

Judas Iscariot had walked with the Lord for approximately three years, had seen his miracles, had attested to his moral authority and teachings, and had therefore essentially known who he was: God in the flesh. Yet, in the end, he chose mammon instead (see Matthew 6:24). If Judas Iscariot had sought the Lord with all his heart following his grave sin, his situation could have been far different: “Yet, when you seek the Lord, your God, from there, you shall indeed find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things shall have come upon you, you shall finally return to the Lord, your God, and listen to his voice. Since the Lord, your God, is a merciful God, he will not abandon or destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31); “When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me… and I will change your lot…” (Jeremiah 29:12-14).

While Judas’s fate was sealed, meanwhile, Peter was in the process of betraying Jesus not once, nor twice, but three times (see Luke 22:31-34 and Luke 22:54-65). After Peter betrayed Jesus on these three successive occasions, he was likewise deeply sorry for what he had done. Yet, he repented. As far as it is reasonable to discern, this was the last time that Peter professedly denied Jesus. After all, he went on to spend the next approximately three decades of his life enduring societal ostracization, material disenfranchisement, beatings, imprisonments, and ultimately, his own torturous passion, culminating with being crucified upside down on a cross, rather then ever denying his Lord and Savior again.

Lest we decline to recognize our own culpability, whenever we sin, we are, in a way, functioning as yet another Judas Iscariot in the world, because we are preferring something other than God’s lovely truth in that instance. However, let us not enter into despair, because this is what Satan wants: for us to mistakenly believe that our situation — stemming from whatever offense we have committed against the Lord — has catapulted us into hopelessness. Instead, during both Lent and beyond, choose instead what Peter did: to turn back to the Lord (see Luke 22:32) and away from sin, particularly by making regular recourse to the Sacrament of Penance. To provide some personal testimony, when I fell away from the practice of the faith early in my college years, it was through returning to the Sacrament of Penance that I once again experienced the profundity of the Lord’s love in my life. His merciful love brought me back to the spiritual comfort of the realization of God’s presence in my life, so to speak.

Jesus’ public ministry began with a call to repentance, and concluded with a call to repentance in the midst of handing over the leadership of the Disciples (those who follow) — thereafter, deemed Apostles (those who are sent forth) — to Simon Peter. As we prepare to conclude the Lenten season, and look forward to the joy of Easter, we must take a moment and fathom the depth of God’s merciful love, since he desires for us to make a daily commitment to turn back to him. Many dioceses have avidly endeavored to remind the faithful to embrace the Sacrament of Penance. For example, here in the Washington metropolitan area, the Archdiocese of Washington under Cardinal Donald Wuerl and neighboring Diocese of Arlington under Bishop Michael Burbidge have partnered in a perennial initiative called “The Light Is On [for You]: Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” Strive to reject sin, stand up if you have fallen, go to confession, and continue to live according to the Lord’s will, all with the fullness of your being. God always wants you back in his good graces. Saint Peter, pray for us!