Was Judas Converted?

Here’s an incredible quote from John Nolland in his NIGTC commentary on Matthew regarding Judas’ suicide in 27:5.

The Christian tradition has been fiercely against suicide, and not without good reason. The present text has been a major impetus to the negative moral evaluation of suicide, and it may be responsible for some of the more regrettable features of the historic Christian abhorrence of suicide. But is Judas’s suicide presented in a totally negative light here? As responsible for Jesus’ death, Judas recognizes that he too should face death. But he cannot get the Jewish leaders to take his confession seriously. So as a desperate man he takes the law into his own hands and sees to the execution of the sentence on himself. There is a fitting correspondence between Jesus’ words in 26:24, ‘it would be better for him if that person had not been born’, and Judas’s termination of his own life: he had no hand in his birth, but he can take measures to ensure that the life that has caused such wrong continues no longer. Not strictly in the sense intended, but nonetheless in a profound sense, Judas is the first disciple to ‘lose his life for [Jesus’] sake’ (16:25).

When it is all put together, I think it is extremely difficult to deny the Matthean Judas genuine repentance. His change of heart cannot be judged as less authentic than that of Peter in 26:75; it is certainly much more dramatic in its practical effects, and it is spelt out in much greater detail by Matthew. Judas is not restored in life as are Peter and the other disciples, but, more than likely, Matthew fully expected him to be restored beyond life.

So Nolland concludes that Judas was more than likely converted. I agree that Judas appears to have had a change of heart after his betrayal of Christ. He acknowledged that he had “sinned” (v. 4). Further, nowhere in the Bible does it say that suicide is the unpardonable sin. All sin is forgivable for those who humbly repent and confess their sin before Christ. But…

I must disagree with Dr. Nolland that “more than likely, Matthew fully expected [Judas] to be restored beyond life.”

1. The Greek word translated “changed his mind” in v. 3 is metamelomai, and is not the typical word used for salvific repentance (i.e. metanoeo Matt. 3:2). It is used in 2 Corinthians 7:8 to describe the sadness the Corinthians have after receiving Paul’s letter and in Hebrews 7:21 regarding a change of mind, not sorrow for sin.

2. Further evidence that Judas’ repentance was not sincere is that he did not express his guilt to the offended party (Jesus) or even his followers, but to those who did not think he was guilty in the first place. Jesus said that true repentance will bring forth fruit (Luke 3:8; 6:43-45).

3. Simon the Sorcerer’s case is very similar. Simon used evangelistic terminology (Acts 8:13) but the following words of the apostle and actions of Simon betray his earlier confession. In the same way, Judas’ subsequent suicide, along with the apostles words of condemnation (Acts 1:18-20) indicate he was in fact unconverted.

4. Jesus promised to pray for his people (John 17:9), which he certainly did with Peter when Satan was seeking to destroy him (Luke 22:31-32), but we have no evidence that Jesus prayed for Judas in this way when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3).

5. To lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake (Matt. 16:25) does not mean merely “to die” but rather to pursue Christ so zealously that your life is unimportant.

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