We rightly recognize Judas as the arch-traitor. After walking and talking with the Son of God for three years, he betrayed his master and friend to the religious authorities for a fistful of money. Then he hanged himself. It is a tragic story of profound evil and subsequent despair. What we often jump over in the story is Judas’ repentance.
Yes, his repentance.
Consider Matthew’s description of what Judas did soon after Jesus was arrested.
Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt 27:3-4).
Sounds a lot like genuine repentance, doesn’t it?
- He felt bad about his sin (“he felt remorse”)
- He made restitution for his sin (“he…returned the thirty pieces of silver”)
- He openly confessed his sin truthfully and publicly (“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood”)
But Judas’ repentance wasn’t genuine, for he went and hanged himself in despair. What was he missing?
John Owen provides some insight on the missing element in Judas’ repentance.
One thing…wanting [in] this repentance of Judas—he had no faith of forgiveness in God; that he could not believe; and therefore, after all this sorrow, instead of coming to him, he bids him the utmost defiance, and goes away and hangs himself.Temptation and Sin
What was wrong with Judas’ response to his sin? Why did it fall short of saving repentance? Because it was not motivated by a certainty of pardon from God. He couldn’t believe that God would forgive him. But to not believe God will not forgive those who repent from their sin is to reject God’s kindness and goodness.
In fact, the very call to repentance demonstrates that God is ready and willing to forgive us. Note how the Lord’s speaks through Isaiah about repentance (forsaking wickedness) and forgiveness (pardon).
Let the wicked forsake his wayIsaiah 55:7
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
And Jesus connects repentance and forgiveness in the proclamation of the gospel.
Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.Luke 24:46-47
So, let us not stop short in our repentance with merely feeling bad about our sin or even confessing or making restitution for it. Saving repentance embraces, by faith, our complete forgiveness in Christ as a gracious gift from a loving heavenly Father.
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,Psalm 130:3-4, emphasis added
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared