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A thought provoking question was recently raised in a friend’s Sunday School class.  The question “Did Judas go to heaven or hell?” provoked multiple viewpoints, so she contacted us for our thoughts.  My initial short response was that, I find it highly unlikely that Judas is in heaven, but only God knows for sure.  After giving it some thought and searching the related scriptures, I decided to write this article (April 2013).

We could first ask the general question, can we actually be certain of another person’s eternal destination?  We know with absolute assurance that all persons will be judged by God (Eccl 12:14, Ezek 24:14, Mt 13:41-42, Mt 25:46, Rom 2:16, 2Tim 4:1, Rev 20:11-15) and that His verdict will be fair and just (Gen 18:25, Dt 32:, Ac 17:31, 2Chr 19:7, Rom 3:5-6) and final (Lk 16:26), but can we know that verdict for another person?  The Scriptures tell us that only God can truly know the heart (Lk 16:15), but we can know blatantly false Christians by their actions (Mt 7:20, Titus 1:16).  The Bible however, also speaks of a more difficult case, that of those who are difficult to distinguish from true Christians (Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares in Mt 13:24-28).  This leads us to conclude that we can be reasonably certain of the eternal destination for some, but not so much for others.

Turning now to the particular case of Judas, we begin with a brief look at some of the common arguments we hear from both sides of the discussion.

Common Arguments

Some Arguments against Judas going to heaven:

Many claim Judas went to hell because Jesus called him a devil (Jn 6:70-71).  While this provides undeniable insight into Judas’ character, it appears to fall short of guaranteed eternal condemnation.  Jesus also directed a comparable rebuke to Peter (Mt 16:23, Mk 8:33), using the same expression that He directed at Satan during the desert temptations.

Similarly, we are told that prior to the betrayal, Satan “entered” (Gk eiserchomai) Judas (Lk 22:3).  This is also offered as “proof” that Judas was doomed since Satan or his demons can’t possess a true believer (1Jn 4:4).  The Greek verb can be used for a literal entry, or figuratively to mean “taking control of, usually for a special purpose”.  We do know that Judas yielded to satanic influence that allowed Satan to take control of him for the specific purpose of betraying Jesus.  Regardless, we have several instances from Scripture of demon-possessed people who later became followers of Jesus, such as Mary Magdalene (Lk 8, Mk 16:9).

Others allege that Judas is in hell because he betrayed Jesus, or because he took his own life.  These actions will certainly contribute to our discussion, but in and of themselves, are not unforgivable sins.  Undoubtedly, there are many who have committed suicide or betrayed Jesus in various ways that are in heaven today.

Some Arguments for Judas going to heaven:

Turning to the Judas apologist side, the most common arguments for Judas going to heaven generally take two forms.  The first insists that Judas can’t be held accountable for his actions because he was merely carrying out God’s sovereign plan.  This false assumption that God’s sovereignty relieves a person of responsibility is easily refuted since the Bible is clear that the providence of God cannot be used as an excuse for any sin.  Although God allows evil to temporarily exist in the world, He is never the cause of sin (Ja 1:13-15).  Jesus Himself specifically addressed Judas’ prophetical fulfillment of God’s plan (Ps 41:9) as quoted by the apostles John and Matthew, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the son of destruction [Judas] so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (Jn 17:12)  “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.  But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!  It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Mt 24:26)   The Greek word that John uses (apoleia) carries the meanings of loss, perishing, damned, and eternal ruin.

Judas was not an innocent man who possessed the courage to carry out God’s will even though he knew it would be unpopular, to sacrifice himself so that Jesus could die for the good of all mankind (yes, a few have actually suggested this).  Judas is continually portrayed by the scripture writers as a traitor and betrayer of Jesus.  The Apostle John also wrote that he was a thief who helped himself to the disciples’ money bag that contained contributions for their expenses and for aiding the poor and needy (Jn 12:6).

The second and more conceivable argument comes from those who contend that Judas repented of his sins prior to killing himself.  This contention is based upon Judas’ encounter with the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 27.

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed.  So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.  (Mt 27:1-5)

This second argument actually gets to the heart of the matter.  It’s obvious that Judas was a person of ill repute who was guilty of heinous crimes, but each stopped short of being unforgivable.  So the key question of whether he is in heaven or hell today really comes down to one key question, “Did Judas truly repent unto salvation?”

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Key Question

Did Judas truly Repent unto Salvation?

Our salvation begins when we are redeemed (Christ substitutionally paying the penalty for our sins) and justified (God judicially declaring us not guilty).  We also acknowledge that justification is Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Solus Christus; that is to say, we are justified by the grace of God alone through faith alone and on the basis of the work of Christ alone as our mediator before God the Father.  Scripture is also clear that, unless we repent, we will perish (Lk 13:1-5, 2Pe 3:9).  Thus, repentance must be a part of, or at least accompany saving faith.  The terms are inseparable since one can’t repent without faith, and belief can’t reach the level of saving faith without repentance.

In tackling the question of whether or not Judas repented, we must first understand the meaning of true repentance.  Repentance is not merely feeling guilty for what we’ve done, or regretting our actions due their resulting consequences.  True repentance that leads to salvation will certainly include a feeling of remorse, but will also contain a real sense our own guilt (Ps 51) and a loathing of our sin (Ps 119:128).  This godly sorrow and our helplessness will drive us to seek God’s mercy and help (Ps 109:21-22; 130:4) to willfully turn from our sins and persistently seek to live a holy life (Mt 3:8, Ac 26:20).

In the NT, there are three Greek words used to signify repentance.

The verb metanoeo, along with its cognate noun metanoia, are always used to denote true repentance.  It derives from the roots meta (preposition indicating an after-effect or change) and noieo (to think, consider or understand).  Thus, metanoeo means to change one’s mind, will and purpose as a result of considering and gaining knowledge and understanding of something or someone.

In the NT, metanoeo is used to express the spiritual change in a person who responds to God’s grace after changing his or her mind about sin.  Both John the Baptist (Mt 3:2) and Jesus (Mt 4:17) employ the term urging the people to repent because the kingdom of heaven is coming.  Likewise, Peter implores listeners to repent and turn to God for forgiveness of sins during his sermon at the temple (Ac 3:19).  It is used by the resurrected Jesus to proclaim salvation offered to all nations (Lk 24:47) and as a warning in the churches (Rev 2:5:16).  In all, metanoeo is used several dozens of times in various contexts (faith, blessings, spiritual transformation, baptism, bearing fruit etc), but it is not used in relationship to Judas.

Returning to Mt 27:3 in which we read, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse…”, the verb behind “filled with remorse” is not metanoeo, but metamelomai.  In this verse, it is translated as “remorse” in the NIV, NLT, AMP, NASB, NKJV, HCSB and Message, as “repented” in the KJV and NRSV, “changed his mind” in the ESV, “sorry” in the CEV, and as “regretted” in the NET and ISV.  The verb metamelomai also derives from the root meta, but the second part comes from the root melo, which means to care or regret afterward.  While metamelomai can be used in association with true repentance, it is primarily employed to signify being concerned and expressing emotional regret or remorse, often due to the circumstances of one’s actions.  While these are necessary elements of repentance, they often stop short of true repentance that leads to salvation.  It may express a change of mind, but not necessarily a change of heart and abandonment of sin.

Paul illustrates the difference between the two Greek terms in one of his letters to the Corinthian church.  In expressing his joy over the church’s repentance, the apostle writes:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it [metamelomai]. Though I did regret it [metamelomai]—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance [metanoeo].  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance [metanoeo] that leads to salvation and leaves no regret {ametameleton – negative participle derivative of metamelomia], but worldly sorrow brings death. (2Cor 7:8-10)

Once again, we see metanoeo used for true repentance and various forms of metamelomai for mere regret and sorrow.  Paul’s statement that he was happy not because the Corinthians were made sorry, but because their sorrow led to repentance strongly implies that not all sorrow leads to repentance.  He then leaves no doubt by contrasting between “godly sorrow” that leads to salvation and “worldly sorrow” that leads to death.

The latter appears to be the case for Judas.  In Mt 27:3, he exhibited remorse, even acknowledging that he had sinned (v4), but only after he saw Jesus condemned, implying that he regretted the circumstances of his actions.  He also doesn’t seem to exhibit any peace or change in lifestyle that follows receiving the grace of God.

Furthermore, Pharoah (Ex 9:27), Balaam (Nu 22:34) and King Saul (1Sa 15:24, 26:21) all emotionally uttered the words “I have sinned”, yet none displayed any evidence of repentance.

Moving ahead almost two months from Judas’ death in Matthew 27, Jesus has now been crucified, buried, resurrected, and has ascended back into heaven.  As recorded in Acts 1:12-26, the remaining apostles, along with the women, Jesus’ mother Mary, and Jesus’ brothers are in the upper room in Jerusalem.  Peter proposes that a replacement for Judas be chosen based upon Psalm 109:8 (“may another take his [Judas] place of leadership”).  The group then prayed and Matthias was chosen by lot.

Within this narrative is a couple of verses which can weigh heavily on our subject discussion.  Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” (Ac 1:24-25)

The Greek verb for “left” (NIV, HCSB, ISV, NET) is parabaino, and is also translated as “turned aside” (ESV, NASB), “deserted” (NLT), and “by transgression fell” (KJV).  Elsewhere, the verb insinuates a deliberate decision to break an established rule, to overstep a known boundary, or to violate or abandon a trust.

There’s been some debate over the statement that Judas went to “where he belongs” (or “to his own place” in other translations).  The Greek word for place (topos) can signify heaven, hell, or any other locality or area.  The framework of the surrounding text however, leaves little doubt that Luke, who rarely mentions hell or eternal punishment by name in the book of Acts, acknowledges that Judas went to hell.

Indeed, this is the consensus among most Bible scholars throughout history.  We now offer a sampling from a few pastors and commentators.

Sermon and Commentary excerpts:

In offering these comments, we acknowledge that Holy Scripture is the ultimate authority (God exercising His authority thru His Word) by which all commentaries, sermons and other works are to be evaluated.  Still it is very beneficial to consider the conclusions of scholarly and godly men who have prayed, struggled, and engaged the Holy Spirit over the same questions that we face today.

We begin with an excerpt from a sermon on God’s providence and Judas’ responsibility.

From a ministry and apostleship Judas fell, that he might go to his own place." (Ac 1:25)  The ministry and apostleship were that to which God had destined him, to work out the destiny appointed to him, as truly as to any of the other apostles.  He was called…but when he refused to execute that mission, the very circumstances which, by God's decree, were leading him to blessedness, hurried him to ruin.  Circumstances prepared by eternal love became the destiny which conducted him to everlasting doom.  He was a predestined man—crushed by his fate.  But he went to his own place. He had shaped his own destiny.  Failure—the wreck of life, is not to be impiously traced to the will of God.  -- English Pastor FW Robertson (1816-1853)

From Matthew Henry (1662-1714), the great devotional commentator, on Judas’ remorse in Mt 27:

Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all.  In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person.  This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened.  Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair… Judas went far toward repentance, yet it was not to salvation.  He confessed, but not to God; he did not go to him, and say, I have sinned, Father, against heaven.  Let none be satisfied with such partial convictions as a man may have, and yet remain full of pride, enmity, and rebellion.  -- Matthew Henry Commentary

Matthew Poole (1624-1679), the scholarly English theologian and a favorite of Charles Spurgeon agrees.

All repentance is not saving, nor does all confession of sin obtain remission.  Judas here repents and confesses specifically that he had sinned by betraying an innocent person.  Yet he finds no mercy, he hasn’t a heart to beg forgiveness, nor to apply himself to Christ for remedy. -- Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible (language modernized)

Scottish church leader Thomas Boston (1676-1732):

Tragically, Judas hanged himself (Mt 27:3).  His ultimate destiny in eternal punishment is hardly open to dispute.  He was described as a “son of perdition” (Jn 17:12).  The “son of” idiom conveys the idea of experiencing a destiny consistent with one’s character (see also 2Th 2:3).  Luke says that Judas “fell away” from his ministry and apostleship and went to “his own place,” ie, the place he prepared for himself and deserved to be—hell (Ac 1:25).  -- How We Ought to Think about God's Providence (Bible Illustrator 1887)

Actually, the “son of” Hebrew idiom is often used to denote someone possessing the characteristics of the genitive noun (eg sons of light, sons of darkness, sons of righteousness, sons of peace etc).  It was only after the discovery of the many biblical and extra-biblical documents at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), that we realized just how extensive these idioms were used.

Finally, we include these contemporary comments from John MacArthur.

Though some have tried to attribute noble motives to Judas (ie, by arguing that he was a misguided patriot, trying to prod Christ into ushering in His kingdom), the New Testament portrays him as nothing but a greedy thief and a murderous traitor—even a Devil (Jn 6:70-71; cf 13:2,27).  Judas is the greatest example of missed opportunity in history.  He lived day in and day out with Jesus Christ, God incarnate, for three years.  Yet in the end Judas rejected Him, betrayed Him, was overcome by guilt (but not genuine repentance), committed suicide, and went "to his own place" (Acts 1:25)—that is, hell (John 17:12) in its most potent form.  -- MacArthur New Testament Commentary – John 12-21; 2008.

Personal Opinion

As stated, my initial thought was that only the triune God absolutely knows the current eternal location of Judas (with the possible exception of angels, saints in heaven, and maybe even those in the realm of the dead).  For those of us among the living on earth, we cannot be 100 percent certain, but I have little doubt that Judas is in hell (not that we should rejoice over that).  It is God’s desired will that all should come to salvation (2Pe 3:9), but God’s holiness will not allow the un-repentant into heaven.

After examining the biblical evidence, I’d like to add a personal opinion.  All four of the gospel writers depict Judas as a traitor or betrayer (Mt 10:42 26:14-16, Mk 3:19, Lk 6:16, Jn 6:71, 13:2).  Yet, not one Gospel or any of the NT epistles, all of which were written after all the events were completed, explicitly mentions that Judas ever truly repented unto salvation.

I realize that this is an argument from silence, but I find it unthinkable that the NT writers would have remained silent had Judas truly repented.  What better example could have been given for the magnitude and depth of the grace of God?  Here was a man who had committed possibly the most infamous sin in the history of mankind, yet it would not have been beyond the grace of God had he repented.  What a testimony it would have been to anyone who thinks that they are beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy.  Surely, a true repentance by Judas would have warranted more than one ambiguous mention of his regret that resulted in his death instead of leading him to peace and restoration (Mt 27:3-4).

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What about Us?

We shouldn’t bring this article to a close without posing one more question, a question even more important for us than the central one involving Judas that we’ve considered throughout.  It is one of the most critical questions that each of us need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to heaven or to hell?”

In a sense, we are just as guilty as Judas in sending Christ to the cross.  It was our sins that necessitated Jesus leaving the comforts of heaven to die in our place so that we could spend eternity in heaven (Php 2:6-8, Gal 4:4-5, 2Cor 5:17-21).  The only thing that separates the destination of true believers and the likely destination of Judas is that we have received the grace of God.

If anyone cannot answer this question for certain, we invite you to read How to be Sure You’re Going to Heaven.  God Bless.

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