A few months ago, while we finished our study of the four Gospels in the Come, Follow Me lessons for the New Testament I had the thought, “what is the difference between Peter’s denial of Christ and the betrayal by Judas that led to the arrest of Jesus?” Is Judas synonymous with betrayal because his actions ultimately led to the crucifixion of Jesus or was there something more I was missing? I do not claim to be a gospel scholar or scriptorian. These are simply my thoughts as I pondered the difference between these two men and why one is honored and one is sullied.
First of all, let’s look at the words themselves. We usually say Peter “denied knowing” Christ. A quick look at the online dictionary for the word deny and a few definitions pull up including to “disavow somebody.” Or in other words, to refuse to acknowledge somebody. Which is what Peter did and it is recorded in all four gospels although the exact detail varies. It’s pretty certain that Peter denied knowing Jesus when the situation became uncomfortable for him. But his actions were not a surprise, at least not to Jesus. While instituting the sacrament, Jesus warned Peter of the fisherman’s future actions. He also told him, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Perhaps, this may have been an important factor after the events of the night played out and Peter regretted his actions. I like to think it may have helped Peter have the courage to continue on.
Now let’s look at Judas’ betrayal. According to the online dictionary, betray means to “surrender somebody or something treacherously” or to deliver somebody to an enemy. While the time line of events do not match precisely in the four gospels we know Judas left the company of the other apostles and Jesus sometime during the Passover meal. According to the account in John, he left after Jesus had washed the apostles’ feet (including Judas’ feet) and dinner but before the teaching on the Holy Ghost and the institution of the sacrament. This means he missed out on a lot of good stuff including the Intercessory Prayer in John 17. In short, he missed out on a prayer for his behalf. His actions were not a surprise to Jesus either as Jesus prophesied what was about to happen. Even so, I think it is a significant lesson on love that Jesus still washed this apostle’s feet along with the other apostles.
This brings us back to the original question, what is the difference between these two men? Some will say it is because the actions of Judas led to Christ’s crucifixion. I guess in a way that is true but Jesus said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18). Jesus had to submit to death. It was part of the plan. The plan for us. He experienced mortality and the basest death for us. However, at an earlier time Jesus warned, “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7). We can assume by this verse alone Judas is suffering a woe for his offence. But why just Judas and not Peter?
Both men had the same authority and calling as an Apostle before that fateful Passover night. Both had heard Jesus teach, saw miracles perform, served missions and as such, I assume bore testimony of Jesus, and most important, Jesus considered both of them a friend. Simply put, both men had the same chance.
Without having a complete record of all their doings the only thing I can find different about these two men are their actions after the fact. While pondering this question I asked Google to find an answer. Based on the hits found for me, I am not alone in this thought as others have come to a similar conclusion.
When Judas regretted his actions he went to the chief priests and elders and said, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). As we all know, it is difficult to rectify a mistake after the fact when other people and elements are involved. His plea did not work and the events he started were an unstoppable train bearing down the tracks. There is no mention of any prayer or an attempt to speak to Jesus personally. Instead, he threw down his payment and “went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). From the skimpy record we see no true repentance process attempted. All that time with Jesus and this man missed the point entirely. He did not follow the rules he may have spent time testifying about as a missionary. In short, he gave up and did not utilize the Atonement of Christ. That may have been the greatest sting in all his actions. He did not turn to Jesus but tried to fix the problem on his own. Definitely a woe for this man on so many levels.
When Peter regretted his actions he wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). While this record is also a bit bare we know that he joined the other apostles and disciples. He was with the others when the resurrected Christ appeared to them on more than one occasion. Including the time at the sea of Tiberias where Jesus instructs him to “Feed my sheep” three times (John 21:15-17). Peter also gets to declare his love for the Savior a significant three times perhaps to atone for his three time denial. In other words, the time spent with Jesus was not wasted on him. Peter utilized the Atonement of Christ, repented, and became a powerful leader for the early church. It was under his direction the church grew and included teaching to the Gentiles.
As it was with Judas and Peter so it is with each of us. Judas serves as a warning to us while Peter can instruct us in the right way. We will make mistakes and errors because that’s what we do. We mess up and then we can fix it or not. There is a plan in place for each of us to get back on track and to become better versions of ourselves. The groundwork is already laid we just need to not give up.