He is wrapped in an enigma. For thousands of years theologians have wondered how Judas could betray his friend and teacher for the price of a slave. The depth of evil is thankfully unfathomable to most of us, and the why’s and wherefore’s of Judas’ betrayal we may never understand. But think of the length to which Jesus went to save Judas from himself. Time and again Jesus both encouraged and warned Judas.
Along with the other apostles Judas received power and authority over demons and he cured diseases (Luke 9:1-2). Miracles were performed at his hands!
Jesus washed Judas’ feet as an example of humility and service at the Lord’s Last Supper (John 13:4-5).
Jesus warned him clearly about the direction he was going (“Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" as in John 6:70, and Matt 26:24, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.").
Jesus gave indirect warnings through many of his parables (the Parable of the Unjust Steward, the Parable of the True Vine, the Prodigal Son).
There were even gentle reprimands, such as in the loving anointing by Mary of Bethany, when Judas objected to what he perceived as waste ("Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always." -- John 12:7-8).
To the very end, Jesus reached out to Judas, offering him friendship and compassion. When Judas betrayed him with the most famous kiss in history, Jesus greeted him with the greeting, of “friend”. (Matthew 26:50)
Jesus never stopped reaching out to Judas, but for reasons beyond our ken, Judas refused to reach back. In fact, when he realized the error of his ways, he turned to the chief priests for absolution instead of the only One who could truly forgive him (“I have betrayed innocent blood” – Matthew 27:5).
We don’t know if Judas ever saw the big picture during his time with Jesus. We are told that it would have been better had he never been born, and that’s a frightful thing to contemplate. But it should be a comfort to us that Jesus never stopped reaching out to Judas, and regardless of the turns our lives might take, he will never stop reaching out to us. All we have to do is accept his forgiveness and turn our ways back to him no matter the crime. I am convinced Jesus would have accepted Judas back, even as he accepted back the other disciples, though they all fled and denied him. No sin is too great for his mercy. That’s the message of hope in the story of Judas.