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How do you respond to John 13:18–19; 17:12?

“I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he.’” Jesus prays to the Father, “I guard them [my disciples] and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

This verse reveals that by the time Jesus made this statement Judas was “destined to be lost.” But neither this nor any other verse states when Judas became “destined” to be lost. I see no reason to think it was prior to the time when Judas, of his own free volition, irrevocably resolved it in his heart to turn against God. Scripture teaches us that there is a point when God sees that it is useless to strive with people any longer. He thus withdraws his Spirit from these people, hardens their heart, and determines their destiny (e.g. Gen. 6:3; Rom. 1:24–27). When this occurs the only remaining question is how God can strategically use the wickedness of these people to further his divine plans.

By virtue of his own wickedness Judas had apparently put himself in this position. The fact that Judas’ betrayal fulfilled scripture does not mean that he was the one who had to fulfill scripture.

In fact, it doesn’t seen that anyone had to betray Jesus to “fulfill” Scripture. The passage that Judas “fulfills” is Psalm 41:9, in which David complains that a “close friend” who “shared my bread” has “lifted up his heel against me.” There is clearly nothing predictive about this passage. If no one had betrayed Jesus, no one would be sitting around wondering why Psalm 41:9 wasn’t “fulfilled.” Consider that in the previous sentence David complained that people were saying he was going to die from a “vile disease” (41:8). People never said this about Jesus, yet no one worries that Psalm 41:8 wasn’t “fulfilled.”

When Jesus (or a Gospel author) says that an event “fulfills” an Old Testament passage, they don’t necessarily mean that the event was predicted by the Old Testament and that the event had to occur. What they often mean is simply that the event illustrates in a superlative way a principle found in the Old Testament passage. The event didn’t have to occur, but once it occurs, or once it becomes certain to occur, it takes on retroactive significance by being interpreted through the lens of an Old Testament passage. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus thus “fulfills” Psalm 41:9 in the sense that it is the supreme illustration of a betrayal of God’s servant. As a friend betrayed David, so Judas betrayed the Son of David.

This use of the term “fulfilled” may sound odd to modern western people, but it would not have sounded odd to first century Jews. It was a form of Bible interpretation called “midrash” that helped Jews interpret current events in light of Scripture.

Related Reading

Did God Predestine Judas to Betray Jesus? (podcast)

Greg talks about the role Judas played in the crucifixion of Jesus and speculates about his potential for good.  Episode 516 http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0516.mp3

Podcast: Can God Be Surprised?

Greg talks heaven and hell in this solid little episode. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0394.mp3

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