Peter & Judas make for an interesting comparison. While we have quite a bit of information about Peter, we have only a few incidents involving Judas. But from those bits of information we can gather that Judas was opinionated (the perfume at Simon’s feast; doing what he could to make Jesus King of the Jews – both coincidentally in Matthew 26), and a leader (placed in charge of the groups finances).
And we are all familiar with Peter’s opinionated personality and group leadership.
However, the really interesting comparison of the two comes during the events during and after the Last Supper. Throughout the major story of the Last Supper, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is interwoven a sub-story involving Judas and Peter, and their final response to their actions. I’ll follow through Matthew 26
Jesus tells Judas that he will betray Him. (v. 20-25)
Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him. (v. 34)
Judas betrays Jesus. (v. 47-49)
Peter denies Jesus. (v. 69-74)
Peter realizes what he has done. (v. 75)
Peter’s reaction. (v. 75)
Judas realizes what he has done. (Matt. 27: 1)
Judas’ reaction. (Matt. 27:5)
So back and forth we have this comparison of Judas’ and Peter’s disavowal of Jesus, both going down essentially the same path. (I won’t here get into degrees of guilt: actively betraying Jesus vs denying association with Jesus; I think both actions have the same root.) In Peter’s case the result is repentance and reconciliation; in Judas’ case the result is despair and death.
My question is, could the results have been switched? Might Peter’s guilt been so overwhelming that he could not see any possibility of forgiveness; and the resulting despair culminating in his suicide? Could Judas have seen past his actions to Jesus’ forgiveness, and the resulting reconciliation?
I think the answer is both yes and no. Yes, Jesus would have been happy to forgive Judas; probably He was anxious to be able to save Judas. Yes, Peter could have been buried under such a load of despair that the only solution he could see was suicide.
But ultimately the answer, I think, is no. And the reason, in both cases, is because of the character development, the knowledge and understanding of Jesus and Who He was, the relationship they had each developed (or not developed) with Him, over the course of their three years with Jesus.
Judas was looking for an earthly king, one who would throw off Roman oppression, Roman occupation. Over the three years he never developed an understanding beyond that, and viewed Jesus as the leader of the revolt, making Judas a power behind the throne. And when reality struck, when he realized that he had betrayed the Son of God, there was nothing there to sustain him through his emotional and spiritual collapse.
Peter knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior to Whom the sacrifices pointed. He developed a relationship with the spiritual Savior, and knew Him as a Friend. Then, when Peter realized what he had done, that relationship was solid and tested, and he knew that despite what he had done Jesus was still his Friend, and he was able to get through that trial
The lesson for us is that we may do, may have done, terrible things. (Is there anything worse than spending three years with God, knowing Him in day-in and day-out situations, knowing that He really is God, and then denying it?) But despite that, our situation is not so hopeless, so horrible, that Jesus cannot forgive us and include us in His circle of close and trusted friends.