Jesus didn’t just preach on enemy love, he demonstrated it for us. Looking out at those who accused and murdered him, he cried out from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Just imagine putting an innocent man in an electric chair and him saying that to all of his accusers as they watch him die. That’s exactly what Jesus did.
But his enemy love becomes even more personal when we take a look at the story of his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. He decided that it would be worth it to turn the Savior of the World over to the authorities in exchange for money and therefore, the Bible writers didn’t speak well of him in memory.
For example, towards the beginning of the Gospel of John, the writer feels the need to call Judas out on what he would do many chapters later. After Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil,” John decides to interrupt the narrative flow and call Judas out without even giving a spoiler alert: “He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him (Jn 6:70-71).”
And then there’s the hindsight that John includes a few chapters later when writing about Judas: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it (Jn 12:4-6).” Not only does John feel like he needs to remind you a second time of what Judas would do down the road, but he also includes the fact that Judas was a thief—something he probably didn’t know at the time, because why would you make an embezzler the treasurer? It’s a retrospect moment that John feels is necessary to interject.
Furthermore, we can see the dislike of Judas in the fact that his death gets amplified over time. The Gospel of Matthew gives him a little bit of credit and says that after he traded Jesus in for money, he felt guilty about it and tried to give the money back. When the spiritual leaders wouldn’t take the money, he threw it on the ground and went and hung himself (Mt 27:3-10). But when this story is retold in Acts, it gets a little more gruesome. According to this account, Judas went and bought a field with the money and one day fell headlong and “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Ac 1:18-19). That’s a scene straight out of a zombie apocalypse movie right there.
Which legend of how Judas died are we supposed to go with? I don’t know. But it does go to demonstrate the Bible writers’ great disdain for Judas.
So then where’s the enemy love in the story of Judas? It’s in Jesus. Despite the fact that the writers seemed very vocal of their anger towards Judas, their account of Jesus still somehow appears very kind towards him, which is perhaps a miracle in and of itself. As we just saw, according to John, Jesus knew Judas would betray him all the way back in chapter six, yet he still kept him around in his ministry. In fact, he even made Judas the treasurer, despite the fact that he probably knew Judas was embezzling funds.
Later, just before Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus mentions that one of them is not (metaphorically) clean, referring to Judas (Jn 13:10-11). Can you imagine what that must have been like for Judas as Jesus made his way down the line to wash his feet? There’s no implication that he skipped over him. The tension between the two must have been palpable.
It’s almost as though Jesus is saying, “I know what you’re about to do. I know that you value money more than me. I know that you’re going to tell my enemies where I’m at. I know that those enemies are going to brutally murder me. I know that this part of the story will forever be linked back to you. I’ve carried this knowledge for a long time, but take off your sandals because I am here to serve you too. I am here to do the dirty work of washing your feet.”
And in case that’s not enough, there’s also no implication that Judas wasn’t offered communion at the Last Supper along with everyone else. I suppose you could argue that he didn’t eat it, though Jesus implied he did when he quoted the prophecy, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (Jn 13:18).
Again, you can feel the tension in the room. There’s Jesus’ hand, holding the bread out for him to grab. “I know what you’re about to do. Here is my body, about to be broken because of you, and yet, still broken for you.” And since the Bible possibly implies that Jesus handed the bread directly to Judas (Jn 13:26), we have to be a little curious about how close Judas was sitting to him. Apparently he wasn’t keeping his distance because you could sit pretty far away from someone when you’re trying to fit thirteen people around a table. Was it possible that maybe he was even sitting on the left of him? That was considered a seat of honor.
Again, given John’s outbursts of dislike of Judas throughout his Gospel, I expect him to write something more along the lines of, “Jesus washed all of their feet (except for Judas because he was going to betray him),” or, “Jesus gave Judas a holy death stare as he handed him communion.” But instead, John seems to stay faithful to Jesus’ actual reactions as they seem to surprisingly lack the same bias towards Judas that John had.
That is the incredible enemy love of Jesus.
This is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus, available on paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.