Everyone sins, but what we do afterward is vitally important. Consider what these first-century men continue to teach us today about sin and repentance.
We don’t often stop to think about it, but Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter had a lot in common. Both lived in the first century, both were included among the original 12 apostles selected by Jesus, and both failed their Lord and Master.
But after being unfaithful to the One to whom they had committed their lives, their responses were quite different. A careful examination of their actions provides timeless instruction about how God would like for us to respond after we sin.
Judas was the son of a man named Simon Iscariot (John 6:71). “Judas was, as his second name indicates, a native of Kerioth or Karioth” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, article “Judas Iscariot”).
The first reference to Judas by name is when he was selected by Jesus to be an apostle (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). The next set of references lay the groundwork for what he is most remembered for—his betrayal of Jesus.
Background to Judas’ betrayal
While all four of the Gospels record the betrayal, only the Gospel of John provides us with insight into Judas’ thinking prior to this event.
As we consider what Judas did, we need to keep in mind that God’s plan from the foundation of the world was for Jesus to be crucified for the sins of mankind (Revelation 13:8) and that Satan was prophesied to be involved (Genesis 3:15). The biblical record shows that Satan undoubtedly influenced Judas (Luke 22:3).
But there was also a preliminary incident that showed Judas had already yielded to ungodly thinking and activity. Just six days before Jesus’ final Passover and crucifixion, Jesus came to Bethany and enjoyed a dinner with His friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Lazarus was at the table with Jesus, and Martha served the meal (John 12:1-2).
“Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair” (verse 3). Judas Iscariot said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (verse 5).
John then explains Judas’ motivation: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (verse 6).
Prior to Satan’s entering Judas, Judas had thus already rejected Jesus’ teaching against greed and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:20; Luke 12:1-3) and was regularly breaking the commandments against stealing and coveting (Exodus 20:15, 17). Sadly, sin tends to compound. When we commit one sin, it often leads to others.
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus
Perhaps it was a combination of Judas’ greed and Satan’s influence that led Judas to betray Jesus. Judas went to the chief priests and, for 30 pieces of silver, agreed to identify Jesus so He could be arrested away from the crowds (Matthew 26:14-15; Luke 22:3-6).
Leaving Jesus and the other disciples on the evening of Jesus’ final Passover, Judas finalized the details of his betrayal.
Knowing the garden where Jesus would go after their meal, Judas led “a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” to the location (John 18:1-3). The betrayal by one considered a friend was surely painful for Jesus. Adding to the insult, Judas betrayed Him with a kiss (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47).
The next morning the Jewish religious leaders began their unjust deliberations that would lead to Jesus’ death. Seeing that Jesus “had been condemned,” Judas “was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matthew 27:1-4).
When he saw that these leaders did not care about Jesus’ innocence, Judas became very distraught. He then “threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself” (verse 5).
His sorrow didn’t result in true repentance and change, but seems to have been what the apostle Paul called “the sorrow of the world.”
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10; see our online article “Godly Sorrow”).
Simon and his brother Andrew worked as fishermen and lived in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. When Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, discovered that Jesus was the Messiah, he brought his brother to Jesus.
Upon meeting Simon, Jesus told him that he would be called Cephas (John 1:35-42). The meaning of both Cephas and the Greek form of the nickname Petros is the same: “a fragment, a stone” (Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, pp. 537-538). Peter and Andrew were among the 12 men Jesus selected to be His apostles (Matthew 10:2).
Peter had an outgoing personality and was often the leader of the 12. He was also privileged to be with Jesus at notable events such as the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37).
Peter’s denial of Jesus
Peter’s rejection of Jesus was different from Judas’ betrayal. Peter went to the high priest’s palace to observe what was happening to Jesus, and when he was accused of being one of Jesus’ disciples, he vehemently denied the claim three times (Mark 14:66-71).
Following the third accusation, Peter “began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this Man of whom you speak!’” (verse 71).
Just a short time earlier Peter had boasted to Jesus that he would never “stumble” (Matthew 26:33). He said he was ready to go with Christ “both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Jesus had then told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the rooster would crow twice (verse 34; Mark 14:30).
After Peter’s denials, he remembered Jesus’ accurate prediction. Peter left the scene and “wept bitterly.”After Peter’s denials, he remembered Jesus’ accurate prediction. Peter left the scene and “wept bitterly” (Mark 14:72; Luke 22:61-62).
From the results, we can see that Peter’s was a godly sorrow that led to repentance.
The next few days after Jesus’ crucifixion were surely difficult ones for Peter, yet the next biblical account shows him running with John early Sunday morning to Jesus’ empty tomb (John 20:1-7). Later that day Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the other apostles (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
Peter and his fellow apostles had the opportunity to see and converse with Jesus after His resurrection for a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). While Jesus primarily spoke of “things pertaining to the kingdom of God” and how these men should preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), He also had some very direct words for Peter.
Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Each time Peter responded that he did indeed love Him, Jesus charged Peter to “feed My lambs,” “tend My sheep” and “feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Peter “was grieved” by Christ asking him the same question three times, but having denied Christ three times, perhaps he understood that this questioning by Christ was appropriate. Helping Peter understand that he was forgiven, Jesus then gave Peter a prophecy of his future and reissued His invitation to be His disciple and apostle saying, “Follow Me” (verses 18-19; compare Matthew 4:18-19).
How to respond to sin: repentance
Both Judas and Peter were filled with remorse for what they had done. But after their sins, they had very different responses. Judas hanged himself, while Peter, along with the other apostles, boldly helped establish the New Testament Church.
Peter clearly had the response to sin God desired.
It seems evident that Peter recalled that Jesus’ ministry involved calling sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13; Mark 1:14-15). Having just repented of his own sin of denying Christ, and having received the Holy Spirit, he was able to boldly advise believers on the Day of Pentecost that they, too, needed to repent of their sins and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
In addition to being sorry for our sins, there is also another important element connected with repentance. This is the understanding and belief that God can and does forgive our sins when we truly repent (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9).
After feeling remorse for our sins and repenting of having committed them, we also need to have faith that our sins have truly been forgiven. And then we need to move forward, changing and living our lives as God desires.
In an earlier discussion with Peter, Jesus had said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32, emphasis added).
The record shows that Peter’s faith did not fail. After he repented of His denial of Christ, He fulfilled the ministry to which he had been called.
May we all likewise repent of our sins, change and move forward with faith that we have indeed been forgiven!