A strange thing has occurred in modern story-telling: sympathetic villains.
A sympathetic villain is a character who is actually some level of “the bad guy” but is presented to the audience as someone we can identify with and maybe even possessing noble characteristics. Think of it as a movie in which you understand why the evil character is the way they are and you end up rooting for them.
The problem is the character is still evil. But as an audience, we forget that. In modern theology, something similar happens with one of the men at the Last Supper.
The scene is the last meal Jesus will have with his closest followers before His death on the cross. Those present spent more time confused than understanding. They didn’t know what was coming. Jesus told them to serve the way He did: see a need, fill a need.
He had given them a lot of truth they needed to consider. Then Jesus tells them, “…You will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17b).
But, as John 13:18-30, informs us…
[Jesus said]“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.
Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.John 13:18-30
New International Version
Let’s remember from a few weeks ago how they were seated.
In what must be the greatest sense of irony, Judas was seated in the place of honor at the table. While we don’t know how he got there, he’s there, nevertheless. Jesus truly kept His friends close and His enemy closer.
When Jesus drops the bomb that one of them will betray Him, the disciples go into “super sleuth mode.” They want to know who it is and understandably so.
Sitting across the table, Peter gets John’s attention and implores him to take advantage of his proximity to Jesus. Therefore, John leans back against Jesus in a private moment and asks, “Lord, who is it?” (verse 25).
There are some modern attempts to present Judas as a sympathetic villain: evil, but he had his reasons. Perhaps. Nevertheless, Judas had already agreed to betray our Lord. Satan himself had possessed Judas.
The text informs us no one understood exactly what Jesus meant when He told Judas to go. But John knew. He was right there in the horrible realization of what Judas was: a traitor to Jesus—and them.
Yet, before we heap our anger on Judas, consider this: we are Judas.
We betray the Lord every time we intentionally walk in sin.
We betray the Lord every time we disregard His word and walk our way.
We betray the Lord every time we miss opportunities to share our faith.
We betray the Lord every time we insist our church must be our way.
We betray the Lord every time we are selfish.
We are Judas and we need a Savior. We need Jesus as much as Judas did. We need Him to wash our feet. We need Him to wash our hearts. We need Him to forgive us our debts against Him.
Praise the Lord, there is grace. And grace is only amazing when we were the villain at the Last Supper.