Was the Cross inevitable?

When we read John 13, there are two occasions that it mentions the devil taking over Judas’ mind or heart.

And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him. John 13:2

And after the sop, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore saith unto him, What thou doest, do quickly. John 13:27

The first verse talks of influence, while the second even talks of a take-over.

I have been troubled by these verses all my life, since I encountered them the first time with seven.

Yes, we can make a case of Judas allowing for the devil to take him over and possess him after giving room to his voice and mutterings.

But add in this verse:

I am not speaking of and I do not mean all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He who eats My bread with Me has raised up his heel against Me. John 13:18

This talks of David being betrayed by a “man of his peace” and certainly at first is a personal story that the author of the Gospel of John now uses to portray Judas’ betrayal as a fulfillment of prophecy.

This is troublesome inasmuch as Judas is denigrated to a tool of God with no free will. He might have the illusion of free will, but this betrayal was preordained.

It must be because without it, there would be no cross.

Well, really? The betrayal is an unnecessary detail of the story. At some point, the henchmen of the Sanhedrin would have found Jesus. He had a custom of going to that specific garden.

If we take the evangelistic accounts as historic fact, the betrayal is just what happened, as did the cross.

I would say that referring back to Psalm 41 could be an explanation to bring peace rather than a prophetic fulfillment. What happened to David is now happening to Jesus.

I will not explain why I believe the story to be true but not historically accurate in its details. Just allow me to share three thoughts:

  • A story in that time was considered true if it produced the desired effect in the listener.
  • The gospels were written decades later, most probably not by eyewitnesses but authors with a purpose and a theology.
  • These authors also knew what would happen after the meal and looked for explanations and a reasonable thread of cause and effect.

The explanation they found for Judas’ betrayal was this:

The betrayal was preordained and prophesied by David. It had to take place, then, as another witness of Jesus’ divinity as the Messiah. But God is good. He could not be the driving force behind the betrayal. Thus, it must have been the devil. But why would the devil have power over Judas? Because Judas had opened a door for the devil to seduce him by stealing money from the group. This hidden sin made him vulnerable to the devil, but listening to that voice gave him over.

We do this all the time. We do things, and afterward, provide ourselves and others with constructed post-mortem reasoning for our actions.

I see the devil as a controversial figure. It seems as if it has been adopted by the Israelites in the exile after their encounter with the teachings of Zarathustra. The reason they did so was to relieve God of responsibility for the evil in the world. It was an early answer to what was rediscovered in the medieval ages, namely the theodicy.

But what if we consider process theology. Remember, God in this model has perfect knowledge of the past and presence, but only knows the future as possibilities. All actors together decide of the possibility that is actualized.

This means that God himself could not know whether the cross was going to happen. As with most prophecies, it was a possibility out of many. Maybe it was one with a high probability, taking into consideration the mindset of the Pharisees, the customs of the Romans, and the behavior and demeanor of Jesus.

All of which could have played out differently. Or something small could have happened: Pilate could have refused to crucify Jesus or just not have shown up.

All the meaning assigned to the cross has been found after the cross happened.

What if the cross had not happened? God’s love would have found other ways to further his plan to bring the harmony of an individuated unity to creation.

In this model, Judas is fully responsible for his actions. What is portrayed as the devil is his egoistic thinking. One possible train of thoughts could have been:

I truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah, as everybody knows, will free us from the oppression of the Romans. Jesus seems to be reluctant, so let me help God’s plan a bit by telling the Sanhedrin where to find him.

Granted, this is mere speculation, and it is not egoistic in the narrow sense per se. Like many others, Judas could have been persuaded that he was doing God’s will. Think of Saul, later Paul, prior to the Damascus road.

Does this turn God into a weakling and Jesus into a marginal figure in history? By no means. It tells us that God will eventually find a way not only if there is no way but even if other actors refuse to help bring it about. He is so powerful that he can allow all other actors to act from a place of free will. And with He I mean Love.