Did Jesus “lose” Judas? (John 17:12)

Did Jesus “lose” Judas – someone he was supposedly guarding and keeping?
John 17:12 says,
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
First, when it says, “the son of destruction” it is (in the original language) “the perishing one perished.” It’s a noun and verb combo that is intended to stand out from how one might normally say it.
  • For example, if I wanted to report to my home group about my son Ethan‘s debate tournament, I would normally say something like, “Ethan debated 6 rounds and advanced to the quarterfinals.”
  • I would NOT say, “The oldest debating son debated 6 rounds and then advanced…”
  • If I was telling you about one of our kids who planted a garden, I wouldn’t normally say, “The planting one planted…”
This is important to note because it explains why Judas is referred to in a manner that is out of the ordinary. Why not just say, “…and not one of them has been lost except Judas, …”?
Secondly, then, to answer that question (“why not just say “Judas”?”), we can point to John’s purpose throughout his gospel to highlight that there are “sheep” on the one hand and those who are ‘not sheep’ on the other.
  • John 10 – the chapter where this shows up most frequently has 14 references to sheep.
  • The “sheep” are those particular people for whom Jesus died.
    • Jesus says (in 10:11) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

And now finally, we can get back around to answering the question. Here it is again, for a reminder:

  • Did Jesus “lose” Judas – someone he was supposedly guarding and keeping?
The answer, briefly, is, “No.”
  • Judas was not “given” to Jesus, since he was the one who chose to betray Jesus.
  • And thus Judas was not “lost” by Jesus who was supposedly “keeping” and “guarding” him.
Judas’s actions were a fulfillment of prophecy (Ps 41:9, also Ps. 55: 12-14, 20-21), yet he was also responsible for his own sin.
John has several opportunities throughout his gospel to comment on Judas, and he does so by way of recording what Jesus himself says about Judas, as well as adding in parenthetical remarks (of course, inspired by the Holy Spirit).
  • Way back in chapter 6, verse 70, Jesus said,
  • “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil?”

  • And a few verses prior (v. 64), Jesus said,
  • “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)”

  • (See also, John 6:71; 13:2, 27)
Once again, verse 12 says,
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
So, it – obviously – sounds like Judas was “lost” since it sounds like Judas was “given” to Jesus. But we need to challenge the assumption in the question: was Judas “given” to Jesus?
If you were to go back through the prior verses in chapter 17 and list characteristics of the group “given” to Jesus you could list at least 23 different characteristics or descriptions. Let’s do this and see if these characteristics or descriptions are true about Judas.
Here’s just a few of the 23 examples in 17:1-12; peruse this list and ask, “Was this also true about Judas?”
  • 1. In v. 1, Jesus is “given” “authority…to give eternal life to all” God the Father gave him. Was Judas given eternal life? On the basis of verse 12 you might be tempted to say so, but this would contradict prior statements of Jesus regarding the sureness of our salvation. (i.e. John 10:27-30 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”)
  • 2. In verse 2, “they know you, the only true God,” and “Jesus Christ”. Judas knew of Jesus, but he was revealed to be one who was not a “sheep” since he did not obey Jesus’ voice. (See John 14:15-16, 21, 23)
  • 3. In verse 6 it says about this group that “they have kept your word”. Is that true about Judas? No. No one is willing to contend that Judas “kept [God’s] word”.
So, with just three of the – at least – 23 characteristics in chapter 17:1-12, we come to see that the question is a loaded question. It assumes something to be true about Judas in asking a question about him. A better starting place would be something like, “What is true about this group that Jesus keeps referring to throughout this prayer?” and then, the question regarding Judas…something like, “is Judas included in this group?”
Once it’s shown that Judas was never in this group of people, then it makes sense why he was not saved. He never knew Jesus in the same way the other Apostles knew him (by grace, through faith).
BONUS content: the way it’s worded, “…none were lost except…” actually appears a few more times in the New Testament. A group is referred to, and then someone or something is quickly excluded from the group. The person or thing excluded from the group is not “plucked” out of it, having belonged to it in the first place. The reason they are not in the group is they were never meant to be included in the group to start with.
Matt. 12:2-4
“But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
  • The point is “only…priests” were lawfully allowed to eat the bread. David, “nor…those who were with him,” were never a part of a group lawfully allowed to eat the bread.
Luke 4:25-27
“But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
  • The point is, Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath. Luke never intends to bring up Elijah only to say he was never sent to any widow. He brings up Elijah for the express purpose of singling out the one widow he was sent to.
  • Similarly, a second point: Luke does not bring up Naaman only to not mention his leprosy at all, but rather to highlight the very fact that he was a leper.
Gal. 1:18-19
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
  • The point is NOT, that Paul went to Jerusalem only to mention NONE of the Apostles he met with, but rather to single out the two that he did spend time with.
So, then, in John 17:12, the point is not Judas ‘lost his salvation’, but rather to highlight the truth: Judas was never a part of that group in the first place.