Jesus Pronounces an Oracle of Woe

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21).

- Mark 14:17–21

Passover was ordinarily a joyous occasion for Jesus and His disciples. On that day, they celebrated God’s great deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and rejoiced in the Lord’s love for His people. However, the last Passover our Savior celebrated before going to the cross was not a day of joy. Ultimately, of course, what happened at that Passover meal led to the atonement that purchased our salvation, so in that sense, the final Passover of our Lord’s earthly ministry was the most joyous Passover of all. At the time, however, foreboding dread hung over the Passover meal.

Today’s passage explains why that was the case. During the Passover supper in question, as we see in Mark 14:17–21, Jesus predicted that one of His disciples would betray Him. As is well known, when the disciples heard our Lord’s prediction, they began to inquire as to which one of them would be the traitor. And Jesus did tell them that it would be one of the men who were dining with Him that evening. But it is His pronouncement of woe on that occasion that will be the focus of our study. For Jesus told His disciples both that His betrayal was predetermined by the Lord and that the one who betrayed Him would be better off if he had never been born (v. 21).

But how can this be? If God ordained that Judas would betray Jesus, how could it be so bad for him? He was just doing what the Lord determined for him, so surely he should not be held accountable, right?

We must admit that there is some mystery here that we cannot fully comprehend. Still, the Bible is clear that human beings cannot blame God for their sin even though sin is included in God’s predetermined plan for His creation. The Lord and a sinner may both will the same act, but their motivations di er, and that is the ground for moral blame. John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “though God directs [sinners] . . . nothing is farther from their intention than to obey his decrees.” In other words, sinners do what the Lord has ordained, but they do it for wicked reasons, while our Creator’s intent is always good. God ordained Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but He did so to achieve the good of our salvation. Judas betrayed Jesus, yet He did not do so because He wanted to see sinners saved but because he loved money more than the Lord.

What sinners mean for evil, God means for good (Gen. 50:20). The Lord ordains all things, even sin, but He is not guilty of wickedness, for His intent is to bring good out of evil (Rom. 8:28).

Coram Deo

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in His commentary Mark: “It is not as though God in His sovereignty coerced Judas to carry out the evil act of betraying Jesus. Rather, the sovereign God worked His will in and through the choices of His creatures. Judas did exactly what Judas wanted to do, but God brought good out of evil, redemption out of treachery.” We cannot blame God for our sin. We sin because we want to do what is wrong.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 16:9
Habakkuk 1–2
Matthew 26:20–25
Acts 2:22–23

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