In the 11th century, a poet by the name of Dante Alighieri wrote a three-part epic poem called The Divine Comedy. The most popular of the three parts is called The Inferno, where he travels into Hell and views the various “circles,” separated by the type of sin that each person committed. At the very bottom – below the circles of lust, greed, anger, and heresy – is the circle that Dante considered the very worst circle of all: Treachery. There are just four souls trapped here, deemed the worst traitors of all time: Cain, who killed his brother Abel, Anthenor, a Trojan politician who opened the gates to the Greeks, Ptolemy, a Jewish governor who betrayed the Maccabees, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ.

Traveling to the other side of Dante’s Divine Comedy is the Paradiso, which supposed to be Heaven. Like Hell, it also has layers corresponding to various virtues – four cardinal virtues and three theological. In the second to the highest sphere (since the top is reserved for angels), he sees Peter, the man who denied knowing Jesus in the courtyard during His most crucial hour. Yet here, at least in Dante’s eyes, he’s reserved the highest honor a mortal can receive.

The Divine Comedy is admittedly a work of fiction. It’s not inspired in any way whatsoever; in fact, it’s most likely a political work designed to attack some of the leading government and religious officials of the day. Dante’s point is to put the morality of his world in an eternal context.

That really doesn’t matter though. What matters the most for our purpose is the perception of various people. Almost universally – Dante is not alone in this – people regard Judas Iscariot as being one of the worst human beings of all time (John 6:70), while Peter is regarded as the one of the “most eminent apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11;  Galatians 2:9).

Are they really that different, though? What makes Peter worthy of such high (human) esteem while Judas is relegated to the depths of Hell itself?

After all…

They Both Should Have Known Right From Wrong

Both Judas and Peter were blue-collar, uneducated peasants from Galilee (Acts 4:13), trained in their individual craft and otherwise meaningless to the broader geopolitical world.

By the grace of God, however, they were both taught firsthand by the greatest Teacher that has ever lived (Matthew 11:25-26). Some scholars have estimated the amount of hands-on teaching they received from Jesus over a 3.5 year period would have been comparable to someone receiving a graduate degree, nearly a PhD. Though they came from nothing, they both had the opportunity to become valuable members of the religious world by virtue of their instruction from God Himself. Peter’s later writings reflect this type of education and knowledge, as he quotes from the Old Testament often and makes applications like a well-seasoned veteran preacher.

They Were Both Told They Would Sin

On that fateful night, within hours of their respective departures, both were told that they would sin. Jesus told Judas to his face that He knew what Judas was up to (John 13:27). Likewise, Jesus told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times before the rooster even crowed (Luke 22:33-34).

Did Jesus make them sin then? Absolutely not. Having knowledge of a situation is different than causing the situation to take place. I know that if a commercial for the upcoming Frozen 2 movie comes on the television, my two-year-old daughter will start screaming “LET IT GOOO” at the top of her tiny little lungs. Did I cause that? Never in a million years. But did I know it was gonna happen? Yeah, unfortunately.

They Both Sinned

Then, as if to fully seal their collective fates, Judas and Peter both sinned. Judas’ was worse, to be fair, but Peter’s wasn’t much better. Getting close enough to look at Jesus while denying that you’ve ever met Him before to a crowd of onlookers is in the same ballpark as kissing Him on the cheek and saying “Hail, Rabbi!” (Matthew 26:48-49).

Besides the severity, the main difference between the two sins was the thought behind them; Judas’ was premeditated, Peter’s was virtually spontaneous. Nevertheless, these singular moments defined their legacy, and for one moment in time, they were both crossways with their Master.

Only One Chose the Right Kind of Forgiveness

Can you imagine the kind of guilt they both endured? Whether Judas knew who Jesus was is up for debate, but he at least knew that Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:4). Peter broke down, crying in agony because his fear got the better of them. Both were broken men.

Judas’ grief overcame him, and he did the only thing he could think of: commit suicide. Peter’s sadness was overwhelming, but he at least left the door open to return back to God. Several days later, after Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus comforted Peter on the seashore by asking three times if he loved Him. “Lord, You know all things, you know that I love You” (John 21:17).

Judas’ “solution” has a lot in common with people in today’s world. In an effort to make the pain go away, he chose the quicker route of simply ending his life. Maybe he didn’t think Jesus would forgive him (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Maybe he though the Apostles wouldn’t receive him back. One thing’s for sure though: Had Judas not hung himself, the story of the New Testament would look noticeably different.

Paul could have very well been speaking about both men in 2 Corinthians 7:10, when he says that the “sorrow of the world” produces death, while the “sorrow of the will of God” produces repentance without regret. Judas’ sorrow was based around the belief that he was beyond forgiveness, while Peter knew that his only hope lay in the tomb with Jesus. Whether he anticipated Jesus’ resurrection or not, he still had hope in the mercy of God.

And so do you. I don’t know where you’re at in your life when you read this, but if you’re going through a tough time and believe that God isn’t with you, rest assured that He is. Remember that the thing that separated Judas and Peter the most was not how they sinned, but how they responded to their sin. You have that same choice to make now. Let David’s words comfort you in your hour of trial: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

God loves you, and He always will.

Last modified: April 19, 2019