Q. I don’t understand why Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is so important. Surely the chief priests and others who wanted him dead knew who he was and could have found him without Judas. And didn’t Peter also betray Jesus by denying him three times? Was his betrayal less harmful than Judas’?
— Online reader inquiry
A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. Charles Pope:
Practically, the Temple leaders could have found and arrested Jesus when he was out in public but they feared the crowds who might riot upon such an act (see Mt 21:46). To find Jesus at a more private moment would surely have required more “inside knowledge,” which Judas could provide.
Theologically, no one could lay a hand on Jesus until his “hour” had come. He was always able, until he freely chose to lay down his life, to evade their attempts at arrest (Jn 8:20). This may also have caused the Temple leaders to conclude they needed inside information.
And while God could have allowed another way for Jesus to be turned over, Judas fulfills Scripture, which says: Even my close friend, who ate my bread, has turned against me (Ps 41:9).
Betrayal and denial are fundamentally different. Through betrayal Judas handed Jesus over. Denial is to deny association with Jesus, and does not amount to handing him over. Thus it is less harmful to Jesus.