Mark 14:21 (RSV) reads

For the Son of man goes as it was 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.

Later in Mark's account of the passover in the upper room, we have the following (14:23):

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

I'm interested in the interpretation of the phrase "It would have been better for that man if he had not been born" along with the implication of the phrase "they all drank of it."

How would the twelve have understood the former phrase? Was it common vernacular of the day? I know that a similar phrase appears in Ecclesiastes 4:3, but I'm unsure if this would have come to mind in the upper room, or if it was understood that Jesus was referencing Ecclesiastes. If it wasn't a common saying, what exactly does Jesus mean by this phrase, or what is Mark's purpose for including it?

Furthermore, it would appear that in Mark's account Jesus includes Judas (one of the twelve) in the initiation of the new covenant. Mark makes this clear by emphasizing that they (the twelve) "all drank of it." Is Mark making any commentary here about whether or not Judas has a part in Jesus' covenant? If so, how is this reconciled with Jesus' (rather harsh) statement about Judas' birth?

  • a) Jesus told them about the covenant after they drank it, and b) even if he had not, there are plenty of covenants entered and then broken.
    – fumanchu
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 2:14

2 Answers 2


What is interesting is that before attending the Last Supper, "Satan entered Judas" (Luke 22:3). Jesus knew that Satan had implanted the betrayal in the heart of Judas (John 13:2), and proceeded to wash the feet of Judas anyway. Then again before the Last Supper ended, "Satan entered Judas" (Jn 13:27). So what is puzzling is why someone who was possessed by Satan before and during the Last Supper would have any part in the sacred bread and cup of the New Covenant. Judas was Satan-possessed, which is why he and the Man of Sin (Antichrist) are the only two people in the New Testament to share the same title, Son of Perdition (ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας of John 17:12 = ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας of 2 Thess 2:3).

Paul explains that in the Hebrew Bible under the Old Covenant at Sinai, there were those who partook of the bread and cup, but who were not saved. In fact they were also baptized.

1 Cor 10:1-6 (NASB)
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.

Paul is saying that the Israelites who escaped Egypt were "baptized" in the Red Sea with Moses in the Old Covenant, and so they drank the cup ("spiritual drink") and ate the manna from heaven ("spiritual bread"), and in this way were the parallel New Testament sacraments in the Hebrew Bible.

In other words, the fact that these people were baptized or had partaken of the bread and cup in the Hebrew Bible (to use the imagery of the Apostle Paul) was no guarantee that they were "saved." So in the New Covenant, just because you are baptized in Jesus and drink the bread and cup of the New Covenant, does not guarantee that you are "saved."

In closing, Judas was empowered to cast out demons and to cure diseases during his ministry with Jesus (Matt 10:1). So Judas would fall in the following category at the last judgment.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

The difference between Judas and the other 11 disciples was not what was going on on the outside (sacraments, miracles, etc.) but what was going on on the inside -- that is, it was Satan who was operating in his heart all the while when he was an apparent follower and loving disciple of Jesus Christ.

In summary, just because a person can parrot and mimic the words and even the commands of Jesus (be baptized and take bread and cup) does not mean that Jesus necessarily knows that person as one of his own.


2Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.3Yea, better [is he] than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.(Eccl. 3:2-3)

The author(Solomon) is declaring that "better is the one who is dead, than the one who is yet to be born to see the evil". Kiel & Delitzsch say

,"And I praised the dead who were long ago dead, more than the living who are yet in life; and as happier than both, him who has not yet come into existence, who hath not seen the evil work which is done under the sun."

An interesting note is they comment on a Hebrew word (והכבּד) which seemed out of place in the Eccl. 4:3 reading, but used in Ex. 8:11,""Pharaoh saw ... and hardened (והכבּד) his heart." This may point to the inference you were asking for, as Jesus "announced" His betrayer, yet His betrayer 'hardened his heart' until Satan entered him(Judas) as he dipped the bread in the dish. "

And when he had dipped the sop, he gave [it] to Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon.27And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly".(John 13:26-27)

We can safely say from Jesus's words that Judas had no part of the New Covenant, indeed, after Jesus had left them, they appointed Matthias to take Judas's place(Acts 1:21-26), quoting Ps.69:25.

Whether is was common vernacular of the day, the disciples certainly "drank" from the cup Jesus drank from, which was a picture of the Sabbath(and Passover) cup; when the mother of James and John petition Jesus to be on His "left and right hand" in glory, He asks them first,"Can you drink the cup..."(Matt. 20:22/Mk. 10:38). Of course, this cup implies the special suffering these disciples would go through, not necessarily the cup of the New Covenant that Christ shares with all believers, seen at Passover.

Many believe,"...poor Judas, he got the 'short straw', having to fulfil the prophecies from Gen. 3:15 onward. I believe the key is "והכבּד", since he allowed his heart to become "hardened" through sin and unbelief, he was a willing 'tool' of the devil, ultimately fulfilling the prophecy concerning him. Heb. 3:12 says,"

12Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

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