On the surface, this appears to be a powerful argument against the church refusing to admit someone to the Lord’s Table. Who do we think we are?! If Christ let his traitor come to the Table, how dare we exclude anyone?
But there are two problems with the argument:
i) Firstly, it’s not actually obvious from the gospel accounts that Judas did take the Last Supper. John 13:21-30 vividly describes Judas’ exit from the upper room. “After receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night”. But John doesn’t describe the Last Supper itself in his account. Did it come before or afterwards? There’s no suggestion that the morsel of bread was the sacrament itself. Jesus clearly spent considerable time with his disciples after Judas’ exit. He doesn’t say: “Rise Let us go from here” until 14:31.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply don’t narrate Judas’ exit, so we don’t know when in the proceedings it took place. All three describe the fact that Jesus’ betrayer was eating with them that evening (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, and Luke 22:21), but Matthew and Mark both place it before the institution of the Lord’s Supper, whereas Luke situates it afterwards.
So, it’s by no means certain that Judas participated in the Lord’s Supper. Note, 1 Cor 15:5 says: “he appeared to… the twelve”. We wouldn’t want to jump from that to the conclusion that the risen Jesus appeared to Judas Iscariot, would we?
ii) Secondly, even if Judas did partake of the Lord’s Supper, it doesn’t follow that elders should admit scandalous sinners to the Lord’s Table. In the upper room, Judas’ sin was still secret. It had not yet become public. This fact is emphasised in the accounts by the disciples’ questions: “Is it I, Lord?”. Even when Jesus identifies Judas, the disciples are still confused by Jesus’ comment at Judas’ exit (John 13:28-29). Quite simply, at the point Judas may have participated in the Supper, no one besides Christ knew what he was doing. There hadn’t been a trial of the offence. There’d been no process of church discipline. It’s striking that, even then, Christ didn’t ignore Judas’ secret sin; in a sense, he excommunicated him, by sending him out of the room: “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27).
If the church claimed the right to bar people from the Lord’s Table on the basis of private knowledge of secret sin, then the argument that Judas was included might hold, but that’s not the grounds on which elders suspend people from the Table. Elders are to keep scandalous sinners from the Lord’s supper on the basis of the keys Christ has entrusted to them (Matt 18:17-18; 1 Cor 5:11). They are to follow a fair process and lovingly call the sinner to repent. In the IPC, the accused has the right to appeal to presbytery. But if the sinner won’t repent, the church has the duty to bar them from communion.
What Judas did or didn’t do at the Last Supper isn’t a good basis for us to duck the challenge of excluding people who won’t bow to Jesus from his table. Barring people from the table is not about the church being unloving. Rather, it’s the church having the courage to love people well. Christ loves sinners too much to leave us in our sin.
If you want to read some (heady) 17th C reflections on this exact question, see more here: Aaron’s Rod Blossoming.