Monday, March 31, 2003

Judas Iscariot

This is the fourth post in a series that examines the life of Judas Iscariot. To start at the beginning, click here.

The Story of Judas Iscariot

The Good Years

I plan now to take the background that I have established and tell a plausible story of the life of Judas. Much of it will be speculation, but I hope that you will see that it covers all the known facts. In other words, the tale I tell should be consistent with the evidence that we have. It does not mean that there are not alternative stories that could be told. Even if the story is somewhat speculative, I believe that the underlying motivations behind Judas' betrayal are close to the mark, and therein lies the teaching purpose behind this study.

Judas Meets Jesus

I want to take you back to Matthew's pairing of the 12 disciples:

Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness. Now these are the names of the twelve apostles: First, Simon (called Peter), and Andrew his brother; James son of Zebedee and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4, The Net Bible)

What do we know about when the disciples first joined Jesus?

  • Andrew and John met Jesus soon after the Temptation (John 1).
  • Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus soon afterwards (John 1). John's brother James could not have been long afterwards.
  • Philip and Nathanael (aka Bartholomew) came next (John 1).
  • Matthew (aka Levi) was called soon after Jesus' first Galilean tour (Mark 2, Luke 5).
  • Through Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas the son of James came.
  • Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot (?)

So we have a good approximation about when ten our of the twelve joined Jesus, but no timelines at all for Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. However, ten connected with Jesus fairly early, so it is not unfair to suppose that Simon and Judas did as well. Also, Judas Iscariot was from a Judean town named Kerioth. Since John the Baptist baptized and preached in Judea, he and Simon may have met Jesus through John the Baptist. Because of the pairing, Simon the Zealot and Judas may well have known each other and joined at the same time. As I mentioned in the last lesson, they may even have been father and son.

Simon and Judas Iscariot may have had strong political leanings. The Jewish zealots were those who advocated the overthrow of Roman rule over the Jews. Judas would have seen many promising things about Jesus' ministry:

  • He proclaimed the Kingdom of God. The disciples always counted on this being an earthly kingdom. Indeed, just before His resurrection, the disciples asked him, "“Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) This message was very attractive to all the disciples including Judas.
  • Jesus drew crowds in increasing numbers. Judas may have figured that Jesus was indeed someone who could bring about the kingdom He proclaimed.
  • Jesus spoke with authority. There was a commanding air about Him. He spoke with power.
  • Jesus worked miracles and signs and wonders by the power of God. 

So Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, had an expanding support base, spoke with authority, and clearly had God on His side. Judas believed and counted on Jesus going places. Judas joined to be part of this movement. I do not mean to say here that Judas had poor motives and that the other disciples had good and pure motives. All were a mixture of good and the not so good. What I do intend to say is that that Judas never grew beyond this phase. As we shall see, the others shifted allegiance to Jesus as a person. Judas did not.

Judas' Accomplishments

While with Jesus, Judas accomplished much. Jesus chose him to be one of the twelve close disciples. He had a seat of honor at the last Passover (he was near enough for Jesus to hand him a piece of bread.) At some point, Judas was entrusted with the money box for the ministry.

Judas was among the twelve when Jesus gave them authority over disease and demons. Judas traveled from place to place and saw peopled healed and delivered. It was an exciting time, and he did well.

In other words, Judas had prominence among the twelve.

Jockeying for Position

It must be an amazing experience to be in the inner circle of a man who is going to establish a kingdom. Unfortunately, the top of the pyramid is still overhead. There can only be one sitting on the king's right and another on the king's left. Jesus left the fillers of these positions unnamed and this was a source of conflict among his disciples. This group was still working out its pecking order to the very night of Jesus' betrayal. Judas was certainly a part of this and may have instigated much of it.

The Kingdom Comes Close

You should not be thinking that Judas was evil from the beginning. The casual observer would not have seen much difference between Judas and the others. If Judas hung about Jesus because of kingdom hopes and ambitions, so did the others. And if Judas promoted himself among the group, it could easily have been from strong ability and dedication to the project. On the other hand, I believe that much of what Jesus taught during this time had little effect on Judas while it was having some effect on the others. Think about the last supper when Jesus announced that his betrayal was at hand. While the others called Jesus "Lord," Judas called him "rabbi." While eleven of the twelve were shifting their allegiance from the kingdom to the person, Judas maintained allegiance to the kingdom and his hopes for position within it.

That is why the fall-out from the feeding of the 5,000 marked a crisis point for him. All four gospels record this event, but it is John that gives us details about what happened afterwards:

So when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone. (John 6:14-15)

Judas watched as Jesus turned down becoming king. Here were the masses, his citizens, his soldiers. They wanted Him, and He walked away.

But it got worse. Jesus began to talk crazy. The crowd came by the next day and Jesus began to talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. he never let go of this point until the crowd was extremely upset and offended:

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food that the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” (John 6:25-27)

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 

When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:48-63) 

Jews are commanded to not eat the blood of an animal, but Jesus was saying, "my blood is true drink." He created an offensive image and applied it to Himself. It was more than most of the crowd could take:

But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. (John 6:64-66)

And so many disciples left him that day. But note that parenthetical comment, "(For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)" This is the first real time clue that we have about a change that took place in Judas. Here is what I mean. Jesus' words had a weeding effect on the crowd that caused those committed to other goals to leave. We must count Judas among this number, but he did not leave. This comes into sharp focus as this story concludes:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” 

Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.) (John 6:67-71)

So eleven of the twelve had shifted allegiance from the kingdom to the "Holy One of God." Judas had not. Judas should have left that day. The situation was not going to improve. Jesus was going to start to talk about going to Jerusalem and being captured and killed. People would continue to fall away. The hoped for kingdom would get further and further away. 

Why did Judas stay?

  • He was, in a sense, trapped by being in the inner circle. It was too far a fall to make that day.
  • He could view the entire situation as a temporary set back.
  • If he was Simon Iscariot's son, he may have not wanted to disappoint his father.

My wife and I have observed that people often need to pick a fight to leave a situation. We have seen this with young people who need to leave home. We have seen in people who need to leave a church. There is a change of vision. But rather than simply communicate this fact and leave, some sort of falling out occurs instead. Judas lost the easy opportunity to leave. As the situation continued to deteriorate,  the time would come when Judas would have to pick a fight.

Tuesday: Judas Picks a Fight

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