Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Judas Iscariot

Films depicting the life of Jesus tend to portray Judas Iscariot as one who made a mistake. The popular device has Judas betray Jesus to force Him to reveal Himself as the king. A tragic mistake, to be sure, but just a mistake. I have never understood this approach. Why not show Judas to be evil at the moment of betrayal? After all, Jesus said, "The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.” (Matthew 26:24, The Net Bible) I fail to see Judas sympathetically.

So what can be known about Judas? This is a difficult, but not impossible, question. There are not that many passages that tell us about him. Nevertheless, there is material to piece together a plausible story. That is what I will attempt to do in this series.

Betrayal -- A Friend Worse than an Enemy

What was the nature of this betrayal? Did Judas pretend to be a friend or was he a friend who changed? The first clue to piecing together Judas' betrayal of Jesus comes from these words of Jesus:

“What I am saying does not refer to all of you. I know the ones I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who eats my bread has turned against me.’ (John 13:18)

Jesus quoted from Psalm 41. Here is the relevant section:

My enemies ask this cruel question about me, ‘When will he finally die and be forgotten?’ When someone comes to visit, he pretends to be friendly; he thinks of ways to defame me, and when he leaves he slanders me. All who hate me whisper insults about me to one another; they plan ways to harm me. They say, ‘An awful disease overwhelms him, and now that he is bed-ridden he will never recover.’ Even my close friend whom I trusted, he who shared meals with me, has turned against me. (Psalm 41:5-9)

Psalm 41 is not directly prophetic. It was written by someone who was sick and possibly would not recover. He was not surprised that his enemies  rejoiced over his calamity. He was on guard for them. His grief came from an unexpected place; a close friend who abandoned him. His enemies pretended to care. They gossiped. They could not wait for his undoing. To learn that his friend also planned to harm him was grievous.

Lets compare this to Jesus' last week. The Judean leadership was clearly his enemy. Jesus had "seekers of truth" who came to Him with questions by which they hoped to trap Him. He had no lack of people plotting His undoing. But it was a close friend that brought success to His enemies' plan. 

Psalm 55 tells us what Jesus must have felt:

Indeed, it is not an enemy who insults me, or else I could bear it; it is not one who hates me who arrogantly taunts me, or else I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like me, my close friend in whom I confided. We would share personal thoughts with each other; in God’s temple we would walk together among the crowd. (Psalm 55:12-14)

There is no suggestion in any of these texts that we are to seek a measure of sympathy regarding the motives behind the betrayal of a friend. The heartbreak of Psalm 55 comes from the intimacy that makes us vulnerable. This is what makes betrayal unbearable.

So the first thing that we must conclude is that Jesus and Judas shared an intimacy. I realize that Jesus' foreknowledge makes this matter complicated. The best that I can suggest is that Jesus hoped and acted as if the tree would not bear fruit. We cannot forget that Judas had a real choice in spite of  Jesus' foreknowledge and the fulfillment of prophecy. So until Judas made his choice, the friendship was real and shared. I believe that the foundation on which Judas based his friendship was faulty.

Such is the nature of betrayal. Tomorrow, I will look at two betrayals recorded in the Old Testament with a view toward defining motives behind betrayal. The two incidents involve David with Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15-17) and Haman with Zeresh (Esther 5:14 and 6:13). The situation between David and Ahithophel will be the most instructive, because of the prophetic link between David and Jesus.

Thursday: Friends who betrayed.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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