Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Judas Iscariot

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

The Story of Judas Iscariot

Judas' Disappointment

It had been going so well. Jesus' popularity was growing. He spoke with authority and worked God's power. Surely the kingdom of God was only a matter of time. Rome would be history. Jesus would be king, and Judas would maybe be the number two man in the kingdom.

It looked like it was going to really happen. Jesus fed 5,000 men and their families. The crowd wanted to make Him king. Here was Jesus' chance. But instead of seizing His opportunity, He started talking crazy stuff about drinking His blood and eating His flesh. The crowd left and so did many of His disciples. The movement lost momentum. 

Jesus had let him down. Indeed, Judas' heart left with the others who left Jesus that day. Judas' commitment to Jesus began to erode as Jesus began to press ministry objectives having nothing to do with establishing a Jewish kingdom.

In the first lesson in this series, I concluded that when a friendship is based more on common goals or interests than on the person, a change to the goals will test the friendship. Peter and ten other disciples passed this test. Peter spoke and said to Jesus after so many left, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life". (John 6:68, The Net Bible) Eleven of the disciples were more committed to Jesus than to the kingdom. But Jesus remarked that one of the twelve was a devil. Judas failed the test in his heart. He would not let go of his aspirations and see that Jesus had better hopes to give him.

After the Feeding of the 5,000

If Judas was disappointed after Jesus talked crazy after the feeding of the 5,000, how much more did he regret the change in tone and direction Jesus afterwards. In rapid succession the following events happened:

  • Peter declared Jesus to be the Son of God. To Judas, Jesus remained a rabbi.
  • Peter, James, and John saw Jesus momentarily transfigured into a image of His future glory. They were sworn to secrecy for awhile. Judas was left to wonder why he was not picked to go.
  • Jesus began to speak openly of His coming betrayal and death. Such talk suggests that His followers could come into harm's way. Judas became frightened.
  • Opposition steadily increased and grew in effectiveness. This movement was going down.

If Judas had been hoping for a turnaround, he soon saw that it was not coming. The situation remained crazy.

The Opposition Mounts

The situation for Jesus became so dangerous that some of his detractors became concerned for his safety:

At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.” But he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside Jerusalem.’" (Luke 13:31-33)

The disciples, who were genuinely committed to Jesus, began to come to terms with the cost of discipleship:

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him.” (John 11:14-16)

And where was Judas at this point? He did not have faith in Jesus the person. The kingdom that he wanted to be a part of was slipping away. The situation was deteriorating and his life was in peril.

Judas Picks a Fight

Judas needed an excuse to leave. It came to him when Jesus rebuked him over a very small matter:

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead. So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.) But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you don’t always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

To Judas, this situation was surreal. Expensive perfume was lavished on Jesus' head and feet. This was an extravagant waste. All Judas did was suggest that it would be better used for the poor, and Jesus rebuked him and talked of burial. To Judas, this was nuts! 

As Matthew makes clear, Judas broke ranks at this point:

(Jesus speaking) "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Then one of the twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me to betray him into your hands?” So they set out thirty silver coins for him. From that time on Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:13-16)

Note the word "then" after Jesus honors the woman who honored Him. This was Judas' breaking point. Bitterness and disappointment also gave Satan and opening:

Then Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. He went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers of the temple guard how he might betray Jesus, handing him over to them. They were delighted and arranged to give him money. So Judas agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:3-6)

On the night when all was to be arranged, Judas moved across the line from which there was no retreat:

Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son. And after Judas took the piece of bread Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (Now none of those present at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him to buy whatever they needed for the feast, or to give something to the poor.) Judas took the piece of bread and went out immediately. (Now it was night.) (John 13:26-30)

And so, Judas betrayed a one time friend:

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, and sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him!”) Immediately he came to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested him. (Matthew 26:47-50)

Judas' kiss was spiteful. He could as well have just pointed a finger. Perhaps, he was trying to make it look like a coincidence. It does not really matter. Judas not only betrayed Jesus, but he betrayed all the others as well. He had no reason to believe that the entire band would not be arrested.

Why Judas Betrayed Jesus

In the first lesson of this series, I discussed the motivations behind betrayal. We now see that they apply very well to Judas:

  • Judas viewed Jesus to be a lost cause. He was going down for sure. Everyone knew it.
  • He did not want to pay the price of friendship. Unlike Thomas who could say, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him,” Judas did not want to die with Him. He wanted to live. Eventually he realized that he needed to change to the winning side, just like Ahithophel with Absalom.

Destined for Destruction

After the betrayal, Jesus was taken away and the disciples fled. On top of the Mount of Olives was the loneliest man in the world. Judas had seen how Jesus protected His followers and kept them out of harm's way. The soldiers had expressed their thanks and moved on. The crowd left. No one gave Judas a thought. He was alone, late at night, and homeless. He had no where to go! He could not join the eleven, and no one was grateful enough to offer him lodging. The reality of the situation burst the bubble of the emotional fantasy world that he had built over the months. Judas realized that he had brought condemnation on an innocent man. In the height of this despair, Satan moved to destroy his instrument.

Now when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You take care of it yourself!” So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

"It would have been better not to have been born."

Judas was not trying to force Jesus hand. Judas only wanted to save his own skin. He was ambitious and he was a thief. Because he had never really known Jesus, he was unaware that on the other side of the resurrection, forgiveness was possible. Not knowing this, led to his eternal destruction. 

Judas' legacy is best summed up by a simple fact: No mother dares to name her son Judas.

Wednesday: Application

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

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