Friday, April 04, 2003

Teaching from Primary Sources

I would urge those of you who teach others to rely on primary information sources rather than secondary. I can best illustrate this by an example. I can remember hearing a teaching about how ancient cultures confirmed a covenant between parties. It described how they would cut an animal in two and how the contracting parties would walk between the pieces. Then, what-do-you-know, this is just what the Lord did when he made His covenant with Abram (Genesis 15), only Abram did not have to walk between the pieces. After hearing this, I thought to myself that the connections between ancient practice and the doings of Genesis 15 were just a little too perfectly close. Not that I was accusing the teacher of making it up, because he may have heard it taught by someone else. I have never been able to verify such an ancient covenant binding practice from a primary, or at least independent, source. I am inclined to think the story false, but I do not even have to accuse anyone of wrongdoing to explain its origins:

  1. Someone reads Genesis 15 and conjectures that it might relate to ancient covenant practices. I make conjectures like this all the time and teach them as conjectures.
  2. Someone hearing that teachings walks away with a conviction that this is how covenants were confirmed in Abram's time and teaches it with only a marginal connection with Genesis 15.
  3. Someone hears that teaching and reads Genesis 15 and observes how the Lord follows the practice of ancient covenant binding.
  4. The teaching solidifies in the teaching culture and passes unchallenged for generations.

Something similar happened centuries ago and today a teaching that describes how the Jewish High Priest would have a rope tied around his ankles in case he died still prospers unchallenged even though it actually contradicts scriptural teaching. I wrote on this yesterday.

I am not a perfect practitioner of this, but I purpose to teach nothing beyond the plain text of the Scriptures without reference to either a primary source or multiple independent secondary sources. The more extraordinary the claim from secondary sources, the more important that I have found  primary sources to be. Today, I want to relate a search for a primary source, and its outcome.

Welcome Sir Robert Anderson

In 1895, Sir Robert Anderson published a small book named "The Coming Prince." Although not the main focus of the book, Anderson put forth the claim that the entry Of Jesus the Messiah into Jerusalem was a fulfillment of prophecy from Daniel 9:

“Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. So know and understand: from the going forth of the message to return and build Jerusalem until the anointed one, the prince, there are seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times. Now after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood, until the end of the war that has been decreed; there will be desolations. He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifice and offering to a halt on the wing of a desolating abomination, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:24-27, The Net Bible)

Anderson claimed that 69 weeks of prophetic years occupy the time between "the message to return and rebuild Jerusalem" and "the anointed one will be cut off" portions of this prophecy. Here is a brief synopsis of his argument.

  1. The decree to return and rebuild Jerusalem is to ascribed to King Artaxerxes giving Nehemiah permission to return and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
  2. Nehemiah tells us that this occurred in the month of Nisan in twentieth year of Artaxerxes. Taking this to be the first day of this month gives us a date of March 14, 445 BC.
  3. Luke gives us a firm date for the start of Jesus' ministry: The fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar, i.e. 29 AD.
  4. This makes AD 32 the year of the crucifixion.
  5.  A prophetic year consists of 360 days according to the references to "times, time, and half a time" being equal to 42 months being equal to 1260 days. See Daniel and Revelation for these figures.
  6. 69 times 7 times 360 is 173880 days.
  7. There are 173880 days between March 14, 445 BC and April 6, 32 AD and this would be the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem and the events of the crucifixion that would "cut him off."

It is an extraordinary claim and I marveled when I first heard it. Surely this was the key to bringing many people to acknowledge the efficacy of Biblical prophecy. Anderson concludes:

The Julian date of that 10th Nisan was Sunday the 6th April, A.D. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of "Messiah the Prince," – between the 14th March, B.C. 445, and the 6th April, A.D. 32? THE INTERVAL CONTAINED EXACTLY AND TO THE VERY DAY 173, 880 DAYS, OR SEVEN TIMES SIXTY-NINE PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 DAYS, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel's prophecy. (The Coming Prince)

I wanted to see for myself. In doing so, I learned some interesting and valuable things:

  1. I learned about Julian and Gregorian calendars.
  2. I learned about the Hebrew calendar.
  3. I wrote computer programs to convert among them based on the Julian day number.
  4. I discovered secondary sources that verified my results.
  5. I learned that Sir Robert Anderson was wrong!

For those of you who might like to study this for yourself, I recommend beginning with the book Astronomical Algorithms by Jean Meeus. His second edition even includes a really good algorithm for calculating the date of Passover for any year.

Anderson's First Error: Leap Years

In 1582, Pope Gregory faced up to a problem. Centuries of Julian prescribed leap years had accumulated enough error for the date of Easter to shift substantially. He asked his astronomers to determine why and suggest a solution. The problem came down to this: the Julian practice of a leap year every 4 years contained a slight over-correction for the actual transit time of the earth around the sun. Instead of taking 365.25 days, the orbit of the earth was actually 365.2425 days. Over a 400 year period, the calendar would be about 3 days off.

Pope Gregory made two corrections to the calendar. The first was to make the day after October 4, 1582 be October 15, 1582. This took 10 days out of the calendar. The second correction was to decree that a century year was not to be a leap year unless it was divisible by 400. Thus 1600 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not. The year 2000 was a leap year. It must be noted that since Pope Gregory corrected the calendar by removing days, there was no adjusting of past dates.

Sir Robert Anderson applied the Gregorian leap year rules to years that were not under those rules. Thus he treated the years 300 BC, 200 BC, and 100 BC as not having leap years. However, since they were in the Julian period of the calendar, they were leap years. Between his two dates there are 173883 days and not 173880. You can verify this yourself by clicking here and getting the Julian day number for April 6, 32 and March 14, 445 BC and subtracting. Note: when you subtract you will get 173882 but you have to add 1 more day. For example, there are 10 days from the 1st to the 10th of a month, but 10-1 = 9.

Anderson's Second Error: The Phase of the Moon

Our calendar is a solar calendar in that it gives priority to tracking the earth around the sun. The Hebrew calendar is a luni-solar calendar. The lunar side means that a month is strictly governed by the phases of the moon. The solar side of the calendar is the introduction of leap months to keep the calendar linked to the sun over a 19 year period. The system is actually more accurate, even now, than our Gregorian calendar.

The effect of the lunar side of the calendar is that a new moon always marks the first of the month and the full moon always marks the 15 of the month.

What has this to do with Sir Robert Anderson? The year of Jesus death has to have a full moon on either Thursday or Friday, because Passover is on Nisan 15, which will always be a full moon. In the year 32 AD, the full moon fell on April 14, which was a Monday. You can verify this by clicking here and noting the date of the full moon near the equinox for the year 32. By the way the same table lists the years 30, 33, or 36 as possible years for Jesus execution. What is troubling here is that Anderson knew this. To quote from The Coming Prince:

For example, in A.D. 32, the date of the true new moon, by which the Passover was regulated, was the night (10h 57m) of the 29th March. The ostensible date of the 1st Nisan, therefore, according to the phases, was the 31st March. It may have been delayed, however, till the 1st April; and in that case the 15th Nisan should apparently have fallen on Tuesday the 15th April. But the calendar may have been further disturbed by intercalation. According to the scheme of the eight years' cycle, the embolismal month was inserted in the third, sixth, and eighth years, and an examination of the calendars from A.D. 22 to A D. 45 will show that A.D. 32 was the third year of such a cycle. As, therefore, the difference between the solar year and the lunar is 11 days, it would amount in three years to 33 3/4 days, and the intercalation of a thirteenth month (Ve-adar) of thirty days would leave an epact still remaining of 3 3/4 days; and the "ecclesiastical moon" being that much before the real moon, the feast day would have fallen on the Friday (11th April), exactly as the narrative of the Gospels requires.

The intercalation of the Hebrew calendar are always lunar months and there is no such thing as an "ecclesiastical moon." 

A Legend That Will Persist

I am afraid that, like ropes around High Priest's feet and Petition 2493, Sir Robert Anderson has created an enduring legend. It has survived a century already. I imagine that few people even know the origins of this legend or the faulty logic in the original.

Behind such things is that we want to believe them to be true and we let our guard down. But we must not do this. Christianity has never a need to worry about truth, and it has a lot to lose from falsehoods flowing from its adherents.

I have heard Christians laugh at Piltdown man and other hoaxes that have taken in the scientific community. Quite frankly, I would rather that we look to our own house.

Monday: Gleanings from the Book of Hebrews

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

Thursday, April 03, 2003

No Strings Attached

E-Mail and Urban Legends

Here is the text of an e-mail I received this week:

> > > >Pepsi has a new "patriotic" can coming out with pictures of the
> > > >State Bldg. and the Pledge of Allegiance on them. But Pepsi forgot
> > > >little words on the pledge, "Under God." Pepsi said they did not want
> to
> > > >offend
> > > >anyone. If this is true then we do not want to offend anyone at the
> Pepsi
> > > >corporate office. If we do not buy any Pepsi product then they will
> > > >be offended by our monies. Our money after all does have the words
> > > >God We Trust" on it. Please pass this word to everyone you know. Tell
> > your
> > > >family, tell your neighbors--let your voices be heard. We want the
> words
> > > >"under God" to be read by every person who buys a can.

I have left in all the >>> characters so that you get an idea how many times it had been forwarded. Like a growing tree, I can imagine how this e-mail is working its way through the world.

I have a motto: All e-mail chains are guilty until proven innocent. Within 5 minutes and with the help of google, I discovered documentation for another urban legend. The longest lived urban legend in the e-mail circuit seems to be "Petition 2493" which purports that the FCC is about to ban all religious broadcasting. This one originated over 25 years ago when it had to spread by phone, fax, and the postal service. It does not help the spread of the gospel for Christians to be hammering the government and businesses on baseless rumors that will not go away. This is especially true in these days of search engines where fact finding is easy and painless. Find the facts and then either send the e-mail on or notify the sender to be more careful. I have NEVER found an e-mail that I could send forward.

Maybe the Oldest Legend Yet

However, this post is not about e-mail. It is about a high priests, the day of atonement, bells, and rope. The legend goes back for centuries and no one has found its origin yet. I have heard the tale from countless pulpits and from well respected teachers. It goes like this:

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest will enter the Holy Place bringing blood to make atonement for the people. He wears a garment that has bells on it and the other priests tie a rope around his ankle. The high priest enters the temple and all the other priests listen for the sound of the bells. If the bells were ever to stop, they would pull the presumably dead high priest out by the rope.

Since I had never taught this matter myself, I had never had the chance find a primary source. It never occurred to me to question it until I got an e-mail suggesting that the picture was a bit absurd. "What if the priest fell dead behind the mercy seat?" the note asked suggesting that hauling out a dead man, without knowing how or where he died, could topple everything inside.

Tracking this one down proved interesting. First google: high priest "day of atonement" bells rope. The search yielded pages of hits. They all had the distinction of being of Gentile or Messianic Jewish. There were no distinctly Jewish references. So I converted the terms to have a distinctly Jewish flavor: "cohen hagadol" "yom kippur" bells rope. It returned one hit, of Gentile origin, that claimed that many high priests had died between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

What followed was a search for the actual traditions among the Jews. Eventually, I found a solid clue that spoke of the difference between the High Priest's everyday garments and what he wore on Yom Kippur. The clue was easily verified using the Scriptures.

The Everyday Clothes of the Priest

And you are to make the robe of the ephod completely blue. And there is to be an opening in its top in the center of it. There is to be an edge all around the opening of it, the work of a weaver, like the opening of a collar, so that it cannot be torn. And you are to make pomegranates of blue and of purple and of scarlet all around its hem; and bells of gold between them all around. The pattern is to be a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe. And the robe is to be on Aaron as he ministers, and his sound will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he does not die. (Exodus 28:31-35, The Net Bible)

According to this passage, Aaron was to wear a blue ephod when he entered the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies). This garment does have bells and the bells are there so that he does not die. It is a different thing to have bells to tell the world you're alive and having bells keeping you alive.

The Clothes for Yom Kippur

On the Day of Atonement, Aaron did not seem to wear this ephod, but rather had special linen garments.

and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother that he must not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil-canopy in front of the atonement plate that is on the ark so that he may not die, for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement plate. In this way Aaron is to enter into the holy place—with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He must put on a holy linen tunic, linen leggings are to cover his body, and he is to wrap himself with a linen sash and wrap his head with a linen turban. They are holy garments, so he must bathe his body in water and put them on. (Leviticus 16:2-4)

This passage puts the legend to rest. It would seem that when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he did not wear the ephod or the bells. If there are no bells to jingle, there is no need for the rope either. The passage not only puts the issue to rest, but puts to shame its spread and continuance. How much more do we spout off in ignorance?

I then followed this notion up with some orthodox and Hasidic Jewish web sites and found the purpose of the simple white clothes on the Day of Atonement. It was that the High Priest come before the Mercy Seat completely un-adorned. On that day, the high priest held no special status.

You might say that Yom Kippur, like our salvation, comes with no strings attached.

Friday: The Legend of 173880 Days

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Judas Iscariot

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

The Story of Judas Iscariot

Why This Study is Important

Yesterday's post completed the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Today I want to write about why such a subject is important. 

The most important reason is that we should not think of Judas as being such a unique character. You might say that he was ambitious, but that is common and not always fatal. He had his sin, but we all do. He had his good and bad points, but no one suspected him until he turned. It behooves us to understand him, so that we can avoid becoming like him.

Points to Ponder

Judas was for the program, but not the person. He was enamored by the kingdom of God. He liked being around great teaching. For a long time there was excitement in the air. Indeed Judas' sense of self was defined by the program and not the person. It really is important to grasp the significance of Peter's affirmation to Jesus in John 6, "We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!" After all, Jesus immediately excluded Judas by declaring him to be a devil. Peter and the others increasingly defined their lives in terms of Jesus and His words. Judas liked the teaching, saw the power in the miracles, and imagined himself wielding political power. So when the promise of the kingdom faded and Jesus' teaching became a little strange, Judas met a severe personal crisis.

So the first question that we have to ask ourselves is: What motivates us to serve? (If you are not serving the body in any capacity, please read 1 Corinthians 12-14 and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your gift(s) and deploy them for the common good.) Is it the welfare of your local congregation and its people? Is it for contacts with good and important people? Is it for accolades for a job well done? Is it because you go to a church that has stimulating teaching and discussions? Is it because you sense His pleasure? How much of what motivates you is because you know Jesus in a significant way? How much is because you like church and what it means to society? How much is it because it benefits you and your family?

The second question that we have to ask ourselves is: What would happen if the cost of service became unexpectedly high? Would you carry on? Would you pick a fight in order to escape? The tricky thing about a question like this is that you really will not know until you have been tested. I think that we can discern our service motivations, but how we handle an unexpected setback is another matter. Judas met this test and failed. Peter, therefore, tells us the joy that comes from meeting such tests and being found true:

This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7, The Net Bible)

There is a chemical compound called iron pyrite. In popular jargon, it is known as fool's gold. It looks just like gold, but if you put it in a fire, it burns. When our faith meets a test of fire and passes, it is shown to be pure gold and not something that just looks good.

The faith that will pass the test is faith in and intimate connection with Jesus the Messiah:

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!” (John 6:68-69)

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, (Philippians 1:21-23)

Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability. Yes, look! Those far from you die; you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you. But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done. (Psalm 73:25-28)

We need to have hearts that have made the presence of Jesus the Messiah our greatest treasure and our highest good.

As for Judas, we see a great tragedy. He was so close. What kept him from seeing Jesus as Messiah and the Son of God? Why was it that his legacy was being the one who betrayed a friend of infinite worth.

Thursday: A Christian Urban Legend

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

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. ><>

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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