Judas Iscariot

- 33 AD

In the lists of the Twelve whom Jesus called ‘to be with him’ the name of Judas always appears last, and usually with some description which brands him with an infamous stigma (e.g. ‘who betrayed him’).

In the apostolic band Judas was treasurer. John speaks of Judas as a thief, mainly, we may suppose, on the ground that he ‘pilfered’ the money which was entrusted to him.

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Thirty Pieces of Silver
Artist: Unknown1

The Last Supper (Stylized Detail)

The Last Supper (Stylized Detail)
by Peter Paul Rubens2

The closing scenes of the Gospel story are shadowed by the treachery of this ‘one of the twelve’, as he is repeatedly called. He raises the voice of criticism against the action of Mary, who anointed the Master’s feet with the precious ointment. The comment of the Evangelist is intended to stress the avarice of Judas, who saw in the price of the ointment nothing of the beautiful deed which Jesus praised but only a means by which the apostolic fund would be increased, and thereby his own pocket lined. And even this motive was cloaked under a specious plea that the money could be given away to relieve the poor. Thus to covetousness there is added the trait of deceit.

Immediately following this incident at Bethany he goes to the chief priests to betray the Lord. Mark records simply the fact of the treachery, adding that money was promised by the priests. Matthew supplies the detail of the amount, which may have been a part-payment of the agreed sum (with an implicit allusion to Zech. 11:12, and possibly Ex. 21:32; cf. Mt. 27:9). Luke gives the deep significance of the act when he records that Satan entered into the traitor and inspired his nefarious sin (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27).

All Synoptists agree that Judas determined to await a favorable opportunity when he might deliver Jesus up to his enemies ‘privately’. That opportunity came on the evening when Jesus gathered in the upper room for the last meal with the Twelve; and this fact is perpetuated in the church’s eucharistic tradition which dates from the time of St Paul: ‘on the night when he was betrayed’).

The Lord, with prophetic insight, foresees the action of the traitor whose presence is known at the table. In the Marcan account Judas is not mentioned by name, and there seems to be a general air of bewilderment as to the traitor’s identity. The conversation is best understood as spoken in whispered undertones. John preserves the first-hand tradition of the beloved disciple’s question and Jesus’ action, both of which may have been said and done in a secretive fashion. At all events, this is the Lord’s final appeal to Judas — and the traitor’s final refusal. Thereafter Satan takes control of one who has become his captive; and he goes out into the night.

The Kiss of Judas

The Taking of Christ
by Michelangelo Caravaggio3

The pre-arranged plan for Jesus’ arrest was carried through. The secret which Judas betrayed was evidently the meeting-place in Gethsemane later that night; and to our Lord at prayer there came the band of soldiery, led by Judas. The sign of identification was the last touch of irony. ‘The one I shall kiss is the man’; and with that the traitor’s work was completed.

The last chapters of Judas’ life are beset with much difficulty. Of his pathetic remorse the Scripture bears witness, yet the only Evangelist to record this is Matthew. To this account of his agony of remorse and suicide, the account of Acts 1:18–19 must be added; "He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language ‘Akeldama,’ that is, Field of Blood. The apostle had become an apostate; and had gone to the destiny reserved for such a man.

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Thirty Pieces of Silver
by Bob Orsillo4

Judas' True Character

This reference invites the question of the true character of Judas. If ‘his own place’ is the place he chose for himself, what motives led him to his awful destiny and fate? How can we reconcile this statement with those scriptures which give the impression that he was predetermined to fulfil the role of traitor, that Jesus chose him, knowing that he would betray him, that he had stamped on him from the beginning the inexorable character of ‘the son of perdition’? Psychological studies are indecisive and not very profitable. Love of money; jealousy of the other disciples; fear of the inevitable outcome of the Master’s ministry which made him turn state’s evidence in order to save his own skin; an enthusiastic intention to force Christ’s hand and make him declare himself as Messiah—de Quincey’s famous reconstruction; a bitter, revengeful spirit which arose when his worldly hopes were crushed and this disappointment turned to spite and spite became hate—all these motives have been suggested.

Three guiding principles ought perhaps to be stated as a preliminary to all such considerations.

  1. We ought not to doubt the sincerity of the Lord’s call. Jesus, at the beginning, viewed him as a potential follower and disciple. No other presupposition does justice to the Lord’s character, and his repeated appeals to Judas.
  2. The Lord’s foreknowledge of him does not imply foreordination that Judas must inexorably become the traitor.
  3. Judas was never really Christ’s man. He fell from apostleship, but never (so far as we can tell) had a genuine relationship to the Lord Jesus. So he remained ‘the son of perdition’ who was lost because he was never ‘saved’. His highest title for Christ was ‘Rabbi’ (Mt. 26:25), never ‘Lord’.

Judas lives on the stage of Scripture as an awful warning to the uncommitted follower of Jesus who is in his company but does not share his spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9b); he leaves the Gospel story ‘a doomed and damned man’ because he chose it so, and God confirmed him in that dreadful choice.1

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