15. Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot: Betrayer
Matt. 26:6-16

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

For some time, I have felt that Judas has been characterized unfairly.  He is seen as a degenerate, an evil looking man, lurking in the shadows while the other eleven basked in the light.  He has been portrayed as a debased man, satanically inspired in all he does.

This is not the picture that the New Testament paints.  In three years of walking with Jesus there is no hint that he was any different than the others.  No doubt he had his short comings as did the others.  None of his fellow disciples saw him as anything other than one of them.

There have been other attempts, on the other side of the ledger, that have tried to whitewash Judas.  Some have said he was a patriot wanting desperately to force Jesus’ hand to free Israel from Rome.  He just didn’t understand Jesus non-use of violent means.  Some have painted Judas as a man mistaken, but with right motives. If you have listened to Jesus Christ Superstar, you are aware that Judas is the hero of the piece.  Judas meant only well, but things didn’t work out the way he expected.

I want us to throw away our previous ideas about Judas and try to look at the scriptures and see how they paint him.

How are the Mighty Fallen!

The first thing we notice about Judas is from what heights he fell to what depths. When we meet Judas he is perhaps the most promising of the twelve.  All the others were from Galilee, while Judas was the only one from Judea.

The apostles must have trusted Judas for they made him church treasurer, and he held the money for the group.  It was no doubt that he was a competent man.  They had confidence in Judas.

Then Judas was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12.  It says that Jesus prayed all night before he chose the twelve. I am sure that Jesus did not choose him because he needed a betrayer.  Even if the Old Testament scriptures foretold of the betrayal of the Messiah, that did not coerce any one into betrayal.  That was to become the decision of Judas alone.

He was chosen with eleven others to fill the highest position among the many disciples of Jesus.  He was called to be an apostle.  He was called to be one of the founders of the church of Jesus Christ.  He was given the opportunity of being thanked by the millions.  The New Jerusalem was to be built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles.  Only twelve men were chosen to this high calling of God, and so when Judas forsook this calling he became a failure.

And that bothers me.  For I see Judas not as an evil man, satanically inspired from the first, but a man who had desired to follow Jesus, and had left all to follow him.  But something happened and Judas began to fall. It bothers me because I need to be careful that I do not fall. Paul, that greatest of Apostles could say, “After I have preached to others I myself could be a cast away.” Paul could say to the Corinthian congregation, “Let him that stands take heed lest he fall.”

The Cause of the Fall

The question must be asked; why did Judas betray the Lord?  I am not convinced that super-patriotism is the answer.  Nor is a sense of disappointment in Jesus the answer.  Nor can the answer be demon possession, in that the scriptures say that Satan entered into him after his decision was made.

Why then did Judas become a betrayer? The scriptures give only one answer and it gives it several times. In the passage we read we heard the account first of the woman who came and anointed the head of Jesus with precious alabaster ointment.  The disciples protested this waste, according to Matthew.  But the other writers say clearly that it was Judas who said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor.”  Jesus rebukes that kind of spirit.  It is upon this rebuke, that the four gospels tell us that Judas went out to see the chief priest.  Judas says, “What will you give me and I will deliver him unto you.” Judas main concern seems to be self-gain alone.  What can I get out of it?

Luke goes on to say, “They covenanted with him for 30 pieces of silver.”  It seems that they argued about the costs until they came to an agreement.  Then Judas made arrangements for his betrayal. John adds a foot note to the story of the Alabaster Box.  When Judas asked the question about too costly to use, John says “He said this because he was a thief and held the bag and took care of that which was within.” That is the only motive that scripture gives.  Greed.  The love of money.

That scares me because that is a place where all of us are tempted. The love of money can make all of us do terrible things. Greed is a cancer.  It starts out small, but grows and develops until everything is infected. It would become the crime of Ananias & Sapphira in Acts chapter 5.

The Attempt to Reclaim

Even though Judas has fallen and greed possesses his heart, there is still hope.  Of all the disciples, it is Judas that brings the love of Jesus into clearest focus.  Go to that last evening in the upper room.  Judas is there with Jesus and the other eleven.  John chapter 13 gives the account of the evening.

First comes the foot washing, and Judas is there.  Jesus kneels before him and washes the feet that soon would be swift to run and betray him.  Then as the evening progresses Jesus gives a hidden warning.  He quotes the Old Testament prophesy of the betrayal (Psalm 41:9).  In fact, the chapter thirteen begins with the statement that Judas had already made plans, and Jesus was aware of it.

Then he gives another warning without pinpointing who the betrayer was.  Jesus says “one of you will betray me!” The disciples ask one after the other, “Is it I?” but Jesus does not tell.  Except he says, that the one to whom he gives “the morsel” is the one.  It is felt by many that this was spoken to Judas alone.

That giving of the morsel was significant and perhaps un-noticed for a reason.  It was the custom at a Passover meal that the first cut of the lamb was given to the most favoured person at the meal.  And perhaps Jesus was giving the choice cut to Judas.  Some even think that Judas was placed that evening on one side of Jesus, and John the beloved, was placed on the other side.  Judas and John treated as guest of honour!  By the way, in the Eastern churches the communion bread, to be dipped in the sacramental wine, was called” the morsel”. Was Jesus serving Judas holy communion?  Communion has always been intended for sinning saints.

It seems that Judas is being wooed by Jesus, not so that Jesus might not die, but that Judas does not become a betrayer.  Judas rejects these attempts to win him, and upon receiving the morsel from Jesus, the record says, “then Satan entered into him.”  And Jesus knowing that his mind was made up said, “Whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.” All of this was done quietly because the others are unaware of what was taking place.  Then John the gospel writer says, “He then, having received the morsel, immediately went out.  AND IT WAS NIGHT.”

But Christ is not through with his attempt to win this man.  We meet Judas again in the garden of Gethsemane.  We see him approaching.  Judas comes up to Jesus and plants a kiss on him saying. “Hail master.”  The words of Jesus are so striking.  Matthew records the words of Jesus to Judas, he says to his betrayer “FRIEND, why did you come?”  And behind that question was both sorrow and an appeal to their long friendship.  Judas need not be involved in his death.

Judas was to leave that garden and shortly after, to lose his life by suicide. But even for Judas there was the possibility of redemption, even up to the end.  If forgiveness was available for Peter’s denial, then forgiveness was open to Judas to. then it is open to you and I regardless of what we have done or been. Thanks be to God!