Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:1-6, Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25, John 13:21-30
Thirteen men meet in an upper room. It was time for the great celebration of Passover. But as these men are eating, Jesus speaks words that bring that meal to a screeching halt. “I tell you the truth, one of you shall betray me.” Those words are so disturbing that Paul introduces the event of that first communion with the words, “In the night of his betrayal… Jesus took bread.” And you know that as the story unfolds, that it is the disciple called Judas from Iscariot.
Judas Iscariot has been the topic of curiosity for two thousand years. To many he appears to be a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. He has been a puzzle to theologian and lay person alike.
The puzzles have centered around two questions:
- Why did Judas do what he did?
- Why did Jesus Choose him?
The first question has centered on Judas’ motives
The second question has centered on; Did Jesus know what kind of a man he was choosing?
The reasons for his defection.
The first question has provided a field day for speculation. Some of the most recent studies of Judas have tried to soften the blow. Here is how some have run;
A time for Judas
Morley Callahan wrote a book a few years ago entitled, A time for Judas. In the book he claims that Jesus and Judas planned the betrayal. Judas loved Jesus the best of all the 12, and Jesus let him into the secret of his need to die to be a martyr. Judas agreed to be the fall guy. He was actually a double agent. A mole. He was seen to be on the side of Jesus’ enemies, but he was in fact a wooden horse of Troy, to help their enemies get to Jesus, because Jesus would need to be a martyr, if he was to create a new religion.
It is rather far-fetched and more creative than accurate. I doubt if any scholar will take that proposal with any seriousness.
Jesus Christ Super-star
A second theory is taken much more seriously. It is best represented by the musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar: The Broadway play and the movie have painted a very different Judas. He ends up being the hero of the piece. Judas meant well. He simply meant to speed up the rather slow kingdom building that Jesus seemed to be about. Jesus kept saying, “my time has not yet come.” Judas felt that the time was right. The moment was now. Strike while the iron is hot. And so he knew that if Jesus’ enemies leaned on him, Jesus would move faster and decisively, and bring in the Kingdom of Glory immediately. So Judas may have been simply impatient. He may have misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. But he is no villain. Just a tragic figure who misread the signs of the times. He had good motives, he just did not have good sense. When he realized his mistake, he committed suicide. He may have been a sad man, but he was not a bad man. Like many a villain, he was simply a victim.
The incarnation of evil
On the other hand, if you go wool gathering through history, you will see the very reverse of those two photographs. Judas is treated as a degenerate man, always lurking in the shadows. He is the incarnation of the evil one. Satanically driven from the very beginning. He is a traitor in their midst from the very first days of his association. He is a satanic plant, working undercover, to undo the work of God,
There is an interesting legend that when Leonardo DaVinci painted the last supper, he spent months searching the gutters of Milan, looking for the most evil face he could find, and when he discovered him, he had him sit for his portrait to be used as the face of Judas in the last supper. Judas is not hard to find in most paintings of this event. There is a snarl on his face. A darkened brow, a sly look in his eyes.
But that is also the wrong reading of Judas. His face was as clear, his appearance as normal as that of any of the others, throughout all those months the other disciples never catch on that the enemy is in their midst. Jesus drops no hint to the others of any betrayal until that very last week. And when he does speak of a betrayer on that last evening with his followers, no one asks, “Is it Judas?” Instead they all ask, “is it I?” He was not perceived by his peers as an evil man, until the deed was done.
The Love of Money is the Root of all kinds of evil.
It is strange, however, that such theories should arise. All four Gospels let us know what the basic motive was.
Hear what Matthew says: (Matthew 26:14-15) ”Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the Chief Priests and said “What will you give me if I deliver him to you? And they paid him 30 pieces of silver.”
Hear what Mark says (14:10) ”Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it they were glad, and promised to give him money.” as though they were reluctant to pay anything at all, but he insisted, and they promised.
It is more obvious with Luke: (22:3-6) ”Judas went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money, so he consented, and sought an opportunity to betray him in the absence of the multitude.”
If there is any ambiguity, however, that he did it for the money, John is blunt and leaves no doubt. Just before the visit to the high priest, a woman had broken a bottle of Alabaster ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus. Judas complained about the waste. John adds a footnote to the event, “Judas said this because he was a thief, and held the bag.”
But is the love of money a strong enough motive for betrayal? Ah yes. And murder and mayhem too. Some have said that we too live in a Judas world where the temptation to wealth is one of the most dominating motivators of our lives. The love of money is the root for all kinds of evil, even betrayal. Judas did it for the money!
Reasons for Jesus’ Choice
The second question has been just as puzzling to us over the past millennia. Why would Jesus choose such a man to be one of his intimate followers? Several times it says of Jesus, “He knew what was in the mind of people.” He understood the thoughts of his foes. He knows ahead of time that Peter would deny him and Judas would betray him. Why then does he not dis-elect Judas.
There have been some ingenious suggestions. Some have said that Jesus needed someone to betray him, to be able to fulfill his own crucifixion. Poppy Cock. Judas is hardly a crucial piece in the plot. He is simply a convenience for the priests to get the job done sooner than later. But Judas was not needed by Jesus, nor God, nor even the priests.
Some have said that his part in the death of Christ was because it was predestined in an old testament prophecy. But even granted that there might be such a prophecy in the Old Testament, such a prophecy would only be seeing into the future, not causing the future. Judas did not do it because he had no choice. God is not a coercer and overcomer of man’s inherent freedom.
Then why does Jesus choose this man. Let me give you what I believe to be a more accurate picture.
Judas was chosen by Jesus when he selected the 12 because Judas was looking for the kingdom. He wanted the will of God for his life and for his nation. He was a good man who heard those early messages of Jesus, and they stirred something within him,
Before Jesus made his selection, he spent all night in prayer asking for the wisdom of His father. Then he makes his choice of 12 men. Judas was one of them. He was a leader of equal gifts and graces along with the other 11 men. Upon such men Jesus knew he could build a kingdom and establish his church. Judas was made the treasurer for the small group. That was not a trick to tempt him at the place of constitutional weakness. It was because no one, not even Jesus, suspected that money and this man were not good companions.
Sometime over the months that followed, money became increasingly important to Judas. It is often said that a man’s strengths are also his weaknesses. Judas may have been an excellent book keeper and had a mind for fiscal realities. But at the same time the purse became not only important, it became “his”. He became possessive, and then became covetous and greed became the central motive of his choices.
Friends, I do not share with you about Judas to say “Beware of money and its misuse.” I instead would repeat the counsel of Paul, “Let the one who stands, take heed, lest he fall.” Paul knows that after he has preached to others, he too could be a cast away. He knows that the Church in Galatia ran so well at the beginning, but are now hindered in their running that Paul feels that perhaps all of his efforts have been in vain. John knows that the Church in Ephesus lost their first love and were in danger of rejection.
Judas ran so well, then stumbled. Judas once loved, then replaced it with the love of another kind. He, along with the 11 went out preaching the gospel too, but ended up a castaway.
But the real tragedy of Judas, was not his sin. His sin may have not been worse that Peter’s blasphemy and denial. The difference may have been not in the degree of sin, but in the way the two men responded. Peter ran out and wept when he realized what he had done. Then returned to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.
Judas wept too, and in despair, took his life. He too could have come to Christ and said, “Oh. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” And there is no doubt, he would have been not only forgiven, but continued as an apostle.
Some of us might be on the same highway that Judas traveled. We ran so well once. But there came a carelessness and then defection from our commitment to God. You may feel like Judas, that the sin is too heinous to be forgiven. Not so! The forgiveness of sin is always offered.
“Let’s be careful out there!”