Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him… [Matthew 10: 4].
After considering Pilate’s responsibility for the death of Christ in “The Loud Voices of Rationalization” on December 29 [St. John Studies] and then the Jewish leaders’ responsibility in “The ‘Dark Passion’ of Envy” on January 5[St. John Studies], we turn our attention to the one person who probably gets the most credit, Judas Iscariot.
His betrayal of Jesus was not unexpected; we all know that. Jesus knew what was about to happen as we can read His response to Simon Peter’s question in John 13: 25-30: “Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘LORD, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”
John Stott, in his book The Cross of Christ, writes that some don’t have such that much condemnation of Judas, for they feel he was the “tool of providence, the victim of predestination.” Their idea is that someone had to betray Jesus, and it just happened to be Judas.
Yet is this exoneration for this man? Just because his betrayal is predicted in Scripture does not mean that Judas lost all freedom of choice. Jesus’ death was foretold in the Old Testament, but He went to His death voluntarily. All of us have the push and pull of temptation to deal with, Godly influences and satanic influences. It was Judas’ choice to give in to satan, to do his bidding and along with his choice comes consequences.
There is evidence that Jesus did not absolve Judas of responsibility. The Passover meal had just started and Jesus knew His hour had come. He also knew that the part that Judas was to play was underway; “Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father… The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power” [from John 13]. When Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, Judas took the bread and he fled from the meal. Stott points to similar Scripture in Psalm 41:9 when David laments betrayal: “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” Others at the Passover meal may have been confused about Judas’ exit but Jesus was not. Jesus says in Mark 14:21 “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Stott writes “Not only did Jesus condemn him, but Judas came in the end to condemn himself. He acknowledged his crime in betraying innocent blood, returned the money for which he had sold Jesus and committed suicide. Doubtless he was seized more with remorse than repentance, but a least he confessed his guilt” [Stott, 59].
This brings us to motive. My spouse is fascinated with crime documentaries and in every show I have ever seen with her, there is always the big question “Why did they do it?”
Many have considered that Judas was deeply disappointed in Jesus. He was a zealot and felt that the Jewish community needed a strong liberating leader instead of a man who preached love for one another. Judas wanted to be part of a national liberation movement to remove his country from the colonial domination of Rome. He really had no admiration for Jesus because His actions were not that significant.
Others point to the actions of Judas as a “moral fault.” He was not politically motivated. He was simply motivated by greed. Judas was the treasurer of the Disciples, being entrusted with the common purse. In well-known Scriptures [in Mark and John] Mary of Bethany brings expensive perfume to Jesus and anoints Him, filling the house with fragrant scent. This was an expensive gesture, but Jesus thought it a beautiful thing. Judas was a key spokesman who expressed the idea that the perfume could be sold and used to help the poor. There is ample evidence that Judas was less outraged by this act than the idea that this was money that could go into his own pocket. “Their comment was sick and insincere, as John goes on to say. Judas ‘did not say things because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was in it’” [Stott, 60].
Stott goes on to say that Judas may have been so outraged by this extravagance that he went straight to the priests to recoup some of the loss, choosing to sell Jesus for thirty silver coins, what Stott calls the “ransom of a slave.” The disciple John points to the common problem that many have (the love of money) as the main motive for Judas’ action. Paul declared in Luke and Timothy that the love of money is “a root of all kinds of evil.” Every day we see human beings descend into deep depravity in the quest for riches. Politicians use their power to give contracts to the highest bidder, spies sell their country’s secrets to the enemy, merchants enter into unscrupulous enterprises and yes, even today spiritual leaders turn religion into a money-generating business.
“Then one of the Twelve, the one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’ And they set out for him thirty pieces of silver” [Mark 26: 14]. Truly everybody has a price.
Maybe the motive was avarice. Judas was not an exceptional man. He did not take to heart Jesus’ admonition that is impossible to serve God and money. Simply put, Judas chose money. Many people do the same.
As we consider this third “factor” in the cause for Jesus’ death, we come to the acts of a man who was a key player in turning in Jesus to the Roman authorities. Truly Pilate could have exerted his authority to save Jesus from crucifixion but instead he chose to wash his hands of the episode. Truly the Pharisees could have been less insistent that Jesus the “uncredentialed” rabbi was committing dangerous blasphemy. Truly Judas did not have to make the choice to pursue money over his dedication to Jesus, but he did.
In one of the greatest ironies of all time, when the Roman guard came to the garden at Gethsemane, Judas chose to mark Jesus with one of the most sincere signs of friendship…
He kissed Him.