Matthew 26:14 - 27:66
One of the darkest moments in all of history is the betrayal of Jesus by one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot. When the disciples came to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus made it clear that His death would be upcoming.
You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified (Matthew 26:2).
Realizing this, Judas went to the chief priests and said.
'What are you willing to give me if I deliver him to you?' And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray him (Matthew 26:15).
On the night when Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Last Supper, Judas plotted with the religious rulers to take them to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there in the garden that Jesus was betrayed and arrested.
Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?
Why did he do it? If Jesus clearly demonstrated that He was the Son of God, then why did one of His own disciples betray Him?
It Was Foreordained
There have been a number of views put forth to explain why Judas did this. One view says that Judas was foreordained as a traitor and could do nothing about it. Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray Him. He had said to His disciples,
'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and would betray him (John 6:64).
Though Jesus knew ahead of time that Judas would betray Him it does not mean He caused Judas to do it. Judas acted on his own accord. He was not just a pawn or puppet in God's hands.
Was Judas A Fanatical Believer?
Another view argues that Judas was a fanatical believer in Jesus who wanted to force His hand by betraying Him. Handing Jesus over to the religious leaders would supposedly force Him to set up His Messianic kingdom. But this view does not square with the facts. Judas asked the chief priests for money for the betrayal, which is hardly in keeping with such "pure" spiritual motives. Moreover, the Gospels refer to Judas as a thief and a betrayer. Hardly the designation one would expect for a fanatical believer.
Was Judas A Superpatriot
Others have considered Judas a superpatriot who wanted to use Jesus as a means to revolt against their Roman oppressors. But this does not fit the facts for the reasons mentioned above. There is no indication that Judas had any other motive but greed.
He Was A Thief
This brings us to the likely explanation. Judas was a thief whose ambition was to have power and money. By aligning himself close to Jesus, Judas believed that He would receive a prominent place in the kingdom. When Jesus talked about dying, Judas realized the kingdom was not going to come immediately. Therefore, he gained what he could by betraying Jesus. Judas did not ever believe in Jesus. He never referred to Jesus as Lord but rather as "master" or "teacher." Judas is an example of one who follows Jesus for all the wrong reasons. Jesus gave Judas' epitaph:
The Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24).
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus had predicted his betrayal by one of his disciples. Different motives have been ascribed to Judas for doing this terrible deed. It has been contended that Judas was some fanatical believer who wanted Jesus to immediately set up his kingdom. Some have argued that he was a superpatriot who was attempting to force Jesus to revolt against the Romans. While people continue to make excuses for Judas to why he betrayed Jesus there are no excuses. Judas was called a thief who never really believed in Jesus as his Lord. The betrayal of Jesus was for Judas' own benefit. Jesus Himself stated that it would have been better if Judas had not been born. The fact that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him does not remove the responsibility from Judas. He betrayed Jesus because he chose to.
Why Jesus Was Betrayed by Judas Iscariot
Once one of Jesus’s most trusted disciples, Judas became the poster child for treachery and cowardice.
From the moment he plants a kiss on Jesus of Nazareth in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot sealed his own fate: to be remembered as history’s most famous traitor.
But by identifying Jesus to the Jewish authorities, Judas set into motion the series of events that became the foundations of the Christian faith: Jesus’s arrest, his trial, his death by crucifixion, and eventually his resurrection, known collectively as the Passion of Christ.
Given how little we actually know about him from the Bible, Judas Iscariot remains one of the most enigmatic—and important—figures in Jesus’s story. In recent years, the discovery of the long-lost Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic text originally dating to the second century, has led some scholars to reconsider his role, and even to ask whether he might have been unfairly blamed for betraying Jesus.
Who Was Judas Iscariot? What We Know from the Bible
Though the Bible offers few details about Judas’s background, all four canonical gospels of the New Testament name him among Jesus’s 12 closest disciples, or apostles. Intriguingly, Judas Iscariot is the only one of the apostles whom the Bible (potentially) identifies by his town of origin. Some scholars have linked his surname “Iscariot,” to Queriot (or Kerioth), a town located south of Jerusalem in Judea.
“One of the things that might set Judas apart from the rest of Jesus's disciples is that Judas is not from Galilee,” says Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. “Jesus is from the northern part of Israel, or Roman Palestine.
But [Judas’s] surname might be evidence that he's from the southern part of the country, meaning he may be a little bit of an outsider.”
Possible Motives for His Betrayal
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus informed his disciples during the Last Supper that one of them will betray him. When they asked who it would be, Jesus said “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” He then dipped a piece of bread in a dish and handed it to Judas, identified as the “son of Simon Iscariot.” After Judas received the piece of bread, “Satan entered into him.” (John 13:21-27).
Judas then went on his own to the priests of the Temple, the religious authorities at the time, and offered to betray Jesus in exchange for money—30 pieces of silver, as specified in the Gospel of Matthew. Like the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Luke also cited Satan’s influence, rather than mere greed, as a reason for Judas’s betrayal. John, however, made clear that Judas was an immoral man even before the devil got into him: He kept the “common purse,” the fund that Jesus and his disciples used for their ministry, and stole from it.
“There have always been those who have wanted to tie Judas's betrayal to the fact that he had a love of money,” Cargill points out. Others have suggested a more political motive for his traitorous act. According to this theory, Judas might have become disillusioned when Jesus showed little interest in fomenting a rebellion against the Romans and reestablishing an independent kingdom of Israel.
Alternatively, Cargill suggests, Judas (like the Jewish authorities at the time) could have seen a rebellion as potentially dangerous for the Jewish people in general, as in the case of the Roman destruction of Sepphoris earlier in the first century: “Maybe he decided to hand Jesus over, in effect, to stop a larger rebellion.”
What Happened After That
Whatever his motives, Judas led soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he identified Jesus by kissing him and calling him “Rabbi.” (Mark 14:44-46) According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas immediately regretted his actions and returned the 30 pieces of silver to church authorities, saying “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” When the authorities dismissed him, Judas left the coins on the floor, and committed suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:3-8).
Judas’s betrayal, of course, led to Jesus’s arrest, trial and death by crucifixion, after which he was resurrected, a sequence of events that—according to Christian tradition—brought salvation to humanity. But the name “Judas” became synonymous with treachery in various languages, and Judas Iscariot would be portrayed in Western art and literature as the archetypal traitor and false friend. Dante’s Inferno famously doomed Judas to the lowest circle in Hell, while painters liked Giotto and Caravaggio, among others, immortalized the traitorous “Judas kiss” in their iconic works.
Controversy surrounds the Gospel of Judas, as some scholars have argued that the National Geographic Society’s version represented a mistranslation of the Coptic text, and that the public was wrongly made to believe the document portrayed a “noble Judas.” In any case, the fact that the Gospel of Judas was written at least a century after Jesus and Judas died means that it provides little in the way of historically reliable information about their lives, and certainly doesn’t provide the missing link to understanding Judas Iscariot’s true motivations.
“The truth is we don't know why Judas did what he did,” notes Cargill. “The grand irony, of course, is that without [Judas’s betrayal], Jesus doesn't get handed over to the Romans and crucified. Without Judas, you don't have the central component of Christianity—you don't have the Resurrection.”
Question: "Why did Judas betray Jesus?"
Answer: While we cannot be absolutely certain why Judas betrayed Jesus, some things are certain. First, although Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve (John 6:64), all scriptural evidence points to the fact that he never believed Jesus to be God. He even may not have been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (as Judas understood it). Unlike the other disciples that called Jesus “Lord,” Judas never used this title for Jesus and instead called him “Rabbi,” which acknowledged Jesus as nothing more than a teacher. While other disciples at times made great professions of faith and loyalty (John 6:68; 11:16), Judas never did so and appears to have remained silent. This lack of faith in Jesus is the foundation for all other considerations listed below. The same holds true for us. If we fail to recognize Jesus as God incarnate, and therefore the only One who can provide forgiveness for our sins—and the eternal salvation that comes with it—we will be subject to numerous other problems that stem from a wrong view of God.
Failing Jesus (Matthew 26:14-27:66)
Judas is hardly the only one who lets Jesus down.
The contrast between the joy of Palm Sunday and the sorrow of the Passion is breathtaking. Jesus’ triumphal entry turns quickly into a full-fledged battle. (It’s a pity the lectionary doesn’t include any of Jesus’ head-to-head scuffle with the scribes and Pharisees, the money-changers and the chief priests!) We know who wins the skirmishes: by the time Passover arrives, Judas has agreed to betray Jesus.
But Judas is hardly the only one who fails Jesus:
After celebrating the Passover meal, Jesus takes James and John and Peter with him to retreat to Gethsemane to pray. As Jesus pours his heart out in grief, his closest friends can’t even keep their eyes open.
As the crowds arrive with swords and clubs--a far cry from the cloaks and palm branches--one disciple dismisses Jesus’ teaching of peace. Instead he meets violence with violence, cutting off the ear of the slave of the high priest.
While Jesus is taken to the house of the high priest, Peter follows into the courtyard. But instead of honoring his teacher, Peter denies three times even knowing Jesus.
In the court of the high priest, all of the religious leaders--who purportedly desire to do God’s will--try to get witnesses to lie about Jesus. Most refuse, but the two who come forward are enough to turn the tide; soon Jesus is convicted of blasphemy.
Once Jesus is convicted by the religious leaders, he is taken to the governor, Pilate. Pilate gives in to manipulated populist demand, washing his hands of any responsibility.
In the end, only a Gentile centurion and a number of women stay faithful to Jesus. No one in his inner circle, no one with religious responsibility, no one with civil power does anything at all to stand for Jesus.
Christine Chakoian is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, Illinois.
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Which makes me wonder: how would we do? I have a feeling that our fidelity will be sorely tested in the days ahead. I fear that we will take up the Machiavellian tools of cunning and duplicity, that we will seek our self-preservation at the cost of others’ fate, that we will be swept up in the heat of the moment and follow the will of the crowd. I pray that I’m wrong.