Have you ever felt a bit of confusion over the person of Judas, the Betrayer? I once had a Bible teacher emphatically proclaim we should not feel sorry for Judas. Some may pity Judas or see him as a scapegoat in God’s plan. Others may hate him for his betrayal. Let’s look at the life of Judas and discover what lessons we can apply to our lives.
The Story of Judas
We hear nothing about Judas’s life before he became a disciple of Jesus. There is no mention of when Judas was born.
Meaning of Judas Iscariot
The name Judas means “he shall be praised” in Hebrew (interesting…) and his last name, Iscariot, meant “men of Kerioth” which could mean that was his hometown.
John identified him this way:
“He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.” John 6:71 NIV.
Judas’ Betrayal Foretold
Both Zechariah and Jeremiah record prophesy for the betrayal of the Messiah. They attached no name to that prophecy, however.
Judas was born with free will. God did not manipulate or control him in any way. He betrayed Jesus by his own choice and could have changed his mind many times throughout his discipleship.
Who Is Judas Iscariot?
Jesus chose Judas as one of the original twelve apostles. Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus spent the night alone and in prayer with His Father before choosing His Twelve. (Luke 6:12-16) His decision to choose Judas was not made in haste, but with much care and deliberation.
Like the other apostles, Judas gave up his old life to follow Jesus. They lived, traveled, and worked together closely those 3 years.
Judas had ample time to apply the many lessons he learned from Jesus. He would have seen firsthand the miraculous healings Jesus performed, and heard all His teachings, including those on forgiveness and mercy. He would have learned about the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow road to salvation. Judas heard the parable of the prodigal and of God’s welcoming and forgiving love.
Judas the Apostle
He was an active member of Jesus’s ministry. We read in Mark 6:7-13 that Jesus sends out the Twelve (including Judas), two by two, with the power to cast out demons, preach the Gospel, baptize new believers and heal the sick.
Judas had many opportunities to search his heart and mind and decide who Jesus was.
And maybe that was the point. We might not understand how Judas could be so close to Jesus, perform miracles in His name, and still betray him. But it says something about Judas’s heart. If he was that close to Jesus and knew His character and could still betray Jesus, it was a definite and well thought out choice on his part.
Judas was the Treasurer
John’s gospel gives us insight into Judas being named treasurer of their ministry and the status of his heart.
Judas shows his true colors when Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’s feet during a dinner given in His honor.
“Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!’ He did not say this 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 put into it.” John 12: 4-6 NIV.
It may seem odd to us that of all people to choose as treasurer, Jesus chose the thief. (We can rest in the truth that His ways are higher than ours…) It’s possible Judas may have even volunteered for the job. Whatever the reason, the signs of Judas’s deception were apparent long before he betrayed Jesus.
Judas and Jesus
Jesus predicts Judas Betrayal
After Jesus had preached an exceptionally hard teaching, many disciples deserted Him. Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Can you hear the love and longing in His voice?)
Jesus was searching for the motives of all the disciples. Simon Peter declares their allegiance and faith in Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”
Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (In Hebrew, they described the word devil as “adversary,” and in Greek “slanderous, accusing falsely.”) John 6: 67,69-70. NIV.
Jesus openly prophesied Judas’s defection. He was aware Judas would not change. Judas stayed with Jesus, but not for an honest faith-based relationship.
Judas in the Last Supper
While Jesus and the disciples were eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me. They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’… Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” (Matthew 26:21-22,25 NIV)
Jesus’ statement of betrayal must have been alarming to the disciples.
No one, however, immediately stared at Judas as the obvious guilty party. Instead, they each asked incredulously, “Is it I?” They had no idea, even after Jesus names Judas (and Judas had already betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and collected his blood money.)
Jesus was offering a chance for Judas to repent at the Last Supper, but Judas continued to deny his involvement in the betrayal.
Pin me for later!
Why did Judas Betray Jesus?
“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” Mark 14: 10-11 NIV.
Matthew’s recounting has Judas asking, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” Judas’s intention points towards greed. They only gave Judas 30 silver coins, however, the meager price of a slave in those days. (Matthew 26:15 NIV)
Luke gives a bit more detail into Judas’s betrayal. His account speaks of Satan entering Judas just before Judas’s decision to go to the chief priests to discuss betraying Jesus.
Satan found a willing participant in Judas’s scheme. This in no way limits his responsibility for his actions. There was no reluctance in Judas. Judas listened to the promptings of Satan and continued to act upon them.
Was Judas the betrayer disillusioned about the direction Jesus’ ministry was heading?
Was he, like some of the other disciples, expecting Jesus to start a political rebellion against Rome?
None of them were becoming rich as followers of Jesus. His desires may have been greed- for money and/or status.
Maybe he did not believe Jesus was the true Messiah. Whatever his reason, his wrongful desires were his own choice and made him the perfect vessel for Satan.
Jesus is Betrayed
“Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him.” Mark 14:44-45 NIV.
Why did Judas betray Jesus with a kiss?
It seems like an odd choice, doesn’t it? Why not just rush forward and point to him directly? Why the pretense? It was dark, and perhaps Judas wanted to make sure they arrested the right man. Giving the normal physical greeting also doesn’t let the other disciples in on the betrayal. For a student that had great respect for their teacher, a kiss would have expressed honor.
For Judas to use a kiss in his betrayal stands out as exceptionally deceitful. His affectionate gesture was a lie.
What did Judas do with the Money?
“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left.” Matthew 27:3-5a. NIV.
Judas felt only remorse, not repentance. Remorse wishes you had not acted in a certain way because of the consequences you suffer.
Repentance in the Bible includes regret and sorrow for one’s actions but includes asking for forgiveness and a deliberate change of mind and heart.
Judas didn’t ask for pardon from God. Instead, he returned to the temple and threw the money back, implicating the chief priests and elders in the plot. But it was too late; they would not stop the trial.
How Did Judas Die?
Matthew continues in the above verse: “Then he went away and hanged himself.” (verse 5b) Luke, the doctor, gives a more gruesome description of what occurred following the hanging in the book of Acts. He recounts the decision of Peter to replace Judas and tells of his death. “With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spill out.” Acts 1: 18 NIV.
No one knows the mind of Judas, but he may have used suicide as a way to redeem himself in place of asking for God’s redemption. Some scholars believe that in ancient Israel, suicide was accepted, and may have been considered natural or even heroic.¹
Lessons from the Life of Judas Iscariot
•Love even those who would treasonously betray you.
Doesn’t this seem like a difficult pill to swallow? But consider Jesus’s actions. He shared many meals with Judas. He prayed for him and washed his feet in humility and service. Jesus was showing us what genuine love looks like. No pride, all humility, and exhibiting grace and a humble spirit.
•Even a life lived seeing a perfect example of faith, and immersed in Jesus’s teachings cannot guarantee a heart for Christ.
Sin is an inborn heart problem. We will fight it all our lives. But we also have a free will and can choose to repent and fight temptation. Judas had many chances to use his “ultimate environment” to change his heart problem. Instead, he gave Satan an open door to his heart.
•Don’t live in regret or remorse.
Move forward to repentance. God will always love you- sin and all. He wants to restore you. Peter denied Jesus 3 times, and Jesus lovingly restored him. It is always an option for us!
•When tempted and influenced by sin, Jesus always gives us a way out.
When the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, we need to go immediately to Jesus and ask for his loving forgiveness. The Holy Spirit will help us recognize sin in our lives, turn away from it, and make better choices. We just need to listen and respond.
•Our heart shows where our treasures lie.
Jesus demands our full loyalty. We can’t store up treasure on earth and in heaven. Is there anything in your life that you put before God?
•Jesus will never allow Satan to snatch us out of His hands.
As believers, our souls and eternal life are secure. That doesn’t stop Satan from trying to get a foothold into our lives. He knows our weaknesses and uses them to his advantage. When we are lonely, sick, feeling helpless, etc, we are especially vulnerable to his attacks. “Resist the devil” as James 4:7 recommends and “he will flee from you.”
Compassion for the Lost
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 NIV.
I’m going to go against my previous Bible teacher and say I do feel sorry for Judas. I’m sorry he made poor choices, let greed fill his heart, and refused to see Jesus for who He was. He lost out on eternal life in Heaven. But it was his choice, and he suffered the consequences.
We are all broken, all in need of a Savior. Are we moved to compassion for those who don’t know Jesus or outright reject Him? Does that compassion then physically move us to do or say something to remedy the situation?
How is my witness? Am I bearing fruit for God’s glory? “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8 NIV.
What did you learn from Judas’s life that impacted you the most?
What a wonderful season to contemplate Jesus’ love, ministry, and the part we play in His plan.
¹Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print.