I went through my blog looking for mentions of Judas. I’m amazed that I haven’t mentioned him at all, because he is one of the puzzles of the story of Jesus, and so many people see him as a true villain. I even know a lady whose husband believes he is the reincarnation of Judas and has gone into a deep depression because of what he was supposed to have ‘done’ .. without, of course, ever reading the story in a decent translation of the Bible and thinking through the concepts .. so he is punishing himself for nothing, and even if he ‘is’ the reincarnation of Judas, I doubt the man would come into a new life so covered in guilt and shame, for the good his act brought to all of us means he does not deserve any.
So, what actually happened? Let me quote the gospels:
In Matthew the name of Judas Iscariot doesn’t appear until 10:4 where it is quoted as “the one who betrayed him”. In 26:14-15 we learn that Judas went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him 30 pieces of silver. 26:16 And from that moment on he (Judas) began to look for an opportunity to betray him (Jesus).
Jesus, of course, was in on the plot – at the passover meal he said 26:21 “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me”. 26:23 “The one who dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Was Jesus looking at Judas when Judas answered “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You had said so.” ..
And so the questions start .. Did Jesus know exactly who was going to betray him, because every person ‘dipped their fingers’ into the ‘bowl’ of shared food, which was the custom of the people at the time? And what did he mean when he said, to Judas, “You had said so”. Judas had said what at that stage? Has something been edited out here in the far past, because that little sentence doesn’t seem to make sense in the context it is in?
Then Jesus broke bread and shared it and the wine with all his disciples, so if he did know Judas was about to betray him, was he angry about it, or simply accepting? Had Jesus forgiven Judas before the process even began, since that was Jesus’ nature?
And then all his disciples betrayed him, not just Judas – 26:31 “You will all become deserters because of me this night ..”. How did they desert – He asked them to stay awake while he prayed, and when he returned they were all asleep, twice. 26:40 & 43. When he needed their help, even in his quiet prayer, they were not there. And then there was specifically Peter ..
But back to Judas – 26:47 “While he was still speaking, Judas … arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people”.
You know, I just struck another puzzle. Judas had to kiss Jesus (26:49) to show the ‘crowd’ which man they should arrest. If Jesus was that famous for being a troublemaker, you would have thought at least one of them, other than Judas, knew which man Jesus was. And a kiss is a common practice among the men of their culture .. so how did it become a sign of betrayal? They still do this in modern times .. are they constantly saying they will all betray each other these days?
And lastly .. why did Jesus say “Friend, do what you have to do here” (26:50) to Judas, knowing what was about to happen? Did he still think of Judas as his friend? I don’t think he was being sarcastic.
Let’s go next to Mark:
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is obviously a very important part of Mark’s gospel, given that he’s mentioned only three times? The first is the same as Matthew 3:19 “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him”. 14:10-11 is the same story as Matthew, but briefer – “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him”.
Now Theologians believe Mark is the earliest written gospel, on which the other gospels have been based, so someone had fun expanding the story in Matthew, and pretty much copying a lot of what was in Mark in doing so. But let’s move to the last time Judas is written of here. Aha .. back to the kissing again –
14:43-44 “Immediately, while he was speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard’.” Which he did, and they did ..
I wonder if the writer of Matthew wondered, as I have, why some ‘thugs’ from the scribes would be there – since he left it out of his story? And why don’t we have a more complete story of this event in Jewish history, since the ‘scribes’ were there? Perhaps the priests didn’t want it written down .. then why send scribes? Or did they make the story vanish afterwards?
And then all of Jesus’ followers deserted him and fled (14:50), more betrayal?
The writer of Luke is actually kinder than the last two writers .. he blames Satan, but we first meet Judas much the same way –
6:16 ” … and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor”.
22:3 “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve ..” and he went and saw the chief priests and officers of the temple police, and they also offered him ‘money’. (Neither Mark nor Luke specify what sort of money).
22:47 we are back to the kissing, only in this story he didn’t appear to actually do it – “He approached Jesus to kiss him’, then 22:48 “but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?'”
And then we go to John:
Suddenly we have drama “6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” The author then says 6:71 “He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him”.
And it gets worse .. suddenly Judas is not just a devil, a betrayer but also a thief 12:6 “he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it”.
Ok, from now on I have to decide whether Jesus and the other 11 disciples were all idiots or blind .. they could not tell that Judas was stealing and take the purse away from him ‘before’ he betrayed Jesus? That would have to include the author of John, if it was written by John. And yet if you go by Jesus’ actions in the other gospels, Jesus still treated Judas as a disciple and a friend. But back to John ..
13:2 “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him”. Yes, we know.
Remembering that this book was written long after Mark .. let’s clear up the confusion about the ‘bowl’. 13:26 “Jesus answered (who would betray him), “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bred when I have dipped it into the dish”. So when he dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
And here’s another bit to the puzzle – 13:27 “After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him (Judas). (So Satan was controlling Judas, it was not Judas’ actually doing anything?) Jesus said to him, “do quickly what you are going to do.”
We can then interpret that as saying that Jesus knew exactly what Judas was going to do, and gave him permission to do it. My next question has to be –
Where was the betrayal? Jesus knew what was going to happen, he talked about it among his followers, the person was selected, either by God or the devil .. but for something so vitally important to humanity itself, I think it was God doing the choosing, why would Satan do something to betray itself? Jesus certainly seemed to think it was God in his ‘your will not mine’ statements (Matt 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42). How could Judas be the betrayer, when he was acting for God?
BTW, in 18:3 Judas is now leading a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came with lanterns and torches and weapons. In this case we have no ‘kiss’, Jesus gives himself up into their hands, after the soldiers argue with him? The author didn’t know about the kissing?
And then we have the last puzzle of this story of Judas. How did he die?
It seems there are two stories to the death of Judas. The first is in Matthew 27:3-10 where he repented of what he had done and returned the 30 silver coins to the priests, and went and hanged himself. The priests used the coins to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners.
Story two is found in Acts, not the gospels. It seems Judas bought a field for himself with the 30 silver coins but instead of enjoying it he ‘fell headlong, burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out’ (Acts 1:18). And the field became known as the Field of Blood.
Where does that leave us?
Through the Grace of God, and the courageous acts of two men, we are Christian today, with all that it means for us .. those of us who are, of course. Can you see Judas as courageous? I can. Jesus certainly was.
Love & Peace