Judas the Betrayer
Jesus had told the apostles on more than one occasion that He was going to be murdered, but “they understood none of these things; and the saying was hid from them, nor did they understand the things which were spoken [by Jesus].”1 After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus boldly condemned the scribes and Pharisees, pronounced judgment on the Jewish nation, and foretold the destruction of the temple.2 As a result, the Jewish leaders gathered together and plotted how to secretly capture Jesus and kill Him. Meanwhile, Jesus told His disciples that He would be betrayed in two days’ time.3
As a Jew, Judas had certain expectations of the Messiah—one of them being that He was going to reign as a King over Israel and overthrow the oppressive Roman oversight. But while Jesus claimed to be the Christ, and was indeed a worker of miracles, He seemed to be rather willing to die—something that would make it hard (at least in the eyes of Judas) for Him to reign as a king. Matthew’s account seems to give the final straw in 26:6-16:
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him there, having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head while He sat eating. But when the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, “Why is this being wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for a lot, and given to the poor.”
When Jesus heard, He said to them, “Why are you troubling the woman? For she has done a good work on me. For you always have the poor with you; but you don’t always have Me. For in that she’s poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel will be preached in the whole world, will also be this, which this woman has done, told as a memorial of her.”
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What will you give me, and I’ll deliver Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver for him. And from that time, he sought opportunity to betray Him.
John records a very similar event (possibly the same one)4 which singles out Judas as the main complainer about the “waste” of ointment that could have been used to aid the poor. But he wasn’t concerned about the poor at all; he was interested in lining his own pockets. It is possible that as talk about Jesus’ impending death increased, Judas started setting aside money for himself out of the bag, possibly with the rationalization, “Well, Jesus sure isn’t going to need it if He’s dead.” Regardless, he was already falling into Satan’s temptations before he made the conscious decision to go to the Jewish leaders with an offer of betrayal.
Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?” This he said, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and took what was put in it.5
In the Old Testament, thirty pieces of silver was the amount a man had to pay if his ox accidentally killed another man’s slave.6 This amount was prophesied by God through His prophet in Zechariah 11:10-13.
I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited on me knew it was the word of Jehovah. And I said to them, “If you think good, give me my price, and if not, forbear.” So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And Jehovah said to me, “Cast it to the potter: a goodly price that I was valued by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of Jehovah.
While Judas was fulfilling prophecy, he still had a choice in the matter. No one was forcing him to betray Jesus. So, while some wish to make excuses for him, as though he was fulfilling an important service for Jesus Christ,7 we must remember that the Bible calls what he did “transgression,” that is, sin.8
But even after Judas made this decision, he kept up the ruse of being a faithful disciple (though Jesus wasn’t fooled).9 He was with Jesus and the rest of the twelve in the upper room for the Passover10 when Jesus stood up and prepared a basin of water to wash their feet. Judas sat like nothing was wrong as Jesus came to him and washed his feet. Then Jesus stood up, put his outer garment back on, and sat down at the table and began to foretell that He wasn’t just going to die, but He was going to be betrayed by someone in that room.
Truly, truly I say to you, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither is the apostle greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are happy if you do them. I do not speak of you all. I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “He that eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.” Now, I tell you [this] before it comes, so that when it comes to pass, you might believe that I AM. …
When Jesus had said this, He was very troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, “Truly, truly I say to you, that one of you will betray me.”11
The act that Judas was putting on had convinced the other apostles, for they all said, “Is it me?”12 They didn’t say, “Is it Judas?” Even after Jesus gave a specific answer to them, “It is he to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it,” and then handed it to Judas, the disciples didn’t realize that Jesus was identifying him. Even when Jesus said to Judas, “That which you are doing, do quickly,” and Judas got up and left, the apostles assumed that Jesus had sent him on a special mission to buy something for their feast or to give money to the poor.13
So Judas went out into the night, descended the stairs, and ran to meet up with the chief priests and Pharisees.
It has been argued by some that Judas wasn’t intending to betray his Lord, but that he was trying to force Jesus to act and reveal Himself as the Messiah.14 While this sounds plausible on the surface, it is very hard to accept, since Judas accepted money for his part, and since Judas was already a thief. It is also difficult to accept when one considers that the biblical writers said that “Satan entered into him.”15 Did Satan really want Jesus to display His power and prove to the Jewish leaders that He was the mighty Messiah? The entire Passion scene is a last-ditch, all-out attack on Jesus in an effort to get Him to sin, just once.16 So it wouldn’t make sense for Judas’ motivation to be a noble one, trying to get Jesus to reveal Himself as the Messiah. The fact that Jesus refers to Judas as “the son of perdition”17 between the time he left the supper and the time he returned with soldiers shows that Judas had given himself completely over to willful sin.18
Still dark, Judas returned with a band (approximately 600 men)19 of soldiers and officers from the chief priests, carrying lanterns and torches and weapons.20 The soldiers, not knowing who Jesus was, had to rely on Judas to identify Him. He walked up to Jesus, and we see no trace of fear, no trace of concern, no struggle within Judas over what he was doing. As he drew near, the Lord said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?”21 But Judas just said said, “Hail [or Greetings!], Rabbi,” and kissed Him.22
Jesus’ reply was unexpected. He said, “Friend, why have you come?”23 But Judas stepped back with the soldiers, showing his true loyalty did not lie with the Lord.24 Jesus addressed the soldiers, with whom Judas was standing, and said, “Who are you seeking?” When the soldiers said “Jesus of Nazareth,” the Lord replied, “I am.” Then they all (Judas included) fell backwards to the ground.25 Peter, realizing what was happening, drew his sword, and Judas almost certainly heard the disciples utter the words, “Lord, shall we attack with the sword?”26 He probably saw Peter swing the sword, removing the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest.27
As the day dawned, the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death, and bound Him and sent Him to Pilate to begin the proceedings for crucifixion. When Judas saw what was going to happen—that an innocent man was going to be put to death because of him—he felt remorse, and tried to undo what he had done.
He brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” They said to him, “What is that to us? You will see to it.”28
And he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple, and left, and went and hanged himself.29
1 Luke 18:33-34.
2 See Matthew 23-24.
3 Matthew 26:1-5.
4 There is debate as to whether this is the same event or a different one. Matthew and Mark seem to date this at two days before the Passover (see Matthew 26:2, 6-13; Mark 14:1-9), while the event recorded by John takes place “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1-8). The similarities are incredible, and it is almost unthinkable that any of the disciples would make the same exact (word for word) condemnation of a woman in front of Jesus just four days apart, even down to the “this could have been sold for 300 pence and given to the poor” (compare Mark 14:5 with John 12:5).
5 John 12:4-6.
6 Exodus 21:32. This was true whether it was a male or a female slave.
7 See The Gospel of Judas.
8 Acts 1:25.
9 Jesus had already foretold the betrayal in John 6:70-71.
10 Matthew 26:20-25.
11 John 13:16-19, 21.
12 Mark 14:19.
13 John 13:26-30.
14 Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible, page 104 mentions this argument and attributes it to Thomas de Quincey, but gives no specific reference.
15 John 12:27.
16 The beatings He endured, the betrayal, the abandonment, the miscarriages of justice, the rejection by the people, even down to His being offered alcohol, could all be viewed as attacks by Satan in an effort to get Him to sin.
17 John 17:12.
18 Hebrews 10:26-31.
19 The word “band” means “approximately 600 men” according to Thayer, though it can also be used for groups of 500 or 1,000.
20 John 18:3.
21 Luke 22:47-48. There is some difficulty in where to place the statements of Jesus, since each one is recorded in a different gospel account. Some might place this statement after Judas kissed Jesus.
22 Matthew 26:49. Vincent’s Word Studies, quoting Meyer, says that the word translated “kissed” means “embraced and kissed,” and is emphatic, thus making this scene even more despicable.
23 Matthew 26:50.
24 John 18:5 shows that Judas was back with the soldiers.
25 John 18:4-6.
26 Luke 22:49.
27 John 18:10.
28 Basically, they are saying to Judas, “that’s your problem, you’ll have to deal with it, not us.”
29 Matthew 27:3-5.