The twelve men chosen by Jesus to be His apostles all had the potential to do great work for the Lord, to make an incredible impact for good, for God, and to go down in history among the most influential men the world has ever seen. Most of them worked hard for the Lord to fulfill this potential; one, however, lost his way and instead of being remembered for good, his name has gone down in history as the greatest traitor to ever live.
The origin of the name “Iscariot” is uncertain, though most agree that it is a reference to the hometown of Judas and his family. Most likely it means “man of Kerioth,”1 a small town in the south of Judea.2 This town was mentioned in Joshua 15:25 as part of Judah’s inheritance. Amos and Jeremiah3 both mention another city called “Kerioth,” which archaeologists believe was another name for their capital city.4
Some, however, give the name “Iscariot” a different meaning. Some say it means “a man of murder” or “a hireling.”5 The most interesting (though not likely) suggestion is that it means “man of the Sicarii.”6 The Sicarii was a band of assassins, seemingly a sub-group of the Jewish Zealots, whose goal was to remove Roman officials from power by murdering them. The originator of this group was a man named Judas of Galilee, who Gamaliel mentions in Acts 5:37.7
The name “Iscariot,” however, is not given just to Judas, but also to his father, Simon. John 6:71 and John 13:26, literally from the Greek, says “Judas, of Simon Iscariot.”8 So whatever it means for Judas, it also means for his father. It is because of this that their hometown is probably what is under consideration.
Judas the Disciple
Judas was a religious man. He had to be in order to follow Jesus. It’s most likely that he was either one of the multitude that went out to hear John the Baptizer preach, or one of the ones baptized by Jesus’ disciples in Judea.9 We aren’t told by the biblical writers when it was that Judas decided to start following Jesus, but they do tell us in no uncertain terms that Judas was a disciple of Jesus.
When it was day, [Jesus] called His disciples; and from them, He chose twelve, whom he also named “apostles.”10
One of those disciples who Jesus made an apostle was Judas Iscariot.11 Some have suggested that Judas was never really a disciple of Jesus, but just pretended to be; but God’s inspired writers say otherwise. Luke literally says “Judas Iscariot, who also became the traitor,”12 showing that he wasn’t a traitor when he was chosen. At the beginning, Judas was a faithful follower of Jesus.13
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Iscariot.” See also Thayer’s definition.
2 James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Judas Iscariot.” See also Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Judas Iscariot” for manuscript evidence that supports this belief.
3 Amos 2:2; Jeremiah 48:24.
4 See James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Judas Iscariot,” for more information.
5 Hitchcock’s New and Complete Analysis of the Holy Bible, “Iscariot.”
6 This word is used in Acts 21:38, and is defined by Thayer as “an assassin. One who carries a short sword under his clothing, that he may kill secretly and treacherously any one he wishes to.” Strong says “a dagger man or assassin; a freebooter (Jewish fanatic outlawed by the Romans). See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, “Sicarii” (in Vol. 9, page 726).
7 Judas of Galilee’s “revolt had a theocratic character, the watchword of which was ‘We have no lord nor master but God,’ and he boldly denounced the payment of tribute to Caesar, and all acknowledgement of foreign authority, as treason against the principles of the Mosaic constitution, and signifying nothing short of downright slavery. His fiery eloquence and the popularity of his doctrines drew vast numbers to his standard, by many of whom he was regarded as the Messiah.” (McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 9, page 726.
8 The ASV translates John 6:71 and 13:26 as “Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot,” though similar language used in 13:2 they translate as “Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.” Manuscript evidence is divided in these passages, though the general consensus is that Judas’ father is called “Simon Iscariot” at least once.
9 It is generally agreed by scholars that Judas was from Judea, thus a call from Galilee isn’t likely. See Mark 1:5 and John 3:22, 4:1-2.
10 Luke 6:13.
11 Luke 6:16.
12 Luke 6:16. It is a form of the word “ginomai,” which means “to become.” Therefore, Judas was not a traitor from the beginning, but later became a traitor. You cannot become what you already are.
13 The gospel writers do not try to build suspense and make mysteries out of who was going to betray Jesus. They point out at the first mention of Judas’ name that he is the one who would eventually betray Jesus. See Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; and John 6:71.