Summary: A series of character sketches through the book of Acts - Judas.
Acts 1:15-20 – God’s Power through God’s People #2: Judas
Today we are continuing our series on the Book of Acts, stories of God moving through His people in order to make the world a better place. Now, when I introduced this last week, I mentioned that along the way we would encounter a scoundrel or 2, fellows who missed the point of what God wanted to make happen in the world. Today we meet one of those scoundrels, and he’s probably the most famous Biblical rascal there is. People all over the world, even if they know very little about the Bible or about Jesus, will recognize this guy’s name. His name is Judas. Let’s read Acts 1:15-20.
Well, what do we know about Judas? His full name was Judas Iscariot, which means that he was originally from the region of Kerioth, which was somewhere south of the Judean hills. The name “Judas” itself was not a bad name; rather, it was honourable. There was the Judas Macabbees, a godly and bold leader who in about 165 BC led a war of rebellion against the Greeks that occupied Palestine. Jesus’ own brother was named Judas, and perhaps even another disciple was named Judas. It was a fine name… but history has not been kind to it, and for good reason. Continually, his name is last in lists of the 12 disciples. He was certainly not the least important among the 12, but again, history has not been kind.
We don’t know much about the guy before the Gospels tell his sad tale. Likely, he had previously declared himself a disciple. He was drawn by the preaching of John the Baptist, maybe by his own hopes of deliverance which the Messiah would bring, or maybe by the powerful words of Jesus, words encouraging people to follow Him to new life.
Some have asked why Jesus chose Judas. Now we begin to put together some thoughts that we will never know this side of heaven. We can only surmise why Judas was chosen or his motives in doing what he did, which we’ll discuss in a few minutes. But we will try.
Why was Judas chosen? Let’s remember that Jesus spent a night in prayer with His Father before the 12 were chosen from among all the disciples. So this was not a half-hearted or irrational decision. If we believe that God does not make mistakes, then the selection of Judas was not an accident. God had His reasons. What might they have been?
(1) The disciples then, like the Church now, needed a treasurer, someone who had the talent for managing business. (2) Everybody deserves a chance to show their worth. Even though we believe that God knows what will happen, we don’t believe that God makes people do things, good or evil. God wanted to give Judas a chance to do the right thing. (3) Maybe we all need to know that God’s purposes will succeed, despite the fact that sometimes it looks as if “the bad guys” will win. God is still in charge, and the gospel will still go out, even though people will try to undo its message.
So, what did Judas do that was so bad? Well, Judas offered what Jesus’ enemies wanted: knowledge. Inside knowledge of where Jesus could be found at night when He wasn’t surrounded by crowds of people. Jesus’ enemies also needed a legal witness to arrest Him, and Judas said that he would do that. His betrayal gave Jesus’ enemies the opportunity and the legal ground to capture the leader of this ragtag mob called Christ-followers.
But this treachery was not sudden. It had been building for awhile. Jesus knew what was going long before the night it all came to pass. Way back in John 6, perhaps a year or 2 before his death, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” And the writer John adds this: He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.
We can likely assume that over the course of his time with Jesus, Judas’ character became more and more open to doing what was evil. We can read in John 12 these words: “He (Judas) 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.” As keeper of the group’s cash, he occasionally dipped into the funds for himself. That’s not a one-time event, but a regular on-going thing.
Jesus rebuked Judas for this, and we can see that Judas did not receive it well. This is what happened after, from Luke 22:3 – “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” Over a period of time, through a series of choices, Judas allowed the enemy to start leading him. This is not the same as demon-possession, otherwise Jesus could have taken care of it easily enough. This was a deliberate, willful choice to allow Satan to guide him.