Summary: So what can we learn from the experience of Judas?
Judas and Betrayal
Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50, 27:1-5
When Jesus finished washing the disciple’s feet, he shared a last meal with them and the Scripture says, “Jesus was troubled in spirit…” Why wouldn’t he be? Within a few hours, he would be hanging on the cross, slowly suffocating to death. But the most painful thing according to John was the betrayal by his friend and disciple. The agony that it brought him must have been a burden. It’s one thing to be betrayed by a stranger but quite another to be betrayed by a close friend and follower, someone you had hand picked. In this moment of his betrayal though surrounded by his disciples, Jesus must have felt all alone knowing they would all turn from him. Though he chose every one of them, each in their own way would betray Jesus and fall away, but none more so than Judas.
That betrayal forever stained the name of Judas. No one names their babies Judas. Today, we associate the name Judas with treachery. But it has not always been so. The name Judas means “the praise of God.” It was a very popular name in Jesus’ day, that is, until the name was marked by Judas Iscariot. So what do we know about Judas? No one ever questioned the fact that Judas was a disciple. He apparently followed Jesus with the same allegiance as all the other disciples. There is no evidence to show differently. What we do know is that Judas was the only disciple not from Galilee. He was from Judah. We also know he was a fiery man, full of zeal and passion. And we know he served in a position of authority and responsibility as treasurer of the disciples.
So why did Judas betray Jesus? Many have ventured their opinions throughout the centuries. Let’s first start with the Scriptures. First, the Gospel of John says it was greed. This is based on what happened at a feast honoring Jesus. Mary broke a jar of very expensive ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet. Judas objected to such waste, “Why was the ointment sold for 300 pence and given to the poor?” John then wrote, “This he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief and had the bag.” John 12:6 Judas apparently used his position as treasurer to steal from the treasury. So John states that greed and his love for money were the primary motivating factors to betray Jesus which the High Priest paid him for, the sum the equivalent of two month’s salary. Second is fear. The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare. Jesus tried to make clear that those who would follow him would experience the same fate as he, death on a cross. If Jesus was out of the way, perhaps the same fate would not fall on Judas. Third is rebellion. Others have stated that Judas betrayed Jesus to make him get involved in the movement to rebel from Roman rule. The hopes and dreams of the people were that God would raise up a new David who would establish his rule of justice and righteousness. This is what Simeon and many other faithful Jews prayed for daily, the consolation of Israel when the pain and suffering under Roman rule would end. Some scholars have surmised that Iscariot is taken from a group in Jesus day known as the Sicarii who were fanatical nationalists seeking to free Israel from Roman rule by any means, including terrorism. Up to this time, Jesus was not interested in getting involved in politics. Perhaps, Judas surmised, he just needed a little encouragement and his arrest would do the trick. The fact of the matter is we don’t know for sure Judas’ motivations for betraying Jesus. But what we do know is that once the act was taken, the money received and Jesus was arrested, Judas immediately regretted his actions.
Judas went back to the High priest and said three of the hardest words anyone can say, “I have sinned.” Just 19 times in the Bible does someone say those words and Judas was one of them. The sad thing is that Judas’ sin is not confined just to him. All of us have betrayed Jesus at one time or another. Upon hearing those words, we may respond like the disciples by saying, “Not me, I would never do that.” But the reality is we have done that and we continue to do so. Wang Mong Dao served as pastor of Peking’s largest church. During Communist persecution of Christians, he was thrown into prison and tortured. He was told he could stop it though if only he recanted his faith. He refused until he began to fear even greater suffering. He recanted his belief in Jesus and was freed. He quickly regretted his decision and was seen walking the streets of Peking weeping and mumbling, “I am Judas. I have betrayed my Lord.” Within a few weeks, he was unable to bear the guilt and shame any longer. He returned to the Communist authorities and confessed his faith in Jesus. He was put back in prison and spent the next 27 years there. We all betray Jesus at times in our lives. We have moments or perhaps even seasons when our actions have not represented the faith we profess. We may not have refuted our faith but we have betrayed him nonetheless. Perhaps it was a moment when we remained silent rather stood up for our faith, when we have refused to give money to the hungry or homeless passing judgment on them rather than having compassion, when we have compromised our values and beliefs through our words and actions. Just this once, we say. We betray Jesus when we exclude God from the decisions we make whether that be where we go to school or work, what career we pursue or who we choose to date, never praying over those decisions and seeking God’s will.