(Continued from Mar-Apr 2012 issue)

The chief priests, scribes, and elders in Israel were worried. Their week had begun in a troubling way. Jesus of Nazareth had entered Jerusalem accompanied by shouts of praise from the crowds who lined the streets. These Jewish rulers were disheartened, saying among themselves, “Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19). Over the next few days, these wicked men challenged Jesus’ authority and asked Him numerous questions, trying to entangle Him in His words. These confrontations all ended in failure; instead of finding a weakness in Jesus, they exposed their own. This left the rulers of Israel with a dilemma: they were still determined to “take Jesus by trickery and kill Him,” but they were afraid to do so during the Passover feast, “lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matt. 26:3-5). The solution to their problem arose from an unexpected source.

Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” (Matt. 26:15). When they heard this offer, they were pleased and promised to give Judas money (Mark 14:11). After conferring together, they agreed on a price and “counted out to him thirty pieces of silver” (Matt. 26:15), fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah: “So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). From this point on, Judas looked for an opportunity to deliver Jesus into the hands of the Jewish rulers, but “in the absence of the multitudes” (Luke 22:6). What would lead one of Jesus’ own apostles to betray Him to men intent on killing Him?

Who was Judas Iscariot?

We know little about Judas’ background. He is identified as the son of Simon (John 6:71), but that is all we know of his family. His name “Judas” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Judah,” a name he shared, appropriately, with Jacob’s fourth son. It was Judah who, because of envy of his younger brother, Joseph, suggested he be sold into slavery to Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver (Gen. 37:25-28).

Judas is always identified by the surname “Iscariot” (Luke 22:3) to distinguish him from the other apostle named Judas (John 14:22). The name Iscariot is a combination of two Hebrew words: ish, meaning “man,” and Kerioth. Judas Iscariot was a “man of Kerioth,” a city (or a region) in the southern part of Judea (Josh. 15:21,25), making him the only one of the Twelve not from Galilee.

Judas Iscariot is remembered for one thing: his betrayal of Jesus. The very name “Judas” has come to mean “a traitor” in many English dictionaries. Every time Judas is mentioned in the Scriptures, he is either identified as the one who would betray Jesus (Matt. 10:4), or he is seen in the process of betraying Jesus (Matt. 26:14). Why would Jesus choose such a man to be one of His twelve apostles?

The Choice of Judas

Judas’ act of betrayal did not surprise Jesus. He “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him” (John 6:64). A year before Jesus was crucified, He told His apostles: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Jesus was referring to “Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him” (John 6:70-71).

The night before Jesus was crucified, as He met in the upper room to celebrate that last Passover with the Twelve, Jesus declared:

“The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matt. 26:24)

Jesus knew He came into this world to die, and that it would happen, “just as it was written of Him” in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus’ death was necessary to accomplish God’s eternal purpose of redemption, and Judas’ betrayal of Him was a critical part of how that purpose was to be carried out. Jesus made it clear, however, that Judas’ decision to betray Him was not predestined by God; it was a sinful act of Judas’ own will. This is why Jesus pronounced woe upon Judas, declaring he would have been better off “if he had not been born.”

Jesus chose Judas Iscariot, knowing beforehand what he would do (John 13:18), that the prophecy of the Psalmist David might be fulfilled when he wrote, “He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me” (Psalm 41:9).

Judas Iscariot, the Apostle

It must have been difficult for Jesus, when it came time for Him to select the twelve apostles, knowing that choosing Judas would put that man in a position to betray Jesus and become “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). The night before Jesus made His choice, He “went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). The next day, He named twelve to be His apostles, and Judas Iscariot was among them (Luke 6:13-16).

What did it mean to be an apostle of Jesus Christ? The gospel of Mark says:

“Then He (Jesus) appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15)

While we might question it, there is no reason to believe Judas did not participate in every aspect of this ministry: he was with Jesus during His earthly ministry, he was sent to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and he was given power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.

It is likely Judas was “with Jesus” through His entire ministry, from the baptism of Jesus to the night of His crucifixion. (Compare the requirements for Judas’ replacement in Acts 1:21-22). Like many of the other apostles, Judas may have started out as a disciple of John the Baptist, and then later left John to follow Jesus. Some Bible scholars believe that, since Judas was from Judea, he might have met Jesus when He and His disciples left Galilee and first came to Judea (John 3:22). We cannot be sure, but, in either case, Judas spent at least three years in the company of this wonderful person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Think of the things Judas heard as Jesus taught; he was there to hear the truth and wisdom of God from the mouth of His own beloved Son, but it had no effect on the heart and life of Judas Iscariot. Think of the amazing things Judas witnessed as he saw Jesus perform miracle after miracle: healing all manner of disease and infirmity, casting out demons, feeding the 5000 with a young boy’s lunch, calming the winds and sea, walking on the water, even raising Lazarus from the dead. He was present to experience all these things, but Judas was no different from the majority of the Jews at that time: “Although Jesus had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him” (John 12:37). Peter and the other apostles believed and knew that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Judas did not (John 6:64,70). Why then would Judas even want to follow Jesus or become one of His apostles?

What Motivated Judas?

All the years Judas spent with Jesus were merely a pretense; hypocrisy on the part of Judas. Why did he want to become a part of Jesus’ life and ministry? We will probably never understand the depths of Judas’ motivation, but the Scriptures do give indications of what was important to him.

The night before Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He and His apostles spent the night in Bethany with their good friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They had supper at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). Martha served, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus, and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him. She “took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3). Judas immediately complained, saying, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Three hundred denarii was a significant amount, almost a year’s wages for an agricultural worker in those days (Matt. 20:2). The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle John, gives us a glimpse of what was in Judas’ heart.

“This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6)

Judas’ supposed concern for the poor was just to hide his true motivation: greed. Judas was the group’s treasurer. He had been entrusted with the money box, but Judas was a thief and often stole money from the box. Judas was angered by what he considered a “waste” of this expensive oil. If it had been sold and the proceeds added to the money box, he would have had opportunity for even greater personal gain.

Jesus rebuked Judas, saying, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always” (John 12:7-8). Mary did not hesitate to anoint Jesus’ feet with the expensive oil; to her, Jesus was worthy of such a gift and the honor it bestowed upon Him. Judas, because of his unbelief, could not see beyond the material things of life. He never considered the spiritual act of love and worship that Mary offered the Lord to be important, but Jesus acknowledged her service with these words:

“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Matt. 26:13)

Judas’ true love was money. Jesus had repeatedly warned His disciples about the danger of loving the material things of this world, reminding them that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21, 24). Judas never learned this lesson.

The Love of Money

The common expression we often hear people use is, “Money is the root of all evil.” That is not what the Scriptures say or teach. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, warned that, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). While the love of money was not the only sin Judas was guilty of, it was the root of his other problems.

Judas may have been like the false teachers Paul spoke of, “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). If Jesus did become King, then Judas, as one of His closest servants, would be in a position to obtain great wealth. Similar dreams of greatness crossed the minds of the other disciples as well. They often disputed among themselves over which of them should be “considered the greatest” in the kingdom (Luke 22:24). James and John even asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands and share in His glory after He was established as King (Mark 10:35-37).

The other eleven apostles, though weak in the flesh, were not carried away with this desire for greatness, in particular the desire for great riches, but Judas was.

The actions and the end of Judas Iscariot illustrate how dangerous the love of money can be. Paul wrote this warning to Timothy:

“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

Judas’ desire for riches blinded him to the truth of God and left him vulnerable to other temptations and snares of the devil (2 Tim. 4:4). His foolish lust for worldly wealth led him deeper and deeper into sin. He became a petty thief, lived a life of hypocrisy, and, ultimately, committed an act of treachery. Money did not bring Judas happiness or fulfillment; instead, it pierced him through with many sorrows, and, eventually, drowned him in destruction and perdition. Jesus singled out Judas as the only one of the twelve apostles who was “lost” and referred to him as “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). Judas’ love of money cost him his life, both physically and spiritually (Matt. 27:3-5).

While blame for Jesus’ death can certainly be placed on the Jewish rulers and on Judas Iscariot, someone else was at work throughout these events, someone whose enmity against Christ began in the garden of Eden.

Satan Entered Judas

After Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve so that she and Adam sinned, God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). From this point on, the Scriptures record Satan’s hatred toward the promised Seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ. Initially, Satan attempted to disrupt God’s plan to bring Christ into this world, but after Jesus was born, Satan changed his tactics and sought to put Jesus to death.

Satan channeled his enmity through the Jewish rulers. Jesus confirmed this when He told the Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Satan filled the hearts of these sinful men with such hatred for the Lord Jesus that they plotted to murder Him; however, their attempts to do so on their own had failed. Judas Iscariot was critical to the success of their schemes, thus we find him driven by Satan to betray Jesus into their lawless hands.

Before he went to the chief priests and captains and offered to betray Jesus, the Scriptures tell us that “Satan entered Judas” (Luke 22:3). Judas might have loved money, but the devil “put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Jesus” (John 13:2).

It’s not that these men had no choice in what they did, as if they were demon-possessed. The Jewish rulers and Judas Iscariot willfully rejected the Lord Jesus because of unbelief, leaving themselves open for Satan to influence and use them as his instruments. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that those who “turn their ears away from the truth” of God, are easily “turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:4).

Lesson of Judas Iscariot

What do we learn from the life of Judas Iscariot? A real relationship with God cannot be merely superficial. Judas spent time in the presence of the Lord Jesus; he listened to Jesus’ teachings; he saw Jesus’ miracles; he even did the work of an apostle, preaching, healing, and casting out demons, but Judas did not really know the Lord. He never believed Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He never trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Judas never loved the Lord; he only loved money and the things it could buy. He was like those Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:4: “lovers or pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
Many people today are just like Judas. They have an appearance of godliness or devotion to God, but it is not real. Their true love is the world and the things in the world, but these things cannot provide happiness or fulfillment; they will only end in death. The Apostle John wrote:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Judas learned the reality of these verses the hardest way possible. His affinity for earthly things left his heart hardened to spiritual things. The time Judas spent in the presence of God’s dear Son gave him plenty of opportunities to hear and believe the truth of God, but he never did.

What do you love? What is most important to you: the temporary treasures and pleasures this world affords or an eternity of spiritual riches and joys found only in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do not let the things of this sin-cursed earth keep you from seeing and believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior—that He died on Calvary for your sins and rose again that you might have eternal life. As you think about Judas Iscariot, his life and his miserable end, may it remind you of Jesus’ searching question: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

(To be continued next issue.)