Written by Al Maxey
The name Judas comes from the Greek word Ioudas, which is simply the word employed for the Hebrew name Judah. We discover from Gen. 29:35 that it is derived from the verb meaning “to praise.”
In the above referenced passage one finds mention made of several sons that Leah bore to Jacob. She bore Reuben, then Simeon, then Levi, and finally “she conceived again and bore a son and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she named him Judah.” The name Judah denotes one who is the object of praise. In his final blessing upon his sons, and just before taking his last breath, Jacob (who was also given the name Israel) said, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you” [Gen. 49:8]. Thus, the name Judas originally was associated with praise. How ironic that, by the actions of one man who later bore that name, it should now and forever be associated with shame.
The Judas we shall be considering in the course of this present study was “the son of Simon Iscariot” [John 6:71; 13:2, 26]. The word Iskarioth (rendered “Iscariot” in most of our translations) is a word that has generated a fair amount of scholarly speculation. Although some have tried to trace the roots of this word back to such concepts as “man of lies,” “dyer,” and “dagger bearer,” the most likely explanation is that it is simply the name of the town in which his family resided. Most scholars identify that town as being Kerioth, located in the district around Jerusalem. Today that town no longer exists. If this was, in fact, the home of Judas and his family, this would make this disciple of Christ a Judean — the only non-Galilean among the Twelve. Apart from this singular speculation, however, nothing further is known about his background, upbringing, or family.
In the various listings of the Twelve within the New Covenant documents, the name of Judas always appears last. Additionally, there is added to his name some brief, but very negative, characterization: “…the one who betrayed Him” [Matt. 10:4], “…who also betrayed Him” [Mark 3:19], “…who became a traitor” [Luke 6:16]. The apostle John further portrays Judas Iscariot as “a devil” [John 6:70] and a “thief” [John 12:6], as one who was motivated and possessed by Satan [John 13:2, 27], and as “the son of perdition” [John 17:12]. One biblical scholar commented, “It is as though the evangelists could not paint this man black enough in retrospect.” Dr. Herbert Lockyer writes, “There are 40 verses in the New Testament in which there is a reference to the betrayal of our Lord, and in each of them the dastardly sin of Judas is recorded” (All the Apostles of the Bible, p. 100).
Some scholars, however, wishing to find something positive in it all, suggest that our Lord Jesus, who knew the character of Judas from the very first [John 6:64], “saw in him the material out of which an Apostle might have been made.” Another writer concurs: “Judas acted like Satan, but like a Satan who had it in him to be an Apostle.” Surely, one would think, there was at least the potential for spiritual greatness within this man. After all, which of the other members of the Twelve did not also have personal failings? They were all flawed, but Jesus was aware of something within each that, if nurtured, could be utilized to the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom upon earth. I personally believe even Judas must have had this potential. It is worth noting, in keeping with this view, that in the early phase of our Lord’s public ministry there is nothing stated in Scripture to suggest that Judas was anything other than an active, obedient disciple of Christ Jesus. He, along with the other eleven men, was commissioned to preach the Word and given “authority to cast out demons,” and he was apparently quite successful at doing both [Mark 3:13-15; Luke 9:1-6, 10]. Thus, Judas Iscariot preached the good news, and even confirmed the message with attesting signs and wonders, and made personal sacrifices to engage in this ministry, just as the others did. Yes, there was definitely something of worth in this man, and a potential for even greater service in the kingdom of the Lord.
As previously noted, however, Judas was flawed; he was less than perfect. But then, realistically, who among us isn’t?! We are certainly not attempting to make excuses for Judas here; we’re just stating a fact. All of the Lord’s servants have within them the potential for either faithfulness or failure. As free moral agents, our choices play a significant part in determining our destiny. This was no less true with Judas. One of the major besetting sins of this man, and one which may very well have contributed greatly to his act of betrayal against Jesus, was his apparent greed and love for money. We know from Scripture that Judas was the group “treasurer” — he was the one entrusted with their money [John 12:6; 13:29]. There were several saints “who were contributing to their support out of their private means” [Luke 8:3]. Thus, there was the need for someone to look after, and administer, these funds. That job fell to Judas. Perhaps he had even requested it. We’re not told how he came to be in possession of the “money bag.” What we do know, tragically, is that he was periodically helping himself to these funds [John 12:6]. Indeed, his later statement to the religious leaders reflects this greediness: “What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?” [Matt. 26:15]. In response to this question, “they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver.”
- “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, being eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” [1 Tim. 6:9-10]. The brother of our Lord writes, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” [James 1:14-15]. Both Paul and James could easily have had Judas in mind when penning these words.
In spite of his special calling from the Son of God, and his privileged position among the Twelve, and the amount of good he must have accomplished in the lives of others through the preaching of the good news and the performing of miracles, Judas Iscariot will forever be remembered for just one thing: he was the traitor; the betrayer of Jesus Christ [Matt. 26:14f; Mark 14:10f; Luke 22:3f; John 13:2f; 18:1f]. There is a lesson here. As noted above in the quote from Shakespeare’s classic play “Julius Caesar” — “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” What this simply means is: no matter how much good you accomplish in your life, people tend to remember the evil far more! When I mention the name of Richard Nixon, what comes to mind? Watergate! Resigning the Presidency! Yet, how many can remember the good that was accomplished by this man? The same is true of Judas Iscariot. May we all live in such a way that this will not one day be true of us. What a sad legacy that would be!
Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of His accusers for thirty pieces of silver. Someone once noted, “Never was so little paid for so much!” Thirty pieces of silver was an amount that was representative of something of very little worth. Indeed, in Zechariah 11 we see the people rejecting the Lord as their Shepherd. One would think this people would be thrilled to have the Lord as their Shepherd; watching over them, caring for them, guiding them. David was [Psalm 23]. However, when they were asked what this was all worth in their sight, “they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver” [Zech. 11:12], the price of a gored slave [Ex. 21:32]. Judas was willing to sell out the Good Shepherd for a pittance. How pitiful. But, before we get too smug, or too harsh on Judas, we should ask ourselves what price we place on loyalty to Jesus. What would it take for you to sell out the Good Shepherd? Judas had his price tag, but I fear many of us do as well. The frightening reality is: There, but for the grace of God, go I.
The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was: (1) Cowardly. “And he began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the multitude” [Luke 22:6]. “And so after receiving the morsel, he went out immediately; and it was night” [John 13:30]. Those who betray others are cowards. They skulk about in dark corners and away from prying eyes. (2) Calculated. “And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him” [Matt. 26:16]. “And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time” [Mark 14:11]. “He went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them … and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them” [Luke 22:4, 6]. (3) Callous. “Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.’ And immediately he went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him” [Matt. 26:48-49].
Why Did He Do It?!
There are a number of questions involved with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Some are curious about the subsequent response of this man — did he genuinely repent of his deed? Was he ultimately saved or lost? Some have questions regarding the nature of his death. Others are puzzled about the whole “predestination” issue. We shall examine all of these matters in the course of this study. However, the question that seems to be uppermost in almost everyone’s mind is: WHY did he do it?! What could possibly have motivated Judas to do what he did? Several theories have been proposed over the years, but the five most common are:
The Good Motive Theory — In this theory we find the betrayal to be a matter of poor judgment on the part of Judas, but certainly not any evil intent on his part. He is characterized as a “patriotic nationalist” who expected Jesus to lead the Jews to victory over the Roman occupation forces, thus restoring the kingdom to Israel. However, Judas perceived Jesus to be somewhat reluctant to initiate such an uprising. Jesus was perceived to be hesitant and timid, thus He was delaying what needed to be accomplished. It is theorized, therefore, that Judas felt if he “forced the hand” of Jesus, by putting His life at serious risk, then He would finally act and “rally the troops” of both heaven and earth to cast out the Romans. Or, perhaps, if the Lord was placed on public trial the people would rise up and free Him, and the revolution would begin that way. As one scholar phrased it, “Judas Iscariot acted not from treachery and avarice, but from an honest endeavor to arouse Jesus to action and to hasten His Messianic triumph.”
- There have always been those who felt Judas got a “bum deal” from the historians (both biblical and secular). He was only trying to move things along a bit. Jesus was viewed as somewhat “wishy-washy,” a reluctant Messiah who needed someone to give Him a good push in the right direction. Judas simply sought to be that motivating force. Both Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) and Irenaeus (died c. 200 A.D.) spoke of a group known as the Cainites who actually viewed the conduct of Judas as meritorious, suggesting he sought to be the “savior of the Savior.” Thus, Judas was surprised, along with everyone else, when this plan to hasten the coming kingdom resulted instead in the crucifixion of Jesus. He never anticipated that outcome.
The Mingled Motives Theory — This particular theory maintains that Judas, like most people, was a very complex individual. Thus, his act was motivated by a combination of factors — greed, ambition, misguided loyalty, nationalistic fervor, disillusionment, maybe even jealousy over the fact that, being the only non-Galilean of the Twelve, he was not, in his view, being shown equal consideration by Jesus. These, as well as many more possible motivators, have been suggested over the years as possible factors facilitating his action against Christ. This theory is based in part upon the assumption that ultimate truth generally lies somewhere between two extremes. Therefore, rather than his act being perceived as either fully negative or fully positive in nature, it was most likely somewhere between the two, which would logically suggest a mingling of motives, some good – some bad.
The Direct Request Theory — Many of you have probably heard of the Gnostic work known as the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic society had a rather impressive presentation of this work recently, both in their publication and on their TV channel. This ancient document, although far from inspired or canonical, nevertheless portrays a point of view that has been in existence for many centuries. It is the view that in the days prior to His crucifixion, Jesus took Judas Iscariot aside and requested that he betray Him into the hands of the Jewish leaders. In other words, Judas did not perform this act on his own initiative; he was following the orders of Jesus Himself.
In this document, Judas is portrayed as Jesus’ closest friend, the one to whom our Lord confided all His deepest secrets. Jesus warned Judas that in carrying out His request he would be vilified by all men. Nevertheless, the Lord asked Judas to make this sacrifice, and in so doing he would be exalted in the spirit realm. Near the end of the Gospel of Judas Jesus says, “But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” Dr. Kasser, who was the leader of the translation team for the Gospel of Judas, offered this explanation of the above words: “Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy. So he asks Judas, who is his friend, to sell him out; to betray him.” One can detect Gnostic theology all the way through this document (which I have carefully read), even in the statement by Jesus to Judas, in which He requests to be set free from the prison of His flesh (which is clearly Gnostic doctrine). As wild as this theory may seem to most of us, nevertheless there is a growing interest in it at this time due to the publicity being given to it by National Geographic and others.
The Satan Incarnate Theory — Some have actually gone so far as to maintain Judas was not truly human … or was only partly human: being Satan incarnate. Just as goodness took on human form, so also did evil. Thus, Judas was the flesh and blood manifestation of the Devil, just as Jesus was the flesh and blood manifestation of the Father. The two great cosmic forces assumed the form of flesh at the same time to do battle with one another within the physical realm. John 6:70 is cited as proof of this view: “Did I Myself not choose you, the Twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Just as the demons recognized Jesus for who He was, so also did Jesus recognize them, and also their master, Satan, when He saw them. Thus, He is said to have welcomed Satan (in the form of Judas) into His band of disciples so as to daily do battle with him.
The Puppet of God Theory — One of the more popular theories, especially among those who happen to be of a more Calvinistic persuasion, is that Judas Iscariot had been chosen specifically for this role long before he was even born. Thus, this poor man was doomed to be the betrayer and doomed to hell from before the beginning of time. “He was predestined,” it is declared. “He had no choice in the matter.” He was simply a puppet on a string, manipulated by the Great Puppet-Master. If this view is true, and I don’t accept it for a moment, then it raises some very serious questions about our God and His dealings with mankind. Do we have free will, or is our fate determined before we were even conceived? If the latter, then it appears God has already chosen those whom He will save, and those whom He will condemn … and we have absolutely no say in the matter, which seems to reduce evangelism to an unnecessary absurdity. Why bother proclaiming the gospel to the lost if the eternal destiny of all men is previously determined? Did Judas have a choice, or was his destiny fixed? This is the question we must consider. However, we need to clarify some terms before we get too deeply into this matter. For those readers who would like to examine this Calvinistic doctrine in greater depth, and also to see the biblical refutation of this teaching, I would recommend my study on TULIP Theology.
- Foreknowledge = This means just exactly what it says: knowing something before it occurs. This does not suggest something is manipulated or ordained, it simply signifies prior knowledge of the matter. God, being outside of space and time, has perfect knowledge of past, present and future. He is omniscient — all knowing!
- Predetermination = Like the above, this means just exactly what it says: to determine something well in advance of its actual occurrence; it is previously determined. These two terms are used together in Acts 2:23 — Peter, speaking of Jesus, says, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” God foreknew that a sacrifice was going to be needed to atone for the sins of mankind, and He determined from the very beginning what that plan of action would be. Therefore, the shed blood of the Son of God upon the cross was both foreknown and predetermined by the Father.
- Predestination = This term is quite often confused with “predetermination.” The two concepts are not the same, however. Many mistakenly believe that if someone is predestined, then their fate is sealed, and they are helpless to alter their destiny. That is not the case. One still has the right to choose; this term simply signifies that the ultimate outcome of one’s choices have been previously established by God. For example, if you choose to accept God’s Son, then you will experience eternal life (a destiny previously established for those who freely choose Him). On the other hand, if you should choose to reject God’s Son, then God has previously established a destiny for you as well. In a sense, there IS predetermination involved here, for all men who have ever lived (and those yet to be born) will experience one of two eternal destinies — everlasting LIFE or everlasting DEATH. There is no third option available. These destinies have been predetermined by God, but which one you experience has NOT been predetermined. That depends upon your choice. God knows your choice, but does not determine your choice.
- Free Will = Either men have the freedom to choose their own destiny, or they are puppets in the hands of God; pawns in some great, cosmic chess game, moved here and there, manipulated and even sacrificed, by the Chess Master against their will. If this latter scenario is true, then can any man truly be held personally responsible and accountable for his actions? Does any person merit either condemnation or salvation if their fate is previously determined by God? If they have no free will at all, but are simply manipulated from above, upon what basis, other than “divine whim,” are any saved or lost?
Although some deny men have free will, I am not one of them. It is my firm conviction that God did not create a race of puppets who dance at the ends of strings held in His hands. We have the freedom to choose. God may indeed foreknow our choices (and I believe He does), but He does not predetermine them for us. Yes, our choices will result in our experiencing previously selected consequences and eternal destinations, but the outcome of our lives is determined by us — we have been given free will. This applies also to Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew what role Judas would play in His upcoming sacrifice — “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” [John 6:64] — but the decision to betray was made by Judas alone!
It is my conviction that the best theory as to WHY Judas betrayed the Lord is the “mingled motives theory.” There were undoubtedly, as in most men, a plethora of passions pervading the heart and mind of this disciple of Christ. Even Judas may not have fully perceived the various inner stirrings that motivated him, although his greed was certainly a strong one and had led him to steal from the collected funds for Jesus and the other members of the Twelve [John 12:6]. Undoubtedly, and this is a common defense mechanism, Judas had found some way to justify his sinful actions in his own mind (we all do this), and may not even have perceived his action against Christ as a true betrayal, at least not initially. As stated in the “good motive theory,” he may well have seen some good coming from the action. After all, when Jesus told the Twelve at the last Passover meal, “One of you will betray Me” [Matt. 26:21], “each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?'” (vs. 22]. Jesus said it would be the one “who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl” [vs. 23], at which point Judas exclaimed, “Surely, not I, Rabbi?” [vs. 25]. Although we can’t be sure, some feel even Judas was somewhat self-deluded as to the negative impact his actions were about to have upon Jesus. It is quite possible he had convinced himself this was not really a “betrayal,” but that it would all turn out for the best in some way. We often do the same when we seek to justify our sin. We have been in the shoes of Judas more times than we likely would care to admit, and by our faithlessness and lack of devotion and surrender to sin we “recrucify the Son of God and hold Him up to contempt” [Heb. 6:6].
Loving Like Jesus
At this point, let’s pause for a moment and shift our focus briefly to Jesus. The way in which He interacted with Judas is phenomenal. Note the following excerpt from Jim Bishop’s classic book The Day Christ Died (which was released in 1957) — “The mind of Jesus could look into the heart of Judas and see every scar, every soiled tissue, but He would say nothing hurtful to this man even when He knew that Judas was stealing from the common purse, even when He knew that Iscariot no longer believed in Jesus. Love? It required a unique devotion to continue to address this person as an apostle, to refrain at all times from showing a mark of disfavor, to be able to do it so well that, at the last Supper, the others could not guess the name of the traitor, and had to ask, one after another: ‘Is it I, Lord? Is it I?'” Bishop goes on to say, “He did it. And all the time He knew. If love — which is a perpetual act of selfless devotion — could be molded into arms and legs and sinew and features and brain, the result would be Jesus of Nazareth!”
What sets our Lord apart from the rest of the world is that He did not react to people, He related to them! Jesus knew all along the flaws in the character of Judas Iscariot. He knew this man intended to betray Him; He knew he was stealing from the money bag; He knew of his lack of dedication and love. But Jesus never wavered in His love for this wayward disciple. In displaying mercy and compassion, He gave Judas what he needed rather than what he deserved. It is so easy to simply react to people, especially when they hurt or wrong us. The challenge of Jesus, however, is to relate to them. To display love for another — even when we know their flaws and failures; even when they may not love us in return — is to love as He loved!
The Distress & Death of Judas
The earthly consequences of the choice of Judas are depicted in two locations: Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:15-20, 25. There is a great deal of speculation about these two accounts. How exactly did Judas die? Did he commit suicide by hanging himself, or was his death a “grief induced strangulation”? Did Judas repent of his betrayal prior to his death? In Matt. 27:3-5 we read, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,’ he said. ‘What’s that to us?’ they said. ‘See to it yourself!’ So he threw the silver into the sanctuary and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.”
I am personally convinced that Judas did not anticipate Jesus would be condemned to death. Whatever motivation, good or bad, that may have led him to his action, the end result (the condemnation of Jesus to death on a cross) seemed to genuinely catch him by surprise. It was when he saw what was going to happen to Jesus that Judas finally realized the full scope of his actions, and what he had done horrified him to the very depths of his being! Suddenly, it no longer seemed “worth it.” He confessed his sin and acknowledged the fact that he had “betrayed innocent blood.” He was filled with remorse. The KJV says that Judas “repented himself.” The actual Greek word employed here is metamelomai, a word used only 6 times in the NT writings. It signifies a change of judgment regarding some past action; “regretting, ruing what he had done; wishing it were undone” [The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 322]. It is most commonly translated “regret; remorse” (it is used twice by Paul in 2 Cor. 7:8, for example). Thus, when Judas saw the outcome of his actions, he changed his mind about the worth and wisdom of what he had done; he regretted doing it. This was not what he had bargained for! It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. He had miscalculated.
The Greek word for “repent,” however, is metanoeo, which appears almost 60 times in the NT writings, appearing in both noun and verb forms. The text does not say Judas “repented” — it says he felt “regret; remorse.” Some scholars suggest there is really no significant difference between these two words, and that they are synonyms. Others suggest that “repent” reflects a genuine change of heart and mind, whereas “regret” or “remorse” may only signify a feeling of distress over how things turned out. It may reflect the difference between: “I’m genuinely sorry for my actions; they were wrong” and “I’m sorry my actions led to this result; I didn’t plan for it to turn out like this.” The latter doesn’t really regret the action, but just the result. Scholars have long debated which of the two concepts best describes the condition of Judas’ heart and mind. I suppose we shall never know, as his actions could be interpreted either way. However, there is really nowhere in Scripture that holds out much eternal hope for this man. Not that the Lord can’t extend mercy to him, if He so chooses. But, there is no hint in Scripture that we should anticipate such. Thus, we leave the eternal fate of Judas in the hands of our Father, who will judge fairly and righteously.
Suffice it to say, Judas was greatly distressed over the outcome of his actions. So distressed that he cast the money away from himself and then went out and “hanged himself.” Acts 1:18 states it differently: “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” Rather graphic, to say the least. Some scholars believe the latter text suggests a different death than hanging. Perhaps such an intensity of grief (which these advocates say would reflect true repentance) caused him to experience physical strangulation, which resulted in him falling to the ground dead, perhaps from a great height, which could easily have disemboweled him. Others try to reconcile the two by simply saying the Acts passage describes what happened when the rope broke! Whatever the nature of his death, it was far from pleasant, either for Judas or those who found him.
- Following his death, Judas Iscariot was buried in a cemetery outside the city of Jerusalem, one reserved for foreigners. This was located across the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna), in a place known as “the field of blood” (Hakeldama). The cost of his burial was covered by the very same thirty pieces of silver he had previously taken as his price for turning over Jesus. “Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen'” [Deut. 27:25].
The Judas Myths
As one might well imagine, many fascinating myths and legends have come to be associated with Judas Iscariot. In Muslim polemic literature, for example, Judas Iscariot is often “white-washed,” being viewed as a hero rather than a villain. He is not characterized as a “traitor,” but instead is said to have lied for Jesus, defending Him before the Jews, even seeking to save Him from death. Mba-al-Dimarki (a 14th century cosmographer) actually claims that Judas transformed himself so as to look like Jesus, and he then allowed himself to be crucified in the place of Jesus. Therefore, Judas died on the cross, and Jesus managed to escape. Papias, one of the earliest leaders in the Christian church (working in the first half of the second century), goes so far as to suggest Judas was one of the authors of the NT. Few hold such a theory in high regard. Dante [1265-1321], in his classic “The Divine Comedy” (better known as Dante’s Inferno), in his “Vision of Hell” section, places Judas in the lowest circle of the damned; the sole sharer, except for Satan himself, of the worst tortures of hell.
Have you ever met anyone with the name Judas? What about a girl named Jezebel? Well, there are probably a few out there, but generally such names, which are associated with great shame, are shunned by most people. To be called a “Judas” or a “Jezebel” are insults of the highest order in almost any culture in this world. With regard to Judas Iscariot, we really don’t know much, but what we do know leaves us feeling sick and troubled. What a tragedy! He had the potential for so much good, and yet by giving in to his own lusts he cast it all away, just as he did the 30 pieces of silver. What a waste of a life. Brethren, let this not be said of us one day! We too are blessed beyond measure. We are the called of God in Christ. Don’t sell out your Savior! Don’t betray Him! Don’t exchange the treasures of heaven for the trinkets of earth. It is a “deal” that will only leave you hanging outside the gates of Jerusalem!