The character Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me for some reason. Not much is written about him in the New Testament and little else is available through tradition or other writings. The theories about his life and motives span both sides of the spectrum. Some consider him to be the seed of the devil for his betrayal of Jesus while other sects look to venerate him as a saint, crediting him with putting into motion the chain of events that is our redemption and reconciliation. And yet others believe his role was to be viewed as an example that no one is safe from the snares of personal greed and temptation, even an Apostle of Jesus. Whatever your view, Judas Iscariot makes for controversial study.
We know his name in Hebrew means “Praised”. We know that he was from Judah, the only one of the twelve with all others being from Galilee. We know he was the treasurer of the twelve, responsible for the money and necessities of the group. But what else do find in Judas that may be shockingly familiar?
In Matthew’s account Peter, in his explanation of how prophecy was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal, describes Judas as “being numbered among us and having a share in the ministry”. This does not suggest a passive but a hands on involved role, the evangelizing, the bearing witness to the miracles of Jesus first hand, the intimate instruction by the Master and even possibly the faith and partnership with the Apostles as they performed their own miracles in Christ’s name. We have no reason to believe that Judas started out as anything but a fully engaged “on fire” Apostle of Jesus. But along the way Judas fell prey to greed and temptation that he chose not to resist. Judas had a love for money. We see that in his false narrative as he protests the anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume. We are told that he stole from the group treasury funds. Materialistic greed is a powerful and addicting cancer that even the strongest can’t always escape. The character of Judas is not one void of all redeeming qualities doomed from the start but one that in spite of the knowledge of Christ fell victim to his own desires.
It is possible that the act of the betrayal itself was merely motivated by profit and greed? Consider how many times we are told in the New Testament that Jesus “escapes” through the crowd because it wasn’t yet His time. Did Judas believe that Jesus would simply escape again as in times past and that he would reap a reward of silver with no harm being done? One has to wonder at the remorse Judas displays when he realizes that this time Jesus is indeed apprehended and taken into custody. His immediate response is one of sorrow and regret as he returns the money and takes his own life feeling unworthy to carry on as an Apostle. The act of his suicide suggests to us that in the end he did not believe the words of Christ pertaining to resurrection and eternity so even his faith and intimate knowledge of Jesus was overcome by his greed and desires. Throughout all history perhaps no one individual was ever elevated to as high a status and yet lowered to a more detestable state than Judas Iscariot. How can one hear first hand the teachings of Christ, share everyday life and fellowship with Him, observe Him as he heals the lame and raises the dead and even partakes in the initial ministry outreach of Christianity and still fall with so great a fall? How could one man chosen to be one of the twelve that would see and hear things the rest of us can only imagine, one who literally sat in the presence of God in the body of Jesus who basked in His glory for a three year period, betray Him for any price, let alone a paltry thirty pieces of silver?
And now for a tough question-are we any different than Judas Iscariot? Judas did not harbor the typical hatred of a traitor but rather loved Jesus to the end, betraying Him with a kiss of brotherly affection. Do we openly proclaim our love and devotion for Jesus while in possession of an unforgiving spirit? Do we praise and worship on the weekends but cuss out drivers throughout the work week? Do we hold onto every possession without thought for the desperate and needy? Do we practice subtle betrayal in our actions when no one else is around? Do we have an intimate enough knowledge of Christ that compels us in holy awe and exhorts us to acquiring the character of our namesake or do we hang our Jesus outfit in the closet until the next weekend? Do the thoughts we fail to take captive, the desires we allow to exist in secret or the actions we take when angered serve as betrayals of God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming work? I wonder, and I shudder at the thought. God have mercy on us.
Scripture is full of good news and hope for everyday life, but there is one passage that tends to be haunting to me. Matthew 7:21-23 says this:
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
The Message Translation spins it this way:
21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
Subtle willing betrayals-secret sinful desires-dormant but breathing temptations, just like Judas. “Father, observe and restore our motivation to be like your Son Jesus in all we think and do, and to genuinely reflect His character in our lives so that we are not deemed guilty of His betrayal through our actions and unbelief”