Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Did Judas Do It?

There are times I find it hard to believe that Judas would ever betray Jesus and for a mere bag of coins at that! Other times it isn't so hard to imagine. Our broken natures seem to reach out for all kind of fleeting pleasures, philosophies, and desires that cry out to us - THIS WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY!

I was meditating on this fact during my prayer this morning and came to the conclusion that most of us are not so different from Judas - we have all betrayed God with our sin! But, I wanted to look at what Scripture tells us about Judas and try to get to the heart of the man who might be the most well-known scoundrel in history and see what we can learn from him.

Jesus must have seen something good within Judas. He called him to follow him in his inner circle of only 12 men. The Gospels always list Judas last among the 12, because he betrayed Jesus. But, was Judas all bad? Certainly not.
  • He cast out demons.
  • He preached the Gospel
  • He followed Christ loyally for 3 years.
  • He healed the sick.
Judas is known as "Judas Iscariot" The name "Iscariot", in Hebrew, means "a man from Kerioth". This means that Judas is, most likely, the only apostle from Judea and not from Galilee. The Judeans were known to be a very practical people and so he, naturally, was the most likely apostle to be chosen as the treasurer. But, his love of money didn't help.

John's Gospel treats the character of Judas most harshly, calling him a thief who didn't care for the poor (John 12:6). He and other Gospel writers say the Devil entered into him before the betrayal and Jesus said it was better if for him if he was never born (Matt 26:24).

Yet, early in his ministry, Jesus knew that Judas would betray him (John 6:71), and still he gave him every opportunity to turn from his sin. The Gospel of John tells us:
"When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”"
-John 13: 21-27
Jesus clearly reveals to Judas that he has a clear knowledge that Judas will betray him. He doesn't just want to make him feel guilty, but reaches out to try and touch his heart and call him to repentance. Imagine what must have been running through Judas mind, "HE KNOWS! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!"
He chose wrongly.

So, from the evidence of the Gospels, we can know:
  1. Judas acted freely. 
  2. Christ gave him a chance of forgiveness right up until the end.
  3. His sin was not so different than Peter's betrayal, it was how he reacted that made the difference.
Remember, Peter (and the other apostles) fled when danger came near. Then Peter denied Christ three times! The difference between Peter and Judas is found in the reaction each had in the face of sin.

Peter repented.
Judas committed suicide.

Judas felt sorry for what he did, just as Peter did. Peter wept, and Judas returned the money:
"When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders"
Matt 27:3
But, the meaning of "repented" here is more about changing ones mind than seeking forgiveness. In other words, Judas felt despair when he realized he had betrayed Jesus - not the kind of remorse that leads one to seek forgiveness of the wrong-doing.

But, don't we do this sometimes too? It might take each of us a while (some short and some longer) to stand up and truly take ownership of our sin, then seek out forgiveness.

Still, we haven't answered why Judas did it!

There are several theories on why Judas did it:

1 - He was a greedy thief and more concerned with money. All four Gospels say he was greedy and list his greed as one of the motives for the betrayal. Was it is the overarching one? We don't know. But, if this is the case, then he was living according to a selfish utilitarian principle that he must live for himself and the other people in his life were merely a means to the end of his own happiness and pleasure.

2 - The Devil influenced him. The Gospels clearly tell us the Devil had an influence, but it is clear Judas also clearly chose the evil he did. So, the only reason the Devil had any power over him, was because Judas allowed it. Therefore, we cannot assign more blame to the Devil than we can Judas. The Devil might have stoked the flames, but he didn't light the fire or choose the betrayal for Judas.

3 - Judas didn't understand the mission of Jesus. This could be the case. Judas never calls Jesus "Lord", but merely "Rabbi". So, he did not have a saving faith in Jesus as a spiritual Messiah. Judas, like most Jews of his day, probably thought the Messiah would bring an earthly and military power to rid the Jews of Roman oppression. There is a theory that Judas might have betrayed Jesus to force him to use his power to reveal his identity as the Messiah and new Jewish King. It is akin to the sink-or-swim choice. If this is the case, it could explain why Judas hung himself - his despair over following Jesus for 3 years waiting for an earthly Messiah, only to be the one who uncovers the fact that Jesus wasn't what he expected.

4 - We just don't know enough to answer for sure! This is certainly the safest assumption. Several factors probably played a role in why Judas betrayed Jesus. What we can know is this:
  • Jesus ALWAYS forgives those who ask humbly for forgiveness.
  • There is NOTHING we can do to make Jesus stop loving us.
  • Jesus wants EVERYONE to be saved.
  • We still have FREE WILL to say "yes" or "no" to God's love.
May we choose better than Judas.
“For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”
― C.S. Lewis


Kevin McKeon said...

Marcel: I wonder if Judas had not betrayed Christ would someone else have? And if no one betrayed Christ, then how would he have suffered, died, descended into hell, arose 3 days later and ascended into heaven -- to open the gates of heaven for all? Same question about those who shouted "crucify him!" God forgive them, but it seems that Judas' act of betrayal and the hypocritical judgment screamed by those who were there contemporaneously were necessary or inevitable in order to continue Christianity (someone had to do it?) and open the gates of heaven.

Sorry for my ignorance, but any comments you have would be much appreciated.

Always working on getting closer to the Way and Truth on my journey -Kevin

Marcel said...

God allowed Judas the freedom to choose to betray Jesus. But, God did not will it. Still, God used the evil of the betrayal to bring about a greater good - our salvation!

Brian Sullivan said...

I think Bishop Sheen pointed out that Judas betrayal is tied to the Eucharist (John 6:70) This link: