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Why Did Judas Iscariot Betray Jesus?


Jan 10, 2012


Over the New Year weekend, Pat and Sue raised an interesting question they had been mulling over for days - why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus?  At our last leadership meeting, the subject was introduced and some discussion on it held.  The following were discussed:


1.  A number of scholars claim that many Israelites, including Judas, believed that the Messiah was coming to destroy the Roman Empire and establish the kingdom of Israel.  After all, the Old Testament strongly implies that when the Christ comes, His people will reign forever thereafter.  Da. 2:44; 7:13-14, 22, 27; 9:24-256.  But Jesus did not appear in a hurry and there was no earthly evidence of military or social power in Him.  However, Judas had witnessed the spiritual power of Jesus and most likely even participated in casting out of devils, healing the sick, and so forth.  He may have felt that Jesus needed a push forward and the impatient Judas forced Him to show His hand by having Him arrested and turned over to the chief priests to be condemned.  When Jesus did nothing, however, Judas realized that he had betrayed an innocent man.  Some claim that Judas loved his country more than Jesus and felt that Jesus had failed him and his country.


2.  Others surmise that Judas was the only one of the twelve disciples to come from Judea, while the rest were from poorer areas.  Therefore, he was of higher social status and better-educated.  Hence, Jesus appointed Judas to carry the money box which contained the group's finances.  Because of his exalted and seemingly "trusted" position as treasurer of the group, Judas may have thought that he was chosen to help Jesus bring about the kingdom of Israel and his betrayal was part of God's plan.  His pride blinded him and rendered him deaf to what Jesus was saying; to-wit:  ". . . woe unto the man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born," (Mt. 26:24) Judas took it as Jesus' secret instruction for Judas to proceed with his staged betrayal.


3.  Some Bible scholars claim that Judas was a thief at heart and stole from the money box containing offerings and funds given to Jesus for His ministry and well-being.  When the woman with the alabaster box filled with very expensive perfume used it to anoint Jesus, the disciples, and especially Judas, complained that it should have been sold and the money used to feed the poor.  However, Judas was not really interested in helping the poor; he was interested in getting his hands on the money since it was worth one year's wages for a laborer.  He, therefore, found fault in Jesus.  Immediately afterward, Judas went to chief priests to turn Jesus over to the chief priests who seeked to kill him.  Mt. 26:14.  A somewhat parallel line of thought is that Judas wanted Jesus to be punished for being a false Messiah who failed to conquer the Roman Empire. Jesus, Himself, had said that the kingdom of God was at hand.  Mt. 12:28; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 4:43 (and many other scriptures).


4.  A sprinkling of scholars claim that Jesus and Judas planned the whole scheme together and Judas is a hero who was later made to look like Jesus and it was really Judas that was crucified instead.  Jesus was said to have escaped to France with Mary Magdalene where they had a daughter named Sarah, who begot a line of royalty and succession that exists even today.  Therefore, Judas deserved honor rather than scorn and the  Bible was altered to hide the secret plot between Jesus and Judas.  Of course, this position became the theme of Dan Brown's infamous book and movie entitled The Da Vinci Code. 


5.  Still others feel sympathy for Judas because the gospels indicate that it was his destiny to betray Jesus and he had no control over his fate.  Jesus said, ". . . woe unto the man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born," (Mt. 26:24).  It is paradoxical to destine someone to betray Jesus and then condemn him to hell for doing it.  This smacks of pre-destination and unfair punishment. 


Many other writings promote a broad array of explanations, each with inherent contradictions and weaknesses. 




In many ways, all of Jesus' disciples betrayed Him at the end, although not to the extent of Judas.  All the remaining disciples abandoned Jesus after promising that they would go to prison with Jesus and even die for Him.  Peter said, "Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death."  Lk. 22:33.  "Peter said unto Him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.  Likewise also said all the disciples."  Mt. 26:35. 


Yet, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, "And they all forsook Him, and fled."  Mk. 14:50.  Yes, Peter cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest in apparent resistance, but he too fled in the end.  Later, of course, Peter denied Jesus three times.  Mk. 14:30, 72.  If all your close friends flee when you are in danger and do not come to your rescue or defense, does this constitute betrayal? 


The apostle Paul converted many Gentiles as well as Jews, and did wonderful miracles, cast out devils, healed the sick and saved many lives.  He made long journeys all over the known Gentile world.  Yet, when it was time for his execution, every one of his followers and friends fled for their lives, except Luke, the physician.  "Only Luke is with me . . .  all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge."  2 Ti. 4:11, 16.  I'm sure that Paul was not including the apostles and other Christians, but only the ones that were his students, followers and beneficiaries.  It is clear that Paul considered it a sin.


It seems that most humans are concerned foremost with saving their own lives.  To stand with a high criminal such as Paul was dangerous to life and limb and almost all of his disciples or followers abandoned ship.


It could be argued that the disciples did not have the Holy Spirit in them when they deserted Jesus, but that excuse cannot stand in light of the apostle Paul's situation.  His followers and students were born-again Christians, baptized in the Holy Ghost.  The abandonment of the Lord Jesus and later, the apostle Paul, reveal the extreme difficulty in loving "not their lives unto the death."  Rev. 12:11.


Judas was a thief.  It was Judas who said, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?"  Jn. 12:5.  His concern for the poor was phony; he had ulterior motives in his heart.   "This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein."  Jn. 12:6.  His eyes were on earthly things and an earthly kingdom.  He was not an innocent tool of God, destined to betray Jesus against his will. 


When our Lord Jesus was crucified, two thieves were crucified alongside of Him.  One railed on Jesus along with the soldiers and other on-lookers, but the other said to him,


            Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.  And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.  Lk. 23:40-43.


Judas repented for betraying "the innocent blood" but never acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God and Lord of all.  Mt. 27:3-4.  He was along for the free ride and never really believed that Jesus was the Son of God.  How could anyone steal from God and think that he could hide the fact?  The "innocent blood" was no mere innocent man.  He was the Lord from heaven.  Judas then compounded his sin by committing suicide.  Mt. 27:5.  Was it true repentance or human remorse or sorrow?  Instead of throwing himself at the mercy of God, he once again took things in his own hands. 


In contrast, the apostle Peter wept bitterly and ran to the sepulchre after hearing that the tomb was empty.  Mt. 26:75; Mk. 14:72; Lk. 22:62.  When Peter was fishing with some of Jesus' disciples and John recognized Jesus standing on the shore, Peter jumped into the sea and swam to Jesus.  He ran towards God and not away.  Jn. 21:7.  He threw himself at the mercy of the Lord.  After all, the Lord Jesus could have consigned him to hell on the spot. 


Can a person see and experience all the signs and wonders that Jesus did and still have unbelief?  The answer is Yes.  There have been many Christians who have witnessed deliverance and miraculous healings and still doubt God.


Did Judas have the free will to have his demons cast out and his heart changed?  After all, he had seen countless miracles of healing, casting out of devils, raising the dead and other signs and wonders.  The other eleven disciples struggled to understand God and walk in His paths.  It was available to Judas to the same extent.  David, the son of Jesse, pleaded with God to "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Ps. 139:23-24.  Judas, on the other hand, hardened his heart constantly.


How was he able to evade detection?  Of course, Jesus knew Judas' heart.  But God never interferes with man's will in such a situation.  One must desire in his heart to be made free from sin and unrighteousness.  If a person loves his sin, he will not repent. 


            And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, let his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.  Jn. 3:19-21. 


Repentance requires humility.  "Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility."  Pr. 18:12. 


Judas never allowed God to change his heart.  He hid his secret ambition regarding money and fame (of course, God knew).  If the Lord Jesus did indeed liberate Israel from Roman control, that would bring wealth and fame to His close followers, including Judas.  Judas' response to Jesus' seeming lack of concern for money and fame indicates his absence of faith and belief that Jesus was really the Christ.  He decided that it was time to jump off the sinking ship.  He was along for the ride, to get all that he could out of his relationship with Jesus.  When things looked as if Jesus was not the Messiah who was to destroy Rome and raise up Israel, his heart began to think of ways to get revenge for his disappointment and waste of time.  When Jesus upbraided him for accusing the woman of foolishly expending an expensive ointment on Jesus, he determined in his heart to betray Jesus.  The very next scriptural passage says that Judas then went to the chief priests.  Mt. 26:14; Mk. 14:10.


His money and revenge motives counter any idea that Judas was just pushing Jesus along the much-desired path of ridding Israel of Rome and establishing God's people as His kingdom on earth.  Money was the root, and revenge the remedy for Judas' disappointment, not love for country.


The evil in his heart and mind opened the door for Satan.  "And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.  Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve."  Lk. 22:2-3.  It wasn't as if God destined Judas for destruction.  Judas knew about sin and repentance and God's desire for holiness.  He had walked with Jesus and the other eleven disciples for three-and-a-half years.  He had free will and could have chosen holiness, submission and obedience.  Instead, he harbored and concealed the rebellion and disobedience in his heart. 


God knows the end from the beginning.  That does not mean, however, that God forced Judas to betray Jesus.  He just knew what Judas was going to do.  


There are many lessons to learn from Judas' betrayal, many of which concern the heart of man.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"  Judas' heart was cunning and skillful at hiding his greed for money and fame.  Is not that same greed for money and lust for fame found in Christians, leaders and saints today?  Many televangelists use the name of Jesus and give stirring messages, but are hypocrites in their opulent life styles, living in penthouses or large estates, owning $100,000 cars, even gold mines, race horses, oil refineries and TV stations worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Jesus in only a stage prop around which they can dance and perform for the crowds.  They point out that God is not against wealth and use King Solomon as an example.  What they ignore is the fact that King Solomon eventually became careless with God and built groves to honor Babylonian gods and goddesses.  1 Ki. 11:4-11.  Carelessness and compromise seem to be the norm among Christian leaders that spout a prosperity message to justify their hypocrisies. 


The rebellion in Judas' heart showed that he never allowed God to change him.  If he had desired holiness, Satan would have no opening to enter him.  Jesus said of Himself, ". . . for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."  Jn. 14:30.  Judas, on the other hand, never let go of his worldly ambitions.  He was a great actor and pretender.  Pride and ambition reigned in his heart.  Money was his God.


Years ago, I was praying and asking God, "Lord, why is the church is such big trouble today?"  Suddenly, I had a vision of the Yellow Pages of a telephone directory.  A forefinger moved up the page and pointed to a word at the upper right hand corner.  It said, "APPEARANCES."  Like Judas, many Christians put on false appearances, and act holy and righteous, but are just pretending.  As Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."  Mt. 25:27.  No one can serve Mammon and God at the same time.  Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13.  Judas tried.


Perhaps, instead of pondering what motivated Judas to betray Jesus, we should be asking God to "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  


Ptr. Richard Ing

Senior Pastor, Light of the World Missions

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