The Twelve: Judas Iscariot

We’ve come to the last apostle chosen by Jesus: Judas Iscariot. I have been unable to write since I was sick this week; but after sleeping my whole day off I don’t have anything to do other than writing this and read books. Perfect for me. 

He is the most notorious and universally scorned apostle. He is always mentioned last in every account of Gospel, and every record of him in the Gospel includes a notation of him being a traitor. Simply put, he is the most colossal failure in all of human history. He committed the most horrible, heinous act of any individual, ever. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money. He spent three years with Christ, yet his heart always grows hard and hateful. 

The other eleven apostles are all great encouragement for us since they exemplify how common people with typical failings can be used by God in uncommon, remarkable ways. Judas, however, stands as a warning about the evil potential in our heart. The New Testament tells us plenty about Judas; summarized into two points: (1) his life reminds us that it is possible to be near Christ and yet became utterly hardened in sin and (2) no matter what treachery he or she attempt against God, the purpose of God cannot be thwarted. 

Who he was

His name meant “Jehovah leads”, a name which will always be remembered as the synonym of treachery. His surname, Iscariot, signifies the region he came from: “man of Kerioth”, a small town south of Judea. Apparently, he was the only apostle who did not come from Galilee. The Galilean disciple unfamiliarity with Judas would have aided him in his deception, no one knows who he was, and it would be easy to play the hypocrite. He was able to became the treasurer of the group and pilfer their money. 

His calling into discipleship was not recorded in any of the Gospel accounts, but it is obvious that he joined willingly, eager to see the Messianic prophecy fulfilled. He obviously left behind all he have and followed Jesus. He even stayed behind when most of the less-devoted disciple left Jesus. He had given his life to follow Jesus, but he never gave Jesus his heart. 

It seems that Judas has the same hope with most of the Jewish community: that the Messiah would defeat the oppressors and restore the kingdom to Israel. However, his motivation was more political than spiritual. He is interested with the things he could get from being his disciple, hoping to get wealth, power and prestige. He chose to follow Jesus, and Jesus also chose him. His role of betrayal was ordained before the foundation of the world; even prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus knew that he will betray Him, and he knowingly chose him to fulfill the plan. 

Having said that however, Judas was not coerced into doing what he did. No invisible hand forced him to betray Christ. He acted freely and without external compulsion, responsible for his own actions. There is no contradiction between being prophesied to betray and betraying out of his choice. It just perfectly concurred. 

He had the same potential as the other disciples; the difference is that he was never drawn to the Person of Christ. He only saw him as a means to an end. His goal was personal prosperity; he never embraced His teaching by faith. He never had an ounce of true love for Christ. His heart had never been changed, and the light of the truth only hardens him. 

Meanwhile, he was becoming progressively more disillusioned with Christ. It was no doubt that at the start all apostles thought of the Jewish Messiah as an oriental monarch who would defeat the enemies of Judea and reestablish the Davidic kingdom. Jesus was the obvious fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. But Jesus did not always their personal expectations and ambitions (and He did that to us too). The apostles left everything they have behind, but with an expectation of getting their reward. He did tell them that they will have their rewards, but not in the immediate time nor in the material reward. If they expect that kind of rewards, than they will be disappointed. 

The eleven apostles catch who Jesus really was, albeit slowly, and their expectation and understanding was changed; they gladly became the partakers of Christ’s work in Earth. Judas, meanwhile, became disillusioned. He hid his disappointment within the blanket of hypocrisy, corrupting the money of the group in the meantime. His worldliness in his heart was never conquered, and he remained as an outsider secretly. As early as John 6 we can see Jesus call Judas as ‘evil’. He was starting to get disillusioned. By the time of Jesus last Passover, his spiritual disenfranchisement was complete, it turned to hate, mixed with greed that finally turned into treachery. He probably was convinced that Jesus had stolen his life; he thought that Jesus had robbed three years of money-making potentials. 

Avarice, Hypocrisy and Betrayal 

Let us turn back to the raising of Lazarus. Shortly after this story, Jesus and the apostles returned to Bethany, had a feast there alongside with Lazarus, Martha and Mary in the house of Simon the Leper. And there it happened, Mary took a pound of a very costly oil of spikenard and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiped it with her hair and the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. This act was shocking in its extravagance, as it was not only an overt act of worship, but also because that it has an appearance of wastefulness.

Perfume, even at this time, was designed to be used in a small amount. To pour such an expensive perfume at one time was unthinkable. Judas then protested: Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor? 

Three hundred denarii. Three hundred days of work. Imagine you work for S$2800 a month for a year – that’s how expensive the perfume was. And it was poured all at once. 

His response was a clever ploy. He hid behind the names of the poor, and it seems that it was reasonable in the minds of the other apostles as well. He was an expert in hypocrisy. But the true reason behind it was so that he can steal the money for himself. No one sees his true reason, no one except Jesus. But he did not blast Judas with condemnation nor did he expose his true intention in front of the other apostles. He just gave him a mild rebuke. However, it seems that this event broke the last straw inside Judas, because right after that he made an arrangement with the priest to sell him for thirty piece of silver – that was all he can get, a price for a slave set in Exodus. 

Our Lord has been anointed with such overwhelming love by Mary but at the same time He was betrayed with an overwhelming hate by Judas. This apparently was the first time Judas exposed himself and it was the first time he received a direct rebuke from Christ. He blended with the other disciple cleverly, he stored all his bitterness thus far, and it was poured in secret treachery. 

Having collected the money from the chief priest he went to the upper room. He received Jesus’ teaching of humility by washing of feet, unmoved. As Jesus said that they were completely clean, but not all of them are clean, and said that one of them will betray Him, he could join with the other apostles in asking Him: “Lord, is it I?” We know what happened afterwards. Jesus dipped bread, gave it to Judas and told him this: “What you do, do quickly.” Even with this expression the other apostles did not realize that Judas was the betrayer. That was the extent of his hypocrisy. 

Only after Judas left the upper room did the Lord institute the Lord’s Supper. To this day, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we were instructed to examine ourselves lest we come hypocritically and bring judgment to ourselves. 

He went straight to the Sanhedrin, gave them the way to get to Jesus secretly and let loose the event that lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. This however, was not an impulsive act or an act in the moment of insanity. This act was premeditated and planned carefully, and he has taken his payment for it. He waited to betray them in absence of the multitude. He was a coward, and we know what happened afterwards. 

Jesus was still gracious to him even at the time of Judas’ betrayal. He still addressed him as ‘friend’. He had never been anything but friendly to Judas, but Judas was no true friend of Jesus. Judas profaned the Passover that night. He profaned the Lamb of God. He profaned the Son of God. He betrayed the Lord with a kiss. 

The Death of the Betrayer 

Immediately after he gave Jesus to the chief priest, he was disturbed by his conscience. He found himself in the hell of his own making. It was not because of his guilt caused by his sin, but simply because he did not find the satisfaction he expected. He even gave back the money he received, but nothing can undo what he had done. He threw the thirty coins of silver, and hanged himself afterwards. 

He was such a tragic figure that his death was not even in the way that he wanted. Apparently, he fell after he died of hanging into a rock and burst open. His life and death were filled with grotesque tragedies. 

Judas is a tragic example of lost opportunities. He heard the Lord’s teaching and he had all the opportunity to ask the Lord about his questions directly. Christ had given him all the opportunity to do so, yet in the end Judas was condemned because of his own failure. 

Judas is the epitome of wasted privilege. He was given the highest place of privilege among all the disciples; and he squandered it for a fistful of coins that he throws in the end. He is the classic illustration of how the love of money is root of all kinds of evil. 

Judas exemplifies the ugliness and danger of spiritual betrayal, but he is also the proof of the patient forbearing goodness and loving kindness of Christ. The sovereign will of God cannot be thwarted by any means. 

After his death, his office was filled by Matthias. Nothing is known of Matthias other than that he was a disciple from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John. Another perfectly ordinary man was chosen.



There was a time when I lost my desire to write and to share. There was a time when I didn't see the point of doing a blog to express my thought. I am who I am though, inconsistent as I am in doing this blog, but I do want to share and I do long to write. Today I'm giving it another go. Fingers crossed. But I still wish that "Let there be light" is the message that I convey.
  • January 1st 2012, Kristo