Why Jesus Was Betrayed by Judas Iscariot

Why Jesus Was Betrayed by Judas Iscariot

From the moment he plants a kiss on Jesus of Nazareth in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot sealed his own fate: to be remembered as history’s most famous traitor.

But by identifying Jesus to the Jewish authorities, Judas set into motion the series of events that became the foundations of the Christian faith: Jesus’s arrest, his trial, his death by crucifixion, and eventually his resurrection, known collectively as the Passion of Christ.

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Given how little we actually know about him from the Bible, Judas Iscariot remains one of the most enigmatic—and important—figures in Jesus’s story. In recent years, the discovery of the long-lost Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic text originally dating to the second century, has led some scholars to reconsider his role, and even to ask whether he might have been unfairly blamed for betraying Jesus.

Who Was Judas Iscariot? What We Know from the Bible

Though the Bible offers few details about Judas’s background, all four canonical gospels of the New Testament name him among Jesus’s 12 closest disciples, or apostles. Intriguingly, Judas Iscariot is the only one of the apostles whom the Bible (potentially) identifies by his town of origin. Some scholars have linked his surname “Iscariot,” to Queriot (or Kerioth), a town located south of Jerusalem in Judea.

“One of the things that might set Judas apart from the rest of Jesus's disciples is that Judas is not from Galilee,” says Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. “Jesus is from the northern part of Israel, or Roman Palestine. But [Judas’s] surname might be evidence that he's from the southern part of the country, meaning he may be a little bit of an outsider.”

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Alternatively, others have suggested that the name Iscariot identified Judas with the Sicarii, or “dagger-men,” a group of Jewish rebels who opposed the Roman occupation and committed acts of terrorism circa A.D. 40-50 on behalf of their nationalist cause. But there’s nothing in the Bible to link Judas to the Sicarii, and they were known to be active only after his death.

“We're not sure Judas was from the South, and we're not sure Judas was a Sicarii,” Cargill says. “These are attempts to see if there may have been something up front that set Judas apart from the rest. Because people are always trying to explain—why would he have done this? Why would Judas have betrayed Jesus?”

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Possible Motives for Judas Iscariot's Betrayal

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus informed his disciples during the Last Supper that one of them will betray him. When they asked who it would be, Jesus said “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” He then dipped a piece of bread in a dish and handed it to Judas, identified as the “son of Simon Iscariot.” After Judas received the piece of bread, “Satan entered into him.” (John 13:21-27).

Judas then went on his own to the priests of the Temple, the religious authorities at the time, and offered to betray Jesus in exchange for money—30 pieces of silver, as specified in the Gospel of Matthew. Like the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Luke also cited Satan’s influence, rather than mere greed, as a reason for Judas’s betrayal. John, however, made clear that Judas was an immoral man even before the devil got into him: He kept the “common purse,” the fund that Jesus and his disciples used for their ministry, and stole from it.

“There have always been those who have wanted to tie Judas's betrayal to the fact that he had a love of money,” Cargill points out. Others have suggested a more political motive for his traitorous act. According to this theory, Judas might have become disillusioned when Jesus showed little interest in fomenting a rebellion against the Romans and reestablishing an independent kingdom of Israel.

Alternatively, Cargill suggests, Judas (like the Jewish authorities at the time) could have seen a rebellion as potentially dangerous for the Jewish people in general, as in the case of the Roman destruction of Sepphoris earlier in the first century: “Maybe he decided to hand Jesus over, in effect, to stop a larger rebellion.”

READ MORE: Why Did Pontius Pilate Have Jesus Executed?

What Happened After That

Whatever his motives, Judas led soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he identified Jesus by kissing him and calling him “Rabbi.” (Mark 14:44-46) According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas immediately regretted his actions and returned the 30 pieces of silver to church authorities, saying “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” When the authorities dismissed him, Judas left the coins on the floor, and committed suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:3-8).

According to another canonical source in the Bible, the Book of Acts (written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke), Judas didn’t kill himself after betraying Jesus. Instead, he went into a field, where “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). This spontaneous-combustion-like process was a common form of death in the Bible when God himself caused people’s deaths.

Judas’s betrayal, of course, led to Jesus’s arrest, trial and death by crucifixion, after which he was resurrected, a sequence of events that—according to Christian tradition—brought salvation to humanity. But the name “Judas” became synonymous with treachery in various languages, and Judas Iscariot would be portrayed in Western art and literature as the archetypal traitor and false friend. Dante’s Inferno famously doomed Judas to the lowest circle in Hell, while painters liked Giotto and Caravaggio, among others, immortalized the traitorous “Judas kiss” in their iconic works.

READ MORE: Mary Magdalene: Prostitute, Wife or None of the Above?

Was Judas Really That Bad?

“The most important fact about Judas, apart from his betrayal of Jesus, is his connection with anti-Semitism,” Joan Acocella wrote in The New Yorker in 2006. “Almost since the death of Christ, Judas has been held up by Christians as a symbol of the Jews: their supposed deviousness, their lust for money and other racial vices.”

The historical tendency to identify Judas with anti-Semitic stereotypes led, after the horrors of the Holocaust, to a reconsideration of this key Biblical figure, and something of a rehabilitation of his image. Professor William Klassen, a Canadian biblical scholar, argued in a 1997 biography of Judas that many of the details of his treachery were invented or exaggerated by early Christian church leaders, especially as the church began to move away from Judaism.

What Is the Gospel of Judas?

In 2006, the National Geographic Society announced the discovery and translation of a long-lost text known as the “Gospel of Judas,” believed to have been originally written around A.D. 150, then copied from Greek into Coptic in the third century. First alluded to in writing by the second-century cleric Irenaeus, the Gospel of Judas is one of many ancient texts discovered in recent decades that have been linked to the Gnostics, a (mostly) Christian group who were denounced as heretics by early church leaders for their unorthodox spiritual beliefs.

Rather than denounce Judas as Jesus’s betrayer, the author of the Gospel of Judas glorified him as Jesus’s most favored disciple. In this version of events, Jesus asked Judas to betray him to the authorities, so that he could be freed from his physical body and fulfill his destiny of saving humanity.

Controversy surrounds the Gospel of Judas, as some scholars have argued that the National Geographic Society’s version represented a mistranslation of the Coptic text, and that the public was wrongly made to believe the document portrayed a “noble Judas.” In any case, the fact that the Gospel of Judas was written at least a century after Jesus and Judas died means that it provides little in the way of historically reliable information about their lives, and certainly doesn’t provide the missing link to understanding Judas Iscariot’s true motivations.

“The truth is we don't know why Judas did what he did,” notes Cargill. “The grand irony, of course, is that without [Judas’s betrayal], Jesus doesn't get handed over to the Romans and crucified. Without Judas, you don't have the central component of Christianity—you don't have the Resurrection.”

What prompted Judas to betray Jesus? How did Judas' betrayal of Jesus unfold?

The disciple Judas is first mentioned by name in Matthew 10:4: "…and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed [Jesus]." Throughout all of history, this is how he is known. Although we cannot know exactly what motivated Judas to betray Jesus, the Gospels do give us clues.

John 6:70-71: Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him. And yet He chose Judas as a disciple and kept him near. The Bible doesn't say why, other than Jesus knew that God had a plan.

John 12:3-8: We also aren't told Judas' profession, but we are told of his love for money. When Mary of Bethany saved to buy a bottle of expensive perfume to honor Jesus' coming sacrifice, Judas' reaction was to criticize her for spending it foolishly instead of donating it to the disciples to feed the poor. Judas had no intention of giving it to the poor, though he knew Jesus could feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, and he was treasurer for the disciples—stealing from the cache regularly.

Matthew 26:14-15 Luke 22:3-6: The disciples knew that the Jewish leadership wanted to persecute Jesus—they even warned Jesus to stay away (John 11:7-8). Judas, indwelt by Satan himself, went to the chief priests, offering his services to help them take Jesus under custody. The word translated "betray" actually means to deliver or to cause one to be taken. For whatever reason, the chief priests needed inside help to corner Jesus in a vulnerable position, away from the crowds.

Matthew 26:21-25 Luke 22:14-23 John 13:21-30: There is a bit of confusion over whether Judas was present during the institution of Communion. Matthew and Mark say Communion came after Jesus' identification of His betrayer, but don't mention when Judas left the table. John mentions Jesus' identification and Judas' departure, but not Communion specifically. Only Luke writes that Jesus identified Judas after or during Communion—and makes it clear that Judas was present at Communion. Luke 22:21 says the betrayer is present during Communion. In John, Jesus predicts that His betrayer will "eat His bread" and then gives Judas a "morsel" (verses 18, 26), which may mean the bread of Communion. Which was first, Communion or Judas' departure? It is known that Matthew was organized by subject, and not chronology. Luke is generally quite chronological (see the book of Acts). It's possible that Jesus and the disciples discussed His betrayer more than once during the evening, but it was only after Communion that Judas left.

Matthew 26:25: When the disciples tried to discover the identity of Jesus' betrayer, Judas' response was, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Was this an attempt at denial? Or an indication that Judas hadn't understood the full ramifications of his actions? We don't know. It is interesting to note that while the other disciples called Jesus "Lord" (Matthew 26:22), Judas used the word for teacher/mentor. Once Jesus identified him, Satan re-entered Judas, Jesus released him to do what he needed to do, and Judas left the Upper Room.

Matthew 26:47-50: After Judas left the Upper Room, he returned to the authorities who were preparing to take Jesus. He led the large, armed group to the Garden of Gethsemane, and, perhaps because of the low light, identified Jesus with the kiss of a friend.

Matthew 27:3-10: Did Judas not fully realize what the chief priests would do to Jesus? Or, looking at the thirty pieces of silver, did he decide Jesus' life was worth more than his personal wealth? We don't know. For whatever reason, Judas regretted his part in Jesus' capture. He tried to return the money, but the hypocritical priests refused to take it. He threw the money into the temple and hanged himself.

Would Jesus have forgiven Judas? Absolutely. Judas betrayed Jesus, but Peter denied Him (John 18:25-27 21:15-17). Judas was possessed by Satan, but Mary Magdalene had had seven demons (Mark 16:9). Romans 8:38-39 insists that nothing, including principalities or sin, can keep us from God's love in Christ Jesus. But in John 17:12, Jesus identifies Judas as the "son of perdition"—the man doomed to damnation. Judas was an apostate. He had travelled with Jesus, seen the miracles, and heard the teaching, but he didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah. He called Jesus "teacher," not Lord. First John 2:19 describes him perfectly: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." Judas went out with Jesus, but he didn't follow Him. He understood what Jesus was saying, but he didn't accept it. Such a person, wrapped in apostasy, is doomed to perdition. Acts 1:25 insists that Judas was not forced, but "turned aside to go to his own place."

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Because Jesus could not or would not be who Judas wanted Him to be. Judas wandered with Jesus for a good three years and came to the conclusion that a poor, itinerant teacher who refused to take political power was not of any significant value to him. Judas used Jesus throughout the three years, and he used Him again in the end. When Judas realized what the high priests had planned for Jesus, Judas regretted his selfishness. But he still couldn't accept Jesus as Lord.

Judas was not the only person in Jesus' life who used Him. The people who lined the road to Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11) thought He was a political king and military conqueror who would chase Rome out of Israel and re-establish the autonomous Jewish nation. When they learned He had no political power, they were quick to demand His death (Matthew 27:20).

Countless people today do the same thing. They hear about Jesus' healing power, or His ability to grant wishes or comfort. Many even respect His teaching. And they learn about His character, His claims, and His crucifixion. But they don't accept Him as Lord. We are just as guilty as Judas when we use Jesus for our own selfish gain.

The Gospel of John states that Jesus confronted Judas at the last supper, telling him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” The Gospels of Luke and John both say that Satan “entered” Judas at certain times and may have influenced his decision to betray Jesus .

According to all four canonical gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane by kissing him and addressing him as “rabbi” to reveal his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him. His name is often used synonymously with betrayal or treason.

Life Lessons

An outward show of loyalty to Jesus is meaningless unless we also follow Christ in our heart. Satan and the world will try to get us to betray Jesus, so we must ask the Holy Spirit for help in resisting them.

Although Judas attempted to undo the harm he had done, he failed to seek the Lord's forgiveness. Thinking it was too late for him, Judas ended his life in suicide.

As long as we are alive and have breath, it's never too late to come to God for forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Sadly, Judas, who had been given the opportunity to walk in close fellowship with Jesus, completely missed the most important message of Christ's ministry.

How Did Judas Die?

The Bible catalogs, in somewhat gory detail, the death of Judas. When the religious leaders refuse to accept the 30 silver pieces, Judas casts it on the floor, goes to a field, and hangs himself. I won’t go into more details than that, but if you want some hyper-real descriptions, check out Acts 1:18.

The religious leaders then use the coins to purchase a potter’s field, fulfilling a prophecy from the Old Testament (Matthew 27:9).

We may never know if Judas was evil all along or if resentment slowly bubbled under his skin throughout Jesus’ ministry. After all, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, people waved palm branches and rejoiced. But less than a week later, they called for his death.

Judas’ actions, evil as they were, played an important role in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Old Testament prophesied that Judas would betray Jesus, and through his betrayal, Jesus died for our sins.

What’s especially important to take away is one of Jesus’ last moments with Judas. Even though he knew Judas would betray him, he still washed Judas’ feet before the Last Supper (John 13), an act of servitude.

We can often tsk at Judas when we read what he did, until we realize that we, in fact, are Judas. We betrayed Jesus. Our sins led him to his death. But Jesus chooses to wash our feet. To befriend us. And to ultimately save us.

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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.

How Did Judas Iscariot Die?

There are two accounts of Judas’ death in the New Testament.

According to Matthew 27, Judas regretted his decision when he “realized that Jesus had been condemned to die” (Matthew 27:3) and tried to return his money to the religious leaders. They told him his sense of guilt was no concern of theirs, he threw the money in the temple, then hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). The religious leaders decided to use the money to buy a field to use a cemetery, which became known as “Field of Blood” (Matthew 27:6-9).

Acts gives a different version of the events. According to Acts 1, after Jesus’ ascension but before Pentecost, the disciples discussed selecting a new apostle to take Judas’ spot among the 12, someone to “share in the ministry with us.” The writer mentions that Judas bought a field with the 30 pieces of silver, and “falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Acts 27:18-19).

Different scholars have considered whether these two versions can fit together (did Judas hang himself and then his body split open?). Regardless of whether they fit together or it's one account over the other, there’s a strong sense of tragedy to Judas’ death. Given that Acts 1:25 Peter describes Judas going “where he belongs” and Jesus’ prayer for his disciples refers to Judas as “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12), there’s also arguably a sense of judgment here.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/gabrielabertolini

G. Connor is a freelance writer and journalist, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. He has contributed over 600 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.

This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.

The disciple whom Jesus loved is referred to, specifically, six times in John’s gospel: It is this disciple who, while reclining beside Jesus at the Last Supper, asks Jesus who it is that will betray him, after being requested by Peter to do so.


The History of Judas the Iscariot – From an Old Manuscript by a Monk of the Holy Mountain

A text belonging to a manuscript of the Holy Monastery of Iviron on the Holy Mountain – a copy of which rests in the Cell of St. Govdelaas of Persia in the Holy Monastery of Iviron, copied and published by the Hagiorite and Hieromonk Averkios in 1895 and 1896 in Varna – tells about Judas.

According to this manuscript, Judas’ descent was from Iscaria and his father was called Rovel. One night his mother woke up, being frightened by a nightmare that she had seen in her sleep, according to which, if she had conceived a male child it would be the ruin of the generation of Jews. That night she had conceived, and later gave birth to a baby boy. Fearing that the nightmare would come true, the parents constructed a basket, like the one that was made in Egypt for Moses they placed their child in it and abandoned it in the Sea of ​​Galilee.

Across from Iscaria was an island where shepherds spent winter with their flocks. They discovered and collected the child, raised him, named him Judas, and later sent him to Iscaria to be raised by a family. By coincidence, the family that took him in was his biological family, who meantime had given birth to another child. According to the manuscript, Judas frequently abused his brother, with the wicked thought of inheriting his father’s estate. One day he killed his brother by hitting him on the head with a stone, then departed for Jerusalem, leaving behind the inconsolable parents who tried to locate both their children.

In Jerusalem, he became acquainted with Herod, who placed him in his service as a supervisor – his mission being to procure the necessary products and goods for the palaces. Many years later, Judas’ parents sold their property in Iscaria and settled in Jerusalem, alongside Herod’s palace, in an excellent house with gardens.

Herod, who delighted with the beauty of Rovel’s gardens, accepted Judas’ proposal to go and bring him fruits and flowers from Rovel’s garden – without Judas knowing that his parents lived there. Indeed, he jumped over the wall and illegally entered his father’s gardens, cutting flowers and fruits. But, on his return, he stumbled onto his father Rovel, who scolded him, without knowing that he was his lost son. Judas then murdered him the same way that he had killed his younger brother. He told Herod what had happened, but the king remained silent about Rovel’s death and commanded Judas to marry Rovel’s widow so that he could inherit her property. She accepted this, out of fear for Herod, but was unaware that Judas was her lost son. Over time, Judas had a child with her.

One day, while lamenting over everything that she had lived through, she narrated everything to Judas, who, now realizing who she was, revealed his own identity. She tore at her clothes, mourning inconsolably for her sin, and Judas, on recalling the heinous crimes he had committed, departed and went to meet Christ, whom he had heard of, in order to find atonement for his soul. Christ accepted him and made him His disciple, entrusting him with the money collections: the money that covered the needs of Christ’s holy retinue and His Apostles.

There is also the theory that Judas was part of a broader divine plan.

His passion of avarice led him to sell his Master and God for thirty pieces of silver. After his unholy act, he returned the thirty pieces of silver to the Scribes and the Pharisees, and in desperation, hanged himself.

But, being a wicked person, he hanged himself immediately, thinking that he would descend into Hades before the Lord entered it after His death, in the expectation that he would also be set free, along with his ancestors. But instead, he remained dangling alive from the tree, until after the Lord was resurrected, and then he died. His body finally dropped from the tree, resulting in his landing on the ground face-down, his abdomen bursting open, and his entrails spread around.

Acts – Chapter 1:15-20
15 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about one hundred and twenty), and said, 16 “My brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit had foretold through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who became the guide to those who arrested Jesus 17 for he was numbered with us and had obtained a share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man (Judas) had acquired a field with the wages of iniquity and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. 19 And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his estate become desolate, and let no one live on it’ and: ‘Let someone else acquire its supervision.’

Source: By Hieromonk Averkios of the Holy Mountain, a precise history regarding events that took place during the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, composed firstly by a certain Judean named Aeneas, a contemporary of the Saviour. Translated into the Latin language by Nicodemus, a dignitary of Rome, and saved in a certain manuscript in the Holy Mountain. Varna, 1896, pp.78-85.

Theories concerning the betrayal

John, who judged Judas as cruel, concluded that the act of betrayal by Judas was committed because the devil had put the idea into his head. This is exactly what Luke had also asserted. On the other hand, Matthew and Mark wrote that Judas betrayed Jesus exclusively for the 30 pieces of silver.

Another version, which seems more logical, asserts that Judas had expected Jesus to free the Jews from the Roman occupation, and as soon as he realized that Christ did not have such a thing in mind, he was disillusioned and thus betrayed Him.

There are scholars who argue that Judas tried to pressure Jesus to display His powers, while there is also the theory that Judas was part of a broader divine plan.

But nothing can be proven and all of the above remain theories. The motives clearly mentioned by the Evangelists are avarice and the influence of Satan.

This kiss, apparently given for the 30 pieces of silver, cost Judas eternal punishment in “Hell” and affected Christian and world history more than any other event.

But what purposes did this kiss serve?

The setting

Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, accompanied by Peter, Jacob (James) and John, all standing further away from Him. Suddenly, a great commotion was heard, and Judas appeared, followed by a mob. Roman soldiers and high priests’ people holding lanterns, swords and sticks were among the mob. Judas approached Jesus and addressed Him with the words ‘Greetings Rabbi’ and then kissed him. He had just betrayed Him.

‘Did you come with a kiss to betray the Son of Man?’, was the question that Judas received after his act according to Luke, while at that same moment, the soldiers were arresting Jesus and binding His hands. Peter reacted by cutting off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest who was accompanying the soldiers. Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘If you give a knife, you will receive a knife.’ Jesus asked out loud, addressing those who had arrested Him: “Why did you come to arrest me with knives and sticks? Every day I was seated near you all, and I taught publicly, in the temple. Why didn’t you catch me then?”

The queries

The three main questions that have been asked over the centuries about Judas’ act are:

1- Why did the Romans need Judas to point them to Jesus, given that He was a well-known person because of His teachings?

Attempts to explain this from time to time converge on the fact that obviously the Roman soldiers may not have been able to recognize Him in the darkness of night, since they generally never paid much attention to Him. Also, Judas was the one who knew the places that Jesus frequented and everything had to be done quickly and quietly in order to avoid creating any intense reactions.

2- Why did Jesus include Judas in His disciples, knowing that he would betray Him?

The answers vary, but most focus on the matter of ‘free will,’ which is also a foundation of the Christian faith. That is, Judas was free to make his choice. Jesus did not want to influence him or to release him from that choice. In fact, according to John, He had said: ‘I know which ones I have chosen as My disciples.’ Was Judas, finally – without knowing it – part of a divine plan?

3- Why did Peter not attack Judas, but the slave?

This is one of the questions that no one has actually succeeded in answering. Those who have tried, probably approached the … police aspect of the mystery and came to the conclusion that Peter was obviously afraid to attack Judas who was among the soldiers, or he had not perceived Judas’ role, since he was standing further away, together with Jacob (James) and John. Peter’s reaction is an indication that Judas had not given any samples of a bad character until then, and therefore none of the disciples could have suspected that he intended to betray the Master.

Judas Iscariot Betrays Jesus: The Love of Money

Learn from Judas’ mistake. Do not love money. Do not stray from the Way of Jesus.

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Much ink has been spilled speculating on reasons why Judas betrayed Jesus.

Many of these speculations try to rationalize what Judas did.

Perhaps Judas was only trying to force Jesus to show his miraculous powers by calling on legions of angels to throw the Romans out of Israel. Jesus would rule Israel by re-establishing the dynasty of King David and King Solomon. Naturally, Jesus would give glory and honor to the Twelve Disciples who formed his closest friends—Judas among them!

Perhaps the key was that Judas controlled the money bag. He was “building his resume” to become the “Secretary of the Treasury” in the monarchy that King Jesus would establish. From that position of power over the collection of taxes and the spending of the tax dollars, Judas could siphon off money for his personal gain on a large scale. And why not? He was already siphoning off money on a small scale by stealing from Jesus’ money bag. (John 12:6).

Perhaps Judas was disillusioned by Jesus rebuffing and insulting the enthusiastic crowds who wanted to make him king. (John 6:14-15, 26-27). Not only did Jesus miss golden opportunities to lead a rebellion against the Romans. Jesus also was becoming a real Debbie Downer, constantly predicting he was going to suffer and die. (Matthew 16:21). Even as close a friend of Jesus as Peter rebuked Jesus for making such depressing predictions. (Matthew 16:22-23).

Ultimately, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. Judas took the further step of actually betraying Jesus.

Early Christians—who lived under the specter of martyrdom—well understood the difference between denying your faith to save yourself from torture and death, compared with betraying your fellow believers to gain money for yourself.

Anyone—even someone as devoted to Jesus as bold Peter—might weaken to avoid ridicule, torture and death. Like Peter, they would hope to be forgiven for their moment of weakness and be given a second chance to affirm their faith.

In contrast, there was no forgiveness or restoration for those believers who betrayed other believers, condemning them to ridicule, torture and death.

Why would Judas—or any believer—betray another believer? The answer for Judas is plainly given in the Bible. It is only our horror at his betrayal of Jesus—a good, kind friend who had been his close companion and teacher for three years—that makes us recoil from the obvious answer. Judas was greedy! He betrayed Jesus for the money.

Jesus warned years earlier—during the Sermon on the Mount—that no one can serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24). In the days leading up to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Judas heard this truth again and again. Finally, Judas snapped. He chose money instead of God. Thirty silver coins instead of infinite love.

Yet how often do we make similar selfish, short-sighted choices? Let’s review the events that led to Judas’ bad choice, hoping that we can learn from his mistakes. Hoping that we can overcome our love of money!

The downward spiral toward betrayal was sparked when Jesus rebuked Judas in front of the other disciples.

It was a few days before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—a few days before the week of confrontations with business, religious and political leaders that led to the torture and execution of Jesus by Friday.

Jesus and his disciples were staying a few miles outside of Jerusalem in Bethany. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, were throwing a dinner in his honor. Why? Jesus had raised their brother Lazarus from the dead a short time before. (John 12:1-2).

Jesus was reclining as he ate (this was the customary way to “sit” at a dinner table in that culture). “Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3).

Judas decided that this was the perfect time to show off—hypocritically pretending to care more about helping poor people than about loving money. He “objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’” (John 12:4-5).

When the Apostle John told this story, he made sure his listeners knew that the true motive of greedy Judas was not his love of the poor. The true motive of greedy Judas was his love of money!

John explained: “Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6).

Jesus jumped to the defense of his good, faithful friend Mary. In doing so, Jesus rebuked and humiliated Judas publicly. “‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” (John 12:7-8).

Judas must have felt the sting of Jesus’ rebuke even sharper in the following days as Jesus kept warning people not to be greedy—not to love money! This had been a major theme of Jesus’ teachings from the earliest days that Judas was traveling with him.

The Sermon on the Mount urged people to seek God first and foremost. In a famous Teaching that Jesus doubtless repeated many times when Judas was listening, Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24).

After three years of hearing Jesus condemn loving money, it was finally sinking into Judas’ greedy heart that this wasn’t mere PR. Jesus wasn’t like the religious leaders who made lengthy prayers for show while stealing widows’ money. (Mark 12:40). Jesus truly meant that we cannot serve both God and money. Jesus insisted that his followers serve only one God, his Father. Never money!

Jesus made this point crystal clear when he tossed the business people out of the temple. The day after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.” (Mark 11:15).

How did Jesus drive out these greedy business people who were profiting from religion? “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” (Mark 11:15-16)

None of this would have pleased Judas. He already was profiting from religion—by stealing money from the money bag! (John 12:6).

Judas would have been even more offended when Jesus quoted the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 56:7) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11) to denounce those like Judas whose greed so consumed them that they dared to profit from religion. Jesus “said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17).

Perhaps Jesus looked Judas right in his eyes as he condemned Judas for being part of that greedy “den of robbers” who misuse religion to exploit people

Imagine the shame and anger that Judas felt a day or so later when Jesus praised the tiny offering of a poor widow instead of the huge offerings of rich showoffs.

Jesus was in the temple teaching. He had just denounced religious hypocrites who love to show off how religious they are. Yet these religious hypocrites “devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” (Mark 12:38-40). As Judas listened, Jesus said, “These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:40.). Perhaps Jesus again looked right into the eyes of Judas.

Immediately after this, Jesus called his disciples (including Judas) to the place in the temple where people donated their money. “[T]he crowd was putting their money into the temple treasury.” (Mark 12:41). Jesus and Judas saw “many rich people” [throwing] in large amounts.” (Mark 12:41).

Perhaps Judas fantasized about being one of these rich people showing off their wealth and winning the praise of everyone. Perhaps Judas plotted how, after making an ostentatious show of being generous, he would steal money out of the huge amounts flowing through the temple’s coffers.

But the rich hypocrites didn’t win the praise of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus prophesied that the temple itself would become nothing but a pile of rubble—a prophecy that was fulfilled forty years later (a biblical generation)—when the Romans leveled it to the ground.

Jesus didn’t praise the wealthy showoffs. He praised the poorest of the poor—a widow in extreme poverty struggling to survive.

The widow “put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (Mark 12:42). Jesus called his disciples over to him, including Judas, and said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44).

As they were leaving the temple that day, Jesus had another chance to make the point that we should give extravagantly to help others today—to bless others today!

Such extravagant giving enables others to fill their lives, families, communities, and civilizations—all Humanity—with the sweet “fragrance” of expensive “perfume.”

Such extravagant giving of our money and our power empowers others to fill their lives, families, communities, and civilizations—all Humanity—with blessings as countless as the stars.

Jesus condemns hypocritically showing off our wealth in selfish ways that are calculated to make us look more “successful” than others. Jesus condemns relying on our wealth to bless us (as the wealthy donors did) instead of relying on the fruits of our generosity to bless us (as the poor widow did).

Nowhere was such mistaken reliance on wealth more apparent than when Jesus warned his disciples that the magnificent temple itself would be destroyed in that very generation. This would be another in the long line of examples of the futility of storing up “treasures on earth [not even in the temple’s treasury!] where moths and vermin [and Roman armies] destroy and where thieves [and Roman armies] break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19).

The destruction of the temple by the Romans lay 40 years in the future (a typical timeframe for a biblical “generation”). On this same day when Jesus condemned the extravagant hypocrisy of rich people who made-lengthy-prayers-yet-stole-from-widows and when Jesus praised the extravagant giving of the poor widow who gave-away-everything-she-had-to live-on, Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, including Judas.

“[O]ne of his disciples said to [Jesus], ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another everyone will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2). Privately, Jesus warned his disciples that this disaster would strike before that very generation passed away. (Mark 13:30).

Judas decided that disaster would strike Jesus that very week. The religious leaders had already decided that they needed to kill Jesus. Why? Fear.

Fear that history would repeat itself—the history of the Babylonians when they destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, then killed or carried into exile all of Israel’s political, business and religious leaders.

Fear that all of the turmoil being fanned by Jesus and his followers would cause “the Romans to come and take away both our temple and our nation” (John 11:48).

Their fear was legitimate. Forty years later the Roman army did indeed come and take away both their temple and their nation.

Their way to overcome their fear was illegitimate. They silenced the turmoil by killing Jesus.

Not only was their way evil. It was futile.

Their fear blinded them from seeing that the Way of Jesus (who himself followed the Way of the Mosaic Law and the Jewish Prophets (Matthew 17-19)) was their last, best hope of avoiding destruction—their last, best hope of avoiding the hopeless revolt against the Romans forty years later that led to the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and all Israel.

The Way of Jesus was to render unto Caesar the things of Caesar and to render unto God the things of God. (Mark 12:17).

The Way of Jesus was to turn the other cheek rather than revolt. (Matthew 5:38-39).

The Way of Jesus was to forgive our enemies.

The Way of Jesus was to love our enemies. (Luke 6:35-36 23:33-34 Matthew 5:44-45).

The Way of Jesus was to pray for those who persecute us Matthew 5:44-45).

The Way of Jesus was to make peace with those who make war against us. (Matthew 5:9).

The Way of Jesus was to build all Humanity—our lives, families, communities, and civilizations—by putting into practice the wise, dependable foundation of his teachings as summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:1-8:4).

And lest you think that the Way of Jesus was a naive, hopeless way to overcome the Darkness of Roman legions and Roman power and Roman cruelty, remember that history proves otherwise.

It took three centuries for the Way of Jesus to overcome pagan Rome. But when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity three centuries after the Sermon on the Mount, the Light of the Way of Jesus overcame the Darkness of Rome!

Admittedly, the imperfect followers of the Way of Jesus triumphed imperfectly. And we imperfect followers of Jesus spread his Light imperfectly to this very day.

Yet—to modify a famous saying of Churchill that “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried”—I say that the Way of Jesus is the most foolish way of living, except for all the other ways of living that have been tried!

This is especially true when we remember that the Wisdom of the Way of Jesus is often the same as the Wisdom taught by other religions and philosophies when they describe the wise, dependable foundation on which we should build Humanity—our lives, our families, our communities, and our civilizations. (Romans 2:14-15).

This universal Wisdom is the Tao described by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man.

This universal Wisdom of the Way of Jesus urges us to overcome our selfish love of money and tyrannical love of power, living instead so that (every day and in every way) we do unto others what we would have them do unto us. (Matthew 7:13).

This wisdom eluded Judas. His love of money blinded him to the Light of the Way of Jesus.

And so, Judas went to the fearful religious leaders. Their fear of losing their power and their money blinded them to the Light of the Way of Jesus.

They feared the crowds if they arrested Jesus openly in the temple while he was teaching. (Matthew 26:3-5). Judas had the answer. He would lead the temple guard through the darkness of night to where Jesus would be praying and resting. (Matthew 26:14-16 47-50).

His price? A mere thirty pieces of silver. Gladly they paid it.

Jesus gave Judas a chance to change his mind. Near the beginning of the Last Supper, Jesus made it clear to Judas that he knew Judas planned to betray him that very night. Jesus warned Judas that if he carried through on his plan to betray Jesus “it would be better for [Judas] if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24).

When Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples at the Last Supper, he once again looked Judas right in his eyes, offering him friendship, love and forgiveness.

Not even these personal appeals to Judas from Jesus overcame his love of money. Judas left the Last Supper. He led the temple guards to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew where to go because “Jesus had often met there with his disciples” (John 18:1-2).

In order to avoid any confusion in the darkness about who they should arrest, Judas established a pre-arranged signal—arrest the man who Judas kissed. Together with “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs,” Judas spotted Jesus. (Matthew 26:47). Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi’ and kissed him.” (Matthew 26:48-49).

Even now, Jesus tried to overcome the Darkness in Judas’ heart with the Light of infinite love. As Judas approached, Jesus asked, “Judas, are you really going to betray me with a kiss?”. Nevertheless, Judas kissed Jesus, making it clear that he refused even this last, plaintive plea to change his mind. Jesus replied sadly, “Then do what you came to do, friend.” (my paraphrase of Luke 22:48 and Matthew 26:50).

Guided by the kiss of Judas, known for ever after as the Betrayer (see Matthew 26:48), the guards arrested Jesus, beginning the brutal day when Jesus was tortured and executed.

Too late, Judas learned why he needed to overcome the Darkness—the destructive power of the love of money. Realizing the horrible thing he had done to his good, kind friend, he committed suicide.

The Darkness overcame Judas.

Do not love money. Do not love Darkness. Do not stray from the Way of Jesus.

Love the Light. Follow the Way of Jesus.

The historical truth about Judas Iscariot

Maurice Casey has explained the motive of Judas Iscariot, his level of literacy, his religious interest, his worship customs before he met Jesus, and along the way has proved the historical factness of Mark’s account of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. This is all included in Jesus of Nazareth.

Firstly, the key to understanding Judas’s motive lies in understanding his place of origin. Casey begins by explaining that his point is only a “may have been”, but by the time he finishes his explanation all such qualifiers have disappeared.

The last man in Mark’s list is Judas Iscariot. . . . This means that his name was Judah. His epithet [of Kerioth]. . . locates him as a man from a village in the very south of Judaea rather than Galilee. It is accordingly probable that he could speak and read Hebrew as well as Aramaic. His origins may have been fundamental to his decision to hand Jesus over to the chief priests, for he may have been more committed to the conventional running of the Temple than the Galilaean members of the Twelve. (pp. 191-2)

Some biblical scholars have argued that the absence of any motive appearing in the earliest narrative of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is one of the signs that the story is fictitious. It does not cohere with the rest of the narrative. Even the need for a betrayer is not apparent. No reason is given why the priests could not have had Jesus arrested without him.

But Casey believes that Mark clearly thought he had explained everything, including the motive.

Mark assumed that he had provided enough information for his audiences to see this. . . .

He [Mark] thought . . . that he had said enough for people to see what Jesus’ opponents thought the problem was, and it was enough to cause one of the Twelve to change sides and betray his Master. . . .

It . . . ought to be obvious that Mark did his best to create a coherent narrative from the traditions which reached him, which were incomplete. (p. 426-8)

So “to understand Judah’s motives”, Casey explains, “we must leave Christian tradition behind and understand him as a faithful Jew.”

He joined the Jesus movement because he saw in it a prophetic movement dedicated to the renewal of Israel. Jesus chose him because he was a faithful Jew, dedicated to God and to the renewal of Israel, and with the qualities necessary to take a leading role in the ministry of preaching and exorcism. (p. 426)

So what was it about Jesus that worried Judah?

Like other faithful Jews, he was troubled by Jesus’ controversies with scribes and Pharisees during the historic ministry. Exactly what he objected to, we have no idea. Perhaps he tithed mint, dill and cumin, and felt the decorated monuments of the prophets were quite magnificent. Perhaps it was something else — it must have been something which did not seem contrary to the prophetic renewal of Israel. While such details are conjectural, the main point is surely secure — Judah was troubled by these controversies, and he did not undergo an overnight conversion. (p. 426)

“No doubt about which event was the final straw” —

I had always thought the final straw for Judas as told by Mark was the waste of the precious ointment used for anointing Jesus. The disciples were indignant and complained that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. It was at that point that Judas went out to betray Jesus. But no, Casey sees it differently.

For Casey, the seriousness of what Judah undertook, and “the point at which he went to the chief priests”, leaves us in “no doubt” that the trigger was the Cleansing of the Temple. After all, a “faithful member of normative Judaism” believed religiously in the right of the priests to run the temple, and the scribes to interpret the scriptures.

From Judah’s point of view, it was accordingly quite wrong to run the Court of the Gentiles, and upset the arrangements duly made by the chief priests and scribes for the payment of the Temple tax and the purchase of offerings most used by the poor. Moreover, Judah was from Judaea. He will have worshipped in the Temple long before there was a Jesus movement for him to join. How he came to be in Galilee we have no idea. Equally, we have no idea as to whether he had long-standing contacts with the Temple hierarchy. He is likely to have been concerned at what Jesus said when preaching in the Temple on previous visits. (p. 426)

He was a faithful Jew doing the will of God from beginning to end, and when a most regrettable conflict became unacceptable, his only master was God. Moreover, Mark assumed that he had provided enough information for his audiences to see this.

It is surprising that Casey appears to have been the first since the early Church to have seen what Mark “underlined”.

Mark underlined the connection between Jesus’ action in the Temple and the final action against him.

  1. After the Cleansing of the Temple Mark says the chief priests and scribes sought a way to destroy Jesus.
  2. Mark then has Jesus and the temple authorities dispute Jesus’ authority — “a question which was bound to trouble many faithful Jews.”
  3. Jesus delivers a parable against the priests and the priests respond by seeking to seize him.
  4. Later again Mark tells us they could not arrest him for fear of the crowd.
  5. Then Judah went of his own volition to the priests to arrange to hand Jesus over.

That is the clear connection.

Historicity is no doubt

Casey laments that some scholars (he singles out Hyam Maccoby) reject the historicity of all of this betrayal story. One reason they do so is the name of Judah being, of course, related to “Jew” itself. The anti-semitism in the choice of name is scarcely subtle.

But even though in later gospels such as that of Luke in which Satan is said to have entered Judas, this does nothing to undermine

Mark’s entirely practical story, which has a perfect setting in the life of Jesus and which neither the early church nor Mark had reason to create. (p. 427)

Casey goes on to dismiss Maccoby’s point that Paul fails to mention Judas at any point. This is easy. Just as Paul had no reason to mention “Jesus of Nazareth” in his letters (Casey speaks of “the supposed absence of Jesus himself from the Pauline epistles”), he had even less to mention Judas. This is an argument that taps easily off a glib keyboard, but like seed sown in rocky soil it does not endure the close scrutiny of light of day.

Nor is Casey moved by Paul’s references to the Twelve, and other Gospels limiting the number to eleven after the betrayal

because ‘the Twelve’ had to be ‘the Twelve’ for as long as the group existed, to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel . . . The early Pauline tradition was not concerned to change “the Twelve”, whereas Matthew and Luke wrote stories when the remaining Eleven were narratively important to them. None of this is sufficient to undermine the accuracy of Mark’s story, because this has such a perfect setting in the life of Jesus. (p. 427-8)

Once again we see Casey deploying his double-barrelled criteria to establish the historical truth of Mark’s account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus: perfect setting and no reason Mark would make it up.

So not even all the Old Testament allusions throughout Mark’s tale that call to mind the Psalms and story of David and the Prophets — the betrayal of a Davidic anointed (messiah) by a close advisor, the kiss, the thirty pieces of silver — is enough to turn on a light in Casey’s mind that the author was casting Jesus as a fulfilment or anti-type of the traditional biblical man of God who is regularly betrayed by those closest to him.

Watch the video: Why did Judas betray Jesus? Judas Iscariot in the Bible