There's probably no more controversial New Testament character than Judas. This is a quick and dirty assessment of the man in the light of comments made, sermons heard and questions asked as the traditional position whereby he is vilified and derided gives way to something so very different.
The trend today has become a collision of excusing, justifying, or pardoning Judas. Not only that but we find some accusing Jesus of setting Judas up whilst others or raise Judas to the status of co-redemptor (because salvation by way of the cross could not have happened without him).
There's no doubt that Easter Sunday can't happen without Judas popping up and betraying Jesus, but can we join together with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and take up the strains of 'Poor old Judas' with any integrity?
The show puts these words into Judas' mouth:
"My God, I saw him He looked three-quarters dead and he was so bad I had to turn my head
You beat him so hard that he was bent and lame and I know who everybody's Going to blame
I don't believe he knows I acted for our good I'd save him all the suffering if I could
Don't believe Our good save him If I could
Christ! I know you can't hear me But I only did what you wanted me to
Christ! I'd sell out the nation for I have been saddled with the murder of you
I have been spattered with innocent blood I should be dragged through the slime and the mud
My mind is darkness now My god I am sick I've been used and you knew All the time
God I'll never ever know why you chose me for your crime
For your foul bloody crime You have murdered me!"
The words above raise many questions. Do we have before us a man who is vilified for 'acting for the good of Jesus' followers'? Does Judas become betrayal personified for 'doing what Jesus wanted him to to do'. Should we be pointing the finger of blame at Jesus because He chose Judas to do the crime!
I think there is value to hear the song itself and so throughout this piece you'll find the songs. Have a listen if you can:
Even today Judas’s very name appears in everyday language as an accusation of duplicitous action and gross, wicked and painful betrayal. It appears in our conversations, in print and in the media.
Only a few days ago the television presenter Lorraine Kelly was branded 'a Judas' after she admitted that she was not supporting England but Iceland in the World Cup.
As someone who works in education helping people tounderstand the dynamics and realities of the Shoah (the Holocaust) I have read much propaganda designed to cause people to regard, and treat, Jews as undesirable vermin who were betraying the German nation just as Judas the Jew had betrayed Jesus. It didn't stop with Germany, for wherever Jews were to be found they were presented as a problem than needed solving, The 'solution' being their extermination!
Judas is neither friend for Jew or Gentile it seems. In fact for centuries the Jews suffered because of his actions. But is a scapegoat or is this no more than the man deserves?
Let’s have a look at the man to see what we can make of him and his situation . . .
What do we know about Judas?
1. He was the ‘money man’ for the band of brothers that were Jesus and His followers (John 12).
2. He was apparently dodgy. After Judas’ response to the wasting of expensive nard John 12 continues: “Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
3a. From Matthew 26 // Mark 14 we know it was Judas himself who made the approach to the Jewish authorities with the intention of turning Jesus over to them: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
3b. Luke 22 adds some proper perspective as to the fact that it was not God who influence, selected, or tasked Judas with the act of betrayal but satan:"Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present."
4a. We know that (in John 18) Judas led the people who arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to Him:
"Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”
They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus said to them, “I am he.”
Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.”
4b. Another accountof Judas' encounter with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane can be found in Luke 22:" . . . there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”"
5a. So Jesus is taken away and Judas attempts to return the 'blood money' after which he goes and hangs himself:
"Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself."
5b. The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1) tells us that having been left hanging (which makes sense because to touch a dead body is to make oneself unclean), Judas' body decomposes and his guts spill out into the field which becomes known as Akeldama:
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Plenty of material to help us think about Judas.
Radio 4 had a bishop speaking about Judas recently. In the interview he voiced his sympathy for the man and the 'lousy press' he gets. "After all, nobody likes him, do they?"
Increasingly it seems that people are harbouring the thought that Judas was set up by Jesus. If this is the case then this raises questions about everything that Jesus is and is claimed to be. In fact if this was true then Jesus is most definitely not the Messiah but is indeed 'a very naughty boy!' But I don't think the life of Brian can hold anyway here as there's no evidence to support this position. Conspiracy theorists would say this only strengthens their case!
I think we have a man who has acted from within himself for a number reasons (I've come up with five). Have a look and decide which of them add sto the picture you might construct of the man and his actions:
John paints a picture of a man stealing from the community's moneybag. Now though this betrayal gave him money, I don't think money was the primary motive for the act. Thinking about it logically, if the whole situation was about to explode and the following Jesus was about to go down the drain, money would give Judas the means to ride off into the sunset and start over elsewhere. It was a cheery on the cake, not the prime mover for the action.
ii. Was he 'disgruntled'?
One of the biggest causes of 'whistleblowing' is discontent. The person doesn't feel valued, dislikes their boss (or some other person), disagrees with the policies, or feels aggrieved over some real or perceived wrong action. In this case it makes sense to point the finger at the 'wrong action/policy' of not becoming a guerrilla force. Jesus had the people's hearts and minds, all He needed do was add a bit of spice and the rabble would have raised up and acted against their occupiers.
But Jesus' was no rabble rouser and this could easily have frustrated the Zealots amongst the disciples. Could it be that we owe more to Simon the Zealot and his song in supporting the modern attitude towards Judas as he asks this question of Jesus?
Reading the lyrics brings into our consciousness some really powerful thoughts indeed. Here we have a man who wants that little bit more:
"There must be over fifty thousand screaming love and more for you.
And everyone of fifty thousand would do whatever you asked them to.
Keep them yelling their devotion, but add a touch of hate at Rome.
You will rise to a greater power. We will win ourselves a home.
You'll get the power and the glory For ever and ever and ever . . ."
But that little bit more was not what Jesus had come for. He came to reconcile humanity to God and to present a new way of thinking and living; a way which had no need of swords.
iii. Had it 'All gone sour'?
The song 'Heaven on their minds' is probably one of the most influential songs we have with regard to making a positive and supportive case in favour of Judas. Once you've heard it sung you're part way to agreeing that He's merely being human and telling Jesus how things really are. The bloke's not all bad, he's just trying to get Jesus to listen and change track before it's all too late.
He become aware that Jesus and those following Him disciples are on the road to destruction and no matter what he tries to do they aren't listening to (his) reason. They've sold out to the 'heaven' message and so, frustrated, we find him on the stage putting his side of the story with this song:
These words of this song resonate so much with the opinions of many regarding who have engaged with me over the years with regard to Judas being a desperate man trying to save Jesus and his comrades. The last stanza tie a neat bow of the package of justification for Judas' actions:
"Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.
Please remember that I want us to live.
But it's sad to see our chances weakening with every hour.
All your followers are blind.
Too much heaven on their minds.
It was beautiful, but now it's sour.
Yes it's all gone sour."
Sour grapes, fear and a large dose of disillusionment . Do these lead Judas to the Temple as he tries to pull the plug on it all before it all crashes down and they find Jesus (and themselves) themselves put to death? Did he think the authorities he was about to conspire with would act to stop the Jesus roadshow before it was too late?
Sounds reasonable to me, but perhaps the man just didn't read or understand his audience well enough. They weren't looking to stop Jesus, they wanted to kill Him! This would most assuredly scare those who followed Him and sang His praises. Those who hung on His every word would soon stop from carrying on His message if they were in fear of being singled out as a follower.
An lecture I listened to a few years back raised the question, "Did Judas' actions come out of a desire to get back to being part of a select few rather than one of the crowd?" Something to ponder isn't it?
The Temple authorities wanted 'church' done the way it always was - with them running the show! They wanted the power and authority it had 'always' had and were keen to keep the plebs in their place. After all, could it be that they wanted God (and themselves) worshipped their way, not Jesus'?
iv. Judas was merely a frightened man.
I find lots of value in the thought that when Judas betrayed Jesus he was merely being a frail, frightened, vulnerable and perhaps a little deranged bloke.
If we look at the world's history we soon realise that Judas did was nothing more than had been done before and has most certainly been done since. Some have given their names to the act of treachery. Many have acted out of personal gain over the years, others because of their devotion to a curse or ideal, others because they were disgruntled employees:
Brutus stabs Caesar because he is disgruntled with the man. He is more concerned with the flourishing and the concept of the Republic than the life of one man - even though he is a god!
Guy Fawkes, the man who wanted to blow up parliament, was apparently 'turned in' by means of a letter by one of his co-conspirators to a friend as the magnitude of their intended actions hit home.
Like Judas, the Norwegian Vidkun Quisling is another man whose act of betrayal against his nation in favour of the Nazi regime has made his name synonymous with the act of betrayal.
Benedict Arnold, tired of others getting the credit for his achievements turns them over to the enemy (who in this case were the British). I've heard his name used in anger when I worked in the US.
We all have our whistle blowers and zealots - not always do they do what they do for the right reasons or in the right way. Was Judas merely another of these?
v. A bit of a scheming wotsit?
So let's think about it.
1. The crowd love Jesus and the Romans and the Religious people hate Him.
2. The Temple authorities seize Jesus and give Him a tough time which causes unrest.
3. The Romans get a bit heavy-handed and blood starts to flow, which brings an armed response.
4. The struggle begins and Jesus is left to preach peace and cheek-turning after He's been rescued.
Now this is pure fiction (which in academic circles we call conjecture) but it is no less valid a consideration (is it?). Could be that this was a real and present motive behind the act of betrayal?
Looking at things with this as a player has some merit for it brings about action and a desired outcome out of the passivity that Jesus is preaching.
So could Judas have been forgiven?
I have to say, "Yes, I think He could, but I don't think he was!"
My reason for this is:
If we take the stories of two of the men, Judas and Simon Peter, involved in the Passion narrative we find these two men both caught up in the act of publicly denying Jesus.
Judas to the Temple authorities, to the people he gathered and led to the garden of Gethsemane and to those people gathered there with Jesus.
Simon Peter to the people gathered around outside the place where Jesus has been dragged off to after having been seized.
I don't know whether you've ever thought about it but I reckon there's more than a fleeting chance that Judas and Simon Peter were both in that same place. Could it be that this is where Judas, seeing Jesus so sorely abused, feels the remorse that takes him back to the authorities to return the money?
Let's add Peter's story to the mix using the words of Matthew 26 // Luke 22*:
And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”
And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.”
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed.
And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly."
Now both Judas and Simon Peter showed remorse for their actions. Both men understood what they had done in denying Jesus but one of them, Judas, rather than repent - which means turning away from his actions - instead removed himself from any act of restoration by taking his own life. This, in my book, is the ultimate rejection of God for it rejects and chance of redemption.
In John 21 we find Simon Peter in the company of Jesus and just as John denied Jesus three time, thrice does Jesus as of him a question:
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
In this act the denial is noted, challenged and restoration is made real in Simon Peter's being and it in this moment that Simon Peter becomes someone, and something, new. This is the moment when forgiveness and pardon are handed to the man and I feel more than a little confident that had he not removed himself from the world this would have been the reality for Judas too. But Judas took matters into his own hands rather than repent and throw himself to the mercy of God.
It is important that we have a think about the words of Mark 14 which tell us Jesus knew He was about to be betrayed:
"And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?”
He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.
For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”"
But knowing and commissioning are different things.
If you knew something going to happen, when it occurs you cannot be considered guilty or complicit in the event unless you commissioned it. Can you?
So here it is as I see it:
Judas is indeed guilty of betraying Jesus. I don't think he did it for the money but because he was disgruntled, scared, frustrated and disillusioned. The money is a subsidiary issue in my book; a sweetener rather than a reason to betray Jesus.
It would seem reasonable to assume that what Judas might have hoped for was merely to stop the bus before it crashed and they all got burned. But there was also the potential that in doing this there was the chance that the blue touch paper would bit lit igniting the zealots and starting the fireworks.
Jesus is the victim here with Judas and Simon Peter's acts of betrayal. That Jesus 'knew' about both Peter's denial and Judas' betrayal beforehand does not make Him complicit in their actions. There is no way anything in this story can place the responsibility for either act at Jesus' feet for He neither commissioned the acts nor acted to avoid them!
Jesus knew the day was coming when He would be put to death. He asked whether the cup might pass from Him and understanding that it couldn't, He accepted it and willingly took up His cross and our sins that through His once and for all atoning death we might be reconciled to the God (the Godhead - Father Son and Holy Spirit). By this one single act He pronounced us 'justified' (that is not guilty).
That Judas is 'damned for all time' is the result of his sidestepping encountering God, repenting and seeking forgiveness by choosing death at by own hand. Had he come to the foot of the cross rather than to the end of a length of rope I think forgiveness would have been his..
He's not a patsy. Neither is he the 'fall guy' (unless we are reflecting on the means of his death).
He gets bad press (but that goes with the act) but regardless of his motive, the act was considered, offered, delivered and paid for in full all by the man himself with no obvious dialogue with God.
To feel sorry for the man is only natural, after all he's perhaps one of the biggest 'if only's' in history. If only he'd stopped, prayed, dialogued, repented, etc. then he'd have made it through to the day when, like Peter, he could have been met, engaged with and forgiven.
But he didn't and so he wasn't and that's the end of it which means (in a nutshell):
Simon Peter ends up forgiven and Judas doesn't: It's about choices!
Judas betrays Jesus by his own hand and thinking: It's about actions!
It's sad that Judas gets so caught up in his own actions - Folly is always sad!
And a thought: Who does it serve to make Judas the scapegoat?
(have a think about this and let me know what conclusion you come to. I have mine)
* Luke 22:"Then they seized Jesus and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.
Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”
And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”
And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly."
// Where you see '//' this indicates that the story or account appear in more than one of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke. Synoptic means 'same/similar' view).
It's a nice shorthand way of saying, "Can be found in two or more of the synoptics"