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.
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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.
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