Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 March

Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50,
Luke 22.45-48, John 18.1-3.

In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical.

So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened:

Mark 14.41-46 KWL
41 Jesus comes back a third time and tells his students,
“Sleep and rest now; it’s fine. The hour comes.
Look, the Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
43 Next, while Jesus is still speaking,
Judas Iscariot approaches the Twelve.
With him, a crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, scribes, and elders.
44 The one who handed over Jesus had given the crowd a signal,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him.
Grab him and take him away carefully.”
45 Next, coming to Jesus, he tells him, “Rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
46 So the crowd lays their hands on Jesus
and arrests him.
Matthew 26.45-50 KWL
45 Then Jesus comes back to the students and told them,
“Sleep and rest—look, the hour has come near.
The Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
46 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, comes.
With him is a great crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, elders, and people.
48 The one who handed over Jesus gives them a sign,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him.”
49 Immediately coming to Jesus, he says, “Hello, rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
50 Jesus tells Judas, “Brother, why have you come?”
Then the approaching mob throws their hands on Jesus
and seizes him.
Luke 22.45-48 KWL
45 Rising from the prayer, Jesus goes to the students
and finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why are you asleep?
Get up and pray, or else you might enter temptation!”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
A crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, leading them.
He goes to Jesus to kiss him hello,
48 and Jesus tells him, “Judas, to kiss the Son of Man, you turn him in.”
John 18.1-3 KWL
1 When he said this, Jesus with his students go over the Kidron ravine,
where there’s a garden. He and his students enter it.
2 Judas Iscariot, who was selling him out, had known of the place,
because Jesus often gathers with his students there.
3 So Judas, bringing 200 men,
plus servants of the head priests and Pharisees,
comes there with torches, lamps… and arms.

Judas’s motivation.

The scriptures don’t explicitly say why Judas led the authorities to Jesus. So we don’t know.

I know; many Christians are entirely sure they do know. Books and plays and movies have been written to explain Judas’s motivation. Some to depict him as absolutely depraved and evil:

  • Jealous because Jesus put Simon Peter in charge of the Twelve instead of him.
  • Jealous because Mary the Magdalene was in love with Jesus instead of him.
  • Outraged because he expected Jesus’s kingdom to involve violently overthrowing the Romans, yet Jesus actually said it was okay to pay Tiberius Caesar his taxes.
  • Frustrated because he was greedy, and expected Jesus’s kingdom to be way more profitable than it had been.
  • Turns out he was a secret spy from the Judean senate all along, and now his handlers found an opportune time to arrest the Galilean prophet.

And some actually try to defend Judas. In Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Hugh J. Schonfield’s The Passover Plot, Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, and dozens of other books, these guys claim they understand what was really going on behind the scenes in the gospels: They know the real Historical Jesus, and us Christians have it all wrong… despite there being no other reliable historical source of information on Judas Iscariot. But, y’know, they figured it out where a thousand generations of Christian theologians haven’t.

To most of these Judas-defenders, Jesus arranged with Judas—as a co-conspirator, not a pawn—to get himself seized. Judas isn’t the bad guy; he’s in on it. Jesus’s goal varies, depending on the author:

  • He wanted to be brought before the senate so they’d immediately recognize his Messianic claim and anoint him right there. (And man alive, did that backfire.)
  • He actually wanted the Romans to try and kill him, but figured those 12 legions of angels he commands Mt 26.53 would show up and free him and help him take over the world. (And again, big miscalculation.)
  • Getting crucified was actually the plan all along… but right before he actually died he’d be rescued, then present this trick of “resurrection” as proof he’s Messiah, and try to take over the world from there… but oops, he actually did die.

No matter the scenario, Jesus and Judas’s plan collapsed, so Judas panicked and killed himself in despair. Mt 27.3-5

Most Christians recognize these “historical Jesus” theories are purely fictional farces. But every once in a while, one of us gets suckered by them, or uses ’em as an excuse to quit Christianity, and from that point on claims what really happened to Jesus is one of those theories. Some of ’em even become professional scholars and teach this crap in university.

But since none of it is part of the historical record—not even in the writings of ancient gnostic religions—these guys aren’t properly practicing history. It’s malpractice, done because they have a personal antichristian axe to grind. To be fair, there are anti-Muslims and people with biases against religion in general, who do the very same thing: They’re too annoyed at religion to properly follow the facts wherever they lead. But enough about them.

Anybody who says Judas was secretly a good guy, or just a seriously disappointed follower who went rogue, is clearly following their own favorite ideas instead of the scriptures. ’Cause the scriptures say stuff like this:

Luke 22.3 KJV
Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
John 13.27 KJV
And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.

Yep, dude got himself possessed.

Posession doesn’t just happen (and arguably can’t happen to Christians who have the Holy Spirit in us): One must permit Satan to mess with them. Judas did. And I remind you again: We don’t know why. The scriptures don’t explicitly say. They only say Judas let Satan take the reins; then when Satan dropped them and Judas saw what became of Jesus, that’s when he panicked and killed himself in despair.

Christians speculate—but really, we can only speculate—this had to do with Mammonism. John stated Judas was an embezzler, Jn 12.6 who got particularly annoyed when Jesus let a woman waste hundreds of denarii worth of perfume on his feet. Jn 12.4-5 Judas also negotiated 30 denarii for his role in the arrest. Mt 26.15 Money looks like his prime motive: He only followed Jesus for personal financial gain. But once it finally sunk in Jesus’s kingdom isn’t what the prosperity gospel folks claim, Judas cashed out.

Once Christians reach this conclusion, we typically follow up with sermons against greed, against the love of money, sometimes even against capitalism and wealth. Others of us love money, and can’t abide any blasphemy against Mammon, so they won‘t ever take that route: They claim Judas’s pursuit of wealth isn’t his main problem, but a symptom of a much bigger problem. Followed by their guesses as to what that bigger problem was. Maybe Judas sought political power, and was angry Jesus’s kingdom isn’t political—he’s not trying to turn the Roman Empire into “a Christian nation.” Or maybe these preachers are civic idolaters and would never go that route either.

Well. Regardless of why Judas was demonized, that’s what happened. That’s why Jesus himself identified one of his Twelve as a devil. Jn 6.70-71 Though John says Satan entered Judas at the Last Supper, there’s every likelihood Satan was tinkering with Judas for quite a while beforehand.

’Cause contrary to popular belief, usually demon-possessed people look just like everyone else. Unless the Spirit gives us the knowledge they’re there, they go unnoticed. Judas mighta been with Jesus for years with Satan messing with his life—and nobody knew but Jesus and Judas, and Judas never repented no matter how often Jesus offered to free him.

Misguided or evil, Judas’s effect on Jesus was the same: He handed Jesus over to the people who wanted him dead. It was a low, rotten thing to do. It got our Lord killed.

Only friendlies can betray.

We typically describe Judas’s actions as betrayal, in which someone who’s supposed to be loyal, isn’t.

A competitor or enemy can’t legitimately sell you out. If I’m your competition, and you discover something about me and sell it, I shouldn’t be surprised and have my feelings hurt. If you’re in combat, and an enemy finds you, it’s not betrayal when he tells his commanders on you. Of course opponents do such things. But when you find a friend has secretly been an opponent all this time: That’s betrayal.

So only someone on Jesus’s side could’ve betrayed him. Whether a student like Matthias, a sorta-student like Nicodemus, a friend like Lazarus, a groupie (or undercover student) like the women, or a brother like James. But in the gospels two members of the Twelve, Jesus’s best students, Jesus’s handpicked leaders, Jesus’s closest allies, turned on him. Judas brought the mob, and Simon Peter swore up and down he didn’t know the guy. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

So this hurt Jesus. Psychologically, but psychological wounds hurt just as much as physical wounds, if not more. Jesus should’ve been able to count on these people, yet they proved worse than useless.

Yeah, he knew it was coming. He predicted both acts of opposition—plus that his other students would flee. That only cushions the blow a little. It’s still a blow.

Made a little worse by how it came. Judas kissed him hello, as people did back then. (Rarer now in our culture; men tend not to greet one another by kissing on the lips—unless they’re family.) But this close personal greeting had been twisted, by Judas, into the sign of which person to grab: Wanted posters hadn’t been invented yet, and the mob didn’t know Jesus by sight, especially since it was night (full Passover moon notwithstanding). This expression of affection singled Jesus out for their wrath. From Judas, it meant the very opposite of affection. Because of it, every similar betrayal disguised as friendship is now called a Judas kiss. Even Jesus pointed out how wholly inappropriate it was. Lk 22.48

I’m not sure whether Judas or Jesus knew this was the last time they’d see one another alive. I’d like to think Judas’s agony over what he’d done, became repentance, and was enough to get him to heaven. Other Christians much prefer Judas in hell. Revenge fantasies give us a bit of bias in that direction: These vengeful Christians love to point out when Judas “repented himself” in Matthew 27.3, the word is μεταμεληθεὶς/metamelitheís, “changing his tune,” not μετανοιθεὶς/metanitheís, “changing his mind.” True, both words are accurately translated “repented himself” (KJV), but they’re hoping there’s just enough difference to plunge Judas into dark, fiery, gnawing hell: He doesn’t deserve grace anyway. (As if any of us do.)

But Jesus picked Judas for his Twelve for a reason. I seriously doubt it was just as an object lesson for the whole world: Look how even our closest friends can shaft us, ’cause it happened to Jesus. I’d like to think it’s ’cause Jesus truly wanted Judas saved, and in his kingdom. ’Cause God wants everyone saved. 2Pe 3.9