ACTS1v12to26: JUDAS ISCARIOT
This passage (See Acts1v12to26) describes the appointment of Matthias to replace Judas as an apostle. I will examine, in my next exposition, whether Peter was right to insist on restoring the number of apostles to twelve. Luke introduces into the account of Matthias' selection some information about the death of Judas. I am going to deal with what led up to Judas' disgraceful end. Judas is a very interesting study. In order to make sense of his behaviour we need a good knowledge of human nature. I hope mine is up to the task!
(B) Judas had potential.
We must never forget that Jesus chose Judas. He must have had much in common with the other idealistic young Jews Jesus called to discipleship. Judas was probably disgusted with the state of the nation, longed for a change and eagerly awaited the Messiah. He may, along with James and John, been a follower of John the Baptist.
John says Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. John6v64. I do not accept that Jesus chose Judas in the knowledge that he would betray him. At the Last Supper John also records that: Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." Ch13v21. Jesus would hardly have been troubled if had chosen Judas to fulfil this role.
Jesus probably realised that the selection of Judas for discipleship constituted a risk - as did the choice of Simon Zealotes. The Zealotes were fiercely nationalistic and their goal was to gain independence from Rome. Judas must have possessed qualities that persuaded Jesus he was a risk worth taking.
Jesus' knowledge of God's will developed during his earthly ministry. It is highly likely that a change occurred during the disciple's absence on their preaching tour. Immediately following that mission Jesus is very anxious to get his disciples alone for further teaching. He found it very difficult as the crowds followed him around Lake Galilee. The feeding of the five thousand ensued and then teaching on the, 'Bread of Life'. This teaching, with its emphasis on whole-hearted, personal commitment to Jesus, antagonised the masses and popular support began to dwindle. It was from this time onwards that Jesus began to emphasise what God had revealed to him: "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Lk9v21.
Judas' disaffection begins with these new developments in the ministry of Jesus. It was at this point that Jesus says: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil?" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) John6v70. The Greek word for 'devil' and 'deceiver' is the same. I think Jesus was accusing Judas of duplicity.
The disciples were very disappointed when, after feeding the five thousand, Jesus thwarted the efforts of the crowd to make him king by force. John6v15. They also thought Jesus very misguided to teach as he did about his body and blood and to lose support. See John6v60to71. None of the twelve disciples was more disgusted by the turn of events than Judas and I have no doubt that he stirred up some of the others which gave rise to Jesus' remarks in the passage.
It remains true that the most dangerous opponents of Christianity are those who once professed belief but become disaffected. Stalin was once devout and trained to become a priest!
(C) Judas shared the other disciples mistaken view of the Kingdom.
All of Jesus' disciples must have thought along the same lines as Judas. He didn't stand out as being odd, peculiar or different. It is highly significant that even as late as the Last Supper none of the disciples suspected that Judas was the betrayer.
All the disciples had a mistaken view of the Kingdom that persisted to Christ's ascension. The very last question they asked him was: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts1v6. The disciples were nationalistic and it is no accident that a Zealote is found amongst them. They believed that the Kingdom of God was an earthly kingdom centred upon Jerusalem. The Roman yoke would be thrown off, Israel would assume independence and God's anointed would rule. Messiah's reign would bring great blessing to Israel and to the Gentiles. It would coincide with an upsurge of religious feeling and righteous living. God would be honoured.
It is possible that when Jesus chose his disciples his view of the Kingdom was closer to theirs. Jesus needed times of prayer to discover the will of his Father in Heaven. Jesus prayed long and in agony of spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane for confirmation that his death was in the will of God. Jesus grew apart from his disciples as his understanding of God's plans for the Kingdom changed.
Mistaken views of God's Kingdom persist. Some still hanker, like Judas, for an earthly kingdom with churchmen exercising political power. We had quite enough of that before the Reformation! Others are more like the Pharisees who asked Jesus for a sign that the Kingdom age had come. That wanted tangible evidence that the new era had dawned. Jesus says to them, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is among you." Luke17v20to21. The Pharisees wanted a spectacular announcement that the God's kingdom was at hand. Jesus told them that the kingdom was right there with them. The careworn country teacher with his shabby pupils - they were the kingdom. So it is today. People fall away from the faith because being a Christian is not exciting enough. It is not dramatic, it is not emotionally fulfilling, it's not real - nothing is happening. But God's kingdom hasn't ceased operating. It's representatives still exist within the community. They may be old, untalented, ordinary and unglamorous but they are quietly serving the interests of the King of Kings and Lord of All.
(D) Judas' commitment to the cause was greater than his personal commitment to Jesus.
Judas differed from the other disciples in this respect. His commitment was never to Jesus but to the cause he believed Jesus was pursuing. As the progress of the cause slowed and faltered so his disappointment grew and his sympathy with Jesus declined. He began to question Jesus' tactics and grew increasingly impatient with the slow progress towards setting up the new earthly kingdom.
Judas began to have doubts about the course Jesus was following after the feeding of the five thousand. These doubts grew so that by the time Mary anointed Jesus at Bethany he was getting angry with his leader. Mary did a very lovely thing when she poured the precious perfume over Jesus' head and feet. The house was made fragrant by the act. Judas hated it. He took no pleasure in the sacrificial gift because he did not love Jesus. Indeed, he was growing impatient with him, disappointed in him and resentful of him. The cause was all that mattered and the cause was getting nowhere. Popular support was what Judas wanted to see - not individual acts of devotion. The perfume could have been sold to provide money for party funds. Donations to the poor would certainly swell popular support.
By this time Judas was taking his 10% from any donation received. He was disappointed to lose his cut from what would have been a very large bequest. Judas led the opposition to Mary's extravagant gesture of love because in John's opinion: he was a thief; as keeper of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. John12v6. Judas may have considered that as treasurer and chief fund raiser he was entitled to commission. Judas, a disillusioned man, may have looked upon the money he took as compensation for his growing despair over the cause. He was going to get something - not what he wanted - but something to show for his years of discipleship and deprivation. This may also have been why he negotiated a payment for betraying Jesus to the agents of the High Priest.
We can compensate if we feel disappointed with our Christian lives. Perhaps we do not experience the power, joy or fellowship we expect. God knows we need a little romance in our lives but he does not provide it. We have sowed for so many years and there has been no reaping. Our church is in decline and progressively aging. In such circumstances it is easy to turn to the world for compensation. We spend more and more time on worldly activities and less and less time on our Christian duties. So a lovely Christian girl begins dating a non-Christian boy. She hopes he will be converted and prays earnestly for him. However, he wants to be loved for himself and resolutely resists all attempts to win him for Christ. It is unlikely he will ever be saved. So a retired couple spend more and more time away from their church doing what they always wanted to do - travelling to different parts of the globe. What about their Christian duties? A lonely man wastes time watching TV or surfing the Internet and not always for what is desirable. Our problem is that we feel entitled to compensation. Jesus has let us down and we owe it to ourselves.
(E) What was Judas' motivation for betraying Jesus.
There were two questions to which Judas desperately wanted an answer: Was Jesus the Messiah he envisaged? Was he going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Initially Judas was almost certain that Jesus was the Messiah he longed for. As time passed his doubts grew. Perhaps, Jesus was just another impostor after all. Judas needed to know and he decided to force Jesus' hand to find out.
This posed a huge problem for Judas. He didn't want to be excluded for disloyalty from an important role in the kingdom if Jesus resisted arrest, used his supernatural powers against his enemies and began the process of establishing his rule on earth. If Jesus didn't resist arrest then Judas would at least know the man he had followed for nearly three years, whatever else he was, was not the Messiah he envisaged. I don't think Judas had thought through the consequences of making this discovery. If the worst came to the worst he would be several hundreds of pounds better off. He just wanted to know.
Three incidents help us to understand Judas' motivation:
(b) Why did Judas betray Jesus with a kiss? He could have identified Jesus by touch. If I was going to point out a person in a group of men for the police to arrest I would put my hand on their shoulder. The Bible tells us that Judas kissed Jesus warmly. It was an affectionate kiss. He also greets Jesus with respect, "Greetings Rabbi!" It is almost as if Judas is signally to Jesus, 'Look I am still your friend...' Jesus remonstrates with him saying ironically, "Friend, why have you come?" Mt26v50. Jesus is saying: Friend? Am I really your friend? Think why you are here. He goes on to ask, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" Luke32v48.
We see here Judas' dilemma. If only Jesus would resist the high priest's officials Judas would be his friend. If Jesus did what Judas longed for Judas certainly did not want to be thought an enemy. So he puts Jesus to the test in the nicest possible way.
People still let us down badly to follow their own agenda. They may well be nice to us whilst they are doing it. They don't want to lose our regard. They hope we shall still think well of them ..... . So people leave the struggling church to attend elsewhere. They are very affable about leaving, profess their love and express their regret - but leave they do. People who let us down are just like Judas - they are torn - between pursuing their own interest and losing the respect and regard of friends and family. The distress they experience may be looked upon as a kind of payment for the wrong they do. However, their distress is nothing compared to that of the betrayed.
(c) Finally there is the suicide itself. First of all we need to reconcile the differences between the account of Judas' death in Acts1v18to19 and Matthew27v3to8. (See Comparison) It seems likely that Judas committed suicide in the Potter's Field. I expect this was the flat floor of an old clay pit and as such would be surrounded by very steep sides. Judas may have chosen to hang himself from a tree overhanging one of the cliff-like slopes. Judas' body would fall to the bottom of the old pit once cut free. The force of the fall ruptured his bloated stomach and his guts spilled out. The Pharisees, with a fine sense of irony, bought this field with Judas' 30 pieces of silver and arranged for him to be the first person buried there. Possible he qualified as a stranger or undesirable on account of his suicide. The field could have got its name for a variety of reasons including the blood spilled from Judas' broken body and the fact that blood money purchased it.
Judas's suicide is very difficult to explain if his only motivation for betraying Jesus was greed. Judas knew when he arranged to identify Jesus that the chief priests were plotting to kill the prophet from Galilee. So why did he experience such remorse and despair when Jesus was arrested, tried by the Sanhedrin and sentenced to death. The priests had their man, Judas had his money and Jesus got what was coming to him.
People who are sane and physically well do not commit suicide lightly. A man might take his own life if: all his plans have failed and his life is in ruins; all his expectations have been dashed and life is no longer worth the living; some misjudgement leads to disastrous consequences for himself and others.
Judas said to the chief priests, "I have betrayed innocent blood." He, like Pilate, concluded that Jesus did not deserve to die because he was no king. He was no threat to Caesar! That was Judas' bitter disappointment. He was devastated that in the end, the man he followed for three years, was perfectly innocent of all political ambitions. Jesus was just a deeply religious, politically naive, otherworldly innocent.
So Judas realised that he had miscalculated. Jesus was not the Messiah. It had been another false dawn. He had betrayed a poor deluded carpenter to death. Judas was full of remorse and despair for the mistake he had made. He hated himself. His hopes were shattered and there was nothing left for him to live for.
It is very significant that he flung the silver coins at the feet of the chief priests. It was an act of enormous contempt. This is something else that Judas shared with Pilate. They were both contemptuous of the Jewish ruler's misjudgement of Jesus - he was no threat to them or anyone else. In this respect the Jewish rulers did show more insight than either Pilate of Judas. Jesus was both the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. Nor was he a tame lion!
I am afraid that many people on the fringe of Christianity are very disappointed with Jesus when he fails to deliver what they expect. Richard Whitely, the quiz show host and celebrity, used to attend church and pray. He was so disappointed with God when his beloved sister died in her forties that he could no longer pray and gave up going to church. Jesus does not promise to give us good health, success in our careers or to find us a husband or wife. Jesus came save us from our sin and to reconcile us to God. He came to give eternal life to all who accept his authority. Jesus shows us how life should be lived and how to please God. He conquered death and ever lives to intercede with God for our spiritual well being.
Judas and Pilate thought Jesus was yet another wandering teacher who was obsessed with religion but relatively harmless. How wrong they were and how wrong so many are who hold this condescending opinion of the King of Kings and Lord of All. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power to this earth every knee will bow. He will come in judgment to discriminate between those to whom he will give eternal life and those for whom there is the ultimate destruction.
(F) Judas' sin.
Jesus condemns Judas. He called him a devil or deceiver. In Mk14v20 Jesus says: But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." John says that when Judas accepted the sop from Jesus at the Last Supper Satan entered into him. John13v27. Let us examine where Judas went wrong:
(a) He would do anything to further his own agenda. Judas was ruthless in his own interest. This leads men to do incredibly wicked things. I am just reading about the life of Stalin. He was like Judas in stopping at nothing to achieve his own ends.
(b) He was only devoted to Jesus so long as this remained in his own interest. Jesus was cast aside when he failed to deliver what Judas longed for. Many so called Christians turn away from Jesus when trials and tribulations arise. The seed that fell on stony soil started well but soon withered and died when the sun shone fiercely.
(c) He did not accept Christ's authority over him in spite of all he had heard and seen. Judas paid no attention to Jesus when what the Lord had to say was not what he wanted to hear.
It is dangerous to have blind spots that limit Christ's rule over us. There can be areas of our lives where Jesus does not reign. He may not reign in our family life, our career or our sporting activities. I cannot honestly say that Jesus has reigned with me on the cricket pitch and hockey field. I think in his mercy he has kept me from more harm than I deserve.
(d) The work Judas wanted Jesus to do coincided with what Satan wanted. Satan did not want Jesus to accomplish his great work of salvation and redemption. Satan was as keen as Judas that Jesus should use his power to confound his enemies and set up an earthly kingdom. This was the very thing he had promised to give Jesus if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. Judas, then, was Satan's tool in bringing matters to a head and putting Jesus to the ultimate test.
It remains possible to work for Satan. Whenever a church is split and disunity reigns Satan triumphs and those who cause the schism are acting in the enemies interest.
(e) Judas did not love Jesus more than anything else. Peter denied Jesus. Jesus asked him, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" John21v15.. I believe Jesus pointed at the lake and sky, the boat, the net and fish and his familiar friends when he asked that question. He was asking Peter if he loved him more than anything else. Peter could answer, "Yes Lord." Judas could never have honestly made that answer because he loved the cause more than the Christ.
(f) Judas did not remain true to his call. Jesus said to his disciples, "Follow me." John1v43. Jesus did not say, "Join the cause." He said, and he continues to say, "Follow me." That is very simple - but so much can get in the way of loyalty and steadfastly following the Lord. Nothing distracts quite as much as a love of money or devotion to the cause. Both combined to bring about the downfall of Judas but it was his zeal for the cause that led to the most infamous betrayal of history.