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Second perhaps only to the Devil, Judas stands as the arch villain of Christianity. Neither Herod the Great nor Pontius Pilate is singled out for the level of censure that Judas receives. Compare, for instance, their introductions in Matthew’s narrative.

Matthew 2:1 KJV[1]
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Matthew 27:2
And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

Note what Matthew doesn’t say: “in the days of Herod the king, who slaughtered innocent babies in Bethlehem” or “Pontius Pilate the governor, who condemned Christ to the cross.” First time readers are freed from preliminary judgments. The men are presented in their authoritative roles and the nature of their characters unfolds with the story. Not so Judas.

Matthew 10:1-4
1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
3 Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

From the moment he walks on the stage, we know he is the villain. The Holy Spirit made Judas’s guilt unavoidable from his first mention.  As the story approaches its climax in the festive yet somber setting of the last supper, Jesus declares that one of them will betray him. All the other actors in the room wring their hands and ask, “Lord, is it I?”[2] But we need not wonder like a breathless mystery reader. We know who it is. We were told from the beginning.[3]

Of all the verses that speak of him, perhaps John 14:22 is the most telling of the infamy of his name. Jesus is instructing his disciples. One of them asks him a question. John makes sure we know who it is not.

John 14:22
Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Judas, not Iscariot. Can you see his name tag at all the post-Pentecost conventions? “Hi, I’m Judas – not Isacriot!” I wouldn’t blame him, would you? Who would want to be identified with a traitor? Jesus, that’s who.

Matthew 26:49-50
49 And forthwith he [Judas] came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.

Judas’s kiss came as no surprise to Jesus.[4] Even so, he calls him friend.

Have you ever been betrayed? Have you ever trusted someone who intentionally caused you harm simply out of selfish spite? Have you ever been embraced only to feel the knife’s point enter your heart from the back? Ever invested your trust, time, and treasure in someone who gladly received it all and then ungratefully took more?

I don’t know that any of us get to walk much of this earth without experiencing betrayal along the way. My reactions in the face of treachery have been typical, I fear: hurt, anger, self-doubt (how did I not see it coming?), and a willing desire to tell any who would listen how the traitor hurt me. I’m sure if you listen long enough to most folks, you’re bound to hear a somebody-done-me-wrong song.

Have you ever spotted the cad in the crowd? You join a wholesome group of friends and discover that one among them has scandalous morals, questionable motives, and is mean spirited to boot? What is your reaction? Mine has been all too human: expose him, call him out in public, marginalize him, warn others of his behavior with tones full of concern (all the better to conceal the fact that my accusations behind his back are actually gossip).

The beauty in this story of betrayal is how Jesus treated Judas the traitor. All the things I am prone to do (and have done!), he avoids. So discrete is he in his admonitions and proclamations that when Jesus says plainly that one of the twelve would betray him, no one knows who the guilty party is. But Jesus knew. He had been aware of Judas’s devilish duplicitousness long before the kiss in the garden.

John 6:70
Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?

The Greek word translated “devil” in this verse is diabolos, a false accuser or one who falsely accuses and divides people without any reason.[5] It is the same word behind one of the names of our enemy, the Devil. And yet, Jesus chose Judas. He picked him out along with the other eleven from among all his disciples after an all-night prayer vigil. It seems very unlikely to me that he who could see Nathanael under the fig tree before they ever met would have been unaware of Judas’s character. He chose him nonetheless.

Mark 3:14-15
14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
15 And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils [Grk. daimonia, demons]:

He chose Judas, ordained and appointed him, for him to be with Jesus. Mafia dons might keep their enemies closer than their friends, but rest assured that their embrace contains no altruistic motive. Jesus embraces the enemy to show himself Friend, the One willing to die even for the one who would sell him to the cross.

Place yourself in the story. A fiery preacher is calling the nation to repentance and baptizing in the wilderness. Wounded by your own wickedness, you walk out into the waters renouncing your sin. You listen to the prophet clothed in camel’s hair as he tells of the One who is coming. Then one day, while you are in the company of his disciples, a non-descript man walks up to him out of the crowd and he declares, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

After a short argument, your teacher succumbs to this Savior’s request and rests his body under Jordan’s flow. He breaks out of the water looking as ordinary as when he went in, only wetter. Then a voice comes from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” You decide it’s time for a teacher tradeoff, a rabbi renovation.

You follow Jesus. You hear him preach in the plain. You climb the mountain behind him to sit at his feet and hear of the blessedness of poverty and hunger.  Morning comes and he calls all his disciples to him and from among them he singles you out – you, with your penchant for speaking ill of your neighbor and your unfettered desire for gain – and along with eleven others, he empowers you with the very miraculous authority you have watched him wield as he healed the broken hearted and set the prisoner free.

Mark 6:7, 12-13
7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.
13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

Judas wasn’t an afterthought to the eleven. He was one of the Twelve. He preached that men should repent. He cast out demons. He anointed the sick with oil and healed them. He helped Jesus feed a multitude with five loaves and two small fishes and filled his basket with leftovers. He watched him walk on the waves and carry them safely to shore. And after hearing hard words about eating his body and drinking his blood, he stood with Peter in his declaration of loyalty to Jesus. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Jesus declared in response. There is no indication that any of the others suspected Judas. More than likely, each looked to his own heart. Such is the way of the Master.

John 12:3-8 ESV
3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,
5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
6 He 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.
7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.
8 The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Note how Jesus doesn’t respond. He doesn’t say, “When did you ever care about the poor?” or “You’re just saying that so you can steal more of my money!” No, he defends Mary without accusing Judas. Oh, to be like Jesus! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve felt compelled to demean the aggressor in my attempts to defend the victim. Not Jesus. He honors the victim and appeals to the attacker’s higher calling. Jesus chose a thief to hold the money bag and put him in charge of caring for the poor. Would you hire a known embezzler and ask them to provide for those less fortunate than themselves? I wouldn’t, but Jesus did.

John 13:21-26
21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22 Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.
25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

It was the custom of that day to recline perpendicular to the table on a low divan supported by one’s left arm, leaving the right free grasp food. That John could lean on Jesus’ bosom indicates that he was seated at the head, or start, of the table to the right of Jesus. The person seated above Jesus to his left was Judas. John asks the question. Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas who is next in line. According to the tradition of the time, this seat – the one “above” the host – was the chief seat, the seat of honor.[6]

After all the arguments and questions about who would get what seat in his kingdom and who among them was greatest, Jesus honors most the disciple about to betray him. His grace is staggering! He fed him with his own hand, watched as Satan entered him, and then charged him to promptly perform the deed. And all the while, the rest suspected nothing – not even John who was given the hint nor Peter who asked for it.

John 13:27-29
27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.
29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.

No man at the table knew! This drama played out before them all without Jesus exposing Judas’s sin before all. To them, he was the faithful servant heading out on a mission of mercy at the Master’s behest. Jesus knew and Judas knew that Jesus knew. But Jesus kept that business between them.

Matt 26:21-25 ESV
21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.
24 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.”
25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

That the Messiah would be betrayed was a given, but the agent of his betrayal was not. Fate is a pagan principle that has no place in God’s economy. Jesus gave Judas the opportunity to overcome his sin at every turn. He gave him every consideration and left his reputation intact even as he challenged the chinks in his armor. But Judas would not turn aside from the precipice of his perdition.

John 13:18-19
18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.
19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.

Jesus quoted David’s prophecy at the dinner table.

Psalm 41:9
Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

“Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted” this was our Lord’s sentiment toward Judas, the slanderer he sent to preach, the thief he trusted with treasure, the friend he allowed to treat him foul. Love is action, not reaction.

Matthew 27:3-5
3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

From verse five above, it would seem that Judas charged headlong from the temple treasury to a self-imposed noose. But the entire testimony of Scripture lends weight to the thought that verse five offers us a quick summary of Judas’s end without necessarily giving us the timeline of its occurrence.

Consider the following. When Jesus first appears to the eleven, it’s not Judas missing but Thomas (compare Mark 16:9-14 with John 20:18-28). Jesus shows himself to his disciples over the course of forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3), yet in all that time he doesn’t designate a replacement for Judas. That matter isn’t brought up for discussion until after the ascension. Note carefully the qualifications that Peter lays out for any of those who might be chosen to take Judas’s place.

Acts 1:20-22
20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.

“Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us.” All the apostles were there when John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” It stands to reason that they all witnessed him ascend in the cloud. Sometime shortly thereafter, Judas – the only non-Galilean of the bunch – departed from their company and killed himself.[7]

Suicide is its own hideous brand of the betrayal that leaves all those left behind wounded. It is a fragmentation bomb of anger, guilt, and regret; of continual litanies of “If only I had said…if only I had done…” Even in this, Jesus comforts us. He was on the other side of the suicide hot line with Judas. In spite of all they had been through, despite all Jesus had done, Judas would not receive his love, forgiveness, and acceptance. He who had been chosen to be with Jesus decided to destroy himself. He impaled himself on the very grounds of his ill-gotten gains and ultimately exposed to all that sin which the blood of Jesus was so gracious to cover.

Truly blessed are those who know Jesus as Friend. No other friend is as forgiving, forbearing, or kind. None other knows us as we truly are and yet calls us as he would have us to be. In his interactions with Judas, he models for us the behavior of a true friend – one who would die even for the one who betrayed him.

[1] All Scripture references are from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Matt 26:21-22
[3]Before we consider this to be some fatalistic introduction in a perverted view of predestination, consider that Judas was given power over unclean spirits. In the end, it would be an unclean spirit that would take him to damnation but only because he abdicated his authority over to it.
[4] Luke 22:47-48
[5] from The Complete Word Study Bible and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.
[6] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated EditionI,(Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1993), 814-816.
[7] As they all looked up, the angels appeared and addressed the remainder as “ye men of Galilee.” (Acts 1:11)