From:  Probing the Mystery of Judas                                 Return to Home          

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016







Part 2:

The Betrayal Process

(chapters 3-7)


[In Current Section:]

Chapter 3:  Judas Volunteers to Betray Jesus 

Chapter 4:  The Deal with the Enemies of Jesus

                                    Chapter 5:  Judas at the Passover Meal:  Repeated

Opportunities to Back Out of Betrayal

                                    Chapter 6:  Betrayal with a Kiss

                                    Chapter 7:  Judas Repudiates His Betrayal and Is Mocked





Chapter Three:

Judas Volunteers to Betray Jesus




--  The context in Matthew:  1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, 4 “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.  But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.  But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”

10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a good work for Me.  11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.  12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.  13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?”  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.  (Matthew 26)

--  The context in Mark:  And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.  4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”  And they criticized her sharply.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.  She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.  (Mark 14)


--  The context in Luke:  Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  2 And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.   Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  4 So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  (Luke 22)


--  Both the anointing incident and the role of Judas as betrayer are mentioned in John but the two are not chronologically linked by the narrator as in the previous accounts:  1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”  (John 12)





            The religious leadership in Jerusalem had many faults, but it had not lost contact with common sense.  It recognized that seizing Jesus during the feast was impractical “lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5).  There were simply too many pilgrims present whose convictions were unknown and who might react either passively or with anger to the action.  In particular, there were too many Galileans in the city for Passover and, as one of their own, it was easy to imagine them exploding into a bloody rage at any arrest.[1]  Furthermore they had no desire to risk turning the Passover into a bloodbath, whose blame would be traced to them.

            Even under the best of conditions, the very crowding and religious intensity of the period always made the feasts periods of potential civil disturbance.[2]  Josephus referred to this reality in connection with a specific incident, “The Jewish populace rose in revolt against him [Alexander Jannaeus] at one of the festivals; for it is on these festive occasions that sedition is most apt to break out.”[3] 

            Other factors also argued for caution.  The gospel accounts mention repeated conflicts between the religious authorities and Jesus while in Jerusalem.  In none of these had they been successful in so discrediting Jesus’ arguments that they could sense a division of sentiment against Him that they could exploit.  “All attempts to drive a wedge between Jesus and the people had failed.”[4]  Hence a method that would defy the people’s sentiments and yet avoid possible retaliatory violence was essential.

            The reference to not carrying out their intentions during the feast could logically indicate a wavering between seizing Him before or after the Feast.[5]  Strictly speaking the latter would be after the “feasts” (plural).  Since that of Unleavened Bread began the day after Passover, the two observances tended to be lumped together as one event.  Legally and theoretically, two separate celebrations; in practice and everyday nomenclature, the two were merged into one.[6] 

            Acting either before or after the feast had built in difficulties.  Because of the uncertainties of long distance travel the crowds would aim for arriving earlier than the Feast lest they miss its beginning.  Yet locating a specific individual in the crowd before the public observance began would be a chancy matter.  Afterwards would not be easy either.  Leaving was likely to be prompt and immediately afterwards since few residing in Galilee or Judea could conveniently afford a longer absence than necessary from their trade, farming, or other work.

            On the other hand, by this point they might--hopefully--have the exact location of Jesus pinpointed and be able to track His movements.  Hence at the time, the authorities were probably thinking in terms of a post-Feast arrest.  Perhaps they were anticipating Jesus remaining in the city for a few days after the Passover was over because of His passionate religious concerns or were discussing the alternatives for arrest outside the city as the crowds dispersed to their homes.  

            A possibility that usually goes unnoticed also deserves passing attention.  Because of the obvious difficulty of seizing their target either before or after the religious festival, “not during the feast” might mean “not during the public observances connected with the feast.”  In other words, at night or somewhere away from the temple.  A public arrest in the temple posed the greatest danger of course. 

            Yet an arrest any time during the week had its hazards as well.  The fires of religious zeal would only have mellowed at the end as the pilgrims were departing.  (Making it psychologically the best time for an arrest.)  Yet the fact that one of the inner circle of Jesus’ movement was willing to act, provided them a golden opportunity they had not anticipated.  If they moved fast enough and involved the Romans deep enough, successful retaliatory action would either be impossible or swiftly crushed by the occupying government.  It wasn't the moment they preferred, but it was one that offered the maximum chance of success and, potentially, the minimum of backlash.





            The chronological setting of Judas volunteering his services to the religious leaders is not mentioned in Luke.  There the Satanic influence is given as the reason for the action, but nothing is stated as to when and where he acted on this malevolent encouragement.

            In the gospel of John the anointing of Jesus is mentioned and Judas’ loud role in protesting the “waste” of money involved.  He is also identified as the betrayer and that could well be read as John’s hint that we should look upon the anointing as the immediate precipitating event.

            In the accounts of both Matthew and Mark, however, the incident is narrated and Judas’ betrayal comes immediately afterwards.  Although the gospel narratives do not always follow strict chronological order, the linkage of the two events in Matthew and Mark and the fact that it could easily have been in John’s mind as well, argues that in the ancient tradition there was a firm linkage of the two events together.




            Matthew speaks of how the woman “poured [the ointment]on His head” (26:7), a picture also painted in Mark (14:3).  This could easily be read--at least in sermonic exposition--as a kind of regal anointing to the kingship.[7]  A classic example of this is 2 Kings 9:6, “Then he arose and went into the house.  And he poured the oil on his head, and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel:  I have anointed you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel.’ ”

            Perhaps to avoid this connotation of regal anointing (and its possible misunderstanding), John stresses the fact that the woman “anointed the feet” instead (12:3).  Of course in the preparation for burial--which Jesus stresses is, in a sense, what was really being done--both would be anointed.  Indeed without John’s mentioning of this element the parallel with death preparations would be even vaguer than it is in the Synoptics.  Perhaps if she had overheard some teaching of Jesus that stressed His upcoming death she may even have intentionally meant this as a kind of death anointment (consider John 12:7),[8] preferring to do it while Jesus was conscious and had appreciation of it rather than doing it merely for an inanimate body. 




            The estimate of the value of the ointment--three hundred denarii--reveals that this was no trivial substance that had been purchased.  As we count things today, the dollar value of it would vary and soon become outdated by deflation or inflation.  Hence it is better to translate it not into dollars or any other currency but into purchasing power:  about a year’s wages for the typical worker of the day.[9]  (Since they would not have worked on the 52 Sabbath days each year, the figure is very close indeed.) 

Hence the description of the liquid as “very costly” in the texts, though accurate, is an expression that barely touches the hem of the garment.[10]  The cost, though immense, was, comparatively speaking, not an unreasonable figure when one factors in its quality, amount, and distance it had to be transported[11]  The most exquisite gifts are rarely inexpensive.

            In the abstract the indignation over the use of expensive ointment could be looked upon as a policy difference:  To Jesus, an appropriate honor in light of His approaching death; to Judas, as a betrayal of their obligations to the poor.  In Matthew the text speaks as if this were a widespread opposition:  “when His disciples saw it, they were indignant” (26:8).  The language is vague enough to encompass a number or all of the apostles. 

Mark limits it, noting that “there were some who were indignant among themselves” (14:4).  In John only Judas’ personal opposition is mentioned and that it was based upon his own ulterior motive of abusing his position as treasurer to steal from the group’s revenue reserve (12:4-6).  This, of course, could not have been known at the time and would have been exposed only in hindsight.      





            Judas’ thievery raises interesting questions in and of itself.  An obvious beginning point is that it is unmentioned in the Synoptics.  This and the fact that John repeatedly stresses the “devilish” aspect of the betrayal (6:70; 13:2, 27; 17:12), has led some scholars to conclude that “John seems to have stooped, untypically, to the level of petty spitefulness.”[12]  On the other hand, if Judas was so Satanically influenced would one anticipate the betrayal to be the only indication of that influence? 

            Probably not.  If one wishes to see the intense extremes to which true contempt and spitefulness toward Judas could lead, one should consider the dark picture of Judas in the post-Biblical writings purporting to describe what had happened.[13]  In comparison, John is extraordinarily restrained.    

            As to why John alone finds the fact interesting enough to mention, but the others pass by it in silence, this is a phenomena that affect all the gospels.  To give perhaps the clearest example, entire chapters of Luke concern part of Jesus’ ministry that goes undocumented anywhere else. 

In Luke’s case, it has sometimes been suggested that his sources had special knowledge of that part of the ministry, but if one wishes to discredit him because he is the “only” writer to refer to the material, that could easily be done by the same reasoning.  After all, weren’t those sources also available to the other writers as well?  As a matter of fact, at least some almost certainly were--unquestionably if one accepts the traditional attributions of gospel authorship and “probably” if one does not.

            The reason for John’s passing mention can only be speculative.  Perhaps the memory especially rankled him.  Especially if the gospel was written anywhere near as late in the century as often supposed.  It was bad enough for the betrayal to have occurred but for him and the other apostles to have missed the thievery as well--it does not require a great deal of imagination to recognize that a few decades of recalling that fact could make it a specially sore point in John’s memory.  Yet “spitefulness” it is not:  he merely refers to it and avoids the elaboration that could have pictured it in the kind of “loving” detail that normally characterizes the spite driven individual. 

            Even so there are a goodly number who believe that the thievery is vastly exaggerated as part of an effort to make the other apostles look good by making Judas look worse--in reality it’s barely mentioned.[14]  Furthermore, there is certainly no effort to make the other apostles look good.  Peter’s denials, for example, are spelled out in far more detail and at far greater length than Judas’ behavior.  If anything, this recognition of their own failures that night, may have reigned in the lavish denunciation that could otherwise have occurred.





            Then there is the matter of why would Jesus appoint some one treasurer who was subject to any serious temptation of theft?  This line of reasoning has itself been used to implicitly argue that the accusation must be one of character assassination.[15]

By the same logic, why would Jesus appoint men who would quarrel among themselves as to who was the most important apostle?  Or have their mother intercede with Jesus to give them the number two and three places in the leadership?  Why choose a man like Peter who broke under the stress of the arrest of Jesus, repeatedly denying even knowing Him?[16] 

            In all such cases the potential for failure was present.  If Jesus had waited to find “perfect” apostles, He would never have chosen any at all.  Alfred Edersheim, in one of the older and classic studies of Jesus’ life, suggests that, “It was not only because he was best fitted--probably, absolutely fitted--for such work, but also in mercy to him, in view of his character.  To engage in that for which a man is naturally fitted is the most likely means of keeping him from brooding, dissatisfaction, alienation, and eventual apostasy.”[17]       

            Another older work reminds us that the Biblical writers clearly depict Jesus as having the ability to penetrate appearances to the inner essence of individuals even during His earthly ministry, “Did He not describe Nathanael’s character before a personal acquaintance with him had been made?  Did He not know the inmost thoughts of those disciples when they were mystified by His teaching?  Did He not read the deep desires that lay beneath the rubbish of the years filling the heart of the Samaritan woman?”[18] 

Oddly enough, this same person still embraces the idea that the incarnation resulted in Jesus’ loss of His previous omniscience[19] and makes no attempt to reconcile this scenario with the evidence he himself cites as to Jesus’ supernatural insight. 

            Call that perceptivity of the Lord by any term one wishes, if Jesus actually possessed it in these cases how in the world did He come to lack it in regard to Judas?  Hence, even if this were only the record of what the disciples claimed about Jesus rather than revealing His actual powers, it is clear that they took is “as a given” that Jesus could never be fooled by outward demeanor.  Whatever the reason that Jesus accepted Judas, it had nothing to do with successful deception or ignorance of Judas’ limitations and weaknesses.  We have to look for another factor, such as those we have already examined.  

                Some attempt to avoid this whole area of speculation by shifting the responsibility to the apostles.  Frederick L. Godet, for example, wondered, “Is there clear proof that Jesus intervened directly in the choice of Judas as the treasurer of the company?  Might not this have been an arrangement which the disciples had made among themselves and in which Jesus had not desired to mingle.”[20]       

            This would certainly have been a reasonable course to follow.  The apostles needed to learn to take on responsibility.  This was an area of “earthly” (versus “spiritual”) wisdom in which they could try out their skills with minimal supervision. 

            On the other hand, He could just as reasonably have intervened discretely and suggested it was the better part of wisdom to allow them to take turns or to have two or more of them rotate the responsibility so that the task would not be exclusively on one person’s shoulders.  There would have been no necessity of pointing out Judas’ ethical weakness. 

Hence, at best, this alternative alleviates the power of the argument being considered:  it is no longer “why did Jesus appoint Judas?” but “why did He permit the appointment?”  We would still have to answer the underlying “problem” of why Jesus tolerated their decision. 





            There is also the question of when it was discovered.  A German commentator of the nineteenth century was convinced that “he must have often (our emphasis, rw) given occasion for such a suspicion; but his fellow-disciples, observing the law of love, had kept down this fearful suspicion, receiving his justification, however little plausibility it might have.”[21]   

            This is very pious, but very unrealistic.  Once or twice it might have worked or been called into play, but not on a repeated basis.  The treasury bag represented both their own living expenses as well as their help for the poor.  Do we really believe that a fiery temperament such as Peter's would have endured serious suspicions for long without protest? 

It seems far more likely, then, that clear cut evidence only emerged after Judas’ death.[22]  Alternatively, that there had been incongruities in behavior that were dismissed at the time (things that were odd but just below the level of protest), but which only made full sense in retrospect. 





            How much Judas stole is unknown and unknowable.  If it had been a large sum or had resulted in conspicuous expenditures, then it is hard to see how he could possibly have hidden it.  Modest size “rake offs” on at least an occasional basis best fits Judas’ need to keep the thievery secret while simultaneously enriching himself.[23] 

            Nor does his dishonesty necessarily rule out an element of sincerity in his protests of the expensiveness of the ointment used on Jesus.[24]  Indeed, Frederick D. Bruner goes so far as to wonder whether this incident pushed him over the edge from disagreement into actual hatred.   “Judas may have actually thought Jesus was betraying the poor (and God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ engraved in the prophets) and that Jesus was preening Himself messianically when He let Himself be fawned on by a groupie.  That may be why Judas said the almost otherwise unthinkable, ‘What do you want to give me if I turn Him in to you?’ ”[25]  Jesus hated the poor so Judas hated Jesus.   

            Judas may well have wanted the poor to be helped--so long as he could remove a “reasonable” percentage in the process.  Barring him being extraordinarily hard-hearted in such matters, he needed a rationalization by which he could reconcile dishonesty and his self-respect.  He desperately needed a philosophical fig-leaf to hide behind.  Only if the bulk of the money went where it was supposed to would he have it.   





            Furthermore, what was he stealing for?  Damuel T. Habel suggests that upon various occasions “he needed money for his own personal affairs.”[26]  W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann seem to think it significant that “[w]e are not told that the money was used for personal gain.”[27]  Yet what non-personal use would be likely? 

            The improbability of such a scenario makes us look for something in the personal realm that required, necessitated, or simply made desirable, such expenditures.  Yet what were they?  What special expenses did he have that were not faced by all the others?  (For that matter while traveling with the apostolic company, would he have had separate expenses at all?) 

Certainly, if unusual situations arose Judas was probably the most vulnerable of them all.  All the others being from Galilee, they presumably had resources (via kin and friends) relatively close by while Judas--being from Judea--did not.

            These expenses could have come in either of two forms.  First, there would have been the broad field of honorable expenses.  Assuming that Judas followed the normal pattern of the period, he was a married man.  There would have been ongoing financial needs of the wife and, perhaps children, he left behind on his travels.  Largely counterbalancing this is the fact that it was a cash poor society in which cash payments did not play the dominant role found in the modern world. 

To require significant sums of cash would have been a very rare need.  Furthermore, it was a society that believed in extended family relationships both of parent to children (and vice versa) and of children to each other and each other's families.  Hence family and friends would have surely been available to provide for the immediate welfare of Judas' family if an emergency arose.

            Another form of expenses comes under the broad category of “dishonorable.”  Gambling.  Sexual misconduct.  Anything that he knew to be wrong or which was out of character for those claiming to be Jesus’ apostles.  Yet if there was such behavior in the case of Judas, could he possibly have kept it a secret?  Jesus endured repeated character assaults--the charge of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub being the most obvious.  If His foes could have gotten at Him through discrediting the apostles would they not have done so?       

            Hence there is no really satisfactory answer as to why Judas felt he needed to resort to graft.  On the other hand, even in today's world much larceny grows out of egotistical and psychological "needs" rather than "real" and "concrete" motives.  People typically do it because they want a better car or home rather than because they have none.  They steal because they want the prestige of dining in the finest restaurants rather than because they are going hungry.  Yet others do it to prove that it can be done and that they are "smarter" than those who they work for. 

            Whatever drove Judas to such dishonorable behavior, it was likely something in this broad type of motivation.  Some of the apostles came from reasonably prosperous families (who had hired servants to help with the fishing trade).  Did Judas come from a poorer family and resented his compatriots?  Or did Judas envy the attention given to Peter, James, and John--the inner circle--and extort his psychological revenge by hidden theft?  He probably wanted the money not as an end in itself but a means of assuaging psychological sores that tore at his soul. 





Chapter Four:

The Deal with the Enemies of Jesus



-- Matthew’s account:  14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?”  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.  (Matthew 26)

--  Mark’s account:  10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.  11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.  (Mark 14)


--  Luke’s account:  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  4 So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  (Luke 22)





            Locating Jesus represented a major potential problem.  It was feast time and the city’s population immediately multiplied.  As Galileans from afar, they might be residing in the city, in some nearby village or town that lay within convenient walking distance, or even camping somewhere nearby.[28]  The press of the crowds was so large that even if they knew where Jesus had stayed on His last visit, there was still no guarantee that He would be there this time.  The host might have made other arrangements. 

Jesus Himself could easily have made a new set of commitments or intentionally changed His plans.  Furthermore, as a bitterly controversial figure among the religious elite, it was not in Jesus’ own interests to let word spread as to His exact location.  It did not require His prophetic ability for Him to recognize that there was a potential danger to Him within the city. 

            Both Mark and Luke speak of how “glad” the religious leaders were to receive Judas’ offer (Mark 14:10; Luke 22:5).  Jesus had driven them to distraction but any arrest was extremely dangerous.  This offered them the best chance to accomplish it without a public response.  Hence Judas’ betrayal provided them a golden opportunity and represented a burst of good fortune that they were happy to grasp.[29]   

            The fear of a disastrous public backlash also explains the fragrant violation of judicial procedures that were utilized to push through the arrest, trial, conviction, and sending to Pilate during the overnight hours.  Such a night time meeting was blatantly illegal; it was also probably illegal to hold the hearings in Caiaphas’ private residence as well.[30] 

            The judicial procedures on these and other matters are preserved in the Talmud, but there has been much discussion of which go back to the days of Jesus and the extent to which these were ideals rather than the norm.[31]  Even under the most generous reading of the evidence, however, they were so convinced that the execution was essential to their self-interest, they were willing to act in a manner that--under other circumstances--would have been unlikely or even rejected. 

The unique situation, in their minds, required such deviations.  They desperately wanted the matter firmly settled before there could be an organized public reaction. 

            J. Dwight Pentecost argues that since the Sanhedrin planned on having the Romans execute Jesus that the scriptural texts imply an even more ominous and shameful role for Judas,[32] 


Identification [alone] would have been unnecessary, for all the Sanhedrin were very familiar with Christ; all had seen and heard Him many times.  Judas agreed to fulfill a point of Roman law, a necessary requirement if the Sanhedrin was to proceed with their plot to execute Christ.  A person could not be brought to trial before a Roman court until an indictment had been officially signed by witnesses who, by signing the indictment, agreed to appear in order to give testimony for the prosecution against the accused.  Thus Judas offered himself as a witness against Christ.  He agreed to go before the Roman courts when Christ was brought to trial on a yet undetermined charge.  Judas’ willingness to fulfill such a function laid bare the depth of his emotions--his bitterness, resentment, and disappointment with the Lord. 


            On the other hand, it is the high priest and his cadre who are presented as lodging the charges in the trial before Pilate--not Judas.  They are the complaining parties.  One could, of course, argue that by this point Judas recognized that far more was intended by the religious officials than they had admitted to him.  Hence Judas, the official complainant, disappeared and Caiaphas was left having to make up for it by bluster and pressure on the governor, with whom he had a long-term working relationship. 

            On the other hand, it is not in the least likely that Pilate would have so quickly heeded a private complaint and agreed to hear the case just before Passover.  "Rocking the boat" in emotionally volatile Jerusalem was simply not in his own interest.  Anything with the potential for public unrest would be postponed as a matter of natural prudence.

            It is far more likely that he was willing to promptly hear the matter only because it was presented as if it were an official complaint from the Sanhedrin itself.  (That it was the most anti-Jesus clique within the institution that had ramroded through their own “conviction” was hardly likely to be pointed out to him!)  As such it was the institution, acting through its high priest who was de facto complainant--a fact that would have been recognized from the moment when the decision was made to arrest Jesus during the feast itself and push through a hasty conviction before any backlash could occur. 

Hence it was unnecessary for them to have had Judas personally envolved in the “Roman” trial itself.  And minimally, if at all, in the “Jewish” one as well:  His implicit endorsement of the arrest and trial was surely adequately conveyed in his arranging for the clerics to be able to find and safely arrest the Lord.  That, if you will, was the act that would verify—if accepted as sincere . . . as they would claim to their other rabbis—that Jesus was so irresponsibly dangerous that His survival was a threat to the established order.





            Hand in hand with the scenario that Judas was willing to testify against Christ is the one that--willingness to testify or not--Judas provided information as to what Jesus had been teaching in private, especially in regard to Messiah/kingship claims.[33] 

            It would not have been unnatural if the authorities had taken advantage of Judas’ co-operative mind frame to probe if there were additional areas of complaint that they were unaware of, especially in regard to that Messiahship.  But there were others areas of potential interest as well--anything and everything He said in private that might, with creative misrepresentation or antagonistic interpretation, be utilized against Him. 

            R. T. France suggests that there is some scriptural evidence in behalf of this possibility, “We shall see that when Jesus is brought to trial, the high priest will be well informed about the sort of things Jesus has been saying about Himself and His mission.  Since most of the relevant sayings have been uttered in private to the disciples, it seems likely it is Judas who has fed the authorities with appropriate evidence which they can use against Jesus when the time comes.”[34] 

            On the other hand, it must be remembered, however, that all the Biblical accounts recorded repeated run ins with religious leaders prior to this time.  In addition, very little of what Jesus said or did carried with it even the temporary admonition of secrecy.  Hence within the broader disciple movement there would have been widespread knowledge of more than enough of Jesus' claims and teachings to constitute a self-indictment in the eyes of the leadership.

            Furthermore, the narrative of the trial hearings argue that the authorities went into them with a body of evidence they themselves recognized as inadequate to meet their full needs.  As Eduard Schweizer observes of the gospel of Mark and the theory that Judas' evidence motivated them to act, “However, this hypothesis is hardly conceivable since it is obvious that the hostility against Jesus had been aroused much earlier by His attitude toward the law and the temple (3:6; 11:18; 14:58).  Moreover, Judas did not appear as a witness at the trial; on the contrary, everything depended on the testimony of the accused (14:61f).”[35] 

            Hence they already had--in their own minds--a more than adequate source of data on which to base their complaints.  At most, anything additional was purely supplemental and reinforcement of their existing grievances.  But none of this was quite adequate to justify the verdict they wished to give and that required wringing some incriminatory evidence from the Man on trial before them.  For they did not want to merely censure, imprison, or punish . . . but to execute and that required co-operation from the Roman occupiers who would not be concerned with their intramural religious disagreements.   





            Whether consciously intended or not, Judas’ volunteering to help in the apprehension--for an appropriate price--had a side benefit if things turned out badly.  If the arrest were bungled and an outburst of violence occurred, they would be able to pass the blame upon Judas when Pilate reacted to the unrest.

Furthermore, they might be able to use Judas as a witness.  (Which does not appear to have been done in the actual trial--see above.)  Having accepted the bribe, if he was physically present, would he have had an alternative?  (Note the crucial ability of Judas to derail the possibility by simply discretely disappearing.)  Hence his report and "evidence," not their venom could have taken the blame for any reaction against the arrest or the pre-agreed conviction.[36] 





            There is an odd difference in emphasis in the two accounts as to the amount of money involved.  Matthew speaks of “thirty pieces of silver” (26:15) as then given.  Mark speaks of how they “promised to give him money,” as if the money were to be given later (14:11).  Matthew may have combined together the meeting and the payment of a bribe that was not actually provided until just before taking the arresting party to where Jesus was praying.[37] 

            Others have thought the “thirty pieces of silver” was far too modest for such an important action and that an additional amount may have been promised for later.  Thirty pieces of silver were a mere down payment or pledge of the total due.[38] 

            For that matter Judas may have been looking beyond the money itself, to “the goodwill of the priests and scribes” that would come his way through his action.[39]  Praise, endorsements, employment, or just references in seeking future employment--one can imagine a number of ways in which he could imagine parlaying his shift of allegiances into financial and personal self-advancement.  The acceptance of a modest sum in the short term might just open the door for far greater profits in the long-term.  





            Matthew and Mark’s accounts reasonably imply that Judas sought a convenient place where Jesus could be arrested with the minimal danger of involvement by either the broad base of disciples or the Galileans in general.  The narrative of the arrest in John ties in Judas with revealing the place where Jesus would be, “And Judas who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often [our emphasis, rw] met there with His disciples” (18:2). 

            Eduard Schweizer argues that this could have hardly been the essential information Judas provided, “If Jesus regularly stayed at a certain place, it would have been relatively easy to discover its location without Judas’ help.  If Jesus stayed there only for that one night, Judas would scarcely have known in advance where it was.”[40] 

            Our text only states that “Jesus often met there with His disciples,” not that He usually or always did so there.  The religious leadership needed to know where Jesus would be at a specific time, not where He might be or even where he “usually” was.  Today we would call it “operational security” for if the arresting force returned with no prisoner, how long could the attempt be suppressed without word leaking out of who had been the target?  With the civil unrest consequences that they feared.    

            Furthermore, since only the apostles are with Jesus, “disciples” here need to be taken in the narrower sense of "apostles."  Hence there were only thirteen who definitely knew it was a typical meeting place of the group; how many above and beyond this is unknown.  There is no reason to believe it was a matter of general knowledge of the disciples or its usefulness as a place for private discussion with the apostles would have vanished as others insisted upon coming as well.

            More germane is the question of how Judas himself knew that that night the group would be heading to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It would have been a natural topic to have arisen during their final meal together, however.  Furthermore, since Judas was told to go and do what he intended to do, the natural follow up question (if the matter had not already been broached) would be, “And where shall I join you afterwards?”  A man with the brazenness to do what was about to occur would seemingly not hesitate at such a query.      

            Morna D. Hooker concedes the need for an informant as to Jesus’ location but utilizes that fact in a different manner.  To her the need for an informant on this point indicates that “Jesus was not as well-known a figure in Jerusalem as Christian tradition assumes (14:44-46; cf. John 18:4f).”[41]   

            There is an element of truth in this, but not as much as might at first appear.  Due to the danger in Jerusalem, we may safely assume that He was there primarily or exclusively at the feasts.  In other words for sharply limited periods of time with months in-between.  Far more would know of Him than recognize Him by sight.  Even most of His enemies, though coming to know a lot about Him, most would not necessarily have physically recognized Him without His being identified first by others.  

            What they were interested in were His "heresies" and not His appearance.  Direct confrontations between them--even in Jerusalem--were sporadic, not regular, and spread over several years.  (This would have been supplemented with occasional public delegations that harassed Jesus’ teaching in other locales.)  Their preoccupation with their differences would have hindered the acquisition of the kind of intimate knowledge they now required. 

They were not running a private intelligence agency; they were concerned with the public personae and exposure of an alleged heretic.  What they needed to know now (as to His nightly whereabouts) simply did not represent the kind of data they had previously desired.  For that they needed a reliable “inside” source and Judas provided it. 





Chapter Five:

Judas at the Passover Meal:

Repeated Opportunities

to Back Out of Betrayal



            The First Opportunity:

Jesus Warns That He Knows

One of Them Plans on Betrayal


--  The warning in Matthew:  19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.  20 When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.  21 Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”

22 And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”  23 He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.  24 The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

25 Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”  He said to him, “You have said it.”  (Matthew 26) 


--  The warning in Mark:  16 So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.   17 In the evening He came with the twelve. 18 Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.”  19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?”  And another said,Is it I?”

20 He answered and said to them, It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish.  21 The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” (Mark 14)


--  Only in John is this generalized prediction clearly linked to a specific individual and even then the identity is only revealed to two of the apostles:   21 When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”  22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. 

23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.  25 Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”  26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.  And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.  (John 13) 



            During the Passover meal there were at least four opportunities given Judas to back off from his plans.  In one sense it may seem odd--even contradictory--that the gospels present Jesus as both foreknowing Judas’ betrayal and yet trying to avert him from carrying it out.[42] 

Yet we are not unacquainted with that phenomena today.  A doctor may know that his patient will die of cancer--but he will still undertake any reasonable option to try to avert that outcome.  A soldier may recognize that the chance of surviving a battle is effectively “zero” yet he will utilize every bit of training and skill he has accumulated to avoid that death. 

Likewise Jesus knew what Judas was intending but felt the obligation to attempt anything short of the miraculous to avert it from happening.  Jesus, ultimately, had to die--but it did not necessarily have to be upon that specific occasion or at the hands of that specific individual.  Judas could let the blood be on someone else’s hands.  But did not.    




The First Opportunity:

Jesus Warns that Betrayal

Will Come From Someone Trusted



            The first opportunity that Judas received was in the general warning that one of the apostles would betray Him.  In Mark the warning contains the vague description of the betrayer as one who was currently eating with Jesus--certainly not enough to go on!

            In Matthew it reads like Jesus accused Judas, “You have said it” (26:25).  This is certainly an authorial method of pointing the finger at Judas.  The fact that Mark notes that “one by one” each asked whether he was the guilty individual (14:20), argues that though Matthew’s quotation of the query and response of Judas is accurate, it is a highly selective quotation.  In its original context of all the apostles wondering whether the guilty party might somehow turn out to be themselves, the words would not have carried the impact that it does when standing alone. 

            Further confirmation of our conclusion is seen in the fact that it is inconceivable that the other apostles would not have exploded in indignation if Judas’ guilt had clearly and unequivocally been noted at their gathering.  “It was the grossest kind of perfidy to betray a companion after eating with him.  Would not as impulsive a person as Peter have drawn his sword and severed Judas from his scheme?”[43] 

Or what of the fiery James and John, who once had desired to call fire down from heaven to destroy those who hindered Jesus’ mission?  Is it imaginable they would have been quiet either verbally or physically?[44]     

            Only in John is Judas’ specific guiltiness explicitly mentioned.  And that is in the context of a question passed on by John from Simon Peter.  Immediately, the answer was known only to John; one has to assume that at some moment of quiet he shared it with Peter as well.

            Some regard this as blatantly unhistorical since fiery Peter did nothing to stop Judas.[45]  On the other hand Peter may not have learned of it until later (a group meeting such as this was not the most convenient place for private conversations!) and either John or both of the apostles could have been mystified rather than angered.  Judas had given no indication of being any less a faithful apostle than any of the others.  Furthermore the derogatory information provided by Jesus was neutralized by the very friendliness in Jesus’ outward actions toward the accused.

            For the social conventions of the day considered it a mark of respect and honor to be given the food before anyone else.[46]  Yet Jesus had provided the designated traitor this special courtesy.  What, they must have thought in their hearts, does this all really mean?  How can he be both traitor and honored? 

            For that matter the fact that Judas could be personally handed the food argues that he was in one of the best seats, i.e., physically close to the host.  Quite possibly, just as John sat on one side of Jesus, Judas sat on the other--the two places of greatest honor.[47]  How could a person who even, in the sitting arrangements, was so distinguished an apostle be the traitor?[48] 

            There was irony in this action of Jesus, of course.  There was doing good toward someone about to do great evil.  Hence another irony:  Jesus was showing respect to the one who did not deserve it and the One who did deserve it would be betrayed by the one receiving it.

            Even if Judas' guilt had been directly ascribed, there would still have been the opportunity to back out of it.  A deal had been struck but a contract to do what is inherently evil has no moral validity.  It would have been Judas’ right--even obligation--to reverse course.  At the very least, the warning of the coming betrayal gave Judas such an opportunity.  Not to mention further preparing the other apostles for what was about to happen. 



The Second Opportunity:

The Feet Washing

Demonstration of Jesus’ Humility


--  John’s account of the incident includes Jesus specifically referring (though vaguely) to the fact that one of their number was unacceptable:  1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Then He came to Simon Peter.  And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”   Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”  Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”  Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”  10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”  (John 13)





            The second opportunity for Judas to change his mind came in Jesus’ depiction of personal humility in washing everyone’s feet.  In retrospect, the reference to how, “You are not all [morally, ethically, spiritually] clean” (John 13:11) is a clear reference to Judas.  Unless Judas were extraordinarily callous, it is hard to see how he could have avoided an understanding of the reference being to him.  Once again a “shot is fired over the bow,” giving him the opportunity to backtrack.

            Whatever commitments Judas had made, there was still opportunity for him to repudiate them.  Even if he had already received the thirty pieces of silver as bribe money (see the previous chapter on how this is not certain), what were they to do if he refused to carry out his commitment?  For that matter what was stopping him from returning the money either personally or through a third party?



The Third Opportunity:

Citation of Scripture

as Warning of the Coming Betrayal


--  John’s account of the warning:   18 “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’  19 Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.  (John 13)






            Next comes Jesus citing scripture predicting His betrayal.  But that only predicted the fact of betrayal.  It did not require that Judas in particular be its perpetuator—or that that particular Passover be the fatal day.  The body of close disciples was large enough, outside the apostolic inner cadre, for others to have done it.  They, too, upon occasion had eaten meals with Jesus and would have met the verbal requirement of the Old Testament text (John 13:18).  Once again Judas declines to grab the opportunity provided him.

            Some disagree with our reading of the text.  Gaston Foote argues that John, written so long after the events, “confused foreknowledge with foreordination.”[49]  He takes the “I know whom I have chosen” to mean “I know whom I have chosen to betray Me.”  It can just as easily be taken to mean “I know whom I have chosen to be apostles,” i.e., what makes up their true character.  That included Judas but was also a description of all of the others as well.  Including the Seventy and anyone else He may have temporarily had work with Him.

            Another approach to the prediction of the Messiah’s betrayal lies in the fact that “prophecy” is used in both a strict predictive and also in a broader illustrative sense as well.  William W. Davies takes this approach when he suggests that, “The phrase ‘in order that the Scripture may be fulfilled,’ can mean no more than that the words spoken by David, Isaiah, or other Old Testament writers find an application or are illustrated in the conduct of Judas.”[50]  This removes, even further, any hint of personal inescapability on the part of the betrayer.   



The Final Opportunity:

Act Now—[Implied:  or Never]!



Jesus’ challenge to decide and act upon it:   727 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him.  Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.”  28 But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him.  29 For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.

30 Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately.  And it was night. (John 13)




            What adds further irony to the situation depicted at the Passover is that Jesus knew what Judas was scheming to do and makes it clear that He does.  The instruction to, “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27) represented an instruction whose meaning was clear to only the two of them.  This is simultaneously a challenge to Judas--if you are going to betray Me, do it and get this over with--and an opportunity to retreat from the treachery.  Whatever was the ultimate decision, now was the time to act on it; delay was no longer an option.[51] 

Today we use the expression "fish or cut bait" in describing such situations where a final and definitive course must be decided upon.  There is no longer any time to delay.

            One may argue as much as one wishes that by this point Jesus had spoken too many times of the imminence of death for Judas to have done otherwise than as he did.  In retrospect, that may well be true--he had hardened his heart too deeply, too long, and rejected the prior occasions to repent:  Freedom to choose for the better is often self-destroyed in such situations.

            On the other hand, for Judas’ freedom of will to be left intact he at least had to have the opportunity.  That way the ultimate responsibility for not exercising it was on his own shoulders and no one else’s.  All Jesus had done was prophesy the truth as to when the betrayal would occur.  Foreknowledge of fact is not the same thing as coercion to make it come true.   





            The alternatives that went through the minds of the apostles are intriguing.  Some thought he was being given permission (or orders?) to provide money or supplies to the poor.  Passover or not, almsgiving was always considered proper.  Indeed it was a socially sanctioned custom to go out of the way to give something to the poor on that particular occasion.[52] 

            The other possibility mentioned is that Judas might be under instructions to obtain supplies for the feast.  This has been used to argue that this was an “irregular” celebration of the Passover, i.e., either earlier than normal or according to a different religious calendar than most followed. 

Others have noted that the reference could, alternatively, refer to obtaining supplies for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began immediately after Passover.[53]  Yet others have argued that though the Passover observance was being partaken of that night, certain markets and sources could be counted on to still be open because they would be closed the next day (Friday, the feast day itself) and the following day as well (the Sabbath).[54] 

            Scripturally we certainly know that there was a certain flexibility that would not otherwise have existed.  On the Sabbath day one could not do the “work” of preparing food; at the Passover it was permitted (Exodus 12:16).  This would have served as precedent, it seems likely, for liberalization in other areas as well.

Furthermore, necessity virtually compelled a certain leeway that would not otherwise occur.  “The immense multitudes of people in Jerusalem at the feast, and the wide variety of needs arising from it” created a situation that would not normally exist.[55]  “Necessity breaks law,” was the way the Talmud later described the need for allowing latitude in very unusual circumstances.[56] 






Chapter Six:

Betrayal with a Kiss



--  Matthew’s report of the arrest:  44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.  45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  46 Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand.  47 And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.

48 Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.”  49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.  50 But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?”  Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  (Matthew 26)


--  Mark’s report of the arrest:  41 Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  It is enough!  The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  42 Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand.”

43 And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.  44 Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.  45 As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.  46 Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.  (Mark 14)


-- Luke’s report of the arrest:  45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.  46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” 

47 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”


--  John’s report of the arrest:  1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.  2 And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.  Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”  They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jesus said to them, “I am He.  And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.  Now when He said to them, “I am He, they drew back and fell to the ground. 

Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”  And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”   Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He.  Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.”  (John 18)






            Finding Jesus could, theoretically, be done by having spies follow Him.  But Jesus had escaped previous attempts to both arrest (John 7:30, 44-47; 10:39) and to kill Him (John 8:59).  In short, He had proved an extremely difficult person to seize and prudence alone demanded the maximally reliable information as to His exact location.[57]  But location was only half the battle:  they also needed to be sure that the right man was arrested as well. 

            That presented a problem as well.  Again theoretically, Jesus was known by sight to many individuals, including the religious authorities.[58]  Granting the validity of this somewhat questionable premise (see the discussion in the previous chapter) great difficulties still remained.  Those in the top leadership would be unlikely to wish to dignify the arrest by their personal presence.  As “judges” of Jesus’ fate they would feel a disinclination to do so--at least the veneer of impartiality needed to be maintained, if as nothing more than as a legal fiction.

            Furthermore, as a matter of personal prestige, such work would be better left for those further down the religio-social-economic totem pole.  And even when the work was left to them, the identifier(s) had to come from among the foes of Jesus, whose very hostility would make them disinclined to have had any more than the absolutely minimum contact with Him.  Of those who were opposed to Him, how many had seen Him close up enough--and on enough occasions--to immediately recognize Him? 

            Hence there would be an inherent danger of misrecognition.[59]  Thereby making them far from reliable parties for identifying Jesus when the stakes were so high and there was absolutely no room for a mistake.  Hence in such a desperately crowded city it was essential to have an informant such as Judas in order to assure the successful implementation of the plot.

            An additional, often overlooked difficulty that faced them, lay in the fact that although Jesus was in relative isolation in someone’s garden on the Mount of Olives, He and the twelve were certainly not the only ones on the Mount that night.  “The customary romantic picture of Jesus in Gethsemane has Him at prayer in splendid isolation.  But during the Passover pilgrimage the Mount of Olives would have been crowded with pilgrims.”[60]  Hence they needed to go to the right place as well as be able to quickly distinguish the exact individual and rapidly get Him out of there before others could react.  They simply did not have time to waste in any lengthy process of identification.  

            Yet a further complicating factor entered the picture:  the arrest was not to be in broad daylight but at night[61] when people don’t quite look the same due to the change in lighting.  Even with a full moon (which would have been the case at Passover), the difficulty of correct identification remained[62]--as seen, in part, by John 18:3 referring to how the arrestors had brought both lanterns and torches with them.  Assuming it was a cool or chilly night, it would not be unexpected to find that he “had his head covered” along with the apostles.[63] 

            Judas solved these problems for the authorities.  He knew the place of gathering.  He knew Jesus by sight and could not be deceived by a look alike.  Finally, in order to assure that the right person was seized, Judas was to give him the customary kiss of greeting. 

            Even so, there is a modest (not large) problem that remains.  Such a method of identification makes sense if one anticipates dozens of individuals being present, such as if a large group of disciples were with Jesus.  Jesus might be anywhere in the crowd and there needed to be a reliable means to point Him out.  In the context of only a dozen individuals being there, a verbal comment and the pointing of the finger would have been quite adequate.  Yet the kiss was the customary greeting, it had been agreed to, and it removed the last minimal possibility that the wrong person would be arrested.  





            The outward pretence of friendship lasted even at the moment of arrest.  Judas respectfully told Him, “Greetings, Rabbi!” according to the Matthewean account (26:49).  In Mark it is the equally respectful “Rabbi, Rabbi!” (14:45).

            The kiss was as typical a greeting as the handshake is today.[64]  Yet the kiss itself would have been a bit odd in the context in which it occurred.  “It was not customary to kiss relatives or friends except at the moment of parting or after a long separation, or in certain exceptional circumstances such as a feast or a family mourning.  Now, Judas had left Jesus only a few hours before, and nothing seemed to call for this extraordinary mark of affection.”[65] 

            The embracing of Jesus and the Greek’s implication that the kiss was either unusually respectful or repeated[66] also strikes one as odd.  Yet this was nothing that could not be dismissed on the basis of excessive enthusiasm.  Furthermore, the enthusiasm of the greeting drew the apostles’ attention toward Judas and would momentarily make them look for an explanation for the crowd besides that of an arrest.[67]  (Had Judas, for example, raised himself a group of soldiers who would fight for Jesus’ kingship?)  

            Jesus recognized the irony of the kiss and responded with words that--in retrospect--surely cut Judas’ soul to the quick.  In Matthew it is, “Friend, why have you come?” (26:50)  A disavowal of enmity upon Jesus’ part.  The acceptance of him, one last time, as he had surely been received countless times before.

            Then there was the question recorded by Luke, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”  (22:48).  Are you so debased that you twist the traditional sign of friendship into one of betrayal?  Again, in retrospect, a rhetorical question that would have stung.  




Chapter Seven:

Judas Repudiates His Betrayal

and Is Mocked


--  The event as described by Matthew:  3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  And they said, “What is that to us?  You see to it!”  Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  (Matthew 27)





            Judas’ clear repugnance at what he had done is not mentioned in Mark, Luke, or John.  Luke, however, surely implies some such thing by speaking (in Acts) of Judas' suicide.  This would have been incomprehensible unless associated with immense guilt.

            Judas had no power to stop the proceedings.  He had no power to force the religious leaders to live up to any implicit or explicit commitments they had made.  The only thing within his power was to return the blood money.  And even that was responded to with near mockery.

            If one wishes a scriptural text to hang Judas’ sense of guilt upon, it would likely be Deuteronomy 27:25, “Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person.”  Although it is directly talking about hiring some one to commit murder, the principle would be the same if one had taken money and caused “an innocent person” to be killed.[68] 

            “What is that to us?” they responded.  It’s not our job to straighten out supposed miscarriages of justice.  “You see to it!”  You took the bribe.  If you think what was done was wrong, you straighten out what you caused.  It does not take a great deal of imagination to imagine a sneer on their faces.  Furthermore, the properly ordained tribunal had made a judgment.  Who were they to question their superiors and suggest they had abused their duties or position?[69] 

            It is hard to avoid seeing in these priestly underlings cold-blooded religious bureaucrats who did their job and gave no thought to the human consequences of their (or their superior’s) misjudgments.  “Good” in their jobs, but failures as human beings and spiritual advisers.

            Having rejected the money, Judas “threw” the money.  Some have thought it was into the treasury used for charitable purposes.  Although this would fit well with the charitable purpose for which it was ultimately used, John MacArthur’s analysis seems to better fit the implied mind frame of Judas at this point:  naos (sanctuary [temple, NKJV]) refers specifically to the inner holy place of the Temple, where only priests were allowed to enter.  Judas intentionally threw the money into a place where only the priests could retrieve it.  He did not throw it there out of charity but out of spite, wanting them to feel guilty and forcing the chief priests to handle the blood money again themselves.”[70]  

            Does this indicate that Judas “repented” of what He had done?  The term is conspicuously not used of Judas’ frame of mind or behavior.  He certainly (1) changed his mind; (2) admitted his guilt; (3) purged himself of what he had gained by the sin by returning the bribe.  Yet Biblically speaking the element of seeking reconciliation with Jesus and God goes unmentioned.[71]

            There was no constructive reaction after the guilt and return of the bribe.  Peter made a fool of Himself, wept, and (doubtless tremendously guilt-ridden) returned to the other disciples.  Judas probably wept (it would have been a logical action though not mentioned) but then went out and hung himself rather than face the shame of having to deal with those he had betrayed. 

            Both regarded themselves as failures and disasters.  But one picked up the pieces and put his life together again, while the other either could not or would not face such a humiliation and opted for self-destruction instead.  









[1] Donald G. Miller, The Gospel according to Luke, in the Layman’s Bible Commentary series (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1959), 149-150, simply describes them as easily inclined to violence.      


[2] Thomas G. Long, Matthew, in the Westminster Bible Companion series (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 290.   


[3] Josephus, Jewish War 1:88, as quoted by Frederick D. Bruner, Matthew:  A Commentary; volume 2:  The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28 (Dallas, Texas:  Word Publishing, 1990) 358.       


[4] Alois Stoger, The Gospel according to St. Luke, translated from the German by Benen Fahy, in the New Testament for Spiritual Reading series (New York:  Crossroad, 1981), 170.      


[5] C. F. Evans, Saint Luke, in the TPI New Testament Commentaries series (London:  SCM Press, 1990), 774, and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, in the Sacra Pagina commentary series (Collegeville, Minnesota:  A Michael Glazier Book/Liturgical Press, 1991), 362.     


[6] William F. Arndt, Bible Commentary:  The Gospel according to St. Luke (Saint Louis,  Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 430, and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, in the New Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Book House, 1978), 954.  For citations of evidence on this ancient tendency, see Evans, 772.     


[7] Dennis Sweetland, Mark:  From Death to Life, in the series Spiritual Commentaries on the Bible (Hyde Park, New York:  New City Press, 2000), 173, citing the text that follows.      


[8] R. A. Cole, The Gospel According to St. Mark:  An Introduction and Commentary (London:  Tyndale Press, 1961), 210.        


[9] Bruner, 941, and James M. Boice, The Gospel of John:  An Expositional Commentary; Volume 3: John 9:1-12:50 (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 303.     


[10] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Leicester, England:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 428.      


[11] Ibid.      


[12] Wendy E. Sproston, “ ‘The Scripture’ in John 17:12,” in Scripture:  Meaning and Method:  Essays Presented to Anthony Tyrrell Hanson for His Seventieth Birthday, edited by Barry P. Thompson, ([Great Britain]:  Hull University Press, 1987), 29.      


[13] For a summary, see Morton S. Enslin, “How the Story Grew:  Judas in Fact and Fiction,” in Festschrift to Honor F. Wilbur Gingrich, Lexicographer, Scholar, Teacher, and Committed Christian Layman, edited by Eugene H. Barth and Ronald E. Cocroft (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1972), 130-136.  In much briefer form, see John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:  Matthew 24-28 (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1989), 182-183.     


[14] Among others, Leslie D. Weatherhead, Personalities of the Passion (London:  Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1942), 23-24.    


[15] Ronald Brownrigg, The Twelve Apostles (London:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974), 204, 206.


[16] The British preacher Joseph Parker (1830-1902), in his People’s Bible, while raising this thought provoking question, pointed out that the problem was even more fundamental than why Jesus choose Judas in particular to be an apostle:  With all of our human warts, weaknesses, and potential for failure, why did he choose us to be disciples?  See Parker’s Sermon, “Judas Iscariot:  A Study of Character,” in Parker’s People’s Bible, selected sermons from the work at internet site arker7.htm (; March 24, 2002). 


[17] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume II, Second Edition (New York:  Anson D. F. Randolph and Company, 18[--]), 472.     


[18] J. W. G. Ward, The Master and the Twelve (New York:  George H. Doran Company, 1924), 215-216.  


[19] Ibid., 216-217.    


[20] Frederick L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John; Volume 2:  John 6 to End, translated from the Third French Edition by Timothy Dwight, Third English edition (1893; reprinted, Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, [n.d]), 209. 


[21] E. W. Hengstenberg, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John; Volume 2, translated from the German (Edinburgh, Scotland:  T. & T. Clark Company, 1865), 85.   


[22] Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke:  Jesus the Universal Savior (Waco, Texas:  Word Publishers, 1972), 268.    


[23] On the size but not the reason for the caution, see J. N. Sanders and B. A. Mastin, A Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John, in the Harper’s New Testament Commentaries series (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), 284.    


[24] Clausen, 27-29, and L. Alexander Harper, “Judas, Our Brother,” Saint Luke’s Journal of Theology 29 (March 1986): 98.



[25] Bruner, 947.       


[26] Damuel T. Habel, The Twelve Apostles:  A Study of Twelve Extroardinary Men Who, By Successfully Completing Their Amazing Mission, Changed the Course of History (Fort Lauderdale, Florida:  Creighton’s Restaurant Corporation, 1956), 119.      


[27] W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, in the Anchor Bible series (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 316.     


[28] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, in the Doubleday Bible Commentary series (New York:  Doubleday, 1998), 178.      


[29] S. Pearce Carey, Jesus and Judas (London:  Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1931), 84-85.  


[30] Alan Watson, The Trial of Jesus (Athens, Georgia:  University of Georgia Press, 1995), 37; cf. 112-115.  For a more detailed treatment of the apparent legal failures in procedure, see Dale Foreman, Crucify Him:  A Lawyer Looks at the Trial of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Books/Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 116-123.    


[31] See the discussion, for example, in Evans, 773.  


[32] Pentecost, 415.       


[33] Benjamin W. Bacon, “What Did Judas Betray?”  Hibbert Journal 19 (1920-1921):  486, 492. 


[34] France, 178.       


[35] Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, tanslated by Donald H. Madvig (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1970), 292, referring to the claim that Judas revealed Jesus’ messianic claims in particular. 


[36] Cf. the discussion of Judas’ effectiveness as a scapegoat, in Darrell L. Bock, Luke; volume 2:  9:51-24:53, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 1996), 1705.          


[37] Carey, 88-89, and Ferdinand Prat, Jesus Christ:  His Life, His Teaching, and His Work,  Volume 2, translated from the Sixteenth French Edition by John J. Heenan (Milwaukee:  Bruce Publishing Company, 1950), 322-323.     


[38] Herbert Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), 109, regards this as a possibility.        


[39] Oddly, Albert Nicole, Judas the Betrayer, translated from the French (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Book House, 1957), 37, is convinced that “Christ dissuaded him” of this illusion, but presents neither scripture nor reasoning to back up the assertion.    


[40] Schweizer, 292.    


[41] Morna D. Hooker, A Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark, in the Black’s New Testament Commentaries series (London:  A. & C. Black, 1991), 331.      


[42] On the tension between foreknowledge and warning Judas off, see Sanders and Mastin, 305.     


[43] C. Milo Connick, Jesus:  The Man, the Mission, and the Message (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963), 371.   


[44] Carey, 140, and Wallace E. Rollins and Marion B. Rollins, Jesus and His Ministry (Greenwich, Connecticut:  Seabury Press, 1954), 233.    


[45] Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John; Volume 3: Commentary on Chapters 13-21, translated from the German by David Smith and G. A. Kon, in the series Herder’s Theological Commentary on the New Testament (New York:  Crossroad, 1982), 30.     


[46] Pierre Benoit, The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, translated from the French by Benet Weatherhead (New York:  Herder and Herder, 1969), 36, and Gene A. Getz, The Apostles:  Becoming Unified through Diversity (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 172.      


[47] Pentecost, 431.  


[48] Some have gone so far as to argue that Judas was the pre-eminent apostle.  For a good critical analysis of the weaknesses of this thesis, see Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah:  From Gethsemane to the Grave--A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, Volume 2 (New York:  Doubleday, 1994), 1397-1398.     


[49] Foote, 115.      


[50] William W. Davies, “Judas Iscariot.” Methodist Review 103 (May 1920):  471.     


[51] Trevor H. Davies, The Inner Circle:  Studies in the Associates of Jesus (New York:   George H. Doran Company, 1924), 289-290, Sanders and Mastin, 314, and Clarence E. MacCartney, “Of Them He Chose Twelve” (Philadelphia:  Dorrance & Company, 1927), 132.     


[52] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (13-21), in the Anchor Bible series (New York:  Doubleday, 1970), 576.   


[53] Sanders and Mastin, 315, and Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, Revised Edition, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995),  558.      


[54] For a discussion of some aspects of this matter, see Brown, John (13-21), 576.           


[55] Hengstenberg, 2:164.      


[56] Ibid. 


[57] Brown, Death, 1399-1400.  


[58] A point raised to question the reliability of the narrative by Hyam Maccoby, Judas  Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (New York:  Free Press, 1992), 42, 142.    


[59] Especially would this be true of “the armed soldiers” in the arresting party:  Bock, Luke (Baker), 1768.     


[60] Harrington, 374.    


[61] Rollins and Rollins, 241.   


[62] William Barclay, The Master’s Men (New York:  Abingdon Press, 1959), 72.   


[63] A. N. Wilson, Jesus (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 195, who, oddly, does not believe it would have hindered identification.     


[64] Cf. Benoit, 36.  


[65] Ferdinand Prat, Jesus Christ:  His Life, His Teaching, and His Work, Volume 2, translated from the Sixteenth French Edition by John J. Heenan (Milwaukee:  Bruce Publishing Company, 1950), 323.     


[66] Rollins and Rollins, 72.   


[67] Prat, 323 and fn. 23, 323, cites this evidence but argues that Judas was attempting to mislead Jesus by acting in a way to imply that he had repented and changed his plans.      


[68] Cf. Emil G. Kraeling, The Disciples ([N.p.]:  Rand McNally & Company, 1966), 221.  For a discussion of Old Testament texts dealing with the gravity of shedding the blood of the guiltless, see Willem C. van Unnik, “Death of Judas in Saint Matthew’s Gospel” Anglican Theological Review Supplement 3 (March 1974):  51-54.    


[69] Kraeling, 221.     


[70] MacArthur, 227-228.           


[71] Bruner, 1020.