That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16 (MSG)
I saw an article last week asking whether Judas Iscariot was in heaven or hell. I didn’t read it. It’s the kind of article that whips up emotions, core beliefs and drives a heated arguments. The publisher loves this, of course, because the buzz gets people reading and responding to the article for which there is really no definitive answer (on this side of eternity) so the paper can’t be faulted for taking the wrong side. It’s a silly argument from my point of view as I’ve come to believe that God’s Judgment Seat is a huge chair, and my butt isn’t that big.
Nevertheless, the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is one I’m p0ndering this morning as I read the chapter. There were spiritual forces at work. The evil one was certainly not absent. Still, my experience is that there are usually plenty of pre-existing circumstances that make room for the enemy’s presence in a person’s heart. So, this morning I’ve been sketching out a little character study of Judas.
As I journey through the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, I constantly run across examples of an ongoing argument among his disciples. Who was greatest? Who was least? Who was going to have a better reward and more honorable position in eternity? There was obviously an inner circle of followers in whom Jesus’ confided and Judas was definitely not one of the inner circle. How badly did this gnaw at Judas? Did the seeds of envy and jealousy help give rise to the fruit of betrayal?
Judas was in charge of the team’s finances. Pretty important position. It was also told that Judas used the position for his own personal gain. I find it interesting that Judas’ betrayal comes immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with an extravagantly expensive perfumed oil. Had that oil been donated and sold, Judas would have stood to profit from the exchange. Was greed worming its way around his heart, as well? How much did that play a part in tipping the scales from follower to traitor?
Judas betrayal also came at the culmination of an intense amount of conflict. Jesus created a riot when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the beginning of the week. There had been an escalating tone to the debate and war of words between the religious leaders and Jesus. Besides, the vision of the disciples riding the gravy train to some glorious take-over and world domination as Jesus ascended a throne in Jerusalem and kicked the Romans out was quickly getting dashed to pieces. The proverbial handwriting was on the wall. A shrewd man could see that the religious leaders would need to kill Jesus to calm the storm he was whipping up against them and to preserve their hold on political power.Besides, Jesus had increasingly been talking about the end of the world and filling his teaching with talk of his death. He was sounding like a mad man, not a king. The future for Jesus’ followers was quickly looking bleak. The pragmatic choice was to throw your lot in with the religious leaders and make enough money to get a new start when the dust settled. In retrospect, for the person concerned with self preservation, it was a simple choice.
Envy, jealousy, greed, and self-centered pragmatism. Those are the core character qualities that I see leading Judas to his decision to betray Jesus. It’s easy to roll my eyes in contempt and shake my head in disbelief at the mention of Judas’ name. However, each and every one of the character qualities which led to his actions are very present in my own heart and life. If you’d like a list of examples, I can give you an earful over coffee. The truth is, I’m not that different than Judas. This is why I’m increasingly reticent slide my rear end onto any kind of seat of judgment.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Lord, have mercy on me.Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and feargal