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A Closer Look at Judas

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:23–25; Mark 14:20–21; John 13:23–30

Judas serves as a warning for all of us. It is very easy to elevate our desires and plans to the point that they take precedence over God’s perfect will.


I want to go back into that upper room and take a closer look at Jesus’ sad and rather tragic encounter with Judas Iscariot. We are in John chapter 13, where Jesus has just revealed that one of the twelve disciples will betray Him. The other disciples have no idea, at this point, who it is.

You cannot help but ask why Judas did it. Given the many opportunities he had to place his trust in Jesus, why would he turn against Jesus and betray Him into the hands of those who were plotting to kill Him? I believe there are at least three reasons for Judas’s betrayal of the Lord.

First was his attraction to money. Back in chapter 12, when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, Judas objected. He said it would have been better to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. I have no doubt that some of the other disciples nodded in agreement. That makes a lot of sense, and it makes Judas appear compassionate toward the needy. But John adds this in verse 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.

Imagine that! Stealing money from the disciples—stealing from Jesus no less. That is worse than stealing hymnals or Bibles from the church sanctuary. Judas did not care about the poor. He was following Jesus because Jesus was his meal ticket. And many people are doing the same thing today in the name of religion. They are making money off their religious activities.

Judas not only had an attraction to money, but he also had great affection for Jerusalem. Like any Jewish patriot, Judas desired the kingdom of God. Here is Jesus with divine power, claiming to be God incarnate. Judas is thinking, I’ll throw my lot in with Him and bring in the kingdom!

But at the height of His popularity, Jesus starts talking about dying! Dying! Judas knew then and there that Jesus was not the Messiah he had been waiting for! He decided he had better reestablish a good relationship with the leaders of Jerusalem rather than continue on with these foolish men and this failure of a Messiah.

I believe the third reason Judas betrayed Jesus was his avid hatred for Rome. There is an interesting detail about Judas’s name. He is very frequently referred to as “Judas Iscariot.” The word Iscariot may be a Greek form of the Hebrew ish kerioth, meaning “man of Kerioth,” indicating his hometown.

However, the word Iscariot could be a derivative of the Latin term sicarius, which designated a member of a radical zealot party that violently opposed Roman rule. They were called sicarii, after the sica, a dagger they concealed in their robes and used to carry out assassinations. The word is used in plural form in the book of Acts (21:38), where it is translated “assassins.”

Judas was very likely a former member of the sacarii—an assassin who would be more than willing to cut the throat of anybody in league with Rome. He was looking forward to the overthrow of Pilate and King Herod, and Jesus seemed to him like the man who was going to do it.

But now he is disappointed, angry, frustrated. Jesus is not what he thought He was. He is not going to reign. Indeed, He is going to die on a Roman cross of all things.

Now back here in John 13, verse 23 tells us that after Jesus reveals there is a betrayer in the room, Peter motions to John, who is reclining next to Jesus, to ask the Lord who the betrayer is.  

I believe that if Jesus had been clear that it was Judas, Judas would not have gotten out of that room alive. In fact, we will learn later on that Peter needed a little sword practice anyway.

But here in verse 26, Jesus vaguely answers John, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Then we are told that “when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas.”

Now Jesus probably handed bread to several disciples nearby, as any host would have done. But Judas knows what the Lord means. And I believe this is one more invitation for Judas to repent and stop his plans of betrayal. Instead, Judas takes the bread and hardens his heart against the Lord’s loving invitation.

Verse 27 says, “Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” Verse 30 then records, “He immediately went out. And it was night.” And let me tell you, for Judas, daylight never came again.

Judas stands as a warning for every unbeliever today. He demonstrates that it is possible to associate with Christ without accepting Christ. It is possible to associate with the things of God and the people of God without being a child of God.

For the believer, there is a warning here as well: It is possible to resist God’s plans when they conflict with our plans.

Jesus disappointed Judas, but Jesus will also disappoint the other disciples. They will soon run for the hills after Jesus is arrested.[1]

Is God disappointing you today? Are His plans surprising you, frustrating you? Is God just not cooperating with your plans? Maybe after serving Him faithfully for many years, you find that life is not getting easier; it is only growing harder. It seems unfair.

In his book, Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey tells the story of family friends named the Woodsons.

The Woodsons had two children—Peggie and Joey—both born with cystic fibrosis. Peggie and Joey stayed skinny no matter how much food they ate. They coughed constantly and labored to breathe—twice a day [their mother] Meg had to pound on their chests to clear out mucus. They spent several weeks each year in a local hospital, and both grew up knowing they would probably die before reaching adulthood.

Joey, a bright, happy, all-American boy, died at the age of twelve. Peggie defied the odds by living much longer. I joined Meg in desperate prayers for Peggie. . . . Peggie survived several health crises in high school and went away to college. She seemed to grow stronger, not weaker, and our hopes rose that she would find healing after all.

But there was no miracle. Peggie died at the age of twenty-three.[2]

No doubt the parents wrestled with frustration and sadness over God’s plans. But eventually, they trusted Him to always do what is right.

As believers it can sometimes be frustrating knowing that God has all power and all understanding. We know He can rescue. He can restore. He can heal. He can bring about conception. He can open that career opportunity. He can do it with one stroke of His finger. But when He doesn’t, is He sitting on His divine hands?

When you are at that point, beloved, you have two options. One option is to listen to the voice of the accuser, who says what he said to Judas 2,000 years ago: “Lord, You disappointed my hopes; You didn’t come through with my expectations. You have made my life difficult, so I am going to take my life back into my own hands.”

Perhaps you have been betrayed. Maybe you have come to the conclusion that you deserve a little revenge, a little resentment. Remember, Jesus knew what Judas would do, yet He washed the feet of Judas; and out there in the garden of Gethsemane, when Judas showed up with soldiers, the Lord called him His friend.

The first option is to take control of your own life. The second option is to say, “Lord, I don’t understand what You are doing in my life, but I am willing to accept whatever you do. Even if You choose never to explain why, I will follow You.”

Let’s do that today.

[1] See Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27, 50.

[2] Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 2015), 172.

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