People who are self-centered are often masters at deceiving others. We need to be alert to such hypocrites; but more than that, we need to guard our own hearts, realizing it is not what others see but what God sees that matters most.
During the American revolution in the 1700s, a patriot officer had begun establishing himself as a military genius. In fact, he only tasted defeat in one battle.
In February of 1777, Congress created five new major generalships, and he fully expected to be one of the five; but he was passed over for younger, healthier men. This created deep resentment in his heart, and he would have resigned, had not George Washington personally pleaded with him to remain. Well, he stayed and went on to lead his troops brilliantly until he was seriously wounded in battle. With that, his resentment and bitterness reached a point where he grew to secretly hate the American cause.
When George Washington appointed him as the commander of West Point, this brilliant soldier decided to turn traitor. His name was Benedict Arnold, and he secretly planned to give West Point over to the British.
It might have worked, but the British agent who delivered the details was captured en route, and the betrayal was uncovered. Benedict Arnold quickly escaped onboard a British ship. He fled to England, where he lived out his life and died a crippled old man, ostracized, and unloved—a man who became known as the most famous traitor in American history.
I have never met anyone who named their son Benedict. And just as no American would name their son Benedict, I don’t think anyone who knows the Bible would ever name their son Judas. To this day, that name carries the stench of betrayal. Think about it—Benedict Arnold might have betrayed America, but Judas betrayed the Messiah.
Now at this point in our chronological study through the four Gospels, we are less than twenty-four hours away from the cross. It is during His final meal with His disciples that Jesus lets Judas know that He is aware of the plans for betrayal. All four Gospels record this event, but we will focus on John chapter 13.
Before we dive in and point fingers at this man’s treason against the kingdom of heaven, however, we should consider the challenge of Judas’s biography. You see, becoming a traitor is not that difficult. In fact, betrayal is the twin sister of selfishness. If you are determined to come in first place, to be promoted, then everybody else becomes less important than you. And whenever you are forced to choose between yourself and someone else, you will gladly lay down someone else’s life for your own. Traitors are simply people who have to be first.
In verse 21 Jesus says to His disciples, “One of you will betray me.” And of course, not one of the disciples immediately pointed to Judas and said, “We knew it!” We tend to picture Judas walking around with shifty eyes and a wicked sneer on his lips. But the truth is, Judas was a respected leader among the disciples. He was so highly respected that they wanted him taking care of their moneybag. Nobody suspected Judas. And keep in mind that Judas had, by all indications, faithfully followed the Lord for three years.
If Judas were in your church today, he would arrive early, set up the chairs, make coffee, and teach Sunday school. In fact, he would probably be a deacon or on the elder board. Only Jesus knew who he was—a traitor in the making.
But this revelation does raise some questions. Question number 1 is this: If Judas would betray Jesus, and Jesus knew it, why did Jesus choose Judas to begin with?
Jesus chose the twelve purposefully and sovereignly. Mark 3:16 says, “He appointed the twelve.” He knew whom He was calling, and He knew what each of them would do. And He knew the prophet Zechariah had already foretold that the Messiah would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).
He also knew that Peter would deny Him but that he would also repent and preach the first sermon in the new dispensation of grace. He knew that John would be exiled to Patmos, where he would write the book of Revelation. He knew James would be the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Jesus chose Judas, knowing exactly what Judas would do, but also knowing that his actions would fit like a puzzle piece into redemptive history.
Question number 2: If Judas was chosen to fulfill prophetic Scripture, did he really have any choice in the matter? The answer is yes! Judas was not a puppet on a string; he was not set up. He exercised his free will, yet the decisions of his free will fit within God’s sovereign will.
Keep in mind that Jesus Christ gave Judas every opportunity in the world not to betray Him. He discipled him for over three years; He washed Judas’s feet in the upper room; at this last supper He gave Judas the seat of honor; and even later in the garden when Judas arrived to identify Him with a kiss, Jesus called him “friend.”
Question number 3: Why did Judas follow Jesus all this time before betraying Him? Well in summary, Judas believed that Jesus would overthrow Rome and restore Israel as a preeminent nation.
Jesus knew this all along! John’s Gospel recorded all the way back in chapter 6 that “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (verse 64).
To everyone else Judas looked like, talked like, and acted like a true disciple. Do not overlook the fact that at one point he had been sent out with the other disciples to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Matthew 10:5-8). Jesus alone in this upper room knew who Judas really was.
When I was right around sixteen years of age, I worked after school on the campus of my high school—a program that reduced my tuition costs, which was a help to my missionary parents, who sacrificed greatly to put me in that Christian school. But I was not a Christian myself—and as far as I was concerned, nobody knew that but God and me.
I was mopping the gymnasium floor when the headmaster, Mr. Garrick, walked out onto the floor. There had been a party over the weekend with drinking. I had not gone to that party, but it was assumed I had. Eventually, after some investigation, the powers that be would confirm that I had not gone after all.
That did not change the fact that I was not a believer. I kept up a fairly decent image, but my heart was far from God. Well, Mr. Garrick suddenly showed up, and I can still hear his heels clicking on that gymnasium floor. He approached, quietly looked at me, and simply said, “I know who you are.” And without another word, he walked away. Let me tell you, that was incredibly convicting. And God used him in a mighty way. In fact, a year later, I gave my life to Christ.
Well, you can imagine how deeply convicting it was for the Lord here to quietly announce that one of the disciples would betray Him. John 13:22 says, “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.” Matthew 26:22 and Mark 14:19 even record that the disciples began to ask Jesus, “Is it I?” Jesus knew it was Judas, who was probably sitting there red-faced and under deep conviction.
Remember beloved, betrayal is the logical extension of selfishness. Frankly, we can be traitors in our own selfish ways—in our marriages, our parenting, our ministries, our friendships, our neighborhoods, and our workplace. And it’s because we want what we want, when we want it, at any cost—we are going to be first.
Putting a damper on our self-centeredness is an everyday discipline. We need to surrender daily to the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, as He works through the Word of God. Let us do that today.