Judas. In a lot of ways, he is synonymous with Brutus betraying Caesar and Benedict Arnold betraying colonial America. Judas betrayed Jesus according to four of the four gospels. Throughout my growing up years, Judas was always, "...the one who betrayed him." (Matt 10:4b). I don’t know that I have ever heard a positive word about Judas. Everything I heard about, was always about how evil he was.
In general, the Bible has very limited references to Judas Iscariot, about twenty or so. And the majority of them are references to how he betrayed Jesus, him in the act of betraying Jesus, or Jesus’ affirmation that he would betray Jesus. The author’s of the gospels did not give spend much time discussing Judas as a person. They did give us a few hints into Judas though, they gave us some real bread crumbs to understand him and they had a pretty strong understanding of Judas’ actions to then also vilify him throughout the gospels.
Not everyone vilified him. The gnostics glorified him as a great man to be idolized because he triggered the process for Jesus to be killed. The reality is, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead without dying. So, yeah, they weren’t far off, but the betrayal part still gets in the way. Western culture has a hard time with betrayal, for reference Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (no relation.) We don’t deal well with betrayal. We tend to hold a strong grudge for a long time.
Then again, the _Gospel of Judas_ is a recently discovered and hotly contested document discussing the virtues of Judas and the secret teachings between Judas and Jesus. Given the gospel being dated to approximately 220, at the most liberal earliest assessment, I think it is safe to say it was written much later as a document to support the gnostic traditions and falls down in giving us any perspective on who Judas actually was.
We do know Judas was a zealot for one. One of those guys who were passionate! One of the guys from Galilee who would gladly kill a Roman centurion given the chance. The Romans were a blight to the zealots. We are able to deduce his roots from his last name, Iscariot, being sourced from the Galilee specifically, his last name potentially joins him to be a part of some of the most passionate and violent zealots. Jesus was in the Galilee when he called Judas, and the Galilee is mostly populated by Pharisees (pious individuals passionate about following the letter of the law.) and other zealots like Judas.
After being a zealot disciple, Judas was also the money manager for the group. Which is odd. Why wasn’t Matthew? Matthew was a tax collector. He was pretty experienced with money. You think they would put the money guy in charge of the money. What do you think his relationship with Matthew was like? He being a zealot and Matthew having sold out to the Roman authority to collect taxes, (which was a shady way to live because Matthew being a Jew had to force other Jews to give him more money than the government asked for. He took the extra money from the people to pay for his own food, travel, lodging, his house payment, maybe his boat payment, and a little extra for that condo he was saving up for on the coast in Herodium.)
Then there is James and John, the "Sons of Thunder" (Matt 5.) You would think having a nickname like that, they would probably be some sort of zealot too. I mean, "Sons of Thunder" don’t really give me a vision of peaceful, gentle, understanding people. Or Simon, who was eventually renamed Peter. How do you think these three were with Judas? They were all in the same vicinity of the Galilee. They were all from the same area. Would Jesus’ inner circle get along with Judas Iscariot the money managing hyper-zealot? Simon-Peter eventually cuts off the ear of a temple servant. Maybe Simon-Peter and Judas were actually buddy-buddy. We have no way of knowing for sure, but they both seem pretty zealous.
How about Thomas, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus. These guys all have very Greek names. The kind of names you might be given after your Jewish parents decide to adopt some of the ways of Roman culture. They might give you a Roman name. They still give to the temple and take care of the poor. They are also probably hanging out around bath houses. Giving aid and lodging to Roman soldiers. They are a little too comfortable. How do you think a Zealot might interact with those guys? The zealot who is bent on purging the promised land of the Romans. And these people accept Roman names from their parents. Their parents also have adopted the Roman culture enought to name their children Roman names.
Our last disciple is Simon the Zealot. Now, there is a name of a guy Judas can get along with. Another zealot friend. Not a faux zealot friend. A zealot proper. Simon. The Zealot. Do you think Simon and Judas were sitting around the camp fire listening to Jesus and nudging each other with ideas on how they might maim a centurion? Were they chatting about the pious Pharisees and how they are too focused on following the letter of the law not focused enough on taking out the Romans and the mafioso Sadducees. Maybe Simon-Peter might’ve been trying to tone them down or would he join in?
Any way we slice this apple, Judas was still selected to be one of the twelve. He was there at the commissioning of the 12 when Jesus empowered them in Matthew 10.
"And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
Afterward, Jesus even told them to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay."
Judas was called to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.
How about that for perspective? The guy was given every empowerment and teaching all the other disciples were given. Besides this moment, we have very little about Judas outside of the last supper and Judas’ actions thereafter.
At the last supper, eating and passing the bread and after drinking and passing the cup, according to John 13, Jesus is troubled and tells the disciples one of them would betray him. And they all have the same reaction, "NO! Who?" And Jesus replies telling them he is going to dip and hand the morsels of bread in his hand to his betrayer. Then Jesus hands it to Judas, and Satan entered into Judas.
Next thing, everyone assumes, oh, Judas. Yeah, he needs to buy us more food/donate food to the poor. Good ole Judas.
But wait a second.
Why are we ok with Satan entering into Judas?
Satan is, *literally* the worst.
Why do we gloss over it?
Also, why would John say that? I mean, Judas betrayed Jesus. Satan didn’t betray Jesus. Do you think John meant anything by it? It is a pretty weird comment. I don’t usually see people being possessed by Satan in the Bible. There were plenty of demons possessions, but not many Satan possessions in the gospels.
Do you think Satan entering into Judas is anything like that one time when Satan entered into David? You know, in 1 Chronicles 21 when Satan enters into David and incites him to perform a census of all Israel after God specifically told him not to. So because David performed the census anyways, God then sends an angel with a plague across Israel and a lot of people die. Then David knowing the angel’s heads into the angel’s path, buys a field, and makes sacrifices to the Lord.
Which is all pretty weird when we get right down to it. Because there is also 2 Samuel 24. A telling of the same story. 2 Chronicles is a telling of the same story looking back on history. 2 Samuel is a telling of the story as it happened. And 2 Samuel 24 says the Lord was mad at Israel and **HE** told David to do a census. And after the census, the Lord sent a plague on the people.
Both of these tellings of this story end in David buying a field and then making sacrifices in the field to atone for sins. Eventually, this site becomes the site of the Jewish Temple at the time of Jesus and today it is the site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Either way, David buys a field from a man to save the nation of Israel and then makes sacrifices in the field for the purpose of staying the plague that was sweeping through the land. Very much like the money given to Judas was returned to the temple because he decided what he had done was wrong and it was blood money. But the priests in the temple couldn’t add it to the treasury because they agreed it was blood money. So instead, they used it to buy a field.
Judas gave the money back to the priests saying it was blood money (Matthew 27). Judas specifically says he had shed "innocent blood." As a good Jewish boy, he would’ve memorized the first five books of the Bible. I would guess, as a zealot, he would’ve had a particular focus on verses having to do with shedding blood or innocent blood. Afterall, the Romans had spilled quite a bit of innocent Jewish blood.
"... but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you.” Deuteronomy 19:27.
I am guessing Judas might’be really appreciated this verse. It allowed him to seek vengeance against the Romans. Might it also have led him hang himself?
Killing himself with this law in mind would mean he followed the letter of the law even into death. He paid for his guilt of innocent blood. He couldn’t go home, he had sent another Jew to be crucified by the Romans **AND** he collaborated with the High Priests who had sold out to the Roman oppressors. Oh, and he collaborated with the Sadducee High Priests. A zealot, sworn enemy of those who would sell the promised land to the Romans and oppress the Jews, collaborated with the very people who he hated most.
Judas turned away from the last three years he spent with Jesus and the every year before that where he was raised as a zealot child!
Even though we have no record of Judas’ intentions or his commentary on his own life. He seems like he returned to his convictions. He carried out the letter of the law despite the cost of his own life. I do not argue he was a moral giant in his life. He sold out his family, friends, the disciples, and Jesus. But I do think we need to recognize him returning to his convictions even after his mistakes. He didn’t die a traitor. He returned to his roots and carried out the letter of the law on himself despite the Sadducees turning him away knowing the same scriptures Judas had memorized.
I can think of other people in my own life whom I have known and not given the benefit of the doubt because of preconceived notions formed from other people’s opinions much like I developed my opinion of Judas based on the opinions other people shared with me. I can think of other people who I have been disappointed or hurt by and then tainted other people’s relationships because of my hurt. I too am no moral giant.
Judas made mistakes. He betrayed the people he had spent years with and sold out Jesus. Judas is also dead. We can’t talk to him to find out what he was thinking or ask him about his reasoning. We can talk to the people we know that live around us and get to know them. Find out why they would do things that hurt or annoy us. We can repair relationships with people who have much less nobler reasons than Judas to do what they do and treat them like God’s prized possession before we demonize them like Judas and write them off to be vilified by history.
Who do you know that you are assuming the worst in? Who can you get to know so you might forgive them for past hurts? Who are the Sadducees and Romans in your life that are selling your promised land? Who sits on the other side of aisle from you that is trying to degrade your homeland? Who is too zealous for the wrong things? What are the things you are too passionate for, dare we say too _zealous_ for?