Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 4. Abandoned – Betrayal
Mt 26:14,15 Then one of the Twelve–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
We have entitled this short series of meditations, ‘Aspects of Easter’ because there are a number of aspects of this week leading up to its awful conclusion and then glorious conclusion and we want to take time to pause and ponder on them. One of those aspects we would summarise as the ‘abandonment of Jesus’ and, we suggest, there are three expressions of that, the first being abandonment by betrayal.
The fact of Jesus’ abandonment is itself incredible. Here was the Son of God who had for three years, mostly up in the north in Galilee, performed miracle after miracle. It had been an incredibly wonderful time which makes all the more terrible the abandonment of Jesus by the end of this week. So the first expression of this abandonment is betrayal.
It is a terrible thing that Judas, when listed as one of the apostles chosen by Jesus is simply described, “and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Mt 10:4) Usually gentle and compassionate Luke in that list has, “and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Lk 6:16) What is even worse is John’s record of Jesus own words, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)” (Jn 6:70,71) What a terrible record to have hanging around your neck.
So much for the judgment of Judas, what about his actions? There are two different contexts for Judas’ actions in the four Gospels. The first one, recorded by Matthew and Mark, picking up on a specific incident in the life of Jesus and his disciples, shows Judas leaving and going to the authorities immediately after the incident in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, where a woman had poured expensive oil over Jesus’ feet. It is after this that Judas goes and agrees with the authorities to betray Jesus. John shows that at that event, Judas objected to the waste of money and adds as a reason, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (Jn 12:6) That puts a question mark over Judas’ general moral disposition from the outset.
Luke sets the context in the political rooms of the authorities: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.” (Lk 22;1,2) Jesus, as we have seen, was causing concern, so much so that they had been plotting to arrest or even kill him. At this appropriate moment we read, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.” (Lk 22:3-6)
There is a combination of spiritual pressures and practical outworkings. Now normally we would say that a person can only become ‘possessed’ when they have already given themselves over to the enemy and are involved in satanic or occult activities, but here there is no such mention, but the Lord allows Satan access to Judas’ mind at least to suggest to him that he goes to the authorities. John’s summary of that was, “the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.” (Jn 13:2) and so during the Last Supper, he records, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him,” (Jn 13:27) and “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out.” (v.30) The actual betrayal occurs in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane, following the events we saw in the previous meditation. Judas comes with a band of temple soldiers and kisses Jesus and the soldiers arrest the one Judas kissed.
Now there is a certain air of mystery hanging over all of this. Yes, we have seen two of the Gospels attribute his actions to being prompted by Satan, but what was Judas thinking when he first went to the authorities and planned the betrayal, and then when he carried it out? Was it basic greed, he did it for money? Or was there some twisted thinking that thought that by doing this he would provoke Jesus into defending himself and rising up and leading a rebellion against the authorities? Is there a clue from what followed?
It is only Matthew who records what happened to Judas afterwards: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:3-5) This only occurs after Jesus has been arrested, taken and falsely tried and condemned. It is only at that point that Judas sees that whatever he had been thinking was wrong. Jesus was just letting himself be condemned and put to death.
Now what can these events possibly say to us? Well, first, I would suggest there is a reminder that God has given us free will and once we determine a course of action, the Lord will not necessarily step in and make us stop. Second, it is possible that we allow attitudes or behaviour to grow in our lives that develop so that Satan has leverage and can press in on us with temptations which become very difficult (but not impossible) to reject. Third, when such things happen it is possible to forget all the good things God has done for us so far, things that normally would act as a brake on our actions. Fourth, it is just possible we become motivated by things we have tolerated in our lives (Judas became a thief and maybe that gave him wrong thoughts about making money), and they lead us to do further wrongs. ‘Keep short accounts’ was a phrase that used to be used, meaning deal with every wrong issue as it arises, so it cannot build up. Fifth, it is possible for us to have wrong ideas about Jesus, wrong perceptions and those lead us to say or do things that are not things he would tolerate. Sixth, God knows everything and He knows what is going on in your mind and although He still loves you, your wrong thoughts or behaviour will not please him. Seventh, and finally, He will use all of your actions and work through them to bring eventual good for you.
Could Judas have repented? Well yes, he did in a measure but so given over was he to the enemy that he gave way to desires to commit suicide. Yet Jesus’ arrest was part of God’s plan and He used Judas’ confused and demonic thinking to bring it about.
Enough said. Be still before Him, aware that we are vulnerable and need His help always. There but for the grace of God go I. You don’t believe that? You don’t yet know yourself. I cannot envisage myself ever following Judas’ example but that is based on the knowledge of my life so far – blessed by God. I need that grace every day, every year. It is there for each and every one of us. Tragically Judas never talked to Jesus about himself (that, I suggest, is obvious by the outworkings of his life and tragic death). The more you share yourself with Him, the less likely you are to fail Him. Hold on to that.