The Tragic Story of Judas Iscariot, Pt 1
Who was Judas Iscariot? Iscariot comes from ish, a hebrew word meaning man, and Kerioth, the name of a village in Southern Palestine (Judea). So, he was Judas, the man from Kerioth. The other 11 of the disciples were Galileans which is Northern Palestine (Acts 2:7). How is it then that this southerner hooked up with a group of northerners and became a devout follower of a Galilean carpenter claiming to be Messiah?
The Scripture does not give us an answer explicitly, but we may have some hints. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus began His official public ministry in the region of Galilee (Matt 4; Mark 1; Luke 4). Judas is found among his disciples at this time (Mark 3:13-19). This gives us two possibilities. First, news of Jesus’ Galilean ministry was reaching far beyond Galilee spreading all the way into the region of Judea. Many from that region began to follow Jesus (Matt 4:25). It is possible that when the news of Jesus made its way to Kerioth, Judas made his way to Galilee and became a disciple. Second, Judas may have been influenced by the ministry John the Baptist, whose ministry was in Judea. Many from Judea were coming to out him (Matt 3:5-6). Could it be that Judas was one of those from Judea preparing himself for the arrival of the King by being baptized and confessing his sins? Did he hear John say, Behold the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and witnessed Jesus’ baptism. Did he become his follower at that point? It is possible.
The Scripture makes a point to highlight that Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve (Matt 26:14; Mark 14:10; Luke 22:3). When we think of Jesus’ disciples we most often think of the twelve. That is because our Lord’s interactions with those twelve men pervade the gospel records. However, our Lord had many more disciples than just the twelve, including women. But, those twelve men were given a unique position within the larger circle of Jesus’ disciples. They were chosen to be apostles which means they were personally selected by Jesus to be his special representatives (Luke 6:12-26; Acts 1:21-22). It is astounding to realize that the selection of Judas for this official office was not a mistake. The Lord Jesus chose him for that position after a whole night of prayer to God (Luke 6:12).
The story of Judas Iscariot should not be read with morbid fascination as though what happened to him was fiction. Nor should it be studied with detached curiosity as one would read an edition of True Crime. He was a real person who committed one of the darkest deeds in human history. It is an account of how an Apostle betrayed the Lord of Glory. We start with the account of his treachery.
Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “ What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of sliver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus (Matt 26:14-15 NAS)
First, Judas offered to assist to our Lord’s enemies. The chief priests had plotted to murder Jesus (Matt 26:3-4). They had put out an APB that if any knew of his whereabouts they were to report it (John 11:57). Judas, who no doubt was aware of this, came offering his services. They accepted his offer. Why did they determine that his services would be helpful? Jesus’ popularity had reached an all time high and they did not want to apprehend Him during Passover because they were afraid a riot would occur (Matt 26:5). Plus, this was the Feast of Passover with thousands of people in an around Jerusalem. For them to have located Jesus and apprehended him in a private setting without incident would have been like finding a needle in 100 haystacks. Judas knew this. He knew the Lord’s schedule and habits (John 18:2). Like an agent gone rogue, he was a man in the inside who could deliver Jesus in the perfect scenario. It is captured in the word betray– to hand over.
Second,Judas struck a cold blooded deal. Judas’ question should send chills down the spine. Like an emotionally detached hit man he essentially says, “We both want something here. You want Jesus….I want money. I’ve got Jesus. You’ve got money. What kind of deal can we make?” It gets even more chilling when we understand the significance of the price he accepted-thirty pieces of silver (Hebrews shekels). This amount given to Judas fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy. According to that prophecy, the chief priests weighed out that specific amount because it represented their estimation of Jesus’ value (Zech 11:12-13). Under the Mosaic civil legislation, thirty shekels of silver was the price of reimbursing a person if your ox gored his slave to death. Judas handed over the Lord of Glory in exchange for the price of a common slave.
It is a clearly revealed fact of Scripture that Judas Iscariot was never regenerate and is in Hell (John 17:12). This was the beginning of his last definitive steps to that destiny. There are two sobering lessons: First, what appears to be a good start can later prove to be less than true conversion. It is not a given that Judas signed up with Jesus because he saw it as the best possible cover to make money with the hidden agenda of eventually jumping ship. It was at the starting line of the Lord’s public ministry that Judas had become one of his followers, and it is hard to conceive of Judas thinking that this was a great venue to get rich quick. For, there was nothing in Jesus’ message that would have appealed to his covetous heart. It was a message that fearlessly confronted sin and spelled out the real demands of righteousness (Matt 4:17; Matt 5-7). It was a message of delayed gratification (Matt 6:19-24). So, in order for Judas to have gotten as far as he did, he had to look like one who had embraced that message with all of his heart. In fact, he probably had a measure of sincerity when he started out. He like the others forsook all that he had to follow the Master. He had remained true to Christ when many were turning away (John 6:66-71). Judas Iscariot stands as the classic example of how much a person can conform outwardly to the demands of the kingdom without a real and lasting change of who he is when no one else is looking (John 12:8).
Second, unique privileges and great usefulness in the Kingdom are not signs of conversion. He had a front row seat to Jesus’ ministry. He heralded the orthodox gospel, performed miracles, including raising the dead to life (Matt 10:1-8). Such things are never identified in Scripture as signs that saving grace is present in the heart. None of Judas’ experience or usefulness will help his case when he stands before the Lord he betrayed (Matt 7:21-23). The tragic story of Judas Iscariot sends us a sobering warning. It calls us to self examination, asking the question, “Do I posses the fruit of saving faith in Jesus Christ?” (I John; 2 Pet 1:5-11). It forces the question, “Who am I in the privacy of my own heart?”
Next time we will answer the question, Why did he do it?