The Tragic Story of Judas Iscariot, Pt 4
One of the most sobering moments in the Upper Room is when the Lord Jesus said to the Twelve, “Truly I say to you one of you will betray Me” (Matt 26:21 NAS). As soon as he made this solemn announcement, the disciples began to ask Jesus the question that perhaps is one of the most familiar phrases recorded in the gospel records, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22 NAS)
Jesus’ initial response was, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me” (Matt 26:23 NAS). At first, we may get the impression that Jesus had just made a positive identification of the betrayer, but that is not the case. In that culture, unlike ours, each person did not have his own bowl from which to partake of the meal. There was a common bowl from which they would all eat. Therefore, with the meal already underway, Jesus’ initial response could have been applied to any one of the twelve. So, in effect Jesus’ answer could be interpreted, “Yes, it is one of you!”
Furthermore, instead of immediately relieving the pressure, he turned up the heat, underscoring the eternal destiny of the betrayer (Matt 26:24). He used generic language–a description vague enough that could be applied to any one of them. Jesus eventually discreetly revealed to John the identity of the betrayer (John 13). However, by this initial response it appears that, at least momentarily, he purposefully let each one wrestle with the possibility that it could have been him. He then warned each one of the eternal consequences if that turned out to be the case.
Wise and Loving
The Lord Jesus preserves his true sheep all the way to glory. Yet, he uses certain methods in bringing it to pass. One of those methods is instilling in them a healthy fear of self-deception and hypocrisy, which produces two soul preserving things-self distrust and self examination. An enriching study would be to survey the four gospel accounts noting how often the Lord used this method with his genuine disciples. It was not our Lord’s only method. However, it was a major and regular method. This appears to be the method Jesus employed at this point. The Lord Jesus knew that the eleven genuine disciples were never going to betray him, and would be preserved unto his heavenly kingdom. So, why did he let them wrestle with something that he knew was never going to happen?
At first, this may appear to be cruel and abusive. Is it not like manipulating a child to do what you say by warning him of the monster in the closet? No, because there was a monster in the closet. Demonic activity was at an all time high. Satan was going about like a roaring lion seeking his prey. He had already taken possession of Judas, was about to finish him off, and he wanted to have his way with the rest (Luke 22:31-34). They were surrounded with a city full of people, who though days earlier were shouting Jesus’ praises, would turn on him like a rabid animal and cry for his blood. They were extremely naïve of the pride lurking within seeking to gain mastery over them (Luke 22:24-27). The fact is, left to himself, each one was capable of betraying Jesus. This was not cruel. It was wise and loving. If ever these men needed to be shaken from self confidence and take time to look within, it was at that point. Commenting on our Lord response, William Hendriksen wrote,
It furnished an opportunity to the disciples to examine themselves. This point is often passed by. It is, nevertheless, very important. By giving the answer that is recorded here in Matt 26:23 Jesus did not identify the betrayer, and exactly by not identifying him the Lord was actually doing all a favor. He that knew that self-examination would be the very best exercise for men such as these (remember Luke 22:24!). Let each disciple be filled with grave misgivings, with wholesome distrust. These men need time for self examination.
We all need times when the Lord uses this method with us. Why? First, biblical assurance and self confidence are mutually exclusive. Biblical assurance is not strut your stuff, of course I am saved, I am offended that you would even suggest that it could be otherwise. In other words, one of the marks of biblical assurance is that is humble. Faith in Christ, the foundation of assurance, is by its very nature humble, for it looks away from self and totally depends upon another. Therefore, it is wise and loving when the Lord produces this fear in us, for it shakes us loose from self confidence and causes us to look to him alone to save and preserve us. Second, self-examination is a vital to make it safely to heaven. One of the marks of a false assurance can be that it hates to be searched. It cannot stand when this method is employed. It is like the man who refuses to go to the doctor out of fear that a disease will be discovered. If he doesn’t know it’s there, then perhaps it is not. The disciples may have been blinded much by pride and perhaps were ready to defend themselves as being incapable of this sin (Matt 26:35). However, unless we are prepared to accuse them of asking this question hypocritically as did Judas (Matt 26:25), then they wanted the honest answer to their question. The person who has true assurance is honest. He wants to be real, and is willing to do whatever it takes to be real-even if it means coming to the conclusion that he is not. So, though as uncomfortable as self examination can be, he willing undergoes it, because he knows that there is only one thing he ever has to lose by it-false assurance. He knows there is everything to gain by it-glory and a greater assurance that he is going there to be with Christ forever.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24 NAS).
 This response may be a reference to the depth of betrayal. In that culture it was a mark of loyalty and friendship to break bread together (John 13:18).
 Jesus refers to the betrayer as “that man.”
 Some period of time may have passed from Jesus’ initial response to the moment he reveals the betrayer to John (John 13:22-26). So, it appears that the suspense was purposefully produced by Jesus.
 Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 907.
 There are many passages in the scripture that address saints designed for this purpose: e.g., Heb 3:12-13.