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February 2, 2012

The Tragic Story of Judas, Pt 5

by imreformedbaptist

Jesus interrupted the meal to announce that one of the twelve was going to betray him. The eleven genuine disciples became unglued and each began to inquire if he were the one. This also included a discussion among the disciples as to which one of them it could be (John 13:22). It appears that none of them had the slightest reason to suspect any specific man. However, Peter, in usual form stepped up to the plate and discreetly put another disciple up to asking Jesus to identify the betrayer (John 13:23-24).[1] So, reclining on Jesus’ chest, within inches of his ear, John asked the question, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25 NAS). 

The Morsel

Jesus granted John’s request and told him, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him” (John 13:26 NAS). It was customary during the meal that the host would take a piece of unleavened bread, a morsel, dip it in the bowl and give it to one of his guests, singling out that person for special honor.[2] It is even understood by some that the morsel was given to the guest of honor.[3]

Jesus Was Not a Hypocrite

It is not proper for us to view Jesus handing Judas the morsel as nothing more than a covert way to identify the betrayer to John. It was more than that. Judas’ betrayal affected Jesus deeply (John 13:21).[4] He had just taken the posture of a slave and washed Judas’ feet (John 13). Was Jesus merely going thru the motions? That would be to accuse Jesus of the hypocrisy of which Judas was guilty–acting out a part that he loved Judas deeply when in reality he had no concern for him! How can we view Jesus giving Judas the morsel in any other way than its significance in that culture? Though not all commentators and scholars would necessarily agree on the precise details and significance of this act, several agree on one thing–in handing Judas this morsel, Jesus was treating him with kindness and love. “Jesus in a gesture of love toward Judas dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas in his left as if Judas were the guest of honor. Jesus had already washed Judas feet; now he treated him like an honored friend.”[5]

Jesus’ Final Appeal to Judas?

Like the other disciples, Judas asked Jesus if he were the betrayer (Matt 26:25). Jesus reveals to Judas that he knew of his plans (Matt 26:26). Obviously, this took place very close to the moment that Jesus handed him the morsel. This means that the morsel was handed to Judas in connection with him discovering that Jesus knew of his treachery. Therefore, it is very possible that in handing him the morsel Jesus was making something of an appeal to Judas to abort mission. There was still time and space to repent. F. F. Bruce comments, “Jesus’ action in singling out Judas for a mark of special favor may have been intended as a final appeal to him to abandon his treacherous plan and play the part of a true disciple. The die had not been irrevocably cast.”[6] If we didn’t know the outcome of the story, we could hope that this gracious overture would have gotten thru to Judas and broken his heart. But it didn’t.

The Light Went Out

Satan had already entered Judas once before. We are told that at this moment Satan entered him again. Yet, this time we are to understand this Satanic possession of Judas in light of how John closes the scene: “So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night” (John 13:30 NAS). “John’s footnote that it was night is more than reminiscence of an eyewitness; it has a deeper significance. Not only had darkness descended over Jerusalem but also over Judas’ heart. He was now completely under the sway of the power of darkness.”[7]

The penitent thief on the cross is an example that, from one perspective, as long as a person is still breathing and his heart is still beating, there is hope that he can be saved. Yet, from another perspective, a person can so totally harden his heart to Jesus Christ that his eternal doom is essentially sealed in this life. It is those who have received an abundance of gospel light, who have experienced a measure of its power, who are brought to the very threshold of salvation, but who are never truly converted that are in the greatest danger of this dreadful state.[8] Judas Iscariot is perhaps the most vivid example of it recorded in Scripture.

There is a time, we know not when  A point, we know not where That marks the destiny of men To glory or despair There is a line by us unseen That crosses every path  The hidden boundary between God’s patience and his wrath.    ~ Isaac Watts

The story of Judas Iscariot is truly a sad one. As we envision him hanging lifeless from a tree, the words of Jesus should come to mind: “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:25 NAS)


[1] Most understand this disciple to be John–the author of the Fourth Gospel.

[2] “The host at a feast might well dip into a common bowl and pull out a tasty bit and pass it to a guest as a mark of honor and friendship.” Donald Carson, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1991), p. 474.

[3] A rather convincing case can be made that Judas was the guest of honor and was seated to our Lord’s immediate left–the place where the guest of honor would be seated. “In normal circumstances the giving of the morsel was a mark of favor. Moreover, it would appear that Judas was in the place of honor since Jesus was able to hand him the piece of bread.”  The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), p. 408.

[4] The phrase “troubled in spirit” in the original literally means that Jesus was in a state of mental and emotional distress over being betrayed by Judas.

[5] John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Acadamie Books, 1988), p. 102.

[6] The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 290, cited by John MacArthur in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary–John 12-21 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), p. 81.

[7] MacArthur, p. 81. It is a given that with the Passover Meal well under way, night had fallen.

[8] Hebrews 3–4 and 6:1-4 are examples of passages which I believe teach this dreadful reality.

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