Characters Around the Crucifixion
Ian Rees, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The dreadful example of Judas Iscariot has been burned into the hearts of believers over the years by the phrase at the beginning of the frequently-read passage on the Lord’s Supper, ‘the same night in which he was betrayed’, 1 Cor. 11. 23. It is as though the Spirit of God wants to impress on our hearts, in this most Christ-centred feast, the horror of what one of His band of disciples had done to our Lord. It is not just to remind us of what Judas did, but also to warn us lest we should do the same. How was it that one of His ‘disciples’ could betray Him?
Judas was intimate with the Teacher. There were many who had been waiting and longing for the arrival of ‘[him] that should come’ and had been ‘looking for redemption’. Suddenly, here was one, Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the Christ. Out of a larger group of disciples, we read that our Lord chose twelve ‘to be with Him’. Plucked from obscurity, Judas joined a small band of men who were given privileges such as we have never had, and others in our Lord’s day longed to have. After all, did not Legion plead to be with Him, as doubtless did many others?1 To Judas was given the huge privilege of spending time with the Word of God incarnate, the One who had come to reveal the Father. For just over three years, he had access to the Son of God Himself, not only in front of the crowds, but also in intimate moments, in a home at the close of the day, during the night hours, in the early morning. Judas sat with Him, ate with Him, talked to Him, listened to Him, touched Him, slept near Him, and watched Him. He saw our Lord when He was hungry, when He was thirsty, when He was wearied with His journey, when the ‘contradiction of sinners against himself’ was at its most hurtful. Judas had been given an opportunity second to none. He was also instructed in the truth. As a disciple, Judas followed the Lord for over three years, hearing all that He taught the public. Many only heard some of what our Lord had to say about God, as He revealed the Father to men, but Judas would have heard it all. He also heard Him teach truth that was hidden from the masses. He was there, after the crowds had gone, when the Lord explained to the disciples things that were hidden from others. He was there to hear Him say, ‘Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand’, Luke 8. 10. Here was a man who was instructed in the truth of God, by the Truth of God, like few others. He was also involved with the testimony. Our Lord’s disciples were identified as His. When the twelve were sent out to preach and to heal, Judas went with them. Judas was among those who came back, thrilled and excited that they had cast out demons in the name of Jesus. To all intents and purposes, Judas was one of the band. Yet it is instructive to note that he never once called our Lord, ‘Lord’, as did the others. He addressed Him as ‘Rabbi’, Teacher, but never in any other way. He never seemed to have believed, or been touched by the Lord’s teaching and example.
Why is it that Judas went on from such a privileged position to betray the Lord? What he heard was not mixed with faith. Our Lord said to His disciples, ‘The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him’, John 6. 63-64. Our Lord went on to say of Judas, ‘Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ v. 70, and in the Upper Room He referred to Judas when He said, ‘Ye are clean, but not all’, 13. 10. No matter how great the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord, where there is no faith, no conversion will be seen. Judas’ position in eternity is all the more terrible if we remember how close He was to the Truth and how much he saw of His divine power, yet he believed not. It was our Lord Himself who said, of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, ‘if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee’, Matt. 11. 23-24. Exposure to the truth, and rejection of it, brings heavier judgement.
There was something else that seemed to drive the heart of Judas Iscariot, and that was his love of money. Many in the world today misquote scripture when they say that money is the root of all evil. It is not. It is the love of money which is the root.2 And Judas seemed to love money more than he loved his avowed Master. When a woman anointed the feet of the Lord, Judas did not see the appropriateness of the worship, nor was his heart moved by her appreciation of what the Lord had done for her. He saw only the monetary value of the broken vase and the outpoured ointment: ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag and bare what was put therein’, John 12. 5-6. How could anyone, let alone one of His disciples, steal from the Son of God? Perhaps it was because Judas did not see Him as the Son of God. He saw an opportunity for betterment, a chance to be involved in an uprising against the Romans with a politically-motivated Messiah. But he was to be pierced through with sorrows, as the love of money would lead him on to betray the Son of God for a paltry sum.
And so it was that, into this unbelieving and covetous heart, Satan found little difficulty planting the seed of sedition. Having heard of the monetary reward the chief priests were offering for Jesus of Nazareth, Judas was moved to betray Him. Then, such was the alacrity with which Judas embraced the thought and set out to the deed, Satan found no difficulty in entering into Judas’ heart, 13. 2, 27. Despite the grace our Lord showed Judas in the Upper Room, and despite the warnings our Lord gave him, Judas went out into the literal darkness of the night, and the spiritual darkness of his betrayal, to wend his way to the door of the high priest’s palace. From there he would lead a band of men armed with lanterns, torches and weapons, ironically as though they were seeking a thief. Once in the garden, he would not only identify his ‘Master’, but he would do so in such an inappropriate way as to draw forth the exclamation from our Lord, ‘Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?’ Luke 22. 48. Our Lord had been betrayed by ‘his own familiar friend’, one who had supped with Him. That night, in a garden, a man stooped to the lowest depths mankind has ever gone. Yet in that same garden, a man, even the Son of God, showed the highest love a man has ever showed when He went out to meet His betrayer, in obedience to His Father and love for His own.
It is our Lord Himself who calls Judas ‘the son of perdition’, John 17. 12. Whether this means he has gone to perdition, or was characterized by perdition is not clear.3 Peter says of Judas, ‘He was numbered with us and had obtained part of this ministry’, but then goes on to say, from which he ‘by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place’, Acts 1. 17, 25. Before he committed suicide, Judas showed some remorse in that he recognized he had betrayed innocent blood, but he did not show true repentance. Unlike Peter, who wept bitterly when he denied his Lord and was forgiven and restored, there is no indication that Judas ever did so.
What a tragedy, that one so very close to the Lord should yet have been so very far! But he surely is an example and warning to us all. How many of us have had the immense privilege of being instructed in the truth, intimate, in the proper sense of the word, with the teachers of the truth, and involved in the testimony of the Lord and His people? We have had opportunities second to none, ourselves, while many in our generation never hear the name of Christ used in any way other than with disrespect. Yet is what we hear mixed with faith, or is it choked by the love of money – the love of anything – more than a love for God and His Son? Surely, whenever we hear those words, ‘the night in which he was betrayed’ our hearts should remember the perfidy of Judas, and many others like him since, and we should steel our hearts to ensure that we, ourselves, do not rise from the table at the breaking of bread, having avowed a love and devotion to our Lord, and then go out and betray Him or His own during the week.
1. Mark 5. 18
2. 1 Tim. 6. 10
3. The word ‘perdition’ in the scriptures usually refers to the final state of spiritual ruin and punishment from which believers are ‘saved’. The expression ‘son of perdition’ is also used of the Antichrist, 2 Thess. 2. 3, who is ‘the man of sin’. It probably means both Judas and the Antichrist are irrevocably given over to perdition.
AUTHOR PROFILE: IAN REES saw an assembly planted in Francistown, Botswana, having served the Lord there for 13 years. Now based in the UK, he was in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, one of his commending assemblies. He has now moved to establish a new assembly in Tenby, West Wales. He is married and has seven children.