How Judas Iscariot went from Opportunist to Betrayer / Spiritual Meditations

The most notorious and universally scorned of all the disciples is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. His name appears last in every biblical list of apostles, except for the list in Acts 1, where it doesn’t appear at all.

Here was a man who drew as close to the Savior as it is humanly possible to be. He enjoyed every privilege Christ affords. He was intimately familiar with everything Jesus taught. Yet he remained in unbelief and went into a hopeless eternity. Judas reminds us that no matter how sinful a person may be, no matter what treachery he or she may attempt against God, the purpose of God cannot be thwarted.

Judas’s name is a form of Judah. The name means “Jehovah leads.” He was apparently the only one of the apostles who did not come from Galilee. As we know, many of the others were brothers, friends, and working companions even before meeting Christ. Judas was a solitary figure who entered their midst from afar. Although there was no evidence that he was ever excluded or looked down upon by the rest of the group, he may have thought of himself as an outsider, which would have helped him justify his own treachery.

The Galilean disciples’ unfamiliarity with Judas would have aided and abetted him in his deception. The others knew little about his family, his background, or his life before he became a disciple. So, it was easy for him to play the pretender. He was able to work his way into a place of trust, which we know he did, because he ultimately became the treasurer of the group and used the position to pilfer funds. (John 12: 6).

Judas was ordinary in every way, just like the others. It is significant that when Jesus predicted one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas (Matthew 26: 22-23). He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him. But Jesus knew his heart from the beginning (John 6: 64).

Why Judas Joined the Apostles

The call of Jesus is not recorded in scripture. It is obvious, however, that he followed Jesus willingly. He lived in a time of heightened messianic hope, and like most in Israel, he was eager for the Messiah to come. Judas was probably a young, zealous, patriotic Jew who did not want the Romans to rule and who hoped Christ would overthrow the foreign oppressors and restore the kingdom to Israel. It is equally obvious, however, that Judas was not attracted to Christ on a spiritual level. He followed Jesus out of his desire for selfish gain, worldly ambition, avarice, and greed. He sensed Jesus’s power, and he wanted power like that for himself. He was not interested in the Kingdom for salvations sake or for Christ’s sake. He was interested only in what he would get out of it.

On the other hand, Jesus also chosen him. The tension between divine sovereignty and human choice is manifest in Judas’s calling, just as it is manifest in the calling of the other apostles. They had all chosen Jesus, but He chose them first (John 15: 16). Judas had likewise chosen to follow Jesus. And yet he had also been chosen by Jesus, but not for redemption. His role of betrayal was ordained before the foundation of the world and even prophesied in the Old Testament. And yet Judas was in no sense coerced into doing what he did. Jesus himself affirmed both truths in Luke 22: 22. “Truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

Judas Falls from Opportunist to Devil

A few glimpses of Judas that are shown to us from time to time in the Gospels suggest that he had long been growing progressively more disillusioned and embittered but kept it hidden from everyone as early as John 6, during Jesus’s Galilean ministry, where Jesus referred to Judas as a “devil.”

The truth about Judas begins to be seen shortly after the raising of Lazarus, and just before Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus and the disciples returned to Bethany, on the outskirts of the city.

Judas was Angry to have Lost 300 Denarii

John 12: 2-3 records what happened:

“There they made Him a supper; And Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

“Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?’” (v. 4-5).

Judas’s response was a clever ploy. He feigned concern for the poor. Apparently, his protest seemed reasonable to the other apostles too, because Matthew 26: 8 says “they all echoed Judas’s indignation.” What an expert Judas had become in his hypocrisy! The Apostle John, reflecting on this incident years later, wrote, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12: 6). Of course, neither John nor any of the other apostles saw through Judas’s deceit at the time, but in retrospect, and writing his book under the Holy Spirits inspiration, John told us plainly what Judas’s motive was: sheer greed.

Judas Approaches the Chief Priests

It seemed to have been the last straw as far as Judas was concerned, because immediately after telling the story of Jesus’s anointing, Matthew says, “Then one of the 12, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they counted out to him 30 pieces of silver. So from that time, he sought opportunity to betray Him” (Matthew 26: 14-16). The cost of a slave at that time was approximately 30 pieces of silver.

Judas is Exposed at the Last Supper

John 13:1 begins the Apostle John’s lengthy account of what happened in the Upper Room on the night of Jesus’s arrest. Having already taken money to betray Christ, Judas came back, blended into the group and pretended nothing unusual had happened. Judas’s heart was so hostile to the truth and so filled with evil that Judas became a willing instrument of Satan himself.

In verses 18-19, Jesus spoke directly: “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; But that the scripture may be fulfilled, ‘he who eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.’ So I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.” Of course, He was saying Judas’s act was the fulfillment of Psalms 41: 9 (see below).

“When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’“ All the disciples except Judas were perplexed and deeply troubled by this. They apparently began to examine their own hearts, because Matthew 26: 22 says, “they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to him, ‘Lord, is it I?’” Even Judas, ever careful to keep up the appearances of being like everyone else, asked, “Rabbi, is it I?” (v. 25).

The apostle John concludes his account of this incident:

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’s bosom one of his disciples, whom he loved, Simon Peter therefore motion to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’s breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘it is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ and having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.’ But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, ‘buy those things we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night. (John 13: 23-30).

At this point Jesus had spoken openly to the other disciples about Judas’s plan to betray him. Judas had been unmasked in front of the others. It was time for him to act. What had he been waiting for? According to Luke 22: 6, Judas had been seeking an opportunity “to betray [Jesus] to them in the absence of the multitude”. He was still the pretender.

Judas Instigates Jesus’s Arrest

Judas apparently went straight from the Upper Room to the Sanhedrin. Judas did not act in a moment of insanity. This was not a sudden impulse. It was not an act born only out of passion. This dark deed was deliberately planned and premeditated. He knew Jesus regularly went to Gethsemane to pray with His disciples. Luke 22: 29 says it was Jesus’s custom to go there. John 18:2 says Judas “knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.” So, Judas knew exactly where to bring the authorities to capture Jesus.

“Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons” (John 18: 3). The “detachment of troops” was most likely a Roman cohort from the Antonio Fortress, adjacent to the temple. A full cohort numbered about 600 men.

“Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking’ “(John 18: 4). He did not wait for Judas to single Him out; He did not try to hide; He “went forward,” presenting Himself to them, and said, “I am he” (v. .5).

Judas had a prearranged signal to identify Jesus: “Whoever I kiss, He is the one, seize Him” (Matthew 26: 48). “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’“ Kissing is a mark of homage, love, affection, tenderness, respect, and intimacy. Judas’s feigned feelings for Christ only made his deed that much darker. It was devious hypocrisy, trying to keep up the veneer of respect even to the bitter end.

Judas Iscariot’s death

Matthew 27: 3-4 says, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood‘“. The chief priests and elders were unsympathetic: “They said ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’“ Matthew says, “Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed and went and hanged himself” (v. 5).

His remorse was not genuine repentance. If it had been, he would not have killed himself. Sadly, he did not seek the forgiveness of God. He did not cry out for mercy. He did not seek a deliverance from Satan. Instead, he tried to silence his conscience by killing himself.

Matthew concludes his account of Judas: “But the chief priest took the silver pieces and said, ’it is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’ And they consulted together and bought with them the Potters Field, to bury strangers in. Therefore, the field has been called the Field of Blood to this day” (Matthew 26: 6-8).

Judas’s Replacement Among the Twelve

After Jesus’s resurrection, Judas’s office was filled by Mathias (Acts 1: 16-26). The Apostle Peter said “it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘let the dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; And ‘let another take his office’“ (v. 20). Mathias was selected because he had been with Jesus and the other apostles “from the baptism of John to the day when He was taken up from us” (v. 22).

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Relevant Scripture

Even my close friend,
    someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
    has turned against me. (Psalms 41: 9)


Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

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