Judas. When you hear that name it often brings a negative connotation. How many parents do you know are naming their sons Judas? To be called a Judas is an insult. It means you have turned your back on or betrayed a trusted ally, friend or relative. No one wants to be called or labeled a Judas.
However, like every other person in history there is a story to his life. There are how’s to the life of Judas. For example, how did Judas become a disciple? How did he betray Jesus? How did Judas die? How did he get from being a trusted ally chosen by Jesus, to hanging from a tree, dying alone?
The answers to these questions are in the middle. Let’s take what we know about Judas from the scriptures, and fill in the gap.
The Call of Judas
There is not much background given to Judas’ life within the gospels. What we do know is that he is often referred to as Judas Iscariot (Luke 6:16) or Judas, son of Simon Iscariot (John 6:71). Iscariot is derived originally from a Hebrew word “ishq’riyoth” which means man of Kerioth, which was a city located in Palestine. Another way of thinking of his name would be to say Judas a man from Kerioth.
Interesting enough, his name – Judas – is derived from the Hebrew Judah, which means praise or let God be praised. This is fascinating when you consider the direction and shape his life took.
Like every other disciple, Judas was called and chosen by Jesus. What’s makes Judas’ choosing so remarkable is that Jesus chose him after a season of intense prayer. Luke 6:12-13 reads:
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”
The names of the apostles are listed and in verse 16 we read – Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor, listed among them.
Judas was chosen and was made to be one of the original apostles by Jesus himself. You might be wondering why Jesus, being God and knowing all things, would choose his own betrayer? The answer is to fulfill what was prophesied in Psalm 41:9, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turnedagainst me.”
Jesus refers to this prophecy in John 13:18, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’”In essence, Jesus had to choose Judas in order to fulfill the word of God spoken before.
Judas’ Role as a Disciple
Judas was the treasurer of the group; he was in charge of the money. Unfortunately, we also know that he was not a man of character. The Bible calls him a thief. In John 12 Jesus is having dinner at the home of Lazarus, not too long after he raised him from the dead. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive bottle of perfume. Judas however had an interesting response to this event:
“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:4-6).
Judas was not only a betrayer but also a thief. He did not have great character even though he was chosen by Jesus. So often when he was mentioned in the gospels he had a tag line – the one who was going to betray him. This was his destiny all along.
Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?
As we consider the scriptures there seems to be two driving forces behind Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
1. Personal Gain – Consider Matthew 26:14-16
“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
We already know Judas was a thief and he liked dipping into the money bag. His desire to betray Jesus flowed out of a desire to get something. We can make a reasonable assumption he wanted money because he was a thief, but maybe it was something else.
What we learn from Matthew’s gospel is that Judas initiated the conversation of how to betray Jesus. It’s true the chief priests were looking for a way to kill Jesus. Judas simply became the open door to allow them to pursue this course of action.
2. Satan – Consider Luke 22:1-4
“Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.”
We learn from this Scripture that beyond personal gain there was direct influence from Satan. This influence moved Judas to pursue the actual betrayal of Jesus. Simply put, Judas, under the influence of Satan, entered into agreement with the chief priests to hand over Jesus at the right time.
So, a combination of influence and personal gain, thirty pieces of silver, led to Judas betraying Jesus.
How Did Judas Die?
We have seen glimpses into how he lived, but how did Judas die? Eventually Judas followed through and handed Jesus over to the chief priests. What happened after that? Matthew’s gospel give us the answer
“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:1-5).
We don’t know the exact time, but it could be that Judas hanged himself before Jesus was crucified. Regardless of when this happened, the end result of Judas’ betrayal was remorse and eventually death. The money he received was used to buy the potter’s field, which they called the Field of Blood. Yet the question of how did Judas die doesn’t quite end there. You must also consider Acts 1:18-19:
“With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.”
How do we reconcile these two accounts? To help bring this picture into full perspective I give you a quote from the Tony Evans Bible Commentary on these verses:
“Realizing that he had sinned by betraying Jesus—but unwilling to repent—Judas threw the money he received from the chief priests into the temple and hanged himself … Refusing to take back Judas’ ‘blood money’ the chief priests used it to buy the field in which Judas hanged himself. There, Judas’s decaying body eventually fell and burst open and his intestine spilled out.”
What Can We Learn from Judas’ Life?
There are two key lessons I want you to take from Judas’ life
1. There may be wolves among the sheep.
There are some people who are hanging around Jesus not because they love him or have a heart to serve him but because of what they can get from being around him. For Judas, it was the opportunity to steal money and maybe more.
For others it could be prestige, popularity, money or some type of gain. Paul warns of this in 1 Timothy 6 where some see godliness as a means for financial gains. If it happened to Jesus, it could happen in your church too – and yes even to you as well. I am not calling everyone a wolf, but be aware they do exist.
2. Sin will always bring remorse.
Judas eventually felt remorse for betraying Jesus. There is no record in Scripture of him repenting, but he did feel bad for what he did. This will be the reality for everyone who dies in sin. They may not recognize it now but eventually they will.
If you remember the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), he eventually regretted the choices he made. Anyone who chooses to reject Christ in this life will at some point, either in this life or in eternity, regret the decision they have made.
And Now to You…
We have answered the question how did Judas live? We have also answered the question how did Judas die? The question now turns to you. How will you live? As I said at the beginning, no one wants to be a Judas. So – don’t be one. Live a life fully devoted and committed to Christ. Love him and serve him not because of the things he can and often will do for you. Love him and serve him because of who he is. I encourage you to live your life for Christ to the fullest and be everything he wants you to be. No betrayals and no turning back.