Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spotlight on Judas

Judas: From Desire to Betrayal


Throughout the NT Judas Iscariot is characterized as one so fond of money that he pilfered the “offering plate” and harangued a women for wasting expensive perfume because he could have sold it…and kept the money for himself.  He betrayed Jesus, as predicted in the Old Testament and foretold by Jesus himself, for the mere price of a slave.[1]  This, we are assured by many, was Judas’ inevitable fate and we consider him unworthy of sympathy.  We read of Judas and say, “I would never have done that!  Me betray Jesus?  Never!”
We forget Judas was a man with the same feelings and foibles as we have.  He was a man of clay and so are we.

Between Two Desires

     Why did Jesus choose Judas as a disciple?  Some may say it was because Judas would betray Him.  I understand Jesus’ choice of Judas, not for the express purpose of having prophecy fulfilled through him, but because Jesus loved him and wanted to give him the best opportunity to repent and change; to repent not of an act he had not yet committed, but of a covetous heart fond of money.
      It may be that Judas was caught between two desires: the desire to do right and the desire to find security and solace in such an unpredictably, fearfully cruel world by wealth.  The fact that Judas stayed with Jesus after many disciples had left Him seems to gives evidence for Judas’ desire to do what is right although it competed with a desire for riches.  Jesus’ warning that “one of you is a devil”[2] was not to confirm Judas’ fate but to convict him of his sinful heart in loving riches.
     Who can say Judas did not feel guilty stealing money from the moneybag especially since he was handpicked to watch over their financial resources?  Who is to say Judas was not pricked in his heart with conviction and shame when Jesus rebuked him for complaining about the woman’s waste of perfume, even if it was to anoint Jesus?

The Fall

     Did not Judas feel remorse at having betrayed Jesus?  Was Jesus’ suffering and death something Judas desired to occur?  Not according to the Bible, which relates how he attempted to buy back Jesus’ release by returning the money to the religious leaders (Matt 27:3-5).  When the rubber hit the road, Judas admitted his sin.  But his sin lays not so much in the act of betraying Jesus as in his desire for money that resulted in betrayal.  And that is where his remorse was wanting.  As deplorable and inexcusable was his act of betrayal, far more heinous was his underlying reason.
     Judas repented of betraying Jesus but not of desiring money more than desiring God.  He threw down the money more in the hope of assuaging the guilt[3] of his actions rather than as a condemnation of his guilty character, that is, he threw down the money but he did not throw down his love for money.  He sought riches rather than God, he sought for the security and provision riches bring rather than blessings from God.

Is His Fate Our Fate?

     Judas is known as the one who betrayed Jesus.  But do we see ourselves in Judas?  Are we able to picture in ourselves Judas’ sin?  It may not be the sin of betraying Jesus but the spirit of betrayal that comes way before the act: a hovering between two desires, desiring something either alongside or above God; maybe love for wealth or security, comfort or possessions, or whatever the case may be.  This hidden sin within one’s soul can be expanded to include anything one finds more desirable than God.
     Is it possible that what you desire can turn into an act of betrayal?  Unless one’s love is completely in Christ, betrayal looms on the horizon.
     Judas hanged himself but it was not the rope that choked him but his desire for something other than – or, even alongside – God and His will; specifically, in Judas’ case, his desire for money: “the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word and proves him unfruitful, being useless for anything good and without worth to himself or to God.”[4]

End Notes
[1] John 12:4-6; Matt 26:14-16 and, commenting on this passage, see Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, eds., Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago, Moody Press 1979) 977: “A comparatively small sum, the valuation of a slave (Ex 21:30).”
[2] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press 1977), 615.
[3] Wycliffe, 981: “His ‘change of mind’ was chiefly toward the money, which he now loathed.” 
[4] Matt 13:22; my paraphrase

1.        Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F., eds., Wycliffe Bible Commentary.  Chicago: Moody Press. 1979.

2.        Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1977.

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