WHY DID JUDAS BETRAY JESUS?
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Have you ever known anyone named Judas? Do your suppose you could find the name anywhere in the phone books of our nation? It is not likely, but what is wrong with this name? It is simply composed of 5 letters of the English alphabet, and all of them are perfectly good letters that we use all the time. Not only is it made up of perfectly good letters, but its meaning is wonderful, for it means to praise, or one worthy of praise.
One the greatest heroes of the Jewish nation was Judas Maccabeaus who fought for his people's freedom against great odds. Jesus also had a brother named Judas, and Paul had a companion named Judas. But all of these were named before that fateful event in Gethsemane when a man by the name of Judas kissed the Son of God in an act of betrayal, and thereby ruin that name for all of history. Saul fell, Samson fell, Solomon fell, and Simon fell, but none was so great as the fall of Judas. Not even the most wicked would want to bear the name of this once trusted treasurer who turned traitor. No other name is so despised the world over. We could no more conceive of naming anything after Judas then we could conceive of a Benedict Arnold High School, or a Lee Harvey Oswald Medical Center.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but so great is the psychological repulsion of the name Judas that one wonders if even this would hold true if a rose were to be called the Judas flower. It is amazing that one act could curse a name forever, but it is a fact, and a fact that is clear to all. What is not so clear is why Judas did what he did. We all know what Judas did, but the mystery is why? That is the question we want to deal with, for that is the question that Jesus asked him that very night of his betrayal. Verse 50 says in the RSV, "Friend, why are you here." But then we see no answer. Can we go no further than the question mark? Yes we can go on to find an answer to this question. In the history of the interpretation of the betrayal of Judas, men have gone on to find three principle answers to the question of why he did it. First-
I. THE PESSIMISTIC ANSWER.
Those who hold this view see nothing but black in Judas. He was the devil incarnate who from the beginning had just one design, and that was to betray Jesus. Jesus chose him because He knew he would betray Him, and that is how he got to be a disciple even though he had no qualifications. He was wicked to the core, and only played along waiting his chance to betray the one he called Master.
This view is next to impossible to take seriously and be honest with the Scripture. It leads to a pagan fatalism that is degrading to the whole account, and makes it nothing more than mere play acting. If Judas was a devil from the start, and was only chosen to fulfill this role, then he is no more responsible than a puppet who spills a glass of water. If his act was not a deliberate choice of his own will, as a man who could have chosen otherwise, then he is of no blame whatever. Jesus calls him friend, which He would not do if he was the devil incarnate.
Those who hold to this pessimistic determinism have based it on the assumption that the betrayal was an essential factor in the plan of God. It is almost as if to say that God planned to have a betrayer, and so had Judas born just to fulfill that role. This is very near to blaspheming the nature and love of God. This sounds more like Hitler rather than our Father in heaven. What would you think of a foreman who sent one of his men down into a framework of a dam to accomplish an essential task, and then while he was down there ordered the concrete to be poured? We dare not attribute to God what we despise in men.
If the betrayal by Judas was essential by God's plan, then how can he be condemned for doing what God ordained him to do? God foreknew the act of Judas, and even prophesied that it would be so, but he did not design that it be so. Judas played no essential role in the plan of redemption. Nothing he did was essential. The priests only used him as a convenience. They could have easily found where Jesus was. They were not so ignorant that they could not keep track of 12 men who weren't even hiding. That is why they only offered him 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave. They had determined to kill Jesus already, and they would have crucified Him even if Judas had never been born. Jesus said that it would have been good if he had never been born, and He could not have said that if the plan of redemption needed him. This pessimistic answer will never do. Next we look at-
II. THE OPTIMISTIC ANSWER.
Do you remember how when you wound a swing up and then let go, and how it would unwind but then begin winding up the other way? It would go from one extreme to the other, and that is what this view does in contrast to what we just looked at. This view was held by some at an earlier time, but it received its greatest impact through the work of DeQuincey in 1857. Those who followed this view are those who delight in sugar-coating everything that is bitter. We could wish that it was true that there was no hell for those who reject God, ignore and blaspheme His Son. No one is glad about it, and least of all He who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and who cries out to them, "Why will you die!"
No one despises the doctrine of damnation more than God, for He is not willing that any should perish. But no matter how terrible it is, a fact is a fact, and to ignore it or sugar-coat it is only deceiving one's self. Those who hold this view cannot believe that Judas meant to betray Jesus after being with Him for 3 years, and so they come up with an ingenious interpretation which any of us would be glad to accept if only it were true.
Judas, as their theory goes, was only an impatient nationalist. He was anxious for Jesus to take over and set up His kingdom. On the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem Judas must have been in third heaven. He thought that His master would soon be king and he would be a leader in the Messianic kingdom. But it didn't turn out that way. Jesus did not exert His power, and He did not call the people to rebel and overthrow the Romans. Judas was disappointed and could not understand. He knew Jesus had the power, but why didn't He use it? He decided that Jesus must be waiting until His had was forced. That must be it! He did not want to start the battle. He was waiting until the enemy made their move so that He would not be the aggressor. So Judas came up with what he thought was a perfect plan. He went to the Jewish leaders and betrayed Jesus so that the Jews would try to take Him. Jesus would then be forced to use His power and set up His kingdom.
That is why Judas was leading them out to the garden himself. He could have told them where he was, but he wanted to be there, for when this was over he would be the hero that was responsible for getting the kingdom set up. Here they come at midnight, and many had swords and staves prepared for an all out battle against a Galilean carpenter who didn't even have a chisel. Why all the weapons? Did Judas warn them that this was to be a battle to the end? Were they expecting Jesus to fight to the finish, and that is why they fell backward to the ground when Jesus stepped toward them?
Whatever the case, they came prepared for a showdown, and Judas thought for sure Jesus would act in power in such a situation. But he was wrong, and Jesus gave up without a fight. When Judas learned that Jesus had been condemned he realized what a horrible mistake he had made. He wanted Jesus to know that he was sorry for his blunder, and so he quickly took his life that he might join his Lord in the unseen world and fall at His feet begging for forgiveness. Judas was no devil, but only a blundering mistaken disciple whose plan just didn't work out right. This view has some appeal, but again, it just doesn't fit the facts of the record. So as we swing again toward the center we want to stop where the majority of Christian interpreters are, and look at the third answer which is-
III. THE REALISTIC ANSWER.
This view tries to take into account the whole picture that Scripture gives of Judas. It recognizes him to be a man and not a monster. If he was Satan incarnate then what he did has no lesson for us. But if he was a man then his experience teaches us a great deal. Judas must have been a man with great possibilities or Jesus would not have called him. Jesus did not call men haphazardly. They had to give up all to follow Him. Judas expected something for it, no doubt, as did the others. Peter said, "We have left all to follow you, now what are we going to get?" All of His disciples were normal men who wanted security. All of them argued about who was to have the highest place in the kingdom.
Judas was no different than the others. Whatever selfish desires he had were not even noticed, for they all began on a low level. It was not to Judas only that Jesus had to continuously say, "O ye of little faith." None of the others suspected Judas of being different. They had no idea what was going on even at the last supper. Someone has suggested that if Peter had known Judas was the betrayer he would cut off his head instead of the ear of Malchus. But all of them asked at the table if it was them, and none said that they suspected Judas. What was it that cause Judas to fall so tragically when all of them were sifted by Satan? A realistic answer must take into account more than we can adequately cover, but we can show several basic factors quickly.
First of all, he was the only one of the 12 from Judea. All of the others were from Galilee. This may have led to feelings of inferiority and envy, which he would have to battle along with all the other sins he would struggle with in following Jesus. Secondly, Judas may have given up more than the others. He was educated and the others recognized this, and they chose him to be treasure. The greater the responsibility, the greater the possibility of a fall. His position as treasure made him wide open to the temptation of greed, and Judas let Satan get a foothold in his life because of his love for money. The others would have this temptation. We cannot escape this fact, for the only words we hear from Judas before his betrayal is his complaint that the 300 pence worth of ointment that Mary poured on Jesus was just wasted, and should have been used for the poor. John tells us that he said this because he carried the bag and was a thief. He was no devil, but just a man who like many others was trying to serve 2 masters, and he became an embezzler. Paul said that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that was the root of the evil of Judas.
By the time of the last supper greed had so grasped his heart that Judas had chosen money rather than his master. When all the others said, "Lord is it I?" Judas said, "Rabbi is it I?" Judas never called Jesus Lord as far as we know. Jesus tried to win Judas from his love of money. He was granted every privilege just like the others. He preached, cast out demons, and was offered the friendship of Jesus at the table. In the East when you ate at the same table with another man you were committing yourself to that other person. This made the sin of Judas all the more hateful, but it was prophesied by the Psalmist, "He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me."
Many superstitions have grown out of this scene at the Last Supper. Thirteen at a table made thirteen an unlucky number. Leonardo Divincies picture of the Last Supper has the hand of Judas spilling the salt, and so you have the superstition about spilling the salt leading to bad luck. You also have the tradition of throwing some salt over your left shoulder, for that was the side on which the demon waited to come into the heart of Judas.
The fact is, Jesus brought Judas to a showdown. He knew he was taking money from the bag, and He knew His time was short, and so He forced Judas to make his choice. It was there at the table that Judas committed spiritual suicide and sold out to Satan for silver. Notice, Satan could not completely fill him until he had completely chosen to let him. Jesus cannot fill us until we choose Him completely. Man must surrender to either the Savior or to Satan. Judas went out and within hours performed the blackest act in history. He betrayed the Son of God with a kiss. Other factors were involved such as envy, ambition, fear of failure, but greed seems to be the dominating factor responsible for his act.
To be honest with Judas we need to recognize that he had no idea that Jesus would be crucified. When he saw that was the fate of Jesus he did despise what he had done. He didn't want it to go that far. Most acts of sin are only intended to get whatever good there is to be gained, but they fail to see the effects. It is the effects of sin that spoil it for the sinner. It goes to far until it even hurts them.
Did Judas repent? Yes, he felt sorry, and wished that he had not done it. Judas made his biggest mistake in that he went back to the priests, but did not go back to Christ. He was at the end of his rope, and his conscience burned like a hot iron, but he failed to turn to Christ. Betrayal was not an unforgivable sin. The cause of every suicide is when a person turns everywhere but to Christ who promises that any who come to Him will not be cast out. Judas made the major mistake of not believing in the marvelous mercy of his Master. There is no reason to believe that he could not have been forgiven just as Peter was forgiven after denying Christ three times.
Judas was no devil, but he was a fool, for he failed to take the only road there is to forgiveness of sin, and that is the road of repentance that takes us to the feet of Jesus. He was a normal man who had normal sinful tendencies, and who built his house on the sand of his own selfish desires and schemes. All of which could have been forgiven, but he did not come back to Christ seeking such forgiveness. His greatest folly was in not trusting Jesus in his despair. He did what he did because he tried to serve two masters. He put his selfish desires above the Lordship of Jesus, and this always leads to a fall. So the answer to the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is quite simple. He did it because he was a fool like all who make self the ultimate authority and put Jesus as second or lower. This is the sin of idolatry,that always leads to a fall, and to judgment.