Rehabilitate the Son of Perdition? Judas in Eight Scenes
Written by R. Fowler White |
Friday, April 14, 2023
Remorseful without repentance, Judas committed suicide (Matt 27:3-11). Having seen Jesus condemned to death, Judas was now filled with sorrow and regret—but not with repentance or faith. His response was not that of a changed heart, but of a pained heart. We see him confess his guilt to the Sanhedrin, but not to God or to His Son Jesus. And he then died by suicide. Here we shouldn’t forget the consequences of demonic indwelling: self-destructive behavior. For the love of money, Judas forfeited his soul, showing remorse but no repentance.
Among the many searing and disturbing parts of the accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death is the fact that He was betrayed, as we all know, by Judas Iscariot. The impact of that act is so significant that Judas has become the prime example of ‘the betrayer’ in Western culture. Judas not only has a role in virtually every retelling of the Passion of Jesus; he appears often as the proverbial symbol of the profit-driven betrayer in much of our literature and cinema. Yet, every now and then, we hear of efforts to look at Judas in a more sympathetic light, to rehabilitate him. ‘Really?’ you say. Yes, really. Is such a rehabilitation even possible? Taking the Bible seriously, the unfolding relationship between Judas and Jesus can be told from a series of NT scenes. Reflect then on eight scenes in which Judas appears by name.
Scene 1: Judas was appointed by Jesus (Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-15; Mark 3:13-19). The name Judas, taken from one of the sons of Jacob-Israel, was the Greek version of the name Judah. The modifier Iscariot most likely refers to his hometown, indicating that he was Ish-karioth, a ‘man of Karioth,’ a town in southern Judea. As a Judean, he lived closer to a center of education (Jerusalem) and was thus probably more educated and cultured than others among the Twelve (such as the fishermen). Still, like the other Eleven, Judas was chosen by Jesus after an all-night prayer session and was made ‘keeper of the common purse’ (treasurer) for Jesus and the Twelve. Indeed, Judas became one of the few to whom Jesus had spoken privately about the fact that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Judas, then, was one of the Twelve with whom Jesus had chosen to be most intimately associated. Still, we notice that the four Gospel writers all refer to Judas not just as one of the Twelve. No, they brand him the one who betrayed Him, the one who became a traitor, to underline the heinous nature of his sin and crime. We’re introduced to Judas, then, as one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus, but as the one who betrayed Him.
Scene 2: Judas secretly rejected Jesus (John 6:66-71). As we come to John 6, we’re two years into the earthly ministry of Jesus. Judas has just seen the sign of the feeding of the 5,000 and the sign of walking on the water. He has just heard the “I am the Bread of Life” sermon—which, we’re told, was not received well at all. In fact, the scene in John 6 is one of mass defection from Jesus after His mass popularity. Like many in the crowds, Judas stumbled when Jesus identified Himself as the true Bread of Life from heaven. Hearing that sermon, Judas grumbled as one who did not believe Him (6:61, 64). The surprise here is not only that Judas secretly disbelieved, for many disbelieved. The surprise is that Jesus knew from the beginning that, though he was one of His own choosing, Judas was a devil, a slanderer, who did not believe Him and was intending to betray Him (John 6:70-71).
Scene 3: Judas expressed public contempt for Mary of Bethany, who anointed Jesus for burial (John 12:1-8). By the time we reach this scene in John’s Gospel, we know that Judas has witnessed many signs that authenticated Jesus’ identity, including all seven signs that culminated in the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. Back again in Bethany, while Jesus and the Twelve were having supper with Mary and Martha and also with resurrected Lazarus, Mary’s act of devotion got everybody’s attention. Matthew and Mark show us that, in that critical moment, all the Twelve expressed contempt for her action. John, though, singles out Judas for protesting Mary’s act as if she were effectively stealing from the poor to benefit Jesus. Yet his complaint, John tells us, was just a pretentious cover for his pilfering from the common purse of Jesus and the Twelve.