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Judas Iscariot is what you could call a scapegoat. He’s the guy that Jesus’ disciples love to hate because as long as they’re making a huge issue out of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, they can try to draw attention off of the fact that they all betrayed Jesus in one way or another. In life today, we do the same thing. Often the people who we complain about the most are people who we actually have a lot in common with—people who make us uncomfortable by acting like a mirror in which we can see our own shortcomings. How can any of the disciples really look back on their time with Jesus and feel pleased with the way they treated Him? It’s humiliating to think of one’s own failings, so we try to avoid doing this. Anytime humans group up, a social pecking order is established. And when the group undergoes a very stressful experience, it’s common for the group members to choose one fall guy who they can all gang up on. Judas is that fall guy for the twelve disciples, and the Gospel writers waste no time in trying to bias their readers against him. Notice how Matthew makes sure to slam Judas from the very beginning when he first lists off the names of Jesus’ twelve disciples:
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. (Matt. 10:2-4)
Well, talk about a nasty introduction. Why is Judas the only fellow to get bagged on? Notice how Matthew is boasting of his sordid career as a tax collector—no doubt he thinks he’s being humble by pointing out that he used to work as a hated crook in Jewish society. Among believers, it’s always been popular to boast of one’s great transformation. But with Judas, Matthew is being intentionally insulting. Why not say “Peter, the guy who denied Jesus three times,” or “James and John—the two guys who tried to secure the places of highest honor in eternity”? Why not say “Thomas, the guy who doubted Jesus was real even after He resurrected”?
Judas was not just a traitor. Judas did some things right. But the Gospel writer John shows a similar bias as Matthew. We know John has a very lofty opinion of himself after reading 1 John and noting how he refers to himself and only himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved” all throughout his Gospel book. But when it comes to bagging on Judas, John rushes in with the condemning comments. Even though multiple disciples protested over Lazarus’ sister Mary pouring expensive perfume all over Jesus, John takes the opportunity to bash on Judas by saying:
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.” (Jn. 12:4-5)
Why bring up Judas’ future betrayal at this point? What does it have to do with Judas balking over wasted perfume? Nothing. John just wants to rip on Judas because Judas is the guy everyone loves to hate. And even as he labels Judas as a traitor before Judas has even committed the crime, John also takes the opportunity to call him out as a thief.
Judas 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. (Jn. 12:6)
This is John’s view of Judas, and John clearly hates Judas, so we can hardly trust John’s interpretation of Judas’ motives. There’s an important lesson here for all of us: as much as we love to knife each other, the reality is that none of us are in a position to throw stones at anyone else. We have all treated God abominably at times. We’ve all turned our backs on Him, insulted Him, denied Him, and done a host of other sordid sins that we’d rather not think about. Okay, so Judas really tanked in the end. But is it really right to remember a man only by his greatest failing? Are we really to believe that Judas never did anything right and that he had no admirable qualities? Certainly not. Judas was a human, and every human is a mixed bag. No one is evil personified and no one is only good. So when you hear Christians gushing over some leader in the Church as being some “perfect man of God”, realize that you’re listening to idolatrous fools. No one is perfect, and every “man of God” is guilty of treating God like dirt. No matter how nasty Judas’ motivations were for betraying Jesus, it is not right the way the Gospel writers try to define him by that one action. By giving such a biased, merciless account of Judas, the Gospel writers only show the limits of their own spiritual maturity and what a poor understanding they have of what pleases God. Mercy and compassion please God, not spiteful accusations, shaming labels, and a denial of one’s own failings. God does not define us by our sins. When He looks around this world, He doesn’t see murderers, terrorists, perverts, and abusers. He sees souls who He dearly loves. If we’re going to be treating others in a way that honors God, we need to learn to look past the actions and see the potential beauty that God has put into every soul.
So why did Judas betray Jesus? Well, since we never hear from Judas himself and only from those who hate him, the best we can do is theorize. One thing is very clear: Jesus had a lot to do with inspiring Judas to betray Him. Does that sound obnoxious? Well, let’s consider the facts.
Centuries before Jesus showed up on earth, Yahweh gave many prophecies to the Jews about a future Messiah who He would bring. Yahweh intentionally led the Jews to expect something that He had no intention of giving them. He said that the coming Messiah would be a powerful human ruler who would sit on a throne in Jerusalem and make all the nations come bow at his feet. Yahweh clearly taught that the coming Messiah would pull the political nation of Israel out of her misery and set her up as the number one world power. The Messiah would be a genetic descendant of David, meaning that he would have a Divine right to the throne, since Yahweh promised David that his dynasty would never end. The point is this: by the time Yahweh was done intentionally deceiving everyone, there was no room in Jewish minds for the great Messiah to be some brief flash in the pan who went around showcasing His miraculous powers and Divine hookups only to then turn all masochistic and lay down in the dirt in front of His enemies until they’d succeeded in torturing Him to death. Yahweh’s great Messiah is not supposed to be some suicidal doormat. He’s supposed to be an evil stomping, nation ruling, mighty Man of valor. He’s supposed to be justice and righteousness personified. He’s supposed to bring peace to the world and make everyone suck up to Israel as God’s gift to the planet.
For three years now, Judas has been following Jesus. He’s been sleeping in the dirt, enduring the mockery of others, wandering around like a homeless bum, and ruining his future chances to make something of himself in society all because he really thinks Jesus is the One. He thinks this scruffy Son of a carpenter from the dumpy town of Nazareth is actually the great Messiah, and Judas has decided to risk everything to earn a secure place in Jesus’ incrowd. This is how it is for all twelve of the disciples: they aren’t following Jesus because they get that He’s God Almighty. They’re following Him around, putting up with His mood swings, and letting Him ruin their reputations because they think He’s the actual Messiah, and the Messiah will turn out to be unstoppable. The Messiah will rule the world. The Messiah will be the number one Man in all of Israel, so it worth getting kicked around for a few years to end up on top of the heap? Of course it is.
It’s been a tough three years, but when Jesus pulled that stunt with a donkey’s colt back in Lesson 61, suddenly the disciples could see their great reward glittering right in front of them. Here it comes: endless glory, fame, and wealth. Any minute now Jesus is going to do something super shocking and declare Himself to be the new King of Israel. He’s obviously not afraid of any of the Jewish rulers—just look at how He’s openly mocking the Sadducees right on their own turf inside the Temple. Look at how He’s reaming out the Pharisees in front of huge crowds of people. Everyone can see the fury in the eyes of the Jewish leadership, but no one is daring to lay a hand on Jesus. The Temple guards are keeping their distance. Even the high priest is clearly intimidated. It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that this would be the perfect moment for Jesus to seize control. He’s won over the general public—just look at how they all went wild for Him during His triumphal entry. This is the moment. Hello, Jesus—this is the moment! Do something already! Stop with these constant speeches and be a Man of action! An opportunity like this won’t come every day. Jesus has to act now, while everyone’s in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Hello…! What on earth is Jesus waiting for?
Suppose you were dying for a drink of water and someone held out a glass to you only to keep moving it just out of your reach every time you tried to take it. Is that a fun game? No, it’s annoying and stressful. By now all of Jesus’ disciples had to be annoyed and stressed. Jesus is stalling for no reason. He’s obviously been applying a preconceived strategy by staging that grand entrance of His, but now its days later and He still isn’t making His move. How long will the fervor of the crowds last? If Jesus doesn’t act before Passover, then everyone will start to travel back home again and a glorious opportunity will be lost. Is Jesus getting cold feet? What is His problem? And why does He keep talking about being crucified?
Suppose you slave night and day at a company because you’ve been promised that in three years, you’ll be promoted as the right hand man of the president. This promotion will mean you go from being just above poverty level to super rich. It will mean you go from having no friends to having everyone begging to be your friend. It will mean a fancy car and a huge house and everything you ever wanted. It’s the dream of all that glory, prestige, and power that keeps you going as you drive yourself into the ground doing everything your boss tells you to do. But then when the day finally comes that you think he’s going to give you that huge promotion, he keeps putting you off. He keeps changing the subject whenever you try to bring it up. And then one horrible day, he actually says, “You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve decided to sell this company to our competitors and quit. We’ve had a good run, but I’m ready to retire.” How would you feel? “Cheated” doesn’t even begin to say it. You’d be outraged. You’d be so angry at the way this guy has been misleading you for years, knowing that you were counting on certain things. Then you’d try to find some way to force him to hold up his end of the deal. This is likely the position Judas is in with Jesus.
For years, Jesus has known full well that His disciples are expecting great things from Him. He knows that they’re only sticking with Him because they think He’s going to take them with Him to the top. He can see them blowing off His warnings about dying because they just can’t accept that He’s serious. Well, now here they are in Jerusalem. Tensions with the Jewish leadership are at an all-time high. The general public is backing Jesus like never before. And if Jesus really cared about not misleading His disciples, why on earth did He pull that stunt with the donkey? He knew that they would all hark back to that prophecy about Israel’s new king riding in on a colt. Let’s refresh our own memories about that prophecy from Zechariah:
“Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.
I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.” (Zech. 9:9-10)
King appears on donkey. Israel is set free from oppression. The new King conquers the world and brings peace to all. It’s right there in Scriptures. It’s so clearly spelled out, and even though Jesus could have left it alone, He intentionally turned everyone’s mind onto this prophecy at this time, knowing full well that it would convince them all that He was about to make His move. And then He keeps showing up in Jerusalem day after day, intentionally not saying what everyone is dying to hear. Why are the people getting up at the crack of dawn each day to rush over to the Temple and hear Jesus speak? Because they are oh so eager to grow spiritually? Not hardly. Jesus is supposed to make His move. Any day now, He’ll do something super dramatic. But the days are passing one by one and everyone’s getting more and more confused. Then one day Judas finds himself sitting on the Mount of Olives no doubt feeling extremely frustrated when Peter, Andrew, James and John come over with the news that Jesus has just been bending their ears about Jerusalem getting flattened, the Temple being crushed, and the Romans mowing down the Jews. Jesus says Israel’s about to get the mother of all beatings. He says it will be so bad that if God doesn’t cut the tribulation short, none of His followers will survive it. In other words, Jesus is refusing to do what He’s supposed to do as Yahweh’s Messiah. He’s going to be a miserable copout instead. He’s determined to go get Himself crucified and then He says one day He’ll come back in the clouds. Meanwhile, here’s what His faithful disciples have to look forward to: arrest, torture, and execution.
Can you imagine how Judas and any of the other twelve disciples would have felt after the Olivet Discourse? It’s two days before the Passover and Jesus drops this bomb on them that He has no intention of doing any of the things He has been alluding that He’d do by riding in on that stupid colt. We like to call Judas a traitor, but seriously: who is betraying who here? Isn’t it true that Yahweh and Jesus have intentionally set these Jews up for the mother of all disappointments? Yes, the disciples have had the wrong priorities this whole time. Yes, they should have been paying more attention to what Jesus was saying. But Jesus has certainly done His share of manipulating, and that needs to be faced. Judas’ betrayal was not at all a random event. It was the way he responded to epic disappointment and bitter disillusionment. There’s no way that the disciples aren’t feeling totally shafted by Jesus after they heard His Olivet Discourse. There’s no way they aren’t feeling like He is betraying them. What do humans do when they feel like they’ve just been knifed? They grab a blade and try to return the favor.
We can’t miss the importance of timing here: it’s right after the Olivet Discourse that we find Judas slipping off on his own and seeking out the chief priests. Jesus has just spat all over Judas’ dreams. He’s basically just said, “In return for all of your loyalty to Me for the last three years, I’m going to ditch you and let your life be ruined because you were associated with Me. I don’t care about all you’ve sacrificed for My sake. To heck with you. I’ve got My own problems.” This is how Judas could easily have interpreted Jesus’ shocking announcement that the Jews were about to get mowed down by their enemies. At this point, Judas had to be in a state of extreme emotional and spiritual upset. Everything he’s waited so long for has been ripped away from him by a Guy who doesn’t even seem to care about how crushed Judas feels. Jesus is such an abrasive Personality. He’s not Mr. Sympathy. So Judas decides to betray Jesus.
At this time, striking up a deal with the chief priests seems like a win-win situation. Maybe when Jesus actually finds Himself under arrest He’ll get out of His suicidal funk and do something. But if He doesn’t, then Judas will have done something to try and save his own neck. If Jesus really is planning to die, where will that leave the disciples? Jesus has already said where: they’ll be brutally persecuted for being Jesus’ friends. Well, forget that. Why should Judas suffer for the Jerk who just kicked him to the side of the road? To view Judas’ actions in a fair light, we have to appreciate what his mental state was at this time. This man is devastated, and when we’re hurting, we often turn that pain into anger.
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 Jesus over. (Matt. 26:14-16)
Mark and Luke both say the priests were pleased by Judas’ offer. Luke says that Satan entered Judas just before this meeting. Well, Luke is probably being dramatic. When we take an honest look at the timing of this event, Judas’ actions make a lot of sense. The way the Gospel writers act so horrified by Judas’ actions is more than a little hypocritical. All of the twelve would have been feeling enormously upset after the Olivet Discourse. Judas was just quicker to act on his feelings—it doesn’t mean he was the only one trying to think of a way to save his own neck. Jesus has just prophesied that His disciples are going to have horrible things happen to them in the very near future. It’s only natural that we humans try to look for some way to escape pending doom. For all we know, several of the other disciples were secretly thinking of doing something like Judas did, only they never had the courage or opportunity. The way Luke tries to paint Judas’ actions as those of a possessed man is like saying that demonic possession was the only way to explain such an incredibly evil act. What baloney. We humans are quite capable of doing very nasty things to each other without being physically possessed.
We should take a moment to appreciate the apparent safety of Judas’ plan. It’s not like he turns Jesus over that very day. He gives Jesus a couple more days to make His move. If Jesus does finally rise up as the King that He’s supposed to be, then no one ever has to know about Judas’ little plan. But if Jesus doesn’t act, then maybe Judas can spur Him into action by having Him arrested. And if that doesn’t work and Jesus dies, then Judas will have done something to try and save his own neck in the future. It seems like a fail safe strategy. From Judas’ perspective, Jesus is the One who betrayed him and the rest of the disciples first, so it’s not like he’s feeling the strong bonds of loyalty at this moment. Plus, he hasn’t actually done anything to harm Jesus yet. He’s still waiting. But after the Olivet Discourse, how bitter it would be to even be in Jesus’ Presence. You couldn’t even look at Him without thinking, “Really?? You’re just going to ditch us and throw Israel to Rome? What kind of Messiah are You?!”
THE LAST SUPPER
Of course Jesus doesn’t have a house in the area, so when Passover day arrives, there’s that common question of “Where should we go?” Jesus does one of His prophetic stunts by telling Peter and John that some guy carrying a pitch of water will lead them to a house where they can eat their Passover meal. It works of course. It always works, because Jesus obviously has Divine hookups. Too bad He’s refusing to use them to save Israel.
Now it’s right after Jesus has thrown this bitter wedge between Him and His disciples that He suddenly starts getting all warm and tender towards them.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 22:14-16)
So even though Jesus has the power to save the world, He is just determined to go through with His suicidal plans. The disciples don’t get it. We wouldn’t have gotten it either. This is one of those meals where everyone comes to the table with rocks in their guts. Jesus has been their life for three years and now all He can talk about is how He’s about to ditch them.
Now Jesus isn’t usually One to do things for His disciples. He’s the Guy who kicks back in the boat while they do all the rowing. He’s the Guy who rests by the well while they go do the shopping. So it’s more than a little surprising when Jesus suddenly fills a basin with water and starts washing His disciples’ feet. Since this is a sockless culture, foot washing was a common nicety that hosts offered to their dusty guests, but it was household servants who did the washing, not the masters. Peter is uncomfortable with his Mentor lowering Himself this way so he tries to protest when it’s his turn to get washed.
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “wash not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean. (Jn. 13:7-11)
Notice that John assumes Jesus is dropping a subtle reference to Judas here. But is that really what Jesus meant? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Based on the rest of his writings, John isn’t going to win any prizes for spiritual discernment, so we have to be cautious about just believing these personal interpretations that the Gospel writers slip in. It’s quite possible that Jesus had reason to be very displeased with several of His disciples at this time. It’s not like they’re grasping who He really is, and even after He comes back to life and is standing in front of them giving the Great Commission, we’ll be told that some will still be doubting Him. But either way, Jesus is certainly going to start dropping a lot of sharp comments that are specifically aimed at Judas as this evening progresses. Jesus wants to make a particular point of telling Judas that there’s no way he can get away with keeping secrets from Yahweh’s Messiah.
When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn. 13:12-20)
It’s important to note that the titles of Teacher and Lord (Rabbi and Adonai) were very common titles in this society. When the disciples referred to Jesus as their Lord, it was like calling Him their Boss—it had nothing to do with thinking He was Divine. Sarah called Abraham Adonai. In the New Testament, Pharisees and scribes who taught about Scriptures would have been called Rabbi, so these titles didn’t convey the extra reverence that English speakers often project onto them today.
So what’s the point of this foot washing exercise? Well, Jesus’ disciples have a major problem with arrogance. They’ve been lusting after power and glory for quite some time now, and expecting Jesus to be their ticket to high society. Now that He’s leaving them, He is emphasizing the importance of humility. It’s time to let go of this notion that hanging out with the Messiah was a way to climb the social ladder in Israel. It’s time to stop viewing their association with Jesus as giving them some kind of special rank. No doubt the disciples are receiving a lot of extra positive attention from other Jews right now because at this time the fickle public is very interested in sucking up to Jesus. Jesus is telling His boys that when He’s gone, He doesn’t want them strutting around acting like they are better than everyone else. They need to make humility a goal. Well, that’s not very fun, is it? We know that the apostle John definitely blows off this little lecture because the man’s later writings reek of arrogance. But Jesus is trying to set them in the right direction here, and He’s not saying anything new. Yahweh has always taught that He wants humble followers.
“I’m not speaking about all of you; I know those I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats my bread has raised his heel against me. [Ps. 41:9]
I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I assure you: Whoever receives anyone I send receives Me, and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (Jn. 13:18-20)
It’s quite interesting that Jesus quotes Psalm 41 here because Psalm 41 has nothing to do with the Messiah. If you think it does, you need to read it for yourself and ask if the following verse is really applicable to Jesus:
I said, “Have mercy on me, Yahweh; heal me, for I have sinned against You.” (Ps. 41:4)
So we’re supposed to believe that Jesus is really begging Yahweh to forgive His sins? Not hardly. But this wouldn’t be the first time that Jesus attached a non-Messianic psalm to Himself. Why does He do this? Because like Christians today, the New Testament Jewish preachers were very good at finding references to the Messiah where none existed. Misapplications of the Old Testament abounded in these times, and we find the New Testament writers continuing that fine tradition by yanking one liners out of the Old Testament and trying to grossly change their original meaning. The Gospel writer Matthew and the author of Hebrews are particularly guilty of doing this. As we learned in our last lesson, God often compromises truth in order to accommodate the false beliefs of His audience. Today we sell Bible promise books which are nothing more than compilations of nice sounding phrases that God said to other people. After isolating the few words that we like and chopping off all context, we then claim those statements as God’s promises to modern day believers. It’s a ridiculous game that we play, but it’s a game that’s been around for centuries. The Jews in Jesus’ day played it as well, and here Jesus is making them feel like they’re witnessing some prophetic moment by suggesting that Judas’ betrayal was specifically foretold in the Old Testament. It actually wasn’t, but it’s not like anyone’s going to look up context. By dropping this comment about Scripture being fulfilled, Jesus is trying to help His boys grasp that the events of this evening are super important. To a good Jew, there was nothing unusual about celebrating the Passover meal. But Jesus knows this Passover is different, so He’s using all kinds of tactics to get His disciples to pay extra close attention.
Now that the awkward foot washing is over, it’s time to eat. But who can enjoy the meal when Jesus suddenly announces that someone in the group is a traitor?
While they were eating, He said, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me.”
Deeply distressed, each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matt. 26:21-22)
What’s Judas doing all this time? Sitting very near to Jesus at the table, and he isn’t about to fess up to his shady dealings with the chief priests. So as he dips his piece of bread into the sauce bowl, he’s playing it cool, but then Jesus suddenly says:
“The one who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl—he will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matt. 26:23-24)
Judas is sitting inches away from Jesus, yet Jesus is talking about him in the third person. That’s weird. And everyone can see that Judas’ hand is in the sauce bowl. Super awkward moment. What do we humans do when we’re caught red handed? We feign ignorance and surprise by saying, “Who, me?”
Then Judas, His betrayer, replied, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
And Jesus told him, “You have said it.” (Matt. 26:25)
Now whenever there are multiple witnesses describing the same event, there are often inconsistencies. John says that Jesus actually dipped a piece of bread into the sauce and handed it to Judas as a sign that Judas was the rat. Either way, this is turning out to be a seriously uncomfortable evening. The Passover was usually a happy time of festivity. But this is like trying to celebrate Christmas when the whole family is depressed about the recent death of Uncle Bob.
When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. So Judas left at once, going out into the night. (Jn. 13:27-30)
At this point, we have to wonder what mental fog bank has settled over the disciples for them not to be a little more reactive about Jesus’ comment that Judas was a traitor. But then again, Jesus is famous for dropping upsetting one liners, and then biting the head off of anyone who asks for clarification. So maybe this is a case of “We’d rather not know what He meant.” Either way, John tells us everyone figured Judas was being sent on one of his usual errands as group treasurer. John was there at the time, so this was probably what he assumed. Now that he can look back at the event years later and know where Judas was heading, he decides that Satan must have jumped into the man the very moment he’d eaten the bread. Apparently John agrees with Luke that Judas couldn’t possibly decide to betray Jesus unless he was possessed by the devil himself. This still sounds a bit ridiculous.
THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE
Now so far we’ve been intentionally casting the sympathy on Judas’ side to show how easily he could have justified his actions in his own mind. We want you to see how a man doesn’t have to be evil incarnate to hand Jesus over for some cash—especially when that man doesn’t even view Jesus as God, but rather as a bitter disappointment. In life we humans are far too quick to distance ourselves from those who do heinous crimes, acting like such people must be some breed of subhuman monsters. But the truth is that it’s very easy to talk ourselves into doing terrible things to each other. It’s very easy to justify any sin if we look at it from a certain point of view. We’ve shown how easily Judas could have whitewashed himself in his own mind. But now let’s talk about Jesus’ point of view.
The way Jesus speaks to Judas during the Passover meal is more than a little hostile. Jesus clearly disapproves of Judas’ motivations, and even though He’s clear that Judas isn’t upsetting the Divine plan, He still says that Judas is inciting God’s wrath against himself.
“For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Matt. 26:24)
Being God and a Co-Creator of human beings, Jesus certainly understands Judas’ point of view. But He also says Judas’ betrayal of Him is inexcusable. Why is this? Well, Judas’ perspective isn’t the only perspective there is.
Yes, it’s true that Yahweh set the Jews up to expect something He wasn’t going to give them: the exaltation of Israel as a world power. But here’s the thing about God: He gets to change His mind whenever He darn well feels like it. The problem with the hissyfit Judas is having about Jesus failing to meet his expectations for a Messiah is that Judas is demanding that Jesus conform to Judas’ plans. Yahweh said a lot of things about His coming Messiah. He said He would rule, but He also said He’d die as an atonement sacrifice. Put these two ideas together and you get a contradictory mess, so it’s not hard to understand why the Jews hung onto the glorious King part and ignored the part about some silent Guy who submissively dies for the sake of a bunch of sinners. We humans are very shortsighted and our priorities leave much to be desired. We act like a cushy life on this earth is of utmost importance and then we get all attitudinal when God urges us to set our sights on higher things.
For years now, Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to change their spiritual priorities. He’s been giving them a plethora of warnings that their current theological framework is majorly flawed. He’s been giving them oodles of insights into how Yahweh’s new system is going to work. But is anyone listening? Not really. The disciples listen with half an ear, then they go back to eagerly waiting for the next show of miracles or for Jesus to have some verbal showdown with the Pharisees. Even now, just minutes after the whole “you need to be humble” foot washing exercise, what are the disciples talking about? They’re arguing about which one of them is going to be the greatest. It’s like everything Jesus says to these guys is so much wind.
Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” (Lk. 22:24-26)
Missing a message once or twice is one thing, but these guys are stubbornly blocking out the very basics of relating to God. Yahweh has always taught that He hates arrogance and that He is pleased by reverential humility. This isn’t just a New Covenant principle, it’s a principle that is woven throughout Scripture. Why are these disciples acting like such spiritual dingdongs? Because they’re not seriously pursuing God in their hearts, they’re just coasting along and doing the minimum to keep on the good side of His miracle Guy. There’s too much usury going on and not enough submission. Everyone’s asking “When is Yahweh going to bless Israel?” instead of asking, “How can Israel bless Yahweh?” We do the same today, don’t we? Plenty of American Christians are so used to asking God to bless a nation that hates Him that they don’t even hear how disrespectful they’re being. They don’t hear it because they don’t want to hear it. No one really cares about God’s feelings—they’re just interested in what He can do for them. If someone points this out, do we even want to change? Not usually.
Is it a bitter herb to realize that Yahweh’s Messiah isn’t going to be everything that the Jews had hoped? Sure. But if people would halt the pity party long enough to actually listen to what Jesus is saying, they’d find out that Yahweh actually has a much better blessing in mind. This is often how it is with God: He withholds something we really want in order to give us something that is ten times better. But we get so caught up griping about what He’s withholding that we never end up experiencing the better thing.
God isn’t a doormat. He isn’t going to reward rebellion. He demands submission, He doesn’t beg for it. So when Judas decides to chuck his relationship with Jesus the minute Jesus turns out to be an epic disappointment, he’s being more than a little insulting to Yahweh by saying, “If You’re not going to do things my way, I want nothing to do with You.” After all, Jesus claims to be Yahweh’s Messiah. His Divine backing has been proven over and over again. So even though Judas is disappointed, he should be afraid to go against God’s Chosen One. Instead, he should be asking God to help him get over himself and return to a place of reverential submission.
Jesus isn’t upset with Judas because Judas is so bitterly disappointed. Jesus is mad at Judas because Judas is using Jesus’ actions as an excuse to defy God. Where does Judas get off thinking he can get away with snuffing out Yahweh’s Messiah? What does it say about Judas’ respect for Yahweh that he should try to make a buck off of the Messiah’s downfall? Remember that Judas has been listening to Jesus tell off Jewish leaders for years. He gets that the preachers of this time are in big trouble with Yahweh. But does he have any fear of Yahweh’s wrath? No. He brazenly goes off and strikes up a deal with men who hate God while at the same time trying to expedite the death of a Messiah who he has been personally disappointed by. Somehow “defiance” just doesn’t say it. Judas is going to war with both Yahweh and Jesus, and Jesus warns him that he’s in for a very nasty surprise. God always gets the last laugh.
Jesus is fielding a whole spectrum of attitudes on this night. First unrepentant Judas slips out the door to betray Him, refusing to be the least bit intimidated by Jesus’ warnings. Then the disciples start bickering about glory–again. But then there’s good old Peter, piping up with more of his earnest zeal. Peter is a little sweetheart who keeps trying to find ways to emphasize his loyalty to Jesus, even in the face of all of this distress. Peter is being the polar opposite of punk Judas. First, during the foot washing exercise, Peter was anxious about treating Jesus with disrespect. Then once he realized that the washing thing was important to Jesus, he wanted a full body dunk. Now after all of this talk about treachery, Peter is piping up to assure Jesus that he can be counted on. Dear Peter. And as Jesus listens to him swearing that he would lay down his life for Jesus right then and there, Jesus knows that Peter is overestimating his own ability to stand up to social pressures. But Peter’s heart is most certainly in the right place, and even though he’s got a major trial ahead of him, Jesus is going to make sure that Peter gets through it alright.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 66: The Last Supper
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