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The Search for the Twelve Apostles

Judas Iscariot


by McBirnie, Ph.D.

JUDAS Iscariot

     ON the night in which He was betrayed by Judas, Jesus
offered a prayer which is recorded in John's gospel:

"Those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost,
but the son of perdition;" (John 17:12). Of all the characters
who march across the stage of Bible history there is none so
tragic nor so despicable as that of Judas Iscariot. A poet
described him as:

"The base Judean who flung a pearl away Richer than all his

     There is something horrible about the way he betrayed Christ
with a kiss. One preacher has described it as:

"The hiss of a kiss."

     Not the least of all the darksome aspects of his life is the
way he died. There is a mystery of horror about this character
which makes him typical of all the dastardly traitors of all the
ages. Even Jesus said of him:

"It would have been good had he never been born." 

     Thomas De Quincey, in his essay on Judas Iscariot, has tried
to picture Judas as merely a miscarried patriot. He describes him
as one who actually loved Jesus and only hung himself because his
scheme for forcing Jesus into political leadership against Rome
misfired, and Jesus Himself was accidentally put to death. The
only trouble with this and other recent attempts to white-wash
the character of Judas is that Jesus Himself rejected his
interpretation before Judas even betrayed Him. Jesus said,
"Have I not chosen you twelve, and yet one of you is a devil'
(John 6:70).

And again:

"The Son of Man goeth as it is written of Him; but woe unto that
man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It had been good for that
man if he had not been born" (Matt.28:24).

     The name Judas Iscariot is a corruption of Judas of Kerioth.
Kerioth was a small town some few miles south of Hebron. Judas
was the only one of the Apostles who was not a Galilean, but a
Judean. His father's name was Simon (John 13:2).
     Today the name of Judas is a synonym of scorn and loathing.
No mother ever names her child Judas. Yet when Judas bore the
name, it was an honorable one. One of the greatest patriots of
the Jewish nation was Judas Maccabeus. One of the brothers of
Jesus Christ was named Judas, though we call him today "Jude,"
which is a shortened form of the name Judas. Indeed, the name
Judas is merely a form of Judah. Judas, then, was named for his
tribe, the Tribe of Judah.
     We think of Judas as being the arch-traitor. Even today a
goat used to lure sheep to their destruction in the slaughter
house is known as a "Judas goat." A plant which grows in the East
which looks attractive but which is bitter to taste is called the
"Judas tree." Yet, the Disciples did not originally think of him
in this light. They were perfectly willing to trust him because
apparently he seemed trustworthy. They freely elected him
treasurer of their band. Not only this but they were astounded
when the revelation of his treachery was made.
     When Jesus affirmed that someone would betray Him, the
Disciples began to ask, "Is it I?" Not, "Is it Judas?"

     Judas probably became a disciple of Christ when Jesus took
one of His preaching tours through Judea. At least it is probable
that he first met Jesus at this time, though his call to become a
disciple may have been received at the Sea of Tiberius, as is
recorded in Matthew 4:18-24.
     From the time of his call to be a disciple until the Passion
Week, we have no specific references to Judas which describe any
activities of himself alone. John's gospel records a few things,
mostly in retrospect to show that the character of Judas was
black from the beginning. (It was almost a year before His
crucifixion when Jesus said that Judas was a devil. However long
Judas may have deceived the Apostles, he did not, of course,
deceive Jesus.
     About the time of the Passion Week we begin to read more of
his sinister character. At the anointing of Jesus by Mary, Judas

"Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings and
given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor;
but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was
put therein" (John 12:5,8).

Jesus also mentioned Judas' coming defection when He said:

"He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me"
(John 13:18).

     This is a quotation from the Old Testament referring to a
reference in the Book of Psalms. It seemed by these veiled
references that Jesus was giving Judas as much opportunity as he
could to repent, as if to inform him that He knew all along that
Judas was going to betray Him, but still was announcing that the
door of mercy was open.

     There are many difficulties to reconcile in the life of

     First of all we must seek the answer to "why did Judas
become a disciple?" Some have said that he intended to betray
Jesus all along because he saw in Jesus a threat to the Jewish
nation. Others suggest that he was sincere for a while, but then
saw that Jesus was not going to fulfill His destiny as a
political deliverer and therefore sought to get out, currying
favor with the priests, as well as earning what pitiful funds he
could as the price of his betrayal. Some have even suggested that
Judas was ordained by God to be a traitor because of the
prophetic references in the Old Testament. This, however, must be
rejected, for surely God condemns no one in advance to be
anything, for every man is free to be what he will.

     Perhaps the most significant thing that can be said of Judas
was that in feeling sorrow for his crime of betrayal, he did not
seek to atone for his sin to the One whom he had wronged, but
went to his accomplices in crime, the priests, and there sought
to set himself aright. And because those whom he had served in
his selfishness failed him at the end, he went out and hanged
     The life of Judas is one of unrelieved tragedy. In fact,
there is no more tragic spirit in all the world's history. Judas
is the greatest failure the world has ever known. His life is a
lesson which points vividly to the pitfalls of out spiritual
     An excellent summary of the last days of Judas is given in

"After the betrayal, Mark, Luke and John are silent as regards
Judas, and the accounts given in Matthew and Acts of his remorse
and death vary in detail. According to Matthew, the actual
condemnation of Jesus awakened Judas' sense of guilt, and
becoming still more despondent at his repulse by the chief
priests and elders, 'he cast down the pieces of silver into the
sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.'
With the money the chief priests purchased the potter's field,
afterward called 'the field of blood, and in this way was
fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah (11:12-14) ascribed by
Matthew to Jeremiah (Matt.27:2-10). The account given in Acts
1:18-20 is much shorter. It mentions neither Judas' repentance
nor the chief priests, but simply states that Judas "obtained a
field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, be
burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (verse
18). The author of Acts finds in this the fulfillment of the
prophecy in Ps.89:25. The Vulgate rendering, "When he had hanged
himself, he burst asunder," suggests a means of reconciling the
two accounts.
     According to a legendary account mentioned by Papias, the
death of Judas was due to elephantiasis (cf Hennecke,
Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 5). A so-called 'Gospel of Judas'
was in use among the gnostic sect of the Cainites.

     It is significant that Judas alone among the disciples was
of southern extraction; and the differences in temperament and
social outlook, together with the petty prejudices to which these
generally give rise, may explain in part though they do not
justify, his after treachery - the lack of inner sympathy which
existed between Judas and the rest of the Apostles. He
undoubtedly possessed a certain business ability, and was
therefore appointed keeper of the purse. But his heart could not
have been clean, even from the first, as be administered even his
primary charge dishonestly. The cancer of this greed spread from
the material to the spiritual. To none of the disciples did the
fading of the dream of an earthly kingdom of pomp and glory bring
greater disappointment than to Judas. The cords of love by which
Jesus gradually drew the hearts of the other disciples to
Himself, the teaching by which He uplifted their souls above all
earthly things, were as chafing bonds to the selfishness of
Judas. And from his fettered greed and disappointed ambition
sprang jealousy and spite and hatred. It was the hatred, not of a
strong, but of an essentially weak man. Instead of making an open
breach with his Lord, he remained ostensibly one of His
followers: and this continued contact with a goodness to which he
would not yield (cf Swete on Mark 14:10), and his brooding over
the rebukes of his Master, gave ready entrance for 'Satan into
his soul.' But if he 'knew the good and did not do it' (cf John
13:17), so also he was weak in the carrying out of his nefarious
designs. It was this hesitancy, rather than a fiendish cunning,
which induced him to remain till the last moment in the upper
room, and which prompted the remark of, Jesus "What thou doest,
do quickly" (John 13:27). Of a piece with this weakmindedness was
his attempt to cast the blame upon the chief priests and elders
(cf Matt.27:3,4). He sought to set himself right, not with the
innocent Jesus whom he had betrayed, but with the accomplices in
his crime; and because that world which his selfishness had made
his god failed him at the last, he went and hanged himself. It
was the tragic end of one who espoused a great cause in the
spirit of speculation and selfish ambition, and who weighed not
the dread consequences to which those impure motives might lead
him (cf also Bruce, "Training of the Twelve;" Lathan, "Pastor
Pastorum;" Stalker, "Trial and Death of Jesus Christ"). C.M.
Kerr" (ISBE, Volume III, p 1765-66).

     There is little material about Judas in any of the common
aprocyphal sources. In a work, "The Arabic Gospel of the
Infancy," it relates that Judas was demon-possessed even when he
was a child. Men all through history have sought to psychoanalyze
the mind of Judas. J.G.Tasked in, "The Dictionary of Christ and
the Gospel" quotes two verdicts on Judas. Lavater said of Judas,
"Judas acted like Satan, but like a satan who had it in him to be
an apostle." Pressense said of Judas, "No man could be more akin
to a devil than a perverted apostle."

     A current guidebook on Jerusalem states: 

"Haceldama (Field of Blood) is a name given to the so called
'potter's field' that was bought with the 30 pieces of silver
that Judas had earned for betraying Jesus. Judas, repenting of
his deed, flung the money at the feet of the priests who were
unwilling to accept it because it was 'blood money.' After Judas
had killed himself the money was used to buy a field to serve as
a burial place for strangers (Matt.27:3-10). Today the Greek
Convent of St.Onipruis marks the site which is riddled with
rock-hewn tombs full of the skulls and bones of pilgrims who,
through the ages, have been buried in potter's field-the, Field
of Blood. The traditional hiding place of the Apostles during
Jesus' trial is shown within the convent in a rock-hewn tomb that
has been appropriately named the 'Cave of the Apostles'," ("This
Is Jerusalem," Herbert Bishko, p.44).


Entered on this Website April 2008

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