Why Did Judas Betray Christ?

Title: Why Did Judas Betray Christ?

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Text: Matthew 20:17-19

Date: March 29th, 2009

There are now are now three Sundays until Easter, including today, and so we continue in our list of four questions concerning Christ’s final days. The first question — why did the Jews want to kill Christ – I asked and tried to answer last week. It wasn’t just the Jews, but also the Gentiles who killed Jesus, and not only the people of the first century, but also all people of all times all had a part to play in the death of Christ, including all of us. Why? Because we are all sinners in need of a Savior, necessitating the need for Jesus to die for our sins as an atoning sacrifice. Today, I’d like to ask and answer the second question – Why did Judas betray Christ? Whenever I ask this question, or whenever it comes up in conversation, there always seems to be someone who answers in a good Calvinist Presbyterian Reformed kind of way, “Judas betrayed Christ because it was ultimately in the Providence of God his part to play in God’s will.” Ok, fair enough. God is sovereign, he is ultimately in control of people, places and things, so in that sense, Judas betrayed Jesus because he was meant to do it. But let’s go further than that today. Let’s try to understand what his motives might have been. Initially, it’s pretty hard to imagine one of Jesus’ disciples doing the thing that Judas did in betraying Christ. That is, it’s hard to imagine Judas or any other one of the twelve disciples of betraying Jesus. By betraying, I mean handing or arranging for Jesus’ capture by the Jewish religious authorities who wanted to arrest and execute him for what they considered blasphemy and false teachings. It’s hard to imagine one of the twelve disciples wanting to hand Jesus – their Master and Teacher – over to the authorities who hated him. After all, Jesus had hand picked these twelve men; he trusted these twelve men; and he loved them and apparently they loved him also. We don’t read about any real big split or division or conflict between Jesus and his disciples, at least anything major. Sure, there were minor offenses, for example, the time Jesus told the apostle Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan.” Or there might have been some hurt feelings at times when Jesus rebuked his disciples for exhibiting a lack of faith or trust in him. There were times when some disciples got jealous or resentful of other disciples, as in the time when two requested special positions in the final Kingdom of God; when the others heard about that they resented the other two for making such a request of Jesus. And probably there were other divisions and differences that weren’t recorded for public record but nothing that rose to the level of a crisis. So it’s very curious as to why someone like Judas would betray Jesus at all. But we know that there had to be reasons. We may not know until we die and are ushered into eternity. It’s the same, I guess, with the question of why Lucifer, the good angel who turned bad, rebelled against God. We may not know until eternity why such a thing could happen. But we can speculate, based on the biblical record, why Judas betrayed Christ. That’s what I’d like to do today. Why do so? What help is it for us today? Because we just might learn something about following Christ and some temptations and pitfalls to avoid as disciples. Judas was a disciple of Jesus but he fell away. Let’s not make the same mistakes in our walk with the Lord. Maybe we can learn to avoid them by reviewing his motives. Matthew 20:17-19, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day his will be raised to life.’” Let me mention three possible motives for Judas betraying Christ.

First, he was disillusioned with Jesus. Matthew 20:17-18, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed. . . .’” I’m going to ignore the skeptical charges brought against the Bible, Christianity and the Christian Church by unbelievers of all kinds whether liberal theologians, secular philosophers, atheistic educators, agnostics, etc. who claim that there never really was a character or person named Judas, but instead he was invented by a writer or writers to symbolize the Jews who betrayed or turned Jesus over for death to the Romans. In other words, there are some unbelievers who want to say the name “Judas” really means “Judah” or “Jew” or “Judaism” standing for all Israel who rejected their own Messiah and instead of accepting him betrayed him to the Romans for death. It’s an interesting theory because in many ways Judas does symbolize Judaism in rejecting and betraying Jesus to death by crucifixion. It would be interesting to reflect on the parallels between Judas the individual and the Jews as a people, but to claim there never ever was an historical figure Judas, that he was pure fiction, that is far-fetched. There is more evidence for Judas’ existence than for his non-existence. Also, if we believe the accuracy and historical reliability of the Bible we must affirm the existence of Judas, just as we would the other disciples and also Jesus himself. Assuming Judas did exist, then, why would he betray Jesus? One motive he might have had is disillusionment. Judas, along with most Jews, had hoped and prayed for the coming of the Messiah to liberate them from foreign rule and re-establish the Jewish kingdom along the pattern of David and Solomon’s kingdom. Jesus, however, came with another agenda – to preach and teach a spiritual kingdom and to make atonement for sins on the cross. Jesus didn’t make political freedom from the Romans a priority in his ministry, nor the establishment of an earthly Jewish state. This disillusioned many Jews. Judas may have been one of them. In fact, why know that the other disciples were still thinking, hoping and praying of the traditional expectation of the Messiah even after Jesus had risen from the dead. Acts 1:6, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” Again, Jesus put that expectation off. Judas might have been disappointed by the traditional expectation of the Messiah not being met in Jesus. At some point in the three years that Jesus shared his life with his disciples, Judas might have given up on Jesus as the real Messiah of Israel. Finally, at another point, he may have decided that he would hand Jesus over to the Jews and end his ministry that was accomplishing nothing towards liberating Israel or establishing the Jewish state. What’s the lesson for us today? Beware of building up false expectations. Beware of making your expectations absolute. Leave room for God to work in his own way in his own time. As Americans, as members of the most prosperous and advanced civilization on earth, we’ve build up a lot of expectations about life. We must be careful that we don’t judge God based on our own human expectations. We must come to God for his agenda, not come to God with our agenda seeking his unlimited blessings.

Second, he was impatient with Jesus. Matthew 20:17-18, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed. . . .’” Another possible motive for Judas betraying Jesus is that he simply grew impatient with Jesus’ means and methods for building his spiritual kingdom. The first possible motive was based on Judas being disillusioned of Jesus in not fulfilling the traditional expectation of the Messiah to liberate Israel from foreign rule and establish the Jewish state, but this second possible motive is based on Judas buying into Jesus’ basic spiritual Kingdom of God but simply wanting it to happen faster than Jesus was building it. In other words, if this motive is correct, Judas thought Jesus worked too slow and so he wanted to push things along faster. He might have understood the spiritual emphasis of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God. He may have agreed that the biggest need for the Jews as well as Gentiles was spiritual forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that can only come from God’s unmerited grace and favor. He might have truly understood the message of Jesus. He may have been about the only one who understood it, or he may have been one of only a few people who fully grasped what Jesus was doing; but in so understanding he may have felt that he knew more about how to successfully carry it out than even Jesus himself! As ridiculous as it sounds, Judas may have felt he needed to help Jesus a little in carrying out his mission to save the world! How presumptuous! Yet how typical it is of us sinful, prideful humans to think we have all the answers or that we can do things better than even God. So Judas might have felt Jesus was taking too much time or not going about the mission correctly or most efficiently, so he decided to help Jesus along by handing him over to the Jewish leadership. Maybe he felt that Jesus and the leaders needed to get together and work together. Maybe he thought he was more arranging a meeting between Jesus and the Jews instead of betraying Jesus over to them. There is some evidence for such an understanding. Matthew 27:1-5, “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” Was his original plan to bring Jesus and the Jews together where he hoped the leaders too would accept Jesus’ vision for the spiritual Kingdom of God? If so, it failed miserably. What’s the lesson for us today? Wait on the Lord. Don’t try to force things to fit into your time schedule. Pray and trust in the Lord. Abraham probably wished that he’d waited for Isaac instead of forcing Ishmael into the position of heir. We can all think of times when we got ahead of ourselves and God through impatience. Sometimes the greatest test of faith is patiently waiting for God’s best timing for our lives.

Third, he had evil intent towards Jesus. Matthew 20:17-18, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed. . . .’” Another possible motive for Judas betraying Jesus is the darkest and most sinister reason – Judas was operating under the influence and power of Satan, the Devil. There is evidence for this motive. Luke 22:1-6, “Now the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, call the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.” Here is a direct reference to the fact that Judas was possessed of the Devil and acted under the power of evil in his betraying of Jesus to the Jews. There is also the mention of money as a possible motive, but it seems strange that money would be the main motivation for Judas in betraying his master. John 13:27-30 describes this: “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” So apparently Judas was the treasurer for the group! He must have been trustworthy to be given such a position of trust. Jesus must have trusted him, along with the others. So something must have happened to him from the time he began with Jesus and became a disciple and when he reached the point of betraying Jesus. That something probably started off with disillusionment or disappointment with Jesus that eventually grew into resentment and bitterness that reached the point where the Devil could find entrance into his heart and carry out the ultimate act of betrayal. Ephesians 4:26-27 warns, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the Devil a foothold.” Satan found an opening in one of the disciples, in the inner core group of Jesus followers, and used it to deliver Jesus first to the Jewish leaders and ultimately to the Romans for execution on the cross. Now we shouldn’t think that Judas was the only disciple that the Devil had tried to use for his own advantages. Remember how Jesus rebuked the apostle Peter saying, “Get thee behind me Satan.” And then also in Luke 22:31 Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. . . .” So probably all the disciples had been tempted and tested by the Devil, but only Judas had permitted Satan to take full control and consume him. Toward the end of Judas’ life we see all the marks of a true demonic possession. His disappointment, bitterness, impatience, or some other negative emotions probably built until permitting Satan to enter into him seemed not so difficult. But whatever emotion or reasoning it was, it ended in demonic possession and ultimate destruction for him, body and soul. What’s the lesson for us today? Beware of the influence of the Devil. Today, it’s easy to dismiss talk of demon possession as superstitious because our modern world largely rejects anything it can’t prove scientifically. But we must trust the Word of God rather than the words of men. God warns us to “resist the Devil and he will flee” and that “he stalks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” We must never assume that we are beyond the influence of Satan. We must always guard our hearts and minds against demonic influence. If it could influence a beloved disciple of Christ to turn against the Master, so too we could be turned against Christ if we aren’t careful. Do you need to rededicate your life to Christ this Easter season? Are there sins you need to confess to God? Why not use this opportunity as a time to return to God with all your heart. Resolve that you will never be a Judas to Jesus. Do everything in your powers to avoid that tragic end.

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One Response to “Why Did Judas Betray Christ?”

  1. matt Says:

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

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