Written by Michael W. Pursley
There comes a time in our lives where once we commit ourselves to a course of action, where we have intentionally and unconditionally bound ourselves to a position of commitment, that outside of some unmerited act of grace from heaven, we have now come to a place where there is simply no withdrawal.
And so it is, from the time that Judas met with the Jewish leadership and committed himself to the betrayal of his Lord, his time and ability to completely and cleanly withdraw from his course of action had essentially come to an end.
Now, for the first time Jesus has two groups seeking his destruction, the Jewish leaders and a member of his own twelve. While it appears from all practical purposes that Jesus’ ministry was on the verge of dismal failure, Jesus here instead uses the to occasion to bring his ministry to a stunning climax which both fulfills the Father’s will, and completes the prophetic intent of scripture. This latter is an extremely important consideration, because one has to ask, why didn’t Jesus who knows all things from the Father, why doesn’t he go to Judas and have a heart to heart talk with him? Why doesn’t he confront Judas regarding his actions? Why doesn’t Jesus at least stop him from committing so egregious an action; from letting Judas kill the Messiah, the Savior of Israel? Did Jesus not realize, that he was consigning Judas to bearing the guilt of killing the Son of God? –except “that the scriptures might be fulfilled.”
Perhaps another interesting question is, if Judas thought that he had cleanly succeeded in negotiating the betrayal unbeknownst to Christ? I certainly would not have wanted to have been Judas’ conscience at this point. Guilty? Unbelievably so. Jumpy? Like a cat on a hot tin roof. Every kind word Jesus directed to Judas would have been seen as accusatory. Every act of kindness from Jesus would have seemed doubly suspicious. The mind of the betraying disciple would have been working overtime analyzing and re-analyzing every word, action and expression. On one side, looking to see if he was discovered, on another, looking for justification for his actions, and on another, pitying his poor victim, and yet another, looking to the future to see how he may betray Christ; for “from that time he sought opportunity to deliver him unto them.” Matthew 16:26.
I think that it is safe to assume that Judas never wanted Jesus to die. For we find that when the death sentence had been pronounced upon Jesus, Judas hurried to undo the blasphemous transaction bitterly exclaiming, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” –Matthew 27:4. We say this to his dubious credit, for the sentiment shows that this betrayal was not a simple act of revenge; it was much more complex than that.
Needless to say, for Judas, the anxiety levels were most likely close to intolerable. Something had to give. By looking to force the situation and thereby defusing it, Judas’ had instead made it both more unstable and more intolerable, especially for himself; for now, life was no longer about Jesus and the kingdom of God, it was about himself, and the state he found himself in, –which meant that he had to be miserable.
The next scene clearly involving Judas after his sell-out, occurs during the last supper. Typically, it is John’s Gospel that deals with the scene most elaborately as well as giving it a descriptive theological interpretation. It is found in John 13:21-30: “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered,“It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”
For all the disciples to ask Jesus if they were the one who was going to betray him, shows that this group, on this evening, had an exceptionally unsettled state of mind. Remember, the disciples are on hostile territory and they are hunted. Despite the miracles, things seem to be gong badly. They have been hearing over the last several days that their life together was coming to an end. And instead of sounding confident and victorious, Jesus is sounding sorrowful, pensive, perhaps even resigned. Now, on this particular evening, with these ongoing statements of death bothering them, they are introduced to yet another dimension –death is by betrayal. And worse, it was going to be an inside job, for one of them, one of the trusted twelve, is doing it. I find it interesting that Judas wasn’t the first to inquire, “Is it I?” Instead he waits; finally, with a sinking heart, Judas asks, “Is it I?” It must have been to the worst of his expectations that Jesus says “yes.” But if he had any question as to whether Jesus really meant it was him, that was about to be dispersed. For the final clarion note on this matter is about to sound. And with awful finality, Jesus looks at him and says, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
It’s over, the gig is up. Now it is time for Judas to go to his new masters and to deliver on his side of the bargain. Judas might have even felt a sense of relief at this turn of events. Whatever delusions of jealousy, or pride, feelings of being slighted or snubbed, however melt into insignificance, for “then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him.” The resolve that Judas now felt was not his own, it was Satan’s. The last flame of grace once strong, growing weaker, now at once flickers and dies away. John noting this, completes the description…“And it was night.” Yes, Jesus and the disciples were experiencing a night of discouragement, and even depression. But for Judas it was different. For Judas was experiencing an altogether different kind of night; for him it was a night of eternal spiritual darkness and for those who experience it, this is a darkness co-inhabited with Satan. This darkness is like no other darkness. For as John expresses it, this is the night of the soul, this is a night to which there is no morning.
What feelings might Judas now be experiencing? Did he feel Satan’s giddiness sliding through his soul? Was he feeling hatred for his old master and for the stupid disciples? Or was he simply looking forward to a new life somewhere else? Perhaps, he just felt numb, like he lost part of himself but in haziness of mind not quite knowing how to place it. We don’t know. I am sure there was a smothering of some feelings. But what we do know is that he was bent upon finishing his singular task; which was to give up the future whereabouts of Jesus.
This he did. At once, the Jewish priests and leaders began rounding up their posse of devoted and loyal followers from their celebrations of high passover. And this had to be a difficult task at best. But here we look around and ask, where was Judas at this point, did they keep him there? Did they give him some simple task, so he wouldn’t revert back to Jesus and warn him? Did they treat him with disgust after he gave them the information they had required? Did they treat him as a traitor or renegade, which is typical treatment for those kind of people by their new benefactors? We don’t know. But we do know this, that he stayed close to the action. For as soon as judgment is pronounced, we find Judas back again in front of the same leaders in desperate appeal; “for I have betrayed innocent blood” Matthew 27:4. I think that the Pulpit Commentary describes Judas’ sentiments precisely.
“By speaking of “blood,” he showed that he knew the murder was certain. Judas seems to have had no faith in Christ’s Divinity, but he had perfect assurance of his holiness and innocence, and felt, and endeavored to make the rulers feel, that an iniquitous sentence had been passed, and that a guiltless person was condemned to death. This consideration added to the bitterness of his regret.” But it was too late.
As is often the case, the consequences of his actions were going forward now with a life of their own. The situation for Judas was now unresolvable. For he who thought himself the master of the situation, now finds he has badly over played his hand. His dreams of success for this venture and for himself, utterly destroyed.
There is one more thing here worth noting; Satan may enter his victim, but that does not mean that the victim completely loses his conscience. In fact, quite often the reverse is true. The conscience may often be overstimulated, leading to a breakdown of judgment and healthy perspective. In the end the overburdened conscience lends itself to desperation and to desperate acts of violence, degradation and death. In the final awful scene Judas both pronounces and executes judgment on himself; “And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” –Matthew 27:5
“Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all. In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person. This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened. Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair.” –Matthew Henry Concise Commentary.
Hence we see that Judas died as he had lived, believing to the end that he alone was the “Captain of his own ship.”
[Originally, I had planned to stop here, but I must write a postscript. It would not be complete unless we look at the differences between the repentance of Judas and Peter. I say this for if we look closely, each had effectively betrayed Christ, and Peter did so while calling curses down upon himself. (see Mark 14:71). Here, I must confess that there was a time in my life where I thought that there just might be a possibility that Judas would also be saved. It all seemed so unfair! Each had repented! Each repentance looked remarkably similar. Only the end of each repentance was different, and that could be explained as due to temperament or state of mind. But there was one vast underlying divergence. And it is this divergence that we shall look at in our postscript as we look at: “The Repentance of Judas… and Peter.” –MWP]