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23. JUDAS ISCARIOT

Matt. 26:20–23; Mark 14:17–21; Luke 22:21–23; John 13:21–30.

Besides the feet-washing and the institution of the Supper, yet another scene occurred on the night preceding the Lord’s death, helping to render it forever memorable. On the same night, during the course of the evening meal,478478Whether before or after the institution of the Supper has been much discussed, and is of no theological importance, though it has been thought to be so in connection with the question of strict communion. Jesus exposed and expelled the false disciple, who had undertaken to deliver his Master into the hands of those who sought His life. Already, while occupied with the washing, He had made premonitory allusions to the fact that there was a traitor among the twelve, hinting that they were not all clean, and insinuating that there was one of them who knew and would not do. Having finished and explained the service of lowly love, He next proceeded to the unwelcome task of indicating distinctly to which of the disciples He had been alluding. With spirit troubled at thought of the painful duty, and shuddering in presence of such satanic wickedness, He introduced the subject by making the general announcement: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” Thereafter, in answer to inquiries, He indicated the particular individual, by explaining that the traitor was he to whom He should give a sop or morsel after He had dipped it.479479On the harmony of this subject, see Ebrard, Gospel History: and also Stier, Reden Jesu, who reconciles the Synoptics with John by supposing two announcements of the traitor, with the Lord’s Supper intervening, which he brings in between vers. 22 and 23 of John’s narrative.

The fact then announced was new to the disciples, but it was not new to their Master. Jesus had known all along that there was a traitor in the camp. He had even hinted as much a full year before. But, excepting on that one occasion, He had not spoken of the matter hitherto, but had patiently borne it as a secret burden on His own heart. Now, however, the secret may be hid no longer. The hour is come when the Son of man must be glorified. Judas, for his part, has made up his mind to be the instrument of betraying his Lord to death; and such bad work, once resolved on, should by all means be done without delay. Then Jesus wants to be rid of the false disciple’s company. He desires to spend the few last hours of His life in tender, confidential fellowship with His faithful ones, free from the irritation and distraction caused by the presence of an undeclared yet deadly enemy. Therefore He does not wait till it pleases Judas to depart; He bids him go, asserting His authority over him even after he has renounced his allegiance and given himself up to the devil’s service. Reaching the sop, He says to him in effect: “I know thee, Judas; thou art the man: thou host resolved to betray me: away, then, and do it.” And then He says expressly: “That thou does, do quickly.” It was an order to go, and go at once.

Judas took the hint. He “went immediately out,” and so finally quitted the society of which he had been an unworthy member. One wonders how such a man ever got in, — how he ever was admitted into such a holy fellowship, — how he came to be chosen one of the twelve. Did Jesus not know the real character of this man when He chose Him? The words of our Lord, spoken just before, forbid us to think this. “I know,” said He, while expounding the feet-washing, “whom I have chosen,” meaning, evidently, to claim knowledge of them all, Judas included, at the time He chose them. Did He then choose Judas, knowing what he was, that He might have among the twelve one by whom He might be betrayed, and the Scriptures in that particular be fulfilled? So He seems to hint in the declaration just alluded to; for He goes on to say: “But that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eightieth bread with me heath lifted up his heel against me.”480480John xiii. 18. But it is not credible that Iscariot was chosen merely to be a traitor, as an actor might be chosen by a theater manager to play the part of Iago. The end pointed at in the scripture quoted might be ultimately served by his being chosen, but that end was not the motive of the choice. We may regard these two points as certain: on the one hand, that Judas did not become a follower of Jesus with treacherous intentions; and on the other, that Jesus did not elect Judas to be one of the twelve because He foreknew that he would eventually become a traitor.

If the choice of the false disciple was not due either to ignorance or to foreknowledge, how is it to be explained? The only explanation that can be given is, that, apart from secret insight, Judas was to all appearance an eligible man, and could not be passed over on any grounds coming under ordinary observation. His qualities must have been such, that one not possessing the eye of omniscience, looking on him, would have been disposed to say of him what Samuel said of Eliab: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.”4814811 Sam. xvi. 6 In that case, his election by Jesus is perfectly intelligible. The Head of the church simply did what the church has to do in analogous instances. The church chooses men to fill sacred offices on a conjunct view of ostensible qualifications, such as knowledge, zeal, apparent piety, and correctness of outward conduct. In so doing she sometimes makes unhappy appointments, and confers dignity on persons of the Judas type, who dishonor the positions they fill. The mischief resulting is great; but Christ has taught us, by His example in choosing Judas, as also by the parable of the tares, that we must submit to the evil, and leave the remedy in higher hands. Out of evil God often brings good, as He did in the case of the traitor.

Supposing Judas to have been chosen to the apostleship on the ground of apparent fitness, what manner of man would that imply? A vulgar, conscious hypocrite, seeking some mean by-end, while professedly aiming at a higher? Not necessarily; not probably. Rather such an one as Jesus indirectly described Judas to be when He made the reflection: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” The false disciple was a sentimental, plausible, self-deceived pietist, who knew and approved the good, though not conscientiously practicing it; one who, in esthetic feeling, in fancy, and in intellect, had affinities for the noble and the holy, while in will and in conduct he was the slave of base, selfish passions; one who, in the last resource, would always put self uppermost, yet could zealously devote himself to well-doing when personal interests were not compromised — in short, what the Apostle James calls a two-minded man.482482Jas. i. 8, ἀνὴρ δίψυχος; that is, a man with two minds; not one real, the other feigned, but with two minds both real so far as they go, only the wrong mind strongest, and ultimately prevailing. In thus describing Judas, we draw not the picture of a solitary monster. Men of such a type are by no means so rare as some may imagine. History, sacred and profane, supplies numerous examples of them, playing an important part in human affairs. Balaam, who had the vision of a prophet and the soul of a miser, was such a man. Robespierre, the evil genius of the French Revolution, was another. The man who sent thousands to the guillotine had in his younger days resigned his office as a provincial judge, because it was against his conscience to pronounce sentence of death on a culprit found guilty of a capital offence.483483Carlyle, French Revolution, i. 170, 171. A third example, more remarkable than either, may be found in the famous Greek Alcibiades, who, to unbounded ambition, unscrupulousness, and licentiousness, united a warm attachment to the greatest and best of the Greeks. The man who in after years betrayed the cause of his native city, and went over to the side of her enemies, was in his youth an enthusiastic admirer and disciple of Socrates. How he felt towards the Athenian sage may be gathered from words put into his mouth by Plato in one of his dialogues — words which involuntarily suggest a parallel between the speaker and the unworthy follower of a greater than Socrates: “I experience towards this man alone (Socrates) what no one would believe me capable of, a sense of shame. For I am conscious of an inability to contradict him, and decline to do what he bids me; and when I go away I feel myself overcome by the desire of popular esteem. Therefore I flee from him, and avoid him. But when I see him, I am ashamed of my admissions, and oftentimes I would be glad if he ceased to exist among the living; and yet I know well, that were that to happen, I should be still more grieved.”484484Plato, Συμπόσιον: Alcibiades loquitur.

The character of Judas being such as we have described, the possibility at least of his turning a traitor becomes comprehensible. One who loves himself more than any man, however good, or any cause, however holy, is always capable of bad faith more or less heinous. He is a traitor at heart from the outset, and all that is wanted is a set of circumstances calculated to bring into play the evil elements of his nature. The question therefore arises, What were the circumstances which converted Judas from a possible into an actual traitor?

This is a question very hard indeed to answer. The crime committed by Iscariot, through which he has earned for himself “a frightful renown,” remains, in spite of all the discussion whereof it has been the subject, still mysterious and unaccountable. Many attempts have been made to assign probable motives for the nefarious deed, some tending to excuse the doer, and others to aggravate his guilt; all more or less conjectural, and none perfectly satisfactory. As for the Gospel narratives, they do not explain, but merely record, the wickedness of Judas. The synoptical evangelists do indeed mention that the traitor made a bargain with the priests, and received from them a sum of money for the service rendered; and John, in his narrative of the anointing at Bethany, takes occasion to state that the faultfinding disciple was a thief, appropriating to his own uses money out of the common purse, of which he had charge.485485John xii. 6 These facts, of course, show Iscariot to have been a covetous man. None but a man of greedy, covetous spirit could have taken money for such a service. A vindictive man, whose vanity had been wounded, or who fancied himself in some way wronged, might play the traitor for love of revenge, but he would scorn to be paid for his work. The petty pilfering from the bag was also a sure sign of a mean, sordid soul. Perhaps the very fact of his being the purse-bearer to the company of Jesus may be regarded as an indication that his heart hankered after greed. He got the bag to carry, we imagine, because the other disciples were all supremely careless about money matters, while he had decided proclivities towards finance, and showed a desire to have charge of the superfluous funds. All the rest would be only too glad to find a brother willing to take the trouble; and having imbibed the spirit of their Master’s precept, Take no thought for the morrow, they would not think of presenting themselves as rival candidates for the office.

The evangelists do therefore most distinctly represent Judas as a covetous man. But they do not represent his covetousness as the sole, or even as the principal, motive of his crime. That, indeed, it can hardly have been. For, in the first place, would it not have been a better speculation to have continued pursebearer, with facilities for appropriating its contents, than to sell his Master for a paltry sum not exceeding five pounds?486486Renan, Vie de Jésus, p. 394. Then what could induce a man whose chief and ruling passion was to amass money to become a disciple of Jesus at all? Surely following Him who had no place where to lay His head was not a likely way to money-making! Then, finally, how account for the repentance of the traitor, so great in its vehemence, though most unholy in its nature, on the hypothesis that his sole object was to gain a few pieces of silver? Avarice may make a man of splendid talents thoroughly mercenary and unscrupulous, as is said to have been the case with the famous Duke of Marlborough; but it is rarely, indeed, that a man given up to avaricious habits takes seriously to heart the crimes committed under their influence. It is the nature of avarice to destroy conscience, and to make all things, however sacred, venal. Whence, then, that mighty volcanic up heaving in the breast of Judas? Surely other passions were at work in his soul when he sold his Lord than the cold and hardening love of gain!

Pressed by this difficulty, some have suggested that, in betraying Jesus, Judas was actuated principally by feelings of jealousy or spite, arising out of internal dissensions or imagined injuries. This suggestion is in itself not improbable. Offences might very easily come from various sources. The mere fact that Judas was not a Galilean,487487Vide cap. iv. but a native of another province, might give rise to misunderstanding. Human sympathies and antipathies depend on very little things. Kinsmanship, a common name, or a common birthplace, have far more power than the grand bonds which connect us with all the race. In religion the same remark holds good. The ties of a common Lord, a common hope, and a common spiritual life, are feeble as compared with those of sect and sectional religious custom and opinion. Then who knows what offences sprang from those disputes among the disciples who should be the greatest in the kingdom? What if the man of Kerioth had been made to feel that, whoever was to be the greatest, he at least had no chance, not being a Galilean? The mean, narrow habits of Judas as treasurer would be a third cause of bad feeling in the apostolic company. Supposing his dishonesty to have escaped observation, his tendency to put the interest of the bag above the objects for which its contents were destined, and so to dole out supplies either for the company or for the poor grudgingly, would be sure to be noticed, and, being noticed, would certainly, in such an outspoken society, not fail to be remarked on.488488   Renan, Vie de Jésus, p. 395.
   The poor were not forgotten by Jesus and His disciples (John xii. 5, xiii. 29). When supplies overflowed, they were not hoarded for to-morrow, but for the destitute. That they had more than they needed was the result of the love of grateful souls (Luke viii. 1-3), and the bag was kept that nothing might be wasted; for the ethics of Jesus condemn waste as strongly as they discountenance carefulness. “Gather up the fragments,” etc.

These reflections show how ill-feeling might have arisen between Judas and his fellow-disciples; but what we have to account for is the hatred of the false disciple against his Master. Had Jesus, then, done any thing to offend the man by whom He was betrayed? Yes! He had seen through him, and that was offence enough! For, of course, Judas knew that he was seen through. Men cannot live together in close fellowship long without coming to know with what feelings they are regarded by each other. If I distrust a brother, he will find it out, even should I attempt to conceal it. But the guileless and faithful One would make no attempt at concealment. He would not, indeed, offensively obtrude His distrust on the notice of Judas, but neither would He studiously hide it, to make matters go smoothly between them. He who so faithfully corrected the faults of the other disciples would do His duty to this one also, and make him aware that he regarded his spirit and evil habits with disapprobation, in order to bring him to repentance. And what the effect of such dealing would be it is not difficult to imagine. On a Peter, correction had a most wholesome influence; it brought him at once to a right mind. In the case of a Judas the result would be very different. The mere consciousness that Jesus did not think well of him, and still more the shame of an open rebuke, would breed sullen resentment and ever-deepening alienation of heart; till at length love was turned to hatred, and the impenitent disciple began to cherish vindictive passions.

The manner in which the betrayal was gone about supports the idea that the agent was actuated by malicious, revengeful feelings. Not content with giving such information as would enable the Jewish authorities to get their Victim into their hands, Judas conducted the band that was sent to apprehend his Master, and even pointed Him out to them by an affectionate salutation. To one in a vengeful mood that kiss might be sweet; but to a man in any other mood, even though he were a traitor, how abhorrent and abominable! The salutation was entirely gratuitous: it was not necessary for the success of the plot; for the military detachment was furnished with torches, and Judas could have indicated Jesus to them while he himself kept in the background. But that way would not satisfy a bosom friend turned to be a mortal enemy.489489Renan, Vie de Jésus, favors the idea that Judas was actuated by spite. He remarks, on the number of denunciators connected with secret societies: “Un léger dépit,” he says, “suffisait pour faire d’un sectaire un traître.” (p. 395).

Along with malice and greed, the instinct of self-preservation may have had a place among the motives of Judas. Perfidy might be recommended by the suggestions of selfish prudence. The traitor was a shrewd man, and believed that a catastrophe was near. He understood better than his single-minded brethren the situation of affairs; for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. The other disciples, by their generous enthusiasms and patriotic hopes, were blinded to the signs of the times; but the false disciple, just because he was less noble, was more discerning. Disaster, then, being imminent, what was to be done? What but turn king’s evidence, and make terms for himself, so that Christ’s loss might be his gain? If this baseness could be perpetrated under pretense of provocation, why then, so much the better!

These observations help to bring the crime of Judas Iscariot within the range of human experience, and on this account it was worth our while to make them; for it is not desirable that we should think of the traitor as an absolutely unique character, as the solitary perfect incarnation of satanic wickedness.490490Such is the view of Daub in his Judas Iscariot, oder Das Böse in Verhältniss zum Guten. We should rather so think of his crime as that the effect of contemplating it on our minds shall be to make us, like the disciples, ask, Is it I?491491The disciples first trembled, each one for himself; then, after recovering their composure, began to wonder who it could be; and finally, Peter made a sign to John, who, was next to Jesus, to inquire. “Who can understand his errors? Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.” There have been many traitors besides Judas, who, from malice or for gain, have played false to noble men and noble causes; some of them perhaps even worse men than he. It was his unenviable distinction to betray the most exalted of all victims; but many who have been substantially guilty of his sin have not taken it so much to heart, but have been able to live happily after their deed of villainy was wrought.

Yet, while it is important for our warning not to conceive of Judas as an isolated sinner, it is also most desirable that we should regard his crime as an incomprehensible mystery of iniquity. It is in this light that the fourth evangelist would have us look at it. He could have told us much about the mutual relations of Judas and Jesus tending to explain the deed of the former. But he has not chosen to do so. The only explanation he gives of the traitor’s crime is, that Satan had taken possession of him. This he mentions twice over in one chapter, as if to express his own horror, and to awaken similar horror in his readers.492492John xiii. 2, 27. Satan entered Judas first as the Satan of wicked purpose; then after the sop (Christ’s challenge to Judas), as the Satan of action. And to deepen the impression, after relating the exit of Judas, he adds the suggestive reflection that it took place after nightfall: “He then, having received the sop, went immediately out: and it was night.” Fit time for such an errand!

Judas went out and betrayed his Lord to death, and then he went and took his own life. What a tragic accompaniment to the crucifixion was that suicide! What an impressive illustration of the evil of a double mind! To be happy in some fashion, Judas should either have been a better man or a worse. Had he been better, he would have been saved from his crime; had he been worse, he would have escaped torment before the time. As it was, he was bad enough to do the deed of infamy, and good enough to be unable to bear the burden of its guilt. Woe to such a man! Better for him, indeed, that he had never been born!

What a melancholy end was that of Judas to an auspicious beginning! Chosen to be a companion of the Son of man, and an eye and ear witness of His work, once engaged in preaching the gospel and casting out devils; now possessed of the devil himself, driven on by him to damnable deeds, and finally employed by a righteous Providence to take vengeance on his own crime. In view of this history, how shallow the theory that resolves all moral differences between men into the effect of circumstances! Who was ever better circumstanced for becoming good than Judas? Yet the very influences which ought to have fostered goodness served only to provoke into activity latent evil.

What a bitter cross must the constant presence of such a man as Judas have been to the pure, loving heart of Jesus! Yet how patiently it was borne for years! Herein He is an example and a comfort to His true followers, and for this end among others had He this cross to bear. The Redeemer of men had a companion who lifted up his heel against Him, that in this as in all other respects He might be like unto, and able to succor, His brethren. Has any faithful servant of Christ to complain that his love has been requited by hatred, his truth with bad faith; or that he is obliged to treat as a true Christian one whom he more than suspects to be a hypocrite? It is a hard trial, but let him look unto Jesus and be patient


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