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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Judas Iscariot

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JUDAS ISCARIOT. One of the Twelve, son of Simon Iscariot ( John 6:71 ; John 13:26 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Iscariot (more correctly Iscarioth ) means ‘the man of Kerioth.’ Kerioth was a town in the south of Judæa, and Judas was the only one of the Twelve who was not a Galilæan. He had an aptitude for business, and acted as treasurer of the Apostle-band ( John 12:6 ; John 13:29 ).

Judas turned traitor, and sold the Lord to the high priests for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32 ); and this dire treachery constitutes one of the hardest problems of the Gospel history. It seems to present an inevitable dilemma: either Jesus did not know what would happen, thus failing in foresight and discernment; or, as St. John expressly declares ( John 6:64 ), He did know, and yet not only admitted Judas to the Apostolate, but appointed him to an office which, by exciting his cupidity, facilitated his crime. A solution of the problem has been sought by making out in various ways that Judas was not really a criminal.

(1) In early days it was held by the Cainites, a Gnostic sect, that Judas had attained a higher degree of spiritual enlightenment than his fellows, and compassed the death of Jesus because he knew that it would break the power of the evil spirits, the rulers of this world. (2) Another ancient theory is that he was indeed a covetous man and sold the Master for greed of the pieces of silver, but never thought that He would be slain. He anticipated that He would, as on previous occasions, extricate Himself from the hands of His enemies; and when he saw Him condemned, he was overwhelmed with remorse. He reckoned, thought Paulus in more recent times, on the multitude rising and rescuing their hero from the rulers. (3) He shared the general wonderment of the disciples at the Lord’s procrastination in coming forward as the King of Israel and claiming the throne of David, and thought to force His hand and precipitate the desired consummation. ‘His hope was,’ says De Quincey, ‘that Christ would no longer vacillate; he would be forced into giving the signal to the populace of Jerusalem, who would then rise unanimously.’ Cf. Rosegger, INRI , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] p. 263. (4) His faith in his Master’s Messiahship, thought Neander, was wavering. If He were really the Messiah, nothing could harm Him; if He were not, He would perish, and it would be right that He should.

Such attempts to justify Judas must be dismissed. They are contrary to the Gospel narrative, which represents the Betrayal as a horrible, indeed diabolical, crime (cf. John 6:70 , Luke 22:3-4 ). If the Lord chose Judas with clear foreknowledge of the issue, then, dark as the mystery may be, it accords with the providential ordering of human affairs, being in fact an instance of an ancient and abiding problem, the ‘irreconcilable antinomy’ of Divine foreknowledge and human free will. It is no whit a greater mystery that Jesus should have chosen Judas with clear prescience of the issue, than that God should have made Saul king, knowing what the end would be.

Of course Judas was not chosen because he would turn traitor, but because at the outset he had in him the possibility of better things; and this is the tragedy of his career, that he obeyed his baser impulses and surrendered to their domination. Covetousness was his besetting sin, and he attached himself to Jesus because, like the rest of the disciples, he expected a rich reward when his Master was seated on the throne of David. His discipleship was a process of disillusionment. He saw his worldly dream fading, and, when the toils closed about his Master, he decided to make the best of the situation. Since he could not have a place by the throne, he would at least have the thirty shekels.

His resolution lasted long enough to carry through the crime. He made his bargain with the high priests (Matthew 26:14-16 = Mark 14:10-11 = Luke 22:3-6 ) evidently on the Wednesday afternoon, when Jesus, after the Great Indictment ( Matthew 23:1-39 ), was occupied with the Greeks who had come craving an interview ( John 12:20-22 ); and promised to watch for an opportunity to betray Him into their hands. He found it next evening when he was dismissed from the Upper Room ( John 13:27-30 ). He knew that after the Supper Jesus would repair to Gethsemane, and thither he conducted the rulers with their band of soldiers. He thought, no doubt, that his work was now done, but he had yet to crown his ignominy. A difficulty arose. It lay with the soldiers to make the arrest, and, seeing not one man but twelve, they knew not which to take; and Judas had to come to their assistance. He gave them a token: ‘The one whom I shall kiss is he’; and, advancing to Jesus, he greeted Him with customary reverence and kissed Him effusively ( Matthew 26:47-50 = Mark 14:43-46 = Luke 22:47-49 ).

It must have been a terrible ordeal for Judas, and in that hour his better nature reasserted itself. He realized the enormity of what he had done; and he followed his Master and, in an agony of remorse, watched the tragedy of His trial and condemnation by the Sanhedrin. It maddened him; and as the high priests were leaving the Hall of Hewn Stone, the Sanhedrin’s meeting-place, he accosted them, clutching the accursed shekels in his wild hands. ‘I have sinned,’ he cried, ‘in that I betrayed innocent blood.’ He thought even now to annul the bargain, but they spurned him and passed to the Sanctuary. He followed, and, ere they could close the entrance, hurled the coins after them into the Holy Place; then rushed away and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5 ).

Such is St. Matthew’s account. The tragedy was so appalling that legends grew apace in the primitive Church, and St. Luke has preserved one of these in a parenthesis in St. Peter’s speech at the election of Matthias (Acts 1:18-19 ). One is glad to think that St. Matthew’s is the actual history. Judas sinned terribly, but he terribly repented, and one wishes that, instead of destroying his miserable life, he had rather fled to the Cross and sought mercy at the feet of his gracious Lord. There was mercy in the heart of Jesus even for Judas.

Was Judas present at the Eucharist in the Upper Room? St. John alone mentions his departure; and since he does not record the institution of the Supper, it is open to question whether the traitor ‘went out’ after it or before it. From Luke 22:17-21 it has been argued that he was present, but St. Luke’s arrangement is different from that of St. Matthew and St. Mark, who put the institution after the announcement of the Betrayal ( Matthew 26:21-29 = Mark 14:18-25 ). According to St. John’s account, Judas seems to have gone out immediately after the announcement, the institution following John 13:38 , and ch. 14 being the Communion Address.

David Smith.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Judas Iscariot'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/j/judas-iscariot.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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