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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Judas Iscariot

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or, as he is usually called, the traitor, and betrayer of our Lord. "The treachery of Judas Iscariot," says Dr. Hales, "his remorse, and suicide, are occurrences altogether so strange and extraordinary, that the motives by which he was actuated require to be developed, as far as may be done, where the evangelists are, in a great measure, silent concerning them, from the circumstances of the history itself, and from the feelings of human nature. Judas, the leading trait in whose character was covetousness, was probably induced to follow Jesus at first with a view to the riches, honours, and other temporal advantages, which he, in common with the rest, expected the Messiah's friends would enjoy. The astonishing miracles he saw him perform left no room to doubt of the reality of his Master's pretensions, who had, indeed, himself in private actually accepted the title from his Apostles; and Judas must have been much disappointed when Jesus repeatedly refused the proffered royalty from the people in Galilee, after the miracle of feeding the five thousand, and again after his public procession to Jerusalem. He might naturally have grown impatient under the delay, and dissatisfied also with Jesus for openly discouraging all ambitious views among his disciples; and, therefore, he might have devised the scheme of delivering him up to the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation, (composed of the chief priests, scribes, and elders,) in order to compel him to avow himself openly as the Messiah before them; and to work such miracles, or to give them the sign which they so often required, as would convince and induce them to elect him in due form, and by that means enable him to reward his followers. Even the rebukes of Jesus for his covetousness, and the detection of his treacherous scheme, although they unquestionably offended Judas, might only serve to stimulate him to the speedier execution of his plot, during the feast of the passover, while the great concourse of the Jews, from all parts assembled, might powerfully support the sanhedrim and their Messiah against the Romans. The success of this measure, though against his master's will, would be likely to procure him pardon, and even to recommend him to favour afterward. Such might have been the plausible suggestions by which Satan tempted him to the commission of this crime. But when Judas, who attended the whole trial, saw that it turned out quite contrary to his expectations, that Jesus was capitally convicted by the council, as a false Christ and false prophet, notwithstanding he had openly avowed himself; and that he wrought no miracle, either for their conviction or for his own deliverance, as Judas well knew he could, even from the circumstance of healing Malchus, after he was apprehended; when he farther reflected, like Peter, on his Master's merciful forewarnings of his treachery, and mild and gentle rebuke at the commission of it; he was seized with remorse, and offered to return the paltry bribe of thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders instantly on the spot, saying, ‘I sinned in delivering up innocent blood;' and expected that on this they would have desisted from the prosecution. But they were obstinate, and not only would not relent, but threw the whole load of guilt upon him, refusing to take their own share; for they said, ‘What is that to us? see thou to that;' thus, according to the aphorism, loving the treason, but hating the traitor, after he had served their wicked turn. Stung to the quick at their refusal to take back the money, while they condemned himself, he went to the temple, cast down the whole sum in the treasury, or place for receiving the offerings of the people; and, after he had thus returned the wages of iniquity, he retired to some lonely place, not far, perhaps, from the scene of Peter's repentance; and, in the frenzy of despair, and at the instigation of the devil, hanged himself; crowning with suicide the murder of his master and his friend; rejecting his compassionate Saviour, and plunging his own soul into perdition! In another place it is said that, ‘falling headlong, he burst asunder, and all his bowels gushed out,' Acts 1:18 . Both these accounts might be true: he might first have hanged himself from some tree on the edge of a precipice; and, the rope or branch breaking, he might be dashed to pieces by the fall."

The above view of the case of Judas endeavours ingeniously to account for his conduct by supposing him influenced by the motive of compelling our Lord to declare himself, and assume the Messiahship in its earthly glory. It will, however, be recollected, that the only key which the evangelic narrative affords, is, Judas's covetousness; which passion was, in him, a growing one. It was this which destroyed whatever of honest intention he might at first have in following Jesus; and when fully under its influence he would be blinded by it to all but the glittering object of the reward of iniquity. In such a mind there could be no true faith, and no love; what wonder, then, when avarice was in him a ruling and unrestrained passion, that he should betray his Lord? Still it may be admitted that the knowledge which Judas had of our Lord's miraculous power, might lead him the more readily to put him into the hands of the chief priests. He might suppose that he would deliver himself out of their hands; and thus Judas attempted to play a double villany, against Christ and against his employers.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Judas Iscariot'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/j/judas-iscariot.html. 1831-2.

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