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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Judas was, as his second name indicates, a native of Kerioth or Karioth. The exact locality of Kerioth (compare Joshua 15:25 ) is doubtful, but it lay probably to the South of Judea, being identified with the ruins of
1. Name and Early History:
He was the son of Simon (John 13:2 ) or Simon Iscariot (John 6:71; John 13:26 ), the meaning of Iscariot explaining why it was applied to his father also. The first Scriptural reference to Judas is his election to the apostleship (compare Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16 ). He may have been present at the preaching of John the Baptist at Bethany beyond Jordan (compare John 1:28 ), but more probably he first met Jesus during the return of the latter through Judea with His followers (compare John 3:22 ). According to the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles (see
2. Before the Betrayal:
For any definite allusion to Judas during the interval lying between his call and the events immediately preceding the betrayal, we are indebted to John alone. These allusions are made with the manifest purpose of showing forth the nefarious character of Judas from the beginning; and in their sequence there is a gradual development and growing clearness in the manner in which Jesus makes prophecy regarding his future betrayer. Thus, after the discourse on the Bread of Life in the synagogue of Capernaum (John 6:26-59 ), when many of the disciples deserted Jesus (John 6:66 ) and Peter protested the allegiance of the apostles (John 6:69 ), Jesus answered, "Did not I choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil" (John 6:70 ). Then follows John's commentary, "Now he spake of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve" (John 6:71 ), implying that Judas was already known to Jesus as being in spirit one of those who "went back, arid walked no more with him" (John 6:66 ). But the situation, however disquieting it must have been to the ambitious designs which probably actuated Judas in his acceptance of the apostleship (compare below), was not sufficiently critical to call for immediate desertion on his part. Instead, he lulled his fears of exposure by the fact that he was not mentioned by name, and continued ostensibly one of the faithful. Personal motives of a sordid nature had also influence in causing him to remain. Appointed keeper of the purse, he disregarded the warnings of Jesus concerning greed and hypocrisy (compare Matthew 6:20; Luke 12:1-3 ) and appropriated the funds to his own use. As a cloak to his avarice, he pretended to be zealous in their administration, and therefore, at the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary, he asked "Why was not this ointment sold for 300 shillings, and given to the poor? Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein" (John 12:5 , John 12:6; compare also Matthew 26:7-13; Mark 14:3-8 ).
3. The Betrayal:
Yet, although by this craftiness Judas concealed for a time his true nature from the rest of the disciples, and fomented any discontent that might arise among them (compare Mark 14:4 ), he now felt that his present source of income could not long remain secure. The pregnant words of his Master regarding the day of his burial (compare Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:8; John 12:7 ) revealed to His betrayer that Jesus already knew well the evil powers that were at work against Him; and it is significant that, according to Mt and Mk, who alone of the synoptists mention the anointing, Judas departed immediately afterward and made his compact with the chief priests (compare Matthew 26:14 , Matthew 26:15; Mark 14:10 , Mark 14:11; compare also Luke 22:3-6 ). But his absence was only temporary. He was present at the washing of the disciples' feet, there to be differentiated once more by Jesus from the rest of the Twelve (compare "Ye are clean, but not all" and "He that eateth my bread lifted up his heel against me," John 13:10 , John 13:18 ), but again without being named. It seemed as if Jesus wished to give Judas every opportunity, even at this late hour, of repenting and making his confession. For the last time, when they had sat down to eat, Jesus appealed him thus with the words, "One of you shall betray me" (Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21; John 13:21 ). And at the end, in answer to the anxious queries of His disciples, "Is it I?" He indicated his betrayer, not by name, but by a sign: "He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him" (John 13:26 ). Immediately upon its reception, Judas left the supper room; the opportunity which he sought for was come (compare John 13:30; Matthew 26:16 ). There is some doubt as to whether he actually received the eucharistic bread and wine previous to his departure or not, but most modern commentators hold that he did not. On his departure, Judas made his way to the high priests and their followers, and coming upon Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he betrayed his Master with a kiss (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43 , Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47; John 18:2-5 ).
4. His Death:
After the betrayal, Mk, Lk and Jn are silent as regards Judas, and the accounts given in Mt and Acts of his remorse and death vary in detail. According to Mt, the actual condemnation of Jesus awakened Judas' sense of guilt, and becoming still more despondent at his repulse by the chief priests and elders, "he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself." With the money the chief priests purchased the potter's field, afterward called "the field of blood," and in this way was fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12-14 ) ascribed by Matthew to Jeremiah (Matthew 27:3-10 ). The account given in Acts 1:16-20 is much shorter. It mentions neither Judas' repentance nor the chief priests, but simply states that Judas "obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" ( Acts 1:18 ). The author of Acts finds in this the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 69:25 . The Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) rendering, "When he had hanged himself, he burst asunder," suggests a means of reconciling the two accounts.
According to a legendary account mentioned by Papias, the death of Judas was due to elephantiasis (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen , 5). A so-called "Gospel of Judas" was in use among the Gnostic sect of the Cainites.
II. Character and Theories.
1. Joined the Apostles to Betray Jesus:
Much discussion and controversy have centered, not only around the discrepancies of the Gospel narratives of Judas, but also around his character and the problems connected with it. That the betrayer of Jesus should also be one of the chosen Twelve has given opportunity for the attacks of the foes of Christianity from the earliest times (compare Orig., Con. Cel. , ii. 12); and the difficulty of finding any proper solution has proved so great that some have been induced to regard Judas as merely a personification of the spirit of Judaism. The acceptance of this view would, however, invalidate the historical value of much of the Scriptural writings. Other theories are put forward in explanation, namely, that Judas joined the apostolic band with the definite intention of betraying Jesus. The aim of this intention has again received two different interpretations, both of which seek to elevate the character of Judas and to free him from the charge of sordid motives and cowardly treachery. According to one, Judas was a strong patriot, who saw in Jesus the foe of his race and its ancient creed, and therefore betrayed Him in the interests of his country. This view is, however, irreconcilable with the rejection of Judas by the chief priests (compare Matthew 27:3-10 ). According to the other, Judas regarded himself as a true servant of Christianity, who assumed the role of traitor to precipitate the action of the Messiah and induce Him to manifest His miraculous powers by calling down the angels of God from heaven to help Him (compare Matthew 26:53 ). His suicide was further due to his disappointment at the failure of Jesus to fulfill his expectations. This theory found favor in ancient times with the Cainites (compare above), and in modern days with De Quincey and Bishop Whately. But the terms and manner of denunciation employed by Jesus in regard to Judas (compare also John 17:12 ) render this view also untenable.
2. Foreordained to Be a Traitor:
Another view is that Judas was foreordained to be the traitor: that Jesus was conscious from the first that He was to suffer death on the cross, and chose Judas because He knew that he should betray Him and thus fulfill the Divine decrees (compare Matthew 26:54 ). Those holding this view base their arguments on the omniscience of Jesus implied in John 2:24 , Jesus "knew all men"; John 6:64 , "Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray him," and John 18:4 , "knowing all the things that were coming upon him." Yet to take those texts literally would mean too rigid application of the doctrine of predestination. It would treat Judas as a mere instrument, as a means and not an end in the hands of a higher power: it would render meaningless the appeals and reproaches made to him by Jesus and deny any real existence of that personal responsibility and sense of guilt which it was our Lord's very purpose to awaken and stimulate in the hearts of His hearers. John himself wrote after the event, but in the words of our Lord there was, as we have seen, a growing clearness in the manner in which He foretold His betrayal. The omniscience of Jesus was greater than that of a mere clairvoyant who claimed to foretell the exact course of future events. It was the omniscience of one who knew on the one hand the ways of His Eternal Father among men, and who, on the other, penetrated into the deepest recesses of human character and beheld there all its secret feelings and motives and tendencies.
3. Betrayal the Result of Gradual Development:
Although a full discussion of the character of Judas would of necessity involve those ultimate problems of Free Will and Original Sin (Westcott) which no theology can adequately solve, theory which regards the betrayal as the result of a gradual development within the soul of Judas seems the most practical. It is significant that Judas alone among the disciples was of southern extraction; and the differences in temperament and social outlook, together with the petty prejudices to which these generally give rise, may explain in part, though they do not justify, his after treachery - that lack of inner sympathy which existed between Judas and the rest of the apostles. He undoubtedly possessed certain business ability, and was therefore appointed keeper of the purse. But his heart could not have been clean, even from the first, as he administered even his primary charge dishonestly. The cancer of this greed spread from the material to the spiritual. To none of the disciples did the fading of the dream of an earthly kingdom of pomp and glory bring greater disappointment than to Judas. The cords of love by which Jesus gradually drew the hearts of the other disciples to Himself, the teaching by which He uplifted their souls above all earthly things, were as chafing bonds to the selfishness of Judas. And from his fettered greed and disappointed ambition sprang jealousy and spite and hatred. It was the hatred, not of a strong, but of an essentially weak man. Instead of making an open breach with his Lord, he remained ostensibly one of His followers: and this continued contact with a goodness to which he would not yield (compare Swete on Mark 14:10 ), and his brooding over the rebukes of his Master, gave ready entrance for "Satan into his soul." But if he "knew the good and did not do it" (compare John 13:17 ), so also he was weak in the carrying out of his nefarious designs. It was this hesitancy, rather than a fiendish cunning, which induced him to remain till the last moment in the supper room, and which prompted the remark of Jesus "What thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27 ). Of piece with this weak-mindedness was his attempt to cast the blame upon the chief priests and elders (compare Matthew 27:3 , Matthew 27:4 ). He sought to set himself right, not with the innocent Jesus whom he had betrayed, but with the accomplices in his crime; and because that world which his selfishness had made his god failed him at the last, he went and hanged himself. It was the tragic end of one who espoused a great cause in the spirit of speculation and selfish ambition, and who weighed not the dread consequences to which those impure motives might lead him (compare also Bruce, Training of the Twelve; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Stalker, Trial and Death of Jesus Christ ).
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Judas Iscariot'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/j/judas-iscariot.html. 1915.
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19