Judas betrayed his Rabbi. He regretted it. Then, he killed himself.
The mystery of Judas’ treachery is the most mysterious and unintelligible of sins.1 Judas had been close to Jesus for years. Why did he turn on him at the height of his popularity? Was he planning betrayal all along? Why did he change his mind after? Why suicide?
What happened to Judas after death? Was Judas’ remorse over his betrayal evidence of the repentance of his sin? Even though Jesus said Judas did not believe early in his ministry,2 could he have come to belief at the end of his life?
If the priests had shown mercy and a proper spirit of helpfulness when he approached them, would Judas have condemned himself as he did? How could a close intimate who daily witnessed the love, forgiveness and power of Christ be tempted to turn him over to his enemies in the first place?
Some have speculated that Judas never believed, nor loved Jesus. The Apocryphal Arabic Gospel of the Infancy says that Judas was possessed by Satan – even as a baby. This paints him as evil his entire time spent with Christ. He was someone groomed to betray, a sleeper agent.
Others, namely a sect of Gnostics considered to be heretics by the early church, taught that Judas was the only disciple enlightened to the truth. His betrayal was a self-sacrifice of sorts that led Christ to the cross in order for all people to be redeemed. Because of this “greater” understanding, Judas was revered and worshiped alongside Jesus.
A popular, modern theory is similar to that outlined in the fictional diaries presented here.3 Judas, like most of the other disciples, dreamed of a messianic, earthly kingdom. He interpreted everything Jesus said and did as confirmation that Jesus intended to rule the eternal kingdom of his forefather King David. Judas formulated a plan to provoke the uprising of the people at the arrest of Jesus. He would sell Jesus to his enemies, providing Jesus a reason to fight back and inflaming the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover to revolt. The people would then free Jesus, and set him on the throne. Jesus, the great miracle worker, would be invincible. When the people do not revolt in support of Jesus, Judas regrets his actions.4
Judas is guilty of ultimate treachery. That is undeniable. Judas was also an intimate, hand-chosen by Jesus. This implies that he had admirable attributes. In our speculations on his motivation, we must not miss the primary lesson of Judas.
Judas’ story serves as a warning. An enemy of Jesus can appear to be a close friend and a good person. We can never know the heart of another, but we can search our own. A small, selfish desire can birth treachery. Do we use our relationship with Jesus for our own purposes? Do we search for the roots of Judas’ betrayal in our own lives?
Jesus is often betrayed, but Jesus is never taken by surprise. He is aware of those who call him “lord,” yet do not know him. As he called Judas to follow him, he welcomes other betrayers to follow him. Jesus befriends even traitors, because he is able to transform treason into triumph.
1 W.H. Kent. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
2 John 6:62-71
3 Read the fictional account of Judas the week before he betrayed Jesus. It is based on the events recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Friday’s Entry; Thursday’s Entry; Wednesday’s Entry; Tuesday’s Entry; Monday‘s Entry; Sunday‘s Entry
4 Matthew 27:3