Tag Archives: Judas

God’s People, part 176: Judas Iscariot

Read Matthew 27:3-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Act 1:18-19, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JudasIscariotPart 176: Judas Iscariot. The greatest enigma in the whole of the Bible, apart from the mystery of God, is Judas Iscariot. Who was he? What was he like as a human being? What brought him into the fold as one of Jesus’ disciples? What made him someone Jesus trusted enough to be the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry? What was running through his heart and mind when began to turn away from Jesus’ teachings? What was the reason for Judas deciding to betray the one he had called teacher and Lord? What caused this Judas to go from a faithfully daring disciple to a tragic traitor?

So, what do we know about Judas? Let’s start with his name. The name Judas is Greek for Judah. Judah, of course, is the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is where the name “Jews” comes from. As such, some people have tried to argue that Judas was a “made up” character constructed to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death; however, an overwhelming majority of scholars reject that claim.

Judah was an extremely popular name at that time. In fact, one of Jesus’ own half-brothers, had the same name. What’s more, there was more than one Judas among Jesus’ disciples. There was also Judas son of James, whom we discussed in the previous devotion. Thus, the majority of scholars believe Judas was a real person and that was his name.

The epithet which accompanies his first name, Iscariot, has also caused much debate among scholars. It was certainly used to distinguish him from the other disciples. The epithet has most commonly been understood as a Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase (איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôtthat) meaning, “the man from Kerioth”, and seems to be supported by John 6:71.

Still, not everyone accepts this explanation. A popular explanation has been that Iscariot (Skaryota in Aramaic) is a play on the Latin word sicarius (or dagger man). If this were true, this would make Judas one of the Sicarii, a Jewish group of rebels known for committing acts of terrorism in the 40s and 50s AD. This interpretation has also found its way out of academia and into the world of film as well. In fact, the 1961 film, King of Kings (starring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot), utilizes this theory and portrays Judas as former sicarii (they incorrectly use the term zealot) who decided to betray Jesus to force his hand in striking down the Romans.

However, this view that Judas was a sicarii has no basis in Scripture, and there is no historical evidence that the sicarii ever existed during the 30s AD when Judas was alive. Thus, we don’t really know why Judas did what he did, or what he was before he was introduced in the Gospel accounts. We know that he was paid for his treachery, and the Gospel of John indicates that his motivation was greed; however, I would guess that there was more to it than just that. Still, we simply do not know why and we never will.

What we do know is that, at some point, Judas turned on Jesus and eventually betrayed him. We also know that Judas lived in a culture that took honor and shame very seriously. Once Jesus was arrested, convicted of treason, and crucified, Judas felt the weight of his actions crush him. The shame he had brought upon himself for betraying his teacher was unbearable. No doubt, you can see that shame played out in the Gospels.

The authors, and certainly those who conveyed the accounts to them, all looked upon Judas as a scourge for what he did. Every Gospel uses Iscariot to distinguish him from other Judases, and they always list him as Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus). That shameful fact hung like an albatross around Judas’ neck and, sadly, he took his own life.

The challenge for us is to NOT read with judgment toward Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; however, he was chosen by Jesus as one of his twelve and, no doubt, Jesus chose him for a reason. What’s more, Judas was not the only one to betray or abandon Jesus that night. Peter denied him 3 times, the other disciples ran (one of them ran away naked as his clothes were torn off of him) and hid away for fear of their own lives.

The challenge for us is for us to, instead of judging Judas, turn the mirror around at ourselves. How do we fall short of Jesus? How do we betray him? How do we turn our backs at him? What’s more, how do we come to a place of forgiveness for having betrayed him? How do we move beyond the guilt and shame of our sins and into the blessed assurance of God’s redemptive grace?

I believe that Jesus had already forgiven him when he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Judas, the other disciples, the Jewish authorities, and the Romans. He also forgave you, and me, and us all. The choice is ours, just as it was Judas’, as to whether we choose to accept that forgiveness and move onward into serving the Risen Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34)

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness and for freeing me for joyful service. Amen.

God’s People, part 175: Bar James

Read Luke 6:12-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, ‘Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?’”  (John 14:22, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

St._Thaddeus,_St._Sandukht_and_other_Christians_in_Sanatruk's_prisonPart 175: Bar James. The twelve disciples, as a whole, are so well known because of their proximity to Jesus throughout his ministry as accounted for in the Gospels; however, if you were to ask people to name the twelve disciples off of the top of their heads, the list would sound a lot like this: “Peter, James, John, Andrew, Mathew… Thomas….. Judas……..???” That is because there isn’t a whole lot written about the other disciples.

Of course, the Judas mentioned in anyone’s list of the twelve would automatically be Judas Iscariot, who was the only one of the disciples named Judas, right? Well, not exactly. There was also Judas son of James among the Twelve. In fact, Judas was a common name in Jesus’ time. About 60 or so years before Jesus’ birth, there was a Jewish revolutionary ruling as King named Judas Maccabeus. His successful revolution against the Seleucid Dynasty resulted in the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple, an event that is still celebrated in the holiday of Hanukkah.

There was also the revolutionary named Judas of Galilee who founded the Zealot sect, which we discussed in our devotion on Simon the Zealot. As one can see, Judas (another form of Judah) was a popular name and so it makes sense that another disciple would be named Judas, beside the one known as Iscariot.

Judas son of James, also known by the name Jude (but not to be confused with Jesus’ half-brother of the same name), is so named in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:16) and is considered to be the same as the Judas who is listed in John’s Gospel (John 14:22). In Mark and Matthew, there is no Judas son of James listed as being one of the disciples. Instead, they list Thaddeus as one of the Twelve.

Most scholars believe that Thaddeus (which is a Greek nickname meaning “a courageous heart”) is the same person as Judas, son of James. This is quite plausible considering that some of the disciples took on nicknames such as Simon (called Peter), John and James (“sons of Thunder”), etc. Add to the fact that the name Judas was tarnished by Judas Iscariot, and perhaps having a nickname might be quite beneficial for someone with the same name.

Whatever the case may be, Judas went on to preach the Gospel throughout Judaea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya. Along with Bartholomew, Judas was the first to bring the Gospel to Armenia. Also, in what is a favorite tidbit for me, Jude is traditionally believed to have been a vegetarian. In about 65 A.D., Judas and Simon the Zealot were executed by beheading in Beirut.

My hope for those who are reading this is that they will reflect on all of the disciples and their sacrifice for the spreading of the Gospel. In an age where modernists and even seminary presidents try to dismiss the miraculous and scandalous claims of Jesus, these Apostles went to their deaths proclaiming it as Gospel truth. The question is this, who should we believe? Arm chair theologians and modernist historians, or those who were willing to give up their very lives to proclaim the Gospel as truth?

The challenge for all of us is to stop abandoning our hearts for our heads. Yes, God gave us heads to think with, to reason with, and discern with. Yes, we should be using our heads; however, God didn’t just give us our heads, but our hearts as well. None of us truly live by evidence alone. If we did, none of us would ever step foot into a car again, let alone a house. None of us could survive life without faith. None of us could survive (long) without reason and discernment. Learn to balance the two and place your faith in Jesus Christ, just as Judas son of James and the other Apostles did. Serve Christ, no matter the cost.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be strong and keep the faith. With you, all things are possible. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and Judas was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could he have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…they all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Wednesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 26:6-16

30 Pieces of SilverAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Today I did something that I am not sure I should have done. I have been following Jesus for three long years, waiting for the time when he would step up and become the Messiah we are so longing for! With all of the miracles and signs, I just knew that this man must be the one God is sending to liberate our people from the foreign oppressors.

But I fear that these past three years have been in vain. On Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and there was such a crowd! He could have easily inspired that crowd to rise up against the Romans! And who would stop this man who can control the winds and the seas? Who would be able to stop this man who can raise the dead to life and cause the paralyzed to walk again! Surely, Jesus has the power to crush Rome at the snap of his fingers, but instead he does nothing by causes division among our leaders and teaches about his coming death.

I fear that I have been mistaken these past few years. Today I went to the chief priests and spoke with them. They told me that this Jesus was dangerous and that he needed to be dealt with before Rome crushed us all. They said that all Jesus would offer me is Roman punishment and death; however, they said that if I brought them to Jesus, they would give me thirty pieces of silver. Though I am still uncertain as to whether I should or not, I agreed to lead them to Jesus tomorrow night. At least they are offering me something tangible.

REFLECTION

How long have you traveled with Jesus? How long have you listened to him and learned from his teachings? Are you sure you know him as well as you think you do? Are you sure that you understand all that he has been teaching you?

It is easy for us to look at Judas as being different than we are. It is easy to see him as the scapegoat, as the ONE who betrayed Jesus. Yet, are we free from that betrayal? Do we sacrifice our loyalty when Jesus doesn’t fit into our worldview? The truth is that Judas is not alone in the department of betrayal. When we preach the Good News, but don’t live it…are we not betraying Jesus? When we ignore the poor, avoid the sick, judge the “sinner”, and put our own theologies before the LOVE of God, are we not betraying Jesus

Hear the Good News: in whatever ways you have betrayed Jesus, he as forgiven you! Now, move on from the past and allow God to transform you. Embrace Jesus mission of hope, healing and wholeness (Luke 4:18-19) and go forth into the world bearing it!

PRAYER

Lord, Create in me a clean heart and renew a righteous spirit within me. Use me in a way that bears hope, healing and wholeness to those around me who need it. Amen.