THE LAST HOURS IN THE LIFE OF
Instead of taking the story of Judas piece-meal as it occurs in the gospel record, we shall take it as a whole, reading one after another the last incidents and the final suicide of the traitor.
THE TRAITOR’S BARGAIN
Then one of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me, if I hand him over to you?” They settled with him for a sum of thirty shekels; and from that time he sought for an opportunity to betray him.
We have seen that the Jewish authorities wished to find a way in which to arrest Jesus without provoking riotous disturbances, and now that way was presented to them by the approach of Judas. There can be only three real reasons why Judas betrayed Jesus. All other suggestions are variations of these three.
(i) It may have been because of avarice. According to Matthew and Mark it was immediately after the anointing at Bethany that Judas struck his dreadful bargain; and when John tells his story of that event, he says that Judas made his protest against the anointing because he was a thief and pilfered from the money that was in the box (Jn.12:6). If that is so, Judas struck one of the most dreadful bargains in history. The sum for which he agreed to betray Jesus was thirty arguria (GSN0694). An argurion (GSN0694) was a shekel, and was worth about three shillings. Judas, therefore, sold Jesus for less than five pounds. If avarice was the cause of his act of treachery, it is the most terrible example in history of the depths which love of money can reach.
(ii) It may have been because of bitter hatred, based on complete disillusionment. The Jews always had their dream of power; therefore they had their extreme nationalists who were prepared to go to any lengths of murder and violence to drive the Romans from Palestine. These nationalists were called the sicarii, the dagger-bearers, because they followed a deliberate policy of assassination. It may be that Judas was such, and that he had looked on Jesus as the divinely sent leader, who, with his miraculous powers, could lead the great rebellion. He may have seen that Jesus had deliberately taken another way, the way that led to a cross. And in his bitter disappointment, Judas’ devotion may have turned, first to disillusionment, and then to a hatred which drove him to seek the death of the man from whom he had expected so much. Judas may have hated Jesus because he was not the Christ he wished him to be.
(iii) It may be that Judas never intended Jesus to die. It may be that, as we have seen, he saw in Jesus the divine leader. He may have thought that Jesus was proceeding far too slowly; and he may have wished for nothing else than to force his hand. He may have betrayed Jesus with the intention of compelling him to act. That is in fact the view which best suits all the facts. And that would explain why Judas was shattered into suicide when his plan went wrong.
However we look at it, the tragedy of Judas is that he refused to accept Jesus as he was and tried to make him what he wanted him to be. It is not Jesus who can be changed by us, but we who must be changed by Jesus. We can never use him for our purposes; we must submit to be used for his. The tragedy of Judas is that of a man who thought he knew better than God.
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