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What the Bible says about Judas Iscariot
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Is God sovereign over mankind in general? There are times when, from our perspective, it looks as if events are completely out of control. Is man a creature so perverse, powerful, and unruly that he is beyond God's control? Has sin so alienated us from God that we are outside the pale of His jurisdiction? Consider this: Either God rules or is ruled; either God has His way or man his. These are the alternatives. Is man entirely free to do as he pleases? Is he such a rebel against God's throne that God cannot fulfill His plan through him? Is God powerful enough to complete His purpose in spite of mankind's perversity?

It is clear from the incidents of the Flood and Tower of Babel that God can simply overrule what man does. Beyond this, however, God can work with and through a person to get him to carry out His will without his knowledge. Pharaoh of Egypt and Judas Iscariot are good examples. Was Judas, for instance, plotting from the moment of his calling to betray Jesus to the authorities? Scripture gives no indication of this, yet Jesus says He knew from the beginning who would betray Him. In John 6:69-70, He says Judas is a devil. Judas has no clue of this, but God nonetheless works out His purpose through him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five

Related Topics: God's Sovereignty | Judas Iscariot


Maybe the most vivid example of tragic misinterpretation of prophecy occurred in the life of Judas Iscariot. His misconception about the coming of the Messiah resulted in the betrayal and death of Jesus and his own death by suicide. If Judas had not misinterpreted prophecy, he probably would not have done what he did.

Scholars surmise that Judas may have been the only Judean among the twelve disciples of Jesus. This alone could have caused him to feel somewhat superior, as Judeans considered Galileans to be "country bumpkins." When Jesus gave him charge of the money box, it may have additionally boosted his ego.

His resume may also have included identification as a Zealot, an attribute held by only one other disciple, Simon the Zealot. How do we know that Judas was probably a Zealot? By his surname, Iscariot. Researchers believe this is a form of the title sicarii, meaning "dagger-men," a group of ultra-Zealots who carried a knife with them at all times to be prepared to assassinate traitors and capitulators. In English, we could call him Judas Daggerman.

Though motivated primarily by socio-economic and political factors, the Zealots also had prophetic ideas driving them. They believed that if they turned Israel back to God and incited war against the Romans, the Messiah would arise to lead them and establish His Kingdom. This "understanding" resulted from misinterpreting many prophecies concerning Christ's comings. In short, the Zealots ignored many of the prophecies regarding His first coming and completely mis-timed those about the second.

Initially, Christ's message probably aroused great excitement among the Zealots and their sympathizers. His early public teachings, in which He rarely mentions having to die for the sins of the world, seemed to fit their expectations of a Messiah who would turn the people back to God. The accompanying miracles, healings, and casting out of demons only added to their "proof." Here was a righteous Jew, a descendant of David, who could lead them to victory over the Romans and usher in God's Kingdom!

Judas must have been thrilled! Jesus the Messiah had chosen him to be one among twelve—and had appointed him treasurer too! Surely, he would be a mighty king in the New World Order that they would establish! It was more than he had ever hoped or dreamed!

Yet at some point, Jesus' message began to change. He frequently told His disciples that He would die—by crucifixion, of all things!—and that this was a main reason for His coming. Judas began to notice that Jesus' references to the Kingdom contradicted his own ideas of it. How could this be right? Daniel had prophesied of the Messiah's coming at this time to set up the Kingdom that "shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14, 27; 9:24-25). Jesus, Judas thought, must be a false Messiah!

He began to find fault with the things Jesus said and did. He began to steal from the money box, either for his own ends or maybe to fund some of the activities of the sicarii. Once, in Bethany, he even complained aloud of his displeasure to Jesus (John 12:3-6). When Jesus gently rebuked him for his comment (Mark 14:6-9), Judas was incensed! Luke 22:3-6 tells what happened next:

Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. Then he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.

Not even Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as King of Israel could dissuade him from his course. Judas had convinced himself that Jesus was a false Messiah and that He had to pay for His deception!

So Judas betrayed Jesus, who was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to die—just as He had foretold! With the prophecies fulfilled before his eyes, Judas Iscariot saw how He had misunderstood all along:

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

It was too late. All the remorse in the world could not undo the damage he had caused—he had condemned the Savior of the world, the King of kings, to a cruel, shameful, painful death by crucifixion! What terrible destruction we can cause when we proudly act on our private interpretations of Scripture!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
No Private Interpretation

Related Topics: Judas Iscariot


Matthew 13:37-40

Besides providing the instruction in His parable, Jesus Christ provides the perfect example of how to treat and interact with a tare. He had to deal with a tare close to Him throughout His ministry. In John 6:70-71, John writes, "Jesus answered [His disciples], 'Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?' He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was hewho would betray Him, being one of the twelve."

How Christ dealt with Judas sets the example for how we ought to deal with recognized tares. Jesus knew Judas; He knew his character and heart after traveling with him throughout His three-and-a-half years of ministry. Yet, Judas was allowed responsibilities and given duties just as the other disciples were. Judas worked and prayed, appearing just as religious as the other eleven—but Judas was only like them in appearance, not in character.

However, Jesus never revealed to the other disciples that Judas was a tare. Even in John 6, specifically identifying who He meant, Christ only mentions the presence of a tare, forcing the disciples to look inward and evaluate their own hearts. It is clear the disciples were unaware of Judas' corrupt character even after spending more than three years with him. At the final Passover, the disciples had no idea who would betray the Master. Each of them began to say to Christ, "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22). If He had revealed Judas' nature to them, or had the disciples been wise enough to guess, they would have had no need to ask this question.

Instead of singling out Judas and treating Him poorly, Jesus showed love and kindness to him, His own disciple who would betray Him and cause His death. Christ showed His enemy courtesy, respect, and humility, and even in a position of servitude, washed Judas' feet. He never revealed the tare among them, but instead allowed Judas to expose his own character through his actions. Perhaps Jesus knew that if He revealed Judas' character, He would risk uprooting some of His other disciples. Loving the eleven so strongly, Christ would not risk losing one of them on account of Judas.

As we mature as Christians, it is our responsibility to judge. We are training to be priests and kings in the coming Kingdom of God, and in both of these positions, judging plays a major role. In preparation, we are constantly forced to evaluate and recognize sin in order to avoid it, though with care not to presume to know the heart of whoever sins. In addition, we must actively judge our own lives, recognizing the sin within ourselves. But when we recognize sin in others, and even correctly identify a tare in the church, we must still show love and kindness.

God has not given us the responsibility of removing the tares; He has reserved that job solely for Himself. In fact, from Jesus' example, He has not even given us the job of exposing who they may be. God, in wisdom infinitely greater than our own, will separate the wheat from the tares. Besides, wheat cannot reap even itself, much less the tare—only the reaper can reap.

As wheat, our responsibility is to grow in kindness, patience, and godly love, producing healthy and good fruit. This requires an attitude of meek, humble, and godly service. Most importantly, we have the responsibility to grow into the perfect image of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ted E. Bowling
Taking Care With the Tares

Mark 14:46

Jesus worked this miracle of healing in the same moment that He was submitting to His cruel enemies. In addition, on the heels of His agonizing prayers (characterized by His bloody perspiration; Luke 22:44), one of His own disciples, Judas, had given Him the kiss of betrayal, a prelude to the coming horrors of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion—the cruelest trial ever suffered by a man.

If ever there was a situation that justified a little self-focus, one would think it would have been this time. Yet, amid all of this, Jesus chose to show mercy to His captors and to glorify His Father by submitting to His will.

He elected to perform a miracle of mercy—of outgoing love and faithfulness—to show the grace of God in action even during the most stressful of times. This shames us all! We find so many excuses for not serving God as we should. For the slightest reason, some skip church services, neglect to come to the aid of others, or refuse to help with the needs of the church.

If any Christian thinks he has problems sufficient to exempt him from serving God, he had better be sure his problems are greater than those that faced our Savior at the time of this miracle.

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing Malchus' Ear (Part One)

John 12:4-6

Judas had been with Jesus Christ for three and a half years, and this occurred some six days before Jesus was to be crucified. John reveals to us Judas' habit. He had been with Christ at campfires and had heard His sermons and teachings. He had been involved in the camaraderie and the special education that a person gets when with a small group. Despite this, Judas never saw Jesus clearly enough to motivate a change in his life. He was a thief from the beginning. He never said to himself, "All these things apply to me, so I have to change." Because of this, his final act was to hang himself—after actually seeing what he was! He had never realized it prior to that time.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted

John 13:10-11

The footwashing is simply a ritual, a ceremony, a symbolic act that outwardly manifests an inward attitude and conviction. In the example of Judas Iscariot, we see that though he went through the ritual, he was not really clean. The ritual could not remove the terrible sin that he was about to commit against his Creator. Because he had not repented of his sin, footwashing was meaningless to Judas.

Paul writes, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves" (II Corinthians 13:5). Isaiah urges, "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings" (Isaiah 1:16). In his psalm of repentance, on the other hand, David beseeches God, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (Psalm 51:2). Thus, we see that this rededication to God at Passover is a shared effort between us and God. We renew our faith in Christ's sacrifice, redevote ourselves to the New Covenant, repent of our spiritual failings, and seek forgiveness, and He forgives us and cleanses us of our sins.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

John 13:27

We find Judas at this time in perfect union with Satan to do the Devil's bidding to betray Christ, something that is not very pleasant to consider. How can people turn their backs on the truth, on God Himself?

We can discern a logical progression because as union with one strengthens, union with the other weakens. In Judas' case, the union with God weakened. Why? He was entertaining thoughts that were in opposition to the spirit, to the mind, to the words of God. He allowed these ideas to grow through circumstances that arose in his life, and they kept getting stronger. His union with Satan, who was undoubtedly pumping these ideas into him or putting perverse twists on what he heard so that he began to feel alienated and separated from Christ, became stronger. At the same time, his union with God decayed until he betrayed Jesus.

This can happen to us, so we must fight against it. Married people ought to be able to understand how this works, as it is what happens when a divorce occurs. Usually, a married couple begin their union feeling as though they will never separate; they feel an intense bond with one another. But because their union is not worked at, gradually one or the other begins to be attracted to union with another. Everybody has to be on guard against this.

When the Bible speaks about guarding, keeping, preserving, and enduring, it is referring to this possibility. We must work to endure and preserve our union with God - and keep working at it to make it strong. How do we make a strong relationship? In the same way a couple works at it before they are married. In their dating and courtship, they do everything they can to please the other so that a union occurs. It is simple to grasp in principle but sometimes hard to do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Four)


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