Of all the people Jesus befriended, I believe he is the most difficult of all to accept in our minds. “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). It is a hard beginning to getting to know the apostles because we know the outcome of the last apostle. “Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:14-16).
As I read this text, I always want to cry out, “Do not pick Judas! Don’t you know he is going to betray you?” Much of this goes back to our expectations of what the apostles should be. We think of them as flawless, sinless men. But we have already shattered that concept with our study of Peter, who repeatedly failed Jesus, and Matthew, whose occupation was renown for cheating others and was classified as being as sinful as being a prostitute. Jesus did not pick one of the religious leaders of the day to be his apostle. He did not choose one of the scribes who would know the law well to be his apostle. Jesus chose ordinary men.
Jesus was aware that he had chosen a traitor. “Jesus replied to them, ‘Didn’t I choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is the Devil!’ He was referring to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, one of the Twelve, because he was going to betray Him” (John 6:70-71). Jesus chose these men for a reason. Jesus was aware what kind of people he was asking to be his close circle of twelve. Let us consider the character of Judas.
I. The Character of Judas
- In John 12 we read that it was about week before the Passover. Jesus and his disciples are in the town of Bethany in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. While they were eating, Mary takes a pound of very expensive fragrant oil and anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair. This act is a beautiful expression of Mary’s love for Jesus.
- Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it” (John 12:4-6).
- This passage gives us the clues about the character of Judas. Judas was a thief who showed his greed for money. Judas said these words not because he cared anything about the poor. What Judas cared about was putting money in his pockets. Mary could have sold this perfume and given the proceeds to Jesus. Judas, since he was in charge of the moneybag, would have been able to take a cut for himself. Don’t you think it was Jesus who decided who would be in charge of keeping the money? I can imagine the look in Jesus’ eye as he would hand the moneybag to Judas and tell him to be in charge. Greed was a certain flaw of Judas which Jesus put to the test.
- John 13 records Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. We are told in verse 2 that Judas has already purposed in his heart to betray Jesus. Jesus knew this, got up from supper, laid aside his robe, tied a towel around himself and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus comes to Peter and Peter questions him regarding if Jesus was going to wash his feet. After the dialogue with Peter about Jesus needing to wash Peter’s feet, Jesus said, “‘One who has bathed doesn’t need to wash anything except his feet, but he is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who would betray Him. This is why He said, ‘You are not all clean'” (John 13:10-11).
- Jesus makes this open declaration that one of them is not clean. In the very next verse we read Jesus washed the feet of every disciple. Judas was one of the twelve who had his feet washed by Jesus after declaring one of them to be unclean. How could any person, with any conscience, allow Jesus to wash your feet when you know full well you are going to turn him over to the authorities in a just a few hours? It would be like having someone to your home to share a meal and conversation, who in just hours would turn you in for money, knowing you are innocent. The callousness to sit there and let your feet be washed in a great act of servitude while you plotted their demise. Judas was a hypocrite, showing one life to Jesus and the disciples, yet leading a completely different life in his heart and his motives.
- Right after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus predicts that one of them would betray him. “They began to be distressed and to say to Him one by one, ‘Surely not I?'” (Mark 14:19). Imagine the scene as the disciples are shocked to hear the news that one of them would be a betrayer of Jesus. Peter, loving Jesus, looks at him and says “Is it I?” James and John look at Jesus and ask if it is them. Andrew, Simon, James, each of them, one by one asking Jesus if they would be the one. Judas opens his mouth and says “Is it I?”
- The restraint of Jesus during this time is evident. I know what I would have done in this setting and it is probably what each of you would want to do as well. Would you not want to talk Judas out of it? Would you not want to sway Judas’ mind? If not, would we not call him out for the scoundrel that he is? Would we not look at Judas and ask why or what wrong had we done to him? Jesus simply declares that the one who dips the bread is the betrayer and then hands the bread to Judas. Jesus then tells Judas to go do what is planning to do quickly. The deception Judas pulled to act innocent as if he did not know who the betrayer was or that he had already planned this very act.
- Judas had set up a signal for the soldiers that the one who he kissed was the one to be arrested. “He came near Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48). Before Judas places the kiss on Jesus, Jesus challenges what Judas is going to do. Jesus predicts exactly what Judas was about to do, perhaps to have Judas truly think about what he is doing. But this statement does not stop Judas. “So when he came, he went right up to Him and said, ‘Rabbi’—and kissed Him” (Mark 14:45).
- Of all Judas’ acts, how brazen it was for Judas, with a cohort of soldiers, to come up to Jesus face to face, call him rabbi, and give a kiss on his cheek. Then Judas steps back as the soldiers arrest Jesus in front of all of the disciples. I am surprised that the disciples did not try to kill Judas right there in the garden for what he did. But the soldiers seem to begin to seize the disciples and so they turn and flee.
- Judas’ end is of great notoriety as well. “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,’ he said. ‘What is that to us?’ they said. ‘See to it yourself!’ So he threw the silver into the sanctuary and departed. Then he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5). There is much we can learn from the life of Judas.
II. Learning From Judas’ Life and Apostleship
A. Greed interferes with our service to God
- It is evident that one of the reasons Judas betrayed Jesus was for greed. Judas was already stealing from the moneybag. An opportunity presented itself where he could make some more money and he took it. Judas turned Jesus over for only 30 pieces of silver. When we read the story we usually shake our head at Judas wondering how he could have been so foolish and so callous to betray Jesus.
- But how often do we do the exact same thing! The things we sacrifice in our greed. We have to have more and we will give up such precious things for a few more dollars. We see society sacrificing spouses and children on the altar of greed. Everyone is working and no one is thinking about the consequences. When faced with the decision between money and God, God usually loses. We make up reasons and try to justify our choices. But the point was made by Paul: “For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). We do not take these words seriously but we ought to, for what Paul said is happening.
- It is amazing that the disciples are not aware of Judas’ character until the garden of Gethsemane, when he comes with the soldiers to arrest Jesus. For years Judas was able to be the master of deception, playing the hypocrite with no one ever knowing. The disciples had no idea Judas was stealing from the moneybag. Judas acting like all the other apostles, even chiming in if it was he who would betray Jesus. Even when Jesus tells Judas to go what he is about to do quickly, the disciples think Jesus is telling Judas to purchase some goods for the upcoming Passover, since Judas was in charge of the money. He led the perfect double life and no one knew about it…except God. Every person must stand before God, even though we may have fooled everyone else who knows us. People may think we are upright people who love God. But God knows. Why be fake? Putting on exterior actions is not pleasing to God.
B. Repentance could have been found
- The end of Judas’ life is perhaps the most shocking part of the story. Did Judas think that Jesus would not have him back? Did Judas believe that what he had done was too much for others to forgive him? Perhaps Judas did not think he could look into the faces of the apostles again. Perhaps Judas believed that the apostles would have nothing to do with the betrayer. His sin was grave, but Jesus would have taken him back.
- The reason we know that Jesus would have taken Judas back is because he took back all the other disciples who promised that they would not forsake him, yet each one of them did. We know Jesus would have taken Judas back because he took back Peter, the one who had denied Jesus three times and continually failed in his faith. We know Jesus would have taken Judas back because Jesus’ call was not to a life of sinlessness, but to a life of repentance. Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough” (Luke 5:32). Jesus is not looking for perfect people. People who think they are perfect do not see their problem and cannot be helped by the doctor. Jesus wants you right where you are, in your sins, feeling helpless, so that you will turn to Him for help.
- We cannot allow our guilt to swallow us up, as it did with Judas. We cannot ever think that God will not take us back. This may sound strange, but we need to feel that hopelessness to appreciate God’s love. No one would take us back for what we have done. But God will. No one would give us a second chance after our errors we have committed. But God does. Jesus does not want you coming to him in your own righteousness. Jesus is looking for you to come to him in your weakness, realizing you need help to change your life. “I’ve come to call sinners to change the way they think and act, not to call people who think they have God’s approval” (Luke 5:32). Jesus wants to help you change your life.
C. Why Judas?
- So how could Judas be called to be an apostle? I think the example of Jesus is evident and the reason is clear: God expects us to be with and change these same kinds of people through the gospel. We look at people like Judas and we want to write them off. We want to pass judgment that they are not worthy of the gospel. We know of the person’s errors and we know they cannot live up to God’s standard of righteousness. But neither can we live up to God’s standard of righteousness.
- Why bring Judas into his circle? He brought Judas into his circle because he was trying to change people’s lives. Jesus did not bring in the religious leaders because they would not change their ways. But Jesus brought sinners into his circle so they would be changed by his teachings and learn to seek the Lord. This is our purpose and this is our calling that God has given to us. Judas is no different than the evil living of Matthew, Peter, or any other person Jesus chose. Jesus did not choose the clean, but was friends with the dirty to help them become clean.
- Unfortunately, not everyone we spend time with will become clean. Jesus challenged Judas to a high way of living, but Judas did not make the changes to his heart. Judas was not going to receive salvation by association. Judas had to change his life, change his heart, and change his ways. Judas did not want to change, but the other disciples made those changes. God expects us to make those changes to our lives and help others make those changes. Why choose Judas? Because Judas needed Jesus. Why choose Judas? Because even the deeply wicked in heart need to be given the opportunity to change. Why choose Judas? Because if Jesus will choose Judas, then Jesus will choose me.