“THE NIGHT HE WAS BETRAYED”
The purpose of this article is to draw together the threads which run through the Gospels in relation to the betrayal of Jesus; to link together some apparently unrelated happenings and to piece together the details of the plot to kill Jesus. We shall examine Judas’ motives and the attitudes of the other disciples and Jesus himself, to him. We hope to solve some of the puzzles which surround this fateful night and will see why it will always be remembered as “the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11: 23).
What Motivated Judas to Betray Jesus?
Judas’ disillusionment may have begun about twelve months before this final, fateful Passover. Following the feeding of the 5,000 the people tried to make Jesus their king and the Twelve had probably joined forces with the crowd, or possibly even led them, in their zeal to see Jesus enthroned in his rightful place as the Son of David and Messiah of Israel. This is made plain enough by the fact that Jesus “constrained” his disciples to leave the scene while he dismissed the crowd (Matt 14:22, A.V., cp. John 6:15); the Twelve were apparently a hindrance to him and, for the time being, he was better off with them well out of the way. The next day some of the same crowd came to hear Jesus teach in the synagogue at Capernaum, but they found his teachings either incomprehensible or unacceptable and “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60, 66). Aware that the Twelve had been sympathetic with the Messianic expectations of the crowd, Jesus asked if they too wanted to leave and singled out Judas for special mention: “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil! (He meant Judas who later was to betray him)” (John 6: 67-71). Why this special reference at this time to Judas? Had he been a ringleader in the attempt to make Jesus a king, or did he too wish to leave with the others who were disillusioned?
But disillusionment alone was not enough to cause Judas to betray Jesus. Pride had to be combined with it. This happened at Bethany when again Judas was the ringleader or spokesman for the Twelve in objecting to Mary’s waste of very expensive perfume, and was then himself rebuked for failing to understand that it was “a beautiful thing” which she had done (Matt. 26: 6-13; cp. John 12:1-8). Matthew records this incident between the plot by the chief priests to kill Jesus and Judas’ visit to them, and Mark also records Judas’ offer to betray Jesus immediately after the Bethany incident. This was not simply to get the chronology right but because the Bethany incident was central to the betrayal. Luke’s version, when compared with the other synoptic writers, confirms this:
Luke’s mention of Satan, in the light of this comparison, seems to be referring somehow to the Bethany incident. It could mean that it was at this particular time that Judas completely surrendered to his human nature and was angered by his humiliation to the extent of wanting to seek vengeance.
John gives us another motive: Judas was a thief and helped himself to their common purse (John 12:6). Certainly this was a reason for his objection to this waste of expensive perfume. Although none of the Gospel writers actually give Judas’ avarice as a reason for the betrayal, it is possible that Paul had it in mind when he wrote: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Admittedly, 30 silver coins was not an enormous sum (about four months’ wages for a labourer) (1) , but Mark’s and Luke’s accounts that the chief priests “promised to give him money”, when compared with Matthew’s record that they “counted out for him 30 silver coins”, could easily imply that they paid him a deposit with more to follow when the prisoner was secured.
The Conspiracy with the Sanhedrin
The chief priests and elders “plotted to arrest Jesus in some cunning way and kill him” (Matt. 26:4). Before Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover they “had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him” (John 11:57). However, they made one stipulation: “But not during the Feast, or thee may be a riot among the people” (Matt. 26:5). Luke adds that “they were afraid of the people” (Luke 22:2). There was another reason why they wanted to avoid crowds. On three earlier occasions attempts had been made to kill Jesus and he had escaped (Luke 4:16-30; John 8:59; 10:22-39). On the two later occasions, both in the temple, Jesus’ escape was made possible by slipping through the crowds. Here was how Judas could help: “He watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (Luke 22:6).
The chief priests had made one restriction only - “not during the Feast” - and yet, on Judas’ advice, they set aside this one requirement. As it turned out, Judas was to obtain information of such importance that they would arrest Jesus at what had been earlier considered to be the worst possible time. To discover what this information was, we need to look at what transpired in the upper room.
The Upper Room
Soon after Jesus and the Twelve entered the upper room a dispute arose among the disciples “as to which of them was considered to be the greatest” (Luke 22:24). It was not the first time; a similar dispute had erupted a few days earlier over who would sit on Jesus’ left and right hands in his glory (Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45). The dispute may have re-erupted over the same issue, this time prompted by the seating arrangements. It is apparent that John was on Jesus’ right (John 13:23-25) and Judas most likely was on his left. This is indicated by the fact that Judas was in close proximity to Jesus and their conversation was unheard by the others (2). These two disciples detected something about Jesus’ state of mind that night. While all four Gospel writers record Jesus’ prediction, “One of you will betray me”, John alone notes that while Jesus said this he was “troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). Judas also noticed this troubled disposition, and was later to find his knowledge useful.
The reaction of the others to Jesus’ prediction is remarkable. First “they looked on one another doubting of whom he spake” (John 13:22); secondly, “they began to question among themselves which of them it was” (Luke 22:23); and finally, “they began to be sorrowful and to say ‘Is it I?’ “ (Mark 14:19). They looked to themselves and focused on their own doubts and failings, rather than the faults of others. They may have thought that Jesus was referring to their earlier dispute as a kind of betrayal, a denial of his teaching and spirit. Paul no doubt alludes to their introspection when, in the context of the breaking of bread, he says “Let a man examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28).
Peter asked John to find out from the Lord who would betray him. We hear nothing of Peter following up this request and asking John who it was who had been identified. Could it be that Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denials had been understood by that apostle to be the answer to his question? Had his worst fears (“Is it I?”) been confirmed?
Judas’ Rendezvous with the Chief Priests
Jesus told John that he would identify the betrayer by giving him a piece of bread which he had dipped in the dish. He gave it to Judas. “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Had Judas heard what Jesus had said to John and was he now humiliated again by being identified in this way? If so, then his anger would have been rekindled and inflamed and Judas again surrendered to his human feelings.
He quickly left the room and went to the chief priests with some important information. “Jesus is in an unusual state of mind; he is ‘troubled in spirit’ and speaking of being betrayed; this would be the psychologically right moment to arrest Jesus because he would not resist or try to escape”. Such an approach by Judas seems to be indicated in Psalm 41 which is partially cited in John 13;18: “All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, ‘A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies’. Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psa. 41: 8-9).
Psalm 55 was written in the same historical context as Psalm 41: the rebellion of Absolom and Ahithophel’s betrayal of David. No doubt it equally applies to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psa. 55: 12-14). Was there any special way in which Jesus and Judas were “close friends” enjoying “sweet fellowship in the house of God”? It seems highly likely that Judas was the only Judaean among the Twelve (Iscariot is probably derived from Ish Kerioth - a man of Kerioth in Judaea) and therefore the only disciple likely to have had a formal religious education. This may have given him a good knowledge of Scripture, enabling him to discuss Scripture with Jesus on a different level to the others and therefore enjoying a special relationship. The expressions, “a man like myself, my companion, my close friend whom I trusted” certainly imply a special relationship, the last expression possibly referring to his office as treasurer, the only special office, as far the we are aware, to be held by any of the Twelve. Judas’ position on Jesus’ left at the last supper was probably a token of this relationship, as John’s position on Jesus’ right was because he was “the disciple he loved”. Judas was probably above suspicion as far as the other disciples were concerned; it certainly appears that they were blissfully unaware of his dealings with the common purse.
It is almost certain that it was this “vile disease”, this unusual depression or troubled spirit, which Judas used to persuade the chief priests to set aside their one stipulation that Jesus was not to be arrested during the Feast. They acted quickly and sent a delegation to Pilate to arrange a contingent of soldiers and a high-ranking Roman official to escort them to the place where Jesus was to be arrested (3). No doubt Pilate was also notified to expect a trial first thing the following morning before Jesus’ supporters could rally to his defence (4).
In the meantime Jesus and the Eleven had left the upper room and gone to Gethsemane. Jesus’ troubled state of mind had become more intense, so that he would say, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful” (Matt. 26:38). He “offered up prayers and petitions, with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Heb. 5:7).
“The Father heard; an angel there
Sustain’d the Son of God in prayer.”
Jesus’ prayer was heard and he was strengthened by an angel so that he could pray more earnestly (Luke 22: 43-44). As the Apostle records: “He endured for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2).
It was soon after this that Judas arrived with the Roman soldiers and members of the Sanhedrin. He had a pre-arranged signal for them: “The one I kiss is the man.” Why was such a signal necessary? Could not Judas simply point out the man to them? He must have wanted to avoid any appearance of complicity in the arrest so that he could retain his place among the Twelve - apparently believing that things were not over and that Jesus would simply be punished and released and no-one would know of his involvement. This signal would arouse no suspicion, being the usual greeting between a Rabbi and his disciple. The soldiers must have been instructed to observe from a distance and wait for a suitable time before coming out of the darkness (5). Judas was overly keen to give the impression that all was well. The Greek word used in the Gospels (kataphilein) means ‘to kiss tenderly or repeatedly, as one would a lover’. He would then have mingled with the other disciples who would be unaware that anything was wrong. By the time the soldiers came forward to arrest Jesus, Judas had made sure that his tracks had been covered. There is still one more clue leading to this conclusion.
At the High Priest’s House
John tells us that Peter and an unnamed disciple who was known to the High Priest followed Jesus to the house of Annas. It has often been assumed that this anonymous disciple was John himself, although the evidence for this is wanting. Why was John known to the High Priest? Why was not John’s Galilean accent noticed, as Peter’s was (Luke 22:59)? There was only one disciple whom we know for certain was known to the High Priest, and who had no Galilean accent - Judas! Judas had covered his tracks so well that Peter was still unaware of his involvement in Jesus’ arrest, and so the two of them followed Jesus to the High Priest’s house together. We do know for certain that Judas was there because he was present when the Sanhedrin came to its verdict and he saw Jesus condemned (Matt. 27:1-3).
Why was Judas suddenly “seized with remorse”? (Matt. 27:3). Events must have turned out very differently from what he anticipated. He could not have expected Jesus to be condemned to death; perhaps he only expected a flogging or similar treatment and his desire for vengeance because of his humiliation would have been satisified.
Judas had seen Jesus’ trial through to the end. He had started, with Peter, at the house of Annas. It was as Jesus was being led from Annas to the house of Caiaphas that he looked on Peter, who had in the meantime denied knowing him, and Peter ran from the scene in tears (Luke 22:61-62). Judas, however, followed as Jesus was interrogated by the Sanhedrin at Caiaphas’ house and then taken to the Temple precincts, where the ‘legal’ trial was conducted in the early hours of the morning (6) in the “Chamber of Hewn Stone”. It is likely that Judas was also at this final trial in the Temple precincts because it was into the actual Temple sanctuary itself (7) that Judas flung his thirty silver coins. The strong verb used to describe this act indicates that he did so in angry defiance (8).
Judas may even have felt tricked because the chief priests had not revealed their real intentions to him. Whatever he had hoped to achieve he did not want, nor did he expect, the death of Jesus. He knew Jesus to be underserving of death yet he was now faced with the terrible reality that Jesus was about to die because of him. “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas, like Cain, felt that his sin was greater than he could be forgiven (Gen. 4:13, R.V. margin) and, like Ahithophel the betrayer of David (2 Sam. 17:23), he went and hanged himself.
We need to remember that from the beginning Jesus viewed Judas as a potential follower and disciple. They shared a closeness and developed a friendship as a result of their mutual interest in the things of God. But Judas was never a committed follower. His highest title for Jesus was “Rabbi” (Matt. 26:25), never “Lord”. He is a continual warning to all those half-hearted disciples who wish to be identified in some way with Jesus, his teachings or his followers, yet can never break free of their attachment to the world or their picture of what Jesus ought to be like. They eventually follow the same path of apostasy and “to their loss they crucify the Son of God afresh” (Heb. 6:6).
We need to realise that Judas’ apostasy was not sudden; it was a long process during which he nurtured his disillusionment and anger at being humiliated. Long before the betrayal he had turned from Jesus and sought satisfaction in wordly gain. His moment of realisation came at last when he discovered that his plans had gone horribly wrong and he had killed the one who had loved him. No one else was to blame; it was by his own choice that he left his apostolic ministry “to go where he belongs” (Acts 1:25).
1. The stater or tetradrachmon was valued at 4 denarri. As a denarius was worth about a day’s wage (Matt. 20:1-16) Judas’ 30 silver coins would have been roughly equal to 120 days’ wages.
2. John 13:28, cp. Matt. 26:25. The others were not aware that Jesus had identified the betrayer to both John and Judas.
3. Gk. speira (John 18:3) is a technical term for a cohort of Roman soldiers and would not be used to describe Temple Police. Gk. chiliarch (John 18:12) is a military tribune, probably the commander of the Antonia fortress. The detachment of soldiers was large enough to warrant his presence at Jesus’ arrest.
4. John 18:29-34 indicates that the Sanhedrin had been so confident that Pilate would ratify their decision that they initially came without formally prepared charges. This implies that they had discussed the case with him the previous night and therefore did not expect formal charges to be required. Luke 23:1-2 pictures a scene of Jesus’ accusers hurriedly thinking up charges to satisfy Pilate. This provides the most likely explanation for the dreams had by Pilate’s wife (Matt. 27:19). She would have overheard the discussion late the previous night and her conscience had caused her to dream about the conspiracy to condemn “this righteous man”.
5. This is probably what is meant by the words, “Then the men stepped forward” (Matt. 26:50).
6. Matt 27:1 and Mark 15:1 record a trial “very early in the morning” when the Sanhedrin reached a decision. Luke records this trial fully (22:66; 23:1) saying that it was “at daybreak”. This was because the interrogation by the Sanhedrin during the night could not legally be called a trial.
7. Matt. 27:5. It was into the Naos, the actual Temple, rather than the Hieron, the Temple precincts, that Judas threw the money. He probably stood at the barrier between the Court of the Israelites and the Court of the Priests and threw the money across it into the Court of the Priests
8. Gk. rhipto has this meaning, according to R.V.G. Tasker in the Tyndale Commentary on Matthew.