One of the most well-known examples of betrayal is that perpetrated by Judas Iscariot toward his master Jesus Christ. The impact of this one action has had various effects that remain to this day. The very name Judas, once a very common name, has become a symbol of a person who takes advantage of the trust of another and betrays that person for personal gain. Biblically, though, the betrayal of Judas is more complicated. Oddly, the action of Judas is one that was foretold prophetically and actually advanced God’s purpose in sacrificing his Son for the sins of the world. What role did Judas’ betrayal have in the purposes of God in the world and what can be learned by studying this event?
Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his closest followers. He would have spent much intimate time with Jesus during the three years that Jesus spent in ministry leading up to his sacrificial death on the cross. Yet, from a very early time, Jesus knew that his betrayal was inevitable.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’ He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him” (John 6:70-71).
Jesus spent time daily with Judas all the while knowing that one day he would betray him.
Despite this, Judas was included in all of the ministry activities that Jesus and his followers were engaged in. Looking back on this time, the Apostle Peter was able to put into Biblical perspective the painful reality that one of their own, one whom they knew intimately, had betrayed their master Jesus and sent him to a horrific death.
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry” (Acts 1:16, 17).
Peter gave a concise synopsis of the main factors surrounding Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. He began with the prophetic words inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by King David in the sixty-ninth and one-hundred-ninth Psalms.
“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office” (Acts 1:20).
Peter, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, made an inspired interpretation of parts of these two Psalms in order to understand both Judas’ failure and the necessity of replacing Judas with another. Judas led Jesus’ enemies to him and in so doing ensured that he would be put to death. The man who was numbered as part of the Twelve and was included in the ministry of the Twelve turned on them and Jesus in the most heinous manner possible. Though Jesus knew that Judas was to betray him, the actual event came about as Satan entered into Judas.
“Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of the crowd” (Luke 22:3-6).
The most heinous actions are done away from the public eye.
Judas, who was numbered as part of the closest followers of Jesus, actively seeking an opportunity to please the Jewish religious leaders by betraying Jesus to them. He consulted with them on a plan and waited for his opportunity. Satan had taken possession of Judas because he saw this as an opportunity to kill the one who was God in the flesh. Satan used Judas as an instrument, but in so doing both Satan and Judas acted in fulfillment of prophetic scripture and thus became part of the completion of God’s plan. At the right time, Judas led Jesus’ enemies to him and began Jesus’ path to crucifixion.
“So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18:3).
Judas led a group of soldiers and religious leaders directly to Jesus under cover of darkness in order to ensure that he would not escape. Jesus had avoided angry crowds in the past, but this time everything that was occurring was consistent with the purposes and plan of God. Jesus had already made the decision to surrender his will to the will of the Father and thus he was willing to go without any effort to avoid arrest. Despite this, the enemies of Jesus came at night with overwhelming force as they were led by the betrayer Judas. Judas was committed to making sure that he received what was due for the act of betrayal that he was willing to commit. Unfortunately, Judas was unable to enjoy the fruits of his actions. His overwhelming grief when he clearly understood the reality of what he had done was too much for him to deal with.
“(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)” (Acts 1:18-19).
Judas bought a field with the proceeds from his act of betrayal, but that field was where Judas died a broken and despondent man. His awful death reflected the horrific nature of the crime which Judas committed and the weight of a guilt which he felt as he realized that the man who had taught him and loved him the last three years, an innocent man, was going to be falsely convicted and sent to a horrific death on a cross. The betrayal of Judas continues to be known today as one of the most heinous actions in history. Yet, the apostles were able to see this action within the overall plan of God by which individual people could be restored to fellowship with God for eternity.
“this Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
The death of Jesus was consistent with God’s specific plan which he devised through his knowledge of all true things. He was crucified at the hands of evil men and Judas was one of those evil men. His act of betrayal was part of the predetermined plan by which God gave his Son Jesus as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. God is able to use anybody to fulfill his purposes and he did, in fact, use the evil act of betrayal of Jesus by Judas as part of the way in which the perfect and sinless Son of God was crucified and died. God worked good out of the evil of Judas’ betrayal and thus there is hope that no matter how heinous an act that God can turn it for some good. Judas’ act of betrayal lives on in history, but the God who can make good out of such actions lives also and continues to provide hope in the midst of even the most horrible situations.