By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jesus' Apostles

  • In all four gospels, Judas is introduced to the reader along with the other disciples, but Judas’ name always has the notation that he was the one who “betrayed” Jesus.
  • The word for “betray” is paradidomi, literally translated it means to “hand over.”
  • Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot. Most scholars interpret this as being a “man of Kerioth.” It was common for a father and son to have the same last name. Here Kerioth could refer to their hometown. There are two options: one is Kerioth in Judea, the other is Kerioth in Moab. In either case, Judas was probably the only one of the disciples that was not a Galilean.
  • In John’s gospel, Jesus says that he chose the Twelve, but that one of them was a devil – speaking of Judas, of course. This implies that even election as one of the Twelve is no guarantee of faith or faithful behavior.
  • Unlike the Synoptics, which ignore Judas until Jesus’ “hour has come,” John has an additional story about him that is filled with literary significance.
  • In John 12:1-11, Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus) anointed Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on his feet and wiping them with her hair.
  • Judas spoke up, saying this was a waste and the perfume should have been sold so the money could have been given to the poor. (It was worth approximately a year’s wage for a common laborer.)
  • John adds that Judas didn’t object because he cared about the poor, rather he was a thief and, as keeper of the moneybag, he oftentimes helped himself.
  • The moneybag was probably a box made of wood that contained the funds replenished by the followers (most likely women, according to Luke) of Jesus. It might also have been used to contain the alms designated for the poor.
  • The contrast in attitude between Mary and Judas couldn’t be starker. Yet their juxtaposition makes the connection with Jesus’ death quite explicit.
  • Jesus tells Judas to “leave her alone” and that she had kept the perfume for his burial. And though people who had the means were known to spend lavishly on funerals, it was quite unusual to anoint someone who was still alive.
  • It is obviously important for the author of John’s gospel to suggest how it happened that one of the Twelve turned against Jesus – Judas was a “thief.”
  • The gospel of Mark, however, makes no such assumption.
  • In fact, the plot to kill Jesus was not initiated by Judas, but by the Jewish authorities.
  • Some scholars think that Judas might have been a zealot who had had great expectations for Jesus. Those expectations might have been challenged after Jesus entered into Jerusalem without taking up arms against the authorities. (Think of his entrance: riding on a colt symbolic of a king, people shouting, “Hosanna, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord,” people spreading their garments out in front of him, waving branches of palm trees – then, nothing………except the cleansing of the temple. This was hardly the sort of revolution in which a zealot was ready to participate.)
  • So Judas went to the chief priests, prepared to hand Jesus over to them.
  • No doubt, this part of the story is true. There is no way the early church would have made this up. It surely was appalling and an embarrassment that one of the Twelve had done this. (Luke and John say that Satan entered into Judas; John quotes Psalm 41:9 saying that this was the fulfillment of scripture.)
  • As it is, Judas deliberately turned Jesus in, knowing the chief priests wanted to kill him. That’s a considerably different matter than becoming disillusioned with someone and walking away.
  • Mark tells the story in its simplest form. Judas went to the chief priests with his proposition; they were delighted and promised to pay him.
  • Matthew adds that Judas was the first one to raise the issue of money, and they agreed on thirty pieces of silver.
  • Thereafter Judas looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
  • Some scholars think Judas might also have been the one to give the chief priests additional information about Jesus’ specific teachings, information that would be used against him at his trial – “destroying a temple made with hands” and “building a new one not made with hands.” If that was the case, it is then noteworthy that Judas was not a witness at Jesus’ trial.
  • It all raises the question as to why the chief priests didn’t just arrest Jesus while he was teaching in the temple? The answer is simply that they needed to do it quietly. Any preemptive strike against Jesus in broad daylight might have instigated a riot, which would have brought the Roman army to their doorstep in a heartbeat. That, above all else, was exactly what they didn’t want to happen.
  • After his visit with the chief priests, Judas returned to the company of Jesus to observe the Passover meal.
  • According to Matthew, when, during the meal, Jesus said that one of them would betray him, each disciple asked in turn, “Is it I?” When Judas asked the question, Jesus answered affirmatively, yet none of the other disciples did anything in response. This is completely mind-boggling since they were all very “distressed” over Jesus’ announcement. Commentators have yet to come up with any explanation for their acquiescence in the matter.
  • Matthew notes that Judas did refer to Jesus as “Rabbi,” as opposed to “Lord,” which was the typical address for a disciple or a potential follower. Those who opposed Jesus or resisted him usually called him “Rabbi” in this gospel.
  • John makes Judas’ identification even more explicit. Following Jesus’ similar announcement, the disciples query each other (as they do in Luke) over who it might be. Peter asks the disciple “leaning on Jesus” to ask him. Jesus says, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he hands it to Judas – again, no response by any of the disciples.
  • John indicates, however, that it is at this moment that Satan entered into Judas, and Jesus tells him to “do what you are about to do, quickly.”
  • John also adds that the disciples did not understand what was going on. That doesn’t exonerate them; it simply means that Jesus was in complete control of all these events, even to the point of telling Judas to move quickly.
  • And, Judas obeys immediately. He went out into the night. The symbolism of the text again comes into play. Judas has chosen to leave the brightly lit room where they were celebrating their final meal and goes into the “darkness” of the night.
  • In so doing, he has cut himself off from the light inherent in Jesus. It is reminiscent of John’s prologue: “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
  • While Jesus was warning his disciples about staying awake and resisting temptation, Judas showed up with a crowd – chief priest, temple guards, elders…
  • The kiss was their prearranged signal (though not in John). It implies that these people might not have recognized Jesus otherwise. The nighttime arrest, the clubs and swords also suggest they expected some sort of resistance.
  • A kiss was the normal greeting between a disciple and his teacher. This kiss, however, is extreme. It could be translated “kiss with every show of affection.” It merely serves to heighten Judas’ hypocrisy.
  • Jesus’ greeting of “friend” was, no doubt, genuine.
  • Only Matthew records that Judas, after seeing that Jesus was condemned to death, repented for what he had done. He tried to return the money – it had become reprehensible to him.
  • He confessed his “sin” and lamented that he had shed “innocent blood.” The Jewish authorities, however, were less than interested. The process had gone way too far to be derailed now.
  • Judas, filled with regret and remorse, threw the money into the temple and hanged himself.
  • Acts 1:18 has a different take on the demise of Judas. There it states that scripture had to be fulfilled concerning Judas. Moreover, he bought a field with his blood money, fell, and burst open. This claim is not easily reconciled with Matthew’s version. It is possible that the chief priests bought the field with the money they had given Judas, and henceforth named it “Field of Blood” but this is sheer speculation. (That different authors have different accounts is not unusual in biblical writings.)
  • Judas disappears from the story, though he will be forever immortalized as “the one of the Twelve who betrayed Jesus.”


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Bock, Darrell. "Luke." The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Danker, Frederick. Jesus and the New Age. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1988.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Matthew-Acts." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1981.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. "Acts." Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2003.

Hare, Douglas. "Matthew." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993.

Hooker, Morna. "The Gospel According to Mark." Black's New Testament Commentary. London: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. "The Acts of the Apostles." Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. "The Gospel of Luke." Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

Keck, Leander, ed. New Interpreter's Bible, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, Vol. 9. 1995.

Kostenberger, Andreas. "John." Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Gospel of Mark, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 2001.

Bible Characters