“Then one of the Twelve - the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over” (Matthew 26:14)
What made Judas decide to betray the One who chose him from among all the followers of Jesus to be an apostle? Several suggestions come from the above passage. Judas was called Iscariot. That wasn’t his last name. He came from Kerioth, a place beyond Galilee. He was the only apostle from somewhere else. Sometimes we feel that we are unlike everybody else. It may be that we project a sense of exclusion. It can happen in parishes where newcomers may not feel welcome and accepted even when they have not tried to get to know the regular members.
Perhaps he was a coward. When he realized the inevitable—Jesus was determined to enter Jerusalem not as a warrior but as the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah and try by persuasion to turn the mindsets of the Jews to peace rather than revolution with the majority of the people egged on by the religious leaders to call for His death—Judas thought to save himself and make some profit for his betrayal. He had not the courage of Thomas and the others who were ready to die for the Lord. We really never know what we are made of until put to the test.
We know that Judas was greedy. “How much are you willing to give me?” It can infect the pure soul and take up residence, the Orthodox Christian not noticing after a time that it should not be there. We Americans living in a culture where economy is paramount must be wary that it not happen to us. From the 1980’s came a horrid slogan: Greed is good. Greed is never good.
When we read that “the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus,” we understand that Satan’s program of envy never changes. He was tossed from heaven for his jealousy; he dared test Jesus in the wilderness by ordering the Lord to worship him (Matthew 4:9). Jesus had His own reasons for inviting Judas to be an apostle, but one must continue following the Lord and avoiding the promptings of the devil. Even to the moment of our death, we are susceptible to betrayal of our faith.
Envy accompanies ambition as an obvious evil companion. While he was among the disciples watching the outpouring of affection and hope the crowds sent forth to Jesus, it came to Judas that he should have some portion of that adulation. Why not? So Satan reaches into the proud person with that temptation. Hard to imagine that Judas came to hate Jesus, but it’s likely. He could get away with hypocrisy for a time, but the other apostles saw through him, as the scriptures record. Even though he could disguise his evil heart from the others, he could not hide his soul from Jesus. We feel that confrontation between them when Jesus noted that one of those at the table would betray Him, and Judas, so filled with himself that he thought he could fool the Lord, said, “Is it I?” And of course it was. Looking into the eyes of Jesus, he should have seen his true self, but such is the power of Satan to blind some like Judas to recognize himself.
Some feel that Judas might have been one of the rebels called Zealots who felt that eventually Jesus would toss away His compassionate persona and take up arms; but the above quotes identify Judas as something else. If we ourselves reject the energy of the Holy Spirit within us, we may be able to identify with Judas led by Satan rather than by Christ. Such things are possible to those who have no God but themselves.