“It is not for us to say who are the apostates. That is God’s business. Our pastors and elders administer the Word, sacraments, and discipline. We pray that those who fall away will be convicted of their sin, that their eyes will be opened, and they will be brought to new life and true faith. Do not be surprised at that either. It happens.”
Few figures in the history of Christianity are as notorious as Judas Iscariot but for all his infamy, we know remarkably little about him. Nevertheless, he plays a major role in the gospel narratives and in Acts chapter 1. He was certainly a historical figure but he also played a literary and theological role in the narratives. After all, even though the original 12 all scattered, even though Peter denied our Lord three times, only Judas betrayed him. In the gospels and Acts he is the prototypical reprobate and apostate. Since he plays such an important role in the narrative of the life, suffering, and death of Christ we are compelled to ask what we should do with him? If we think about the early Christian congregations to whom the Gospels and Acts came we can imagine what the gospel writers were doing with him as a character in the story. He serves as a warning about those in the midst of the congregation, who seem zealous but whose motives and interests are not our Lord’s.
What We Know
There are only a few things we know with certainty and chief among them is that he betrayed Jesus. That is the first thing we read about him in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). E.g., Matthew 10:4 he is listed among the twelve apostles whom Jesus called: “Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him (ὁ καὶ παραδοὺς αὐτόν);” Mark 3:19, “and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him (παρέδωκεν αὐτόν);” and Luke 6:16: “…and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (προδότης)” (NASB95). The last thing we read about him in the synoptics is that he was a betrayer: “…Judas, who had betrayed (ὁ ⸀παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν) Him” (Matt 27:3). Mark 14:45 records the betrayal, “After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him” and Luke 22:48 records our Lord saying “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (NASB95). The same pattern appears in John. He is first described as “…one of the twelve” who “was going to betray Him” (John 6:71; NASB95). In John 18:5, he is “the one who was betraying him.” So too he is both “one of the disciples” and “he who was about to betray” Jesus (John 12:4). Judas is so odious that when another Judas is mentioned John immediately clarifies with a parenthetical remark “not Iscariot” (14:22). He plays a major role in the narrative of the Last Supper, which we will consider momentarily.
Not unexpectedly, since he is “the betrayer,” Judas plays a major role in John’s narrative Jesus’ arrest. For John (18:2), the act of betrayal was merely the realization of what had been done in principle because Judas was “the betrayer” (ὁ παραδιδοὺς). It was Judas who gathered the soldiers (v.3). John repeats Judas title in v. 5, “Judas, the Betrayer” (Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς) was “standing with them.” In the synoptics (e.g., Matt 26), of course, he simply “The Betrayer” (ὁ δὲ παραδιδοὺς) who had agreed that the sign (σημεῖον), the act of betrayal itself, would be a kiss—the customary act of honor and affection perverted—: “And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him” (v. 50; ESV).
Before we consider the question of Judas’ relationship to the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, there is one more element to note: the spiritual. Luke 22:3–6 says,
And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. They were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd (NASB95).
In distinction from Matthew, Luke is not interested in the amount of money. The first thing he notes is that Judas’ betrayal was a spiritual matter. Indeed, the expression “Satan entered” only occurs twice in the New Testament and both times (here and in John 13:27) regarding Judas. John says, “the devil had put it in to Judas’ heart” to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Again, Luke notes that Judas was one of the 12. We are meant to be impressed by the incongruity that among Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, among those who are to become his apostles, his Spirit-filled, authorized public representatives exercising their ministry on his behalf, is one who is not only to betray him but who does so under the influence and inspiration of the Evil One himself. Thus, we must affirm at least two aspects to Judas’ motivation and there may be others. Further, we know that he was a reprobate, he who “turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25; NASB95).
We also know that his betrayal was the fulfillment of various Old Testament passages. In Acts 1 Peter says,
“Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’;
‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’
Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection (Acts 1:16–22; NASB95).
Ultimately neither Judas, nor Satan, nor the chief priests and scribes were in charge of Jesus’ arrest, humiliation, and sacrifice on the cross. Christ himself was in charge and his Father was in charge. Both are true simultaneously. Jesus was doing his Father’s will. He was also voluntarily doing that which he had agreed with the Father to do (see John 17). In the sovereign providence of God, Judas was fulfilling Scripture. Matthew (see below) calls our attention to the way Judas’ return of the coins fulfills Zechariah 11:12–13. Peter quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 He was also fulfilling Psalm 41:9, “he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me” (Acts 1:16; John 13:18).