Judas Iscariot - An Examination of this Story in our Bible
The tragedy of the Apostle who never was, and his wrestle with his own conscience
1. What do we know about him?
That he betrayed and identified Jesus with a kiss to the Jewish High Priests’ men with their clubs and sticks who had come to take Jesus away. Iscariot would have told those men where to find Jesus in the Gethsemane Garden in the early hours of the first Good Friday. Moreover, Iscariot had been one of the twelve Apostles with Mary – present at the Last Supper the day before that Good Friday, but he left early due to his acute discomfort when Jesus said one of the twelve would betray Him and was at that Supper. He knew then he would betray his Lord and Master before little more than 12 hours had passed, if that.
2. How did he finish up?
He hung himself on a tree near Jerusalem having received thirty pieces of silver from the Sanhedrin for his services. He was a traumatised, broken and miserable man who not only had his treachery to Jesus on his conscience, but also his disloyalty to Saint Peter with the eleven. He comes across in the New Testament as largely without merit – but the story does not end there.
3. Where does the truth lie?
In his selection as an Apostle by Jesus, and his initial determination to follow Christ. He was meant to be a fisher of men, but failed abjectly in that role. Whatever his good points, of which we know little, he is only remembered for his betrayal of Christ. You make your own epitaph. He dies compromised, alone and at his own hand and that will be the memorable feature of Iscariot. There is nothing redeeming about this scene it is pure unadulterated despair and despicable at that. But the coin has another side, even in this most serious of cases.
4. What is the message of the Iscariot story in the New Testament for 21st Century Christians?
Essentially, to contemplate the meaning of going against your leader, and yes, above all else, seeking forgiveness. Make no error Iscariot was distressed by his sin, but he could not go and say sorry to the eleven as they had become. Would they have forgiven him after the Ascension of Jesus and the Coming of the Holy Spirit both within months of the Crucifixion and Resurrection? I have no hesitation in affirming they would have done so if he had sought forgiveness from those Apostles, and had been prepared to bide his time to seek that solution. That was the message to His disciples of Christ Himself. In Christ’s words:
“Those whose sins you retain shall be retained – those whose sins you forgive shall be forgiven.”
You cannot make disciples of all nations, as Christ commanded, without the spirit of forgiveness. Iscariot had sinned, but if he had wanted forgiveness, like all contrite sinners, he would have been forgiven, in his case by the eleven remaining Apostles. Peter, the lead Apostle, denied Christ three times early on Good Friday morning. Without hesitation I say St Peter sought forgiveness from the risen Christ when He rose from the dead days after His crucifixion. The cock crowed on that Good Friday morning to signify the refusal of St Peter to admit his connection to Christ three times to the servant girl. Everyone may be forgiven if they genuinely desire it: That is the message of Christianity.
5. Iscariot revisited
He loved Jesus – hence the kiss. That is a sign rightly of affection, but many cannot bestow it on others. Iscariot could and did kiss Christ: His last act of acceptance to Christ and yet his treachery was encapsulated therein. The message here is keep your distance and do not get up too close. Iscariot could probably have got away with pointing Jesus out to the men with clubs – he went further and sealed Christ’s fate with a loving kiss. That is what bit deep in to Iscariot’s soul and caused his overwhelming despair. To sin against hope is probably the worst transgression of all. If you have hope you have faith and charity.
6. The Sanhedrin
Iscariot could not even console himself with the knowledge it was not the Jewish Supreme Court, to whom he betrayed Jesus that put Jesus to death, but the Roman Governor of Palestine who sentenced Him to death. For Iscariot, as a failed Apostle, it was his own promise to follow Jesus he had reneged upon. “Doubting Thomas” himself refused to believe, but he was prepared to face his Holy risen Redeemer. Iscariot in a not dissimilar position could not make it known to the eleven he wished to make amends to them and Christ’s Church. He had taken his own life. It was too late. He took the selfish, if painful, way out with no return.
A very difficult subject and an event usually said to be occasioned when someone has lost his mental balance. For those left behind it is a bitter pill, and often it is not connected to moral depravity, wrong doing or sinfulness. Iscariot demonstrates the overriding essence to communicate your dejection and thereby find a way out of the impasse. There will always be a proper way out and that will centre on Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – He is the only path to the Father in His own words. Difficult words for all of us, yes, but inescapably binding. On the one hand a strong discipline – on the other hand freedom and hope born of Our Saviour whether we like Him or not. We do not have to accept Christ. Iscariot clearly did not follow Christ to his dying day and thus could find no solace in Him at the end.
8. Conclusion: The Tragedy of Iscariot
In the eyes of the Jews and the Romans he had done nothing wrong. In his own heart he harboured death to faith, hope and charity. He could not help himself. Tragedy is born of the “death” of the “character” in those portraying theatrical roles during a tragic play. Iscariot’s death was testimony 2000 years ago to the extreme crisis of his soul in his last hours and minutes. Yes it was tragic for Judas the Apostle to die in this manner. News in Biblical days travelled by word of mouth. The death of Judas was quickly overtaken by the Resurrection of Christ which was eternal, groundbreaking and of the utmost meaning to our World. Peter, the Apostle, knew this but Iscariot’s death would not have gone unnoticed as the New Testament records for us. I urge you to accept that Judas would have been in the prayers of Jesus and the eleven after Christ rose from the dead even in the breaking of bread. This is the generosity of Christ, yet unrecorded in the New Testament. Iscariot is an example of what not to do. However, he was greatly sorry and God the Father will surely forgive him for the undoubted grave injury he did to His beloved Son: - his most grievous fault! Mea maxima culpal! May God have mercy on his soul.