When I first started reading the Bible 20 years ago, it struck me as odd that the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was referring to when he said that one of them would betray him. It seems that Judas Iscariot’s wicked ways had flown under the radar of everyone except Jesus. How was that possible? How could the disciples, who had some level of discernment, not see Satan’s very apprentice living and moving among them?
It has also struck me as odd how gentle and kind Jesus was with Judas Iscariot, even when Judas shows up with the Pharisees and Roman soldiers in tow. Certainly, Jesus knew what Judas’s role would be in his crucifixion and Judas was chosen for just such a purpose. But Jesus didn’t choose him, God chose him; Jesus just implemented the choice. Satan entering Judas Iscariot was a crucial part of God’s plan
As we know from scripture, money was important to Judas. He was the “keeper of the bag”, meaning he handled all the money that people donated to Jesus, but he stole from that bag. When Mary opened the alabaster jar of pure nard and poured it over Jesus a few days before his execution, Judas was furious that the expensive perfume – fit for a king – wasn’t sold for money instead. When Jesus defended Mary, saying what she had done was a fulfillment of prophecy and that she’d be honored for it, Judas fumed. It was then, allegedly, that he decided to betray Jesus, but his decision to betray must have been a long time coming.
We know very little about Judas other than the few sentences mentioning him in the New Testament. Interestingly, those few sentences are either about money or about betrayal. From his betrayal, we can be sure that Judas did not believe, in the end, that Jesus was the Messiah. Whether he ever believed that Jesus was the Messiah is open for debate. We simply can’t know by any evidence in scripture.
So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, once upon a time, Judas Iscariot ALMOST believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Judas got caught up in the hype as much as anyone else, when the water was turning into wine, the dead were being raised, famines were turning into instant feasts, and the megachurches were overflowing with ecstatic worshipers driving Cadillacs. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? Who wouldn’t want to join a movement that promised instant prosperity simply for believing? Not only that, the Messiah was supposed to free the Jewish people from their sworn enemies once and for all and secure their land forever. This was the main promise of the Messiah and the main reason why he was so longed for, and for so long.
But Jesus ultimately, even with all his miracles, was not about prosperity in this world or about freedom from worldly enemies, and as the days and weeks and months and years passed, Judas’s enthusiasm for Jesus started to wane and then to plunge. The more evident it became that Jesus would never ascend a worldly throne, the more disenchanted Judas likely became with him. Whatever it was that Jesus was actually selling, Judas didn’t want to buy. He wanted the wealth and power that he thought following Jesus would bring him, not the poverty and outcast status that it actually brought him.
There are many Judases today. I personally know a few, but I’m careful not to judge them (let alone out them). Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, who ostentatiously did what they did for show and rightly earned Jesus’ accusations of hypocrisy, the Judases of the world are broken people who thought they’d found redemption in belief, only to realize it wasn’t for them after all. They could go part of the way along the belief path, but not all the way, though in the meantime they could fool a lot of people and make some money in the process. They didn’t start out wanting to fool people; they didn’t even start out wanting to make money. It just became their default position or what seemed to suit them best, almost as if they were born for it.
Most of the Judases I know are pastors. God lets them become and remain pastors because they do serve a purpose, just as Judas served a purpose as a disciple and keeper of the bag. The Judas pastors live and move among the sheep not as wolves but as snakes.
Jesus didn’t out Judas because he knew that Judas had a role to play and served a purpose. As bizarre as it might sound to some people, God doesn’t want to rid the world of Judases because the Judases are an important part of God’s plan. Whatever his flaws, Judas was at least not a hypocrite. He had genuinely (or at least to the best of his deeply flawed ability) wanted to believe in Jesus. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t in him to believe.
Jesus once said that you cannot serve God and mammon. Those are the only two choices: God or mammon. Judas clearly chose mammon because that resonated with him more.
Jesus knew who and what Judas was, but Judas didn’t know who Jesus was or that Jesus loved him even as Judas betrayed him to death. The love Jesus showed for his betrayer was God’s love working through Jesus, but Judas couldn’t access that love. He had never been able to, through his own fault of choosing mammon.
On the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive his betrayers because they didn’t know what they were doing. Jesus included Judas in that request, even though he knew that Judas was already condemned. Jesus’ profound compassion for his enemies – incomparable in all of human history – showed the unearthly power of God that Judas could not see, he was so focused on gaining earthly power and wealth.
Jesus knew who and what Judas was, but the other 11 disciples remained blissfully ignorant. Why is that? I would guess it was so that God’s plan could be executed without any interference (visions of Peter tackling Judas and wrestling him to the ground before he could claim his 30 pieces of silver). For their own benefit and that of the whole world, the disciples were kept from knowing who and what Judas was. God does that to us, too. On many occasions, I’ve been kept in the dark, only to have the light shone brightly much later when I could better handle the truth and not get in God’s way.
The disciples’ “blind spot” about Judas was not their fault but God blinding them to the truth about Judas. That’s why Judas was able to live and move among them without their knowing that he was a snake and the one who would betray Jesus.
Think for a moment of your own life. Was there ever a time that the truth was withheld from you because, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, you couldn’t handle the truth? God did that for your benefit as well as for the benefit of people around you: He did it for his plan. Or perhaps, like Jesus, you have the ability to see snakes where other people see pastors? Keep that knowledge to yourself and love those snakes, just as Jesus loved Judas.
Ours is not to judge – sometimes it’s not even to know.
Ours is not to judge, but to love.
Even the Judases.
Even as they betray us.