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Monday, May 6, 2013

Judas Iscariot: A Biblical Background Commentary



     This biblical background study is on the person of Judas Iscariot (death- 33 AD). Judas was chosen to be one of the original twelve disciples and follow Jesus in his ministry. His role in the group of disciples is described as being the money-handler in the Gospel of John, but his morality was questionable by the other disciples. Judas is largely known for the betraying of Jesus and leading him to be arrested by Roman guards and the Pharisees to be put on trial and eventually crucified. Jesus along with Old Testament scripture foretells the betrayal of Him by Judas on several accounts. In not-so-obvious ways to the other disciples, Jesus even calls Judas out several times as being the one who betrays him.
     The Pharisees, wanting to rid of Jesus, wanted to do this in a manipulative manner. According to Scripture, Satan entered Judas. Judas then went to the Pharisees with information on where to find Jesus in secret for the price of thirty silver coins. When they found Jesus, Judas identified Jesus with a kiss on the cheek and the guards arrested him. In the Gospel of Matthew, Judas, after hearing the news of Jesus being crucified, takes the silver back to the Pharisees in remorse for his actions and throws the coins in the temple after being rejected. It is written that Judas was also then tormented by spirits and grieving with guilt. He committed suicide by hanging himself. The money that was given back to the priests was used to buy a field nearby for the burial of foreigners named the “Field of Blood”.

     The death of Judas is questionably described in two accounts of scripture, one in Matthew and one in Acts. Matthew 27:3-8 tells us that Judas felt remorse for his betrayal and attempted to repent by taking the money back. Being discouraged by the Pharisees and still depressed, he left the temple and hung himself. Chapter 1 of Acts differs from the story told in Matthew as the suggested author, Luke, writes, “Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines.” (Acts 1:18, NLT) Many scholars question the infallibility of the canonized scripture because this specific difference. These two accounts of Judas’ death can be compatible if you consider one describing the consequences of the other. An apologetic response to the difference is to state the possibility of the rope Judas used to hang his self breaking and Judas plummeting down and his body being ruptured open.
The other difference is that the book of Matthew tells us that the field is named for its use as a burial place for strangers and that the Pharisees bought it with the silver on account of conviction. But the author of Acts writes in verse 18 that the field was bought by Judas and the following verse says that news spread of Judas’ death and the field was named because of Judas’ violent death. If you consider that Luke’s writing is not literal, but his interpretation that the field was purchased with Judas’ money, it isn't as contradictory.

     Judas Iscariots surname is mentioned so that it differs from the other disciple Judas, who was the son of James. The name Iscariot might make a Hebrew reference (Ish Kerioth) to someone from Kerioth, a town south of Judea, about 10 miles south of Hebron. This town is mentioned twice in scripture in the time of Joshua describing an inheritance (Joshua 15:20-30) and the book of Jeremiah (48:24). Judas is known as the only Judean disciple to follow Jesus among the original twelve.
     Not a lot of background information of his birthplace or family culture is provided in research.     Consequently scholars still speculate the motives for Judas betraying Jesus. The Gospel of John, as stated above, depicts Judas as a thief, often taking money from the disciples’ treasury for himself. (John 12:4-6) It’s an obvious observation that Judas’ weakness for money caused him to betray Jesus. But it seems that Judas done so for a cheap price. “Matthew’s biblically informed readers would have recognized thirty pieces of silver as the average Old Testament compensation for the death of a slave. This background info may lead scholars to assume another motivator for Judas to betray Jesus.” (IVP, 121)
     By the time the Old Testament ends, the promise of a Messiah, or a new King of Israel that would lead them out of persecution, had been prophesied by the likes of Isaiah and others. Jews at this time were possibly expecting a tangible freedom, for an earthly release from their enemies and exile. 400 years pass before accounts recorded in the New Testament begin. When Jesus begins his ministry he does not preach of an earthly Kingdom being re-established for the Jews but of a spiritual, heavenly kingdom. Some scholars suggest that it is possible that Judas’ patriotism might have lead him to resent Jesus for failing to overthrow roman Rule, misunderstanding the teachings of Jesus about a heavenly kingdom. According to Luke 22:3-6 and John 13:27, Satan entered Judas. This would obviously have an affect on Judas’ decision making. Whatever reason Judas was motivated to betray Jesus, I believe it was Satan’s influence that ultimately pushed Judas along to do what he did.
     The fact the Jesus and Old Testament prophets foretold Judas’ role being played out to fulfill God’s plans for Salvation, lead some of us to suggest that Judas was predestined for damnation. John S. Feinberg argues that if Jesus foresees Judas's betrayal, then the betrayal is not an act of free will. For that reason it does not deserve punishment. It’s also argued that just because Judas’ action was foretold, does not mean that Judas could not choose for himself out of free will. A theological sound approach to free will consists of the idea of God being omniscient, but still allowing a choice to be made. I imply that God transcends time and cause and knows the future results of every decision someone makes. For example: If it is your choice whether or not you buy the Honda Accord or the Chevrolet Silverado and you choose the Honda, God knows what results from you choosing the Honda (considering the budgeting, the space available, the mileage, peer opinions of the vehicle, condition of the car). He also knows what would have resulted if you would have chosen to purchase the Silverado. This did not affect your choice, God just knows. Judas’ betrayal comes to be seen as necessary and unavoidable, but even then I suggest that his damnation is not.

     The reason that Jesus never gave up on ministering to Judas, even if he was predestined to betray Jesus, was for two reasons. The first is that Jesus was setting an example of his ministry and teaching for his followers in ministry. Acting in a manner that contradicts either of those would have violated all of scripture as infallible. The second is that he was preparing Judas for an offer of Salvation. In Matthew 27, Judas hung himself after feeling remorse for betraying Jesus. Suggesting that Judas’ death occurred after Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas would have no longer been under the law, but under grace. The same salvation offered to the guards that crucified Jesus and the world was then offered to Judas. Therefore, it is possible that Judas was never predestined for damnation. The scriptures of the New Testament actually contradict that idea. John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 tell us that God’s will does not include anyone perishing, but that his desire is for every person to live. Under this conviction, I find no reason why God would not have given Judas an opportunity to receive the same life as anyone else.
     Not much about Judas is mentioned in scripture except for his major role in the betrayal of and even less about Judas is provided about his character or his background. For this reason, much of Judas’ life is left to speculation, especially that which was before his inclusion in the original twelve disciples. What we do know though, is the prominently important details of his life and the overarching plan of salvation that was offered to him and it is offered to every one of us. I hope this gives a little insight as to what surrounds Judas Iscariot, his role in scripture, and how he affects our lives.




Works Consulted
Bell, James S., and Stan Campbell. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible. New York, NY: Alpha, 2005. Print.
Holy Bible New Living Translation, Chocolate/Dusty Blue, Tutone, Leatherlike, Study Bible. Tyndale Entertainment, 2009. Print.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993. Print.
"Judas Iscariot." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 08 May 2010. .

Works Cited
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993. Print.

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