It’s dark. Jesus is praying at his favorite hideaway, Gethsemane. The disciples are scattered. Eight of them are asleep near the wine press. Peter James and John are closer to Jesus, and they too sleep. One is not to be found. Judas has gone to the chief priests to arrange for a way to hand over Jesus.
Why did Judas betray Christ? Did he have a choice or was he predestined to betray our Savior? While the Bible doesn’t tell us the answers to these questions, it does lend some insights. Judas was fixated on money; he loved it. He was the treasurer for Jesus and the Twelve. He kept the books, paid the bills, and made sure that funds were disbursed fairly… or that’s what he should’ve done as treasurer. He was so obsessed with money that he became a thief. So obsessed was he that he gave unwanted advice on other people’s money.
To understand why Judas betrayed Jesus, you must remember back to when Jesus and the Twelve are eating dinner at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is serving and Mary is worshiping at the feet of Jesus. She opens a canister of perfume made of pure nard, an essential oil derived of a Himalayan flower, and pours it on the feet of Jesus. She then rubs it in with her hair. This is not the first time something of this nature had happened to Jesus, and was surely not the first time Judas had witnessed such a thing. A woman of ill repute had once wiped away her tears from the feet of Jesus using her hair.
Foot washing was a common custom in Israel, and was usually performed by the lowest of servants. That Mary did this for Jesus was a symbol of complete obedience to the Savior, to acknowledge that he was Lord, and she was but a bond (willing) slave.
Judas, however, objected to this extravagant display off devotion, even though he had no real say in the matter. The oil was Mary’s, and if anyone had a right to object, it would have been Martha, who was not shy about objecting to her sister’s actions. Lazarus might have been right to object to Mary’s use of such fine oil. Yet, with the love and affection that the siblings shared for their Lord, objecting to the four washing never crossed their mind. Judas, though, had no right to object to the use of the bard, and should not have voiced an opinion. Remember, this was not his nard. The oil had not been purchased with money from the treasury.
The nard was, we can only presume, purchased by Mary, a personal extravagance, at the cost of nearly a year’s wages (300 denarii, or about 300 times the average daily wage of a common worker). Think about the money you make in a year’s time and imagine spending that on essential oils. Now imagine giving it to Christ as an act of worship.
Judas, according to John 12:6, had grown used to dipping into the treasury whenever he liked; he used it as his personal bank. He suggested that the oil should be sold and the revenues used to help the poor. Christ, though, knew that what he really meant was that the oil should be sold and the funds put into the coffers so that Judas could steal from them.
“Let her be,” said Jesus. “That she may have this to anoint my body when I die. The poor you will always have with you. But you will not always have me.”
Something about this whole discussion burned inside Judas. He grew resentful. He had never fit in, not in his mind. He was a Judean. The others were Galileans. He had hoped for a revolution, and had secured a position that would leave him in authority after the revolution. He would be a great man. Remembering the words of Jesus, he thought, no he will not be those who are like a child who will be great. It will be those who are like a fox. A place in the Kingdom… He wondered…
Jesus, thought Judas, had never acknowledged that he would have a place in His Kingdom. He seemed to favor the others, the fishermen, the Galilean. Now, He reprimanded him in front of the others. In front of the women. “The poor you will always have.” Of course, we will, Rabbi, with your friends wasting such wealth. He shook his head in disbelief that Jesus actually took the side of this woman over his own treasurer. Does Jesus not realize that He would be nothing without his money management skills? Judas seethed.
So, why was Judas this way? Why did he go on to betray Christ just a short time later. This seems to have been the thing that pushed him over the edge. But, was it really? Was his betrayal a singlular decision or a succession of growing sins? Was he a backslidden believer or had he ever really believed?
The other disciples are recorded in the Gospels making bold statements about the nature of Christ as Lord, God, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. But Judas calls him Rabbi, or teacher. Nothing more. When the writers of the Gospels record the names of the Twelve, they begin with Peter, James, and John, the three that were closest to our Lord, and end with Judas. He is listed last because he betrayed Christ, but he may never have had a deep personal relationship with Christ. It is likely that he never believed in Christ as Messiah.
Like the Rich Young Ruler, Judas loved money more than Christ, and this led to sin, after sin, after sin. At last, he could live no longer with the guilt and pain of living a double life, and he was turned over to the lust of sin. Before long, he grew hardened to his sin. He no longer felt that his theft, resentment, and jealousy were wrong. His actions were not sin, not in his mind. He had justified it as a natural reaction to the way he had been treated. Jesus should count himself lucky that Judas didn’t abandon him. Without him to manage his affairs, Jesus would be another John, subsisting on locusts and honey, starving in the wilderness. Outwardly, Judas was one of the Twelve. Inwardly, he had grown cold and heartless. He would betray Christ for a “handsome price,” thirty pieces of silver.
Did Judas have a choice? Could he have NOT betrayed Jesus? God knew from the foundation of the earth that Judas would betray Jesus. The act was predicted with great specificity in the Old Testament (Psalm 41:9, Zechariah 11:12-13). Yet, God is a just God. The decision to betray Christ was solely Judas’s. Though God had, foreknowledge, He did not predestine Judas to be the Son of Perdition. Though God knew that Judas would not repent, the choice was Judas’s. He could have repented all the way up until the night of the Last Supper
His betrayal was the culmination of a chain of sins that had begun many years prior in the life of Judas Iscariot. How do I know this? His sins are alluded to in the account of Mary and Martha, when John (in chapter 6) calls him a thief, but I also know this because, while one may fall from devoted disciple to denier in one day, one does not go from devoted disciple of the Christ to betrayer in a moment of time. Judas’s course was long and deliberate, filled with many twists and turns and full of festering sins. He could have repented at any point along that journey.
The Last Supper, as we have come to call it, was when Judas once and for all settled upon his decision to betray Jesus. Once Judas determined to never repent from this course of betrayal, Satan entered into him.
Each and every sinner takes a similar course if they do not repent. Paul, in Romans 1, tells us that that God’s true nature is plain for us to see. Even His invisible qualities, His eternal power, His divine nature, are obvious to mankind. We cannot say that we don not know right from wrong. God makes it very clear what is right and what is wrong. We have no excuse. Yet, many of us choose to ignore the obvious and keep sinning.
Because we keep sinning, we spiral out of control. Paul says that our thinking becomes futile (incapable of producing useful results!) and our hearts grow dark. Our desires grow perverse, and – at last – we reach the point, like Judas, that God turns us over to Satan. Paul puts it this way, God gives us over “to our shameful lusts.”
It doesn’t end there, though. Finally, God turns us over to a mind of total depravity (debase, immoral, unprincipled), or as the King James puts it, He turns us over to a reprobate mind (unprincipled, wicked, shameless). Paul defines the person with the depraved mind as one who is “doing what ought not be done.” Just as guilty, he says, are those who may not practice such depravity, but who approve of it.
It is a downward spiral, sin; sin leads to shame, which leads to hiding or running from God, which leads to more sin. That sin, in turn leads to more shame and more hiding from God until, at last,no shame remains. Our reprobate minds grow dull, and our depraved hearts grow dark. We are turned over to our sinful lusts. The reprobate mind no longer hears the voice of our consciences. Our depraved heart no longer hear God’s voice calling us to repentance. Once we have grown grow totally depraved, what is morally wrong seems right. What is right no longer matters. Rare is the man or woman who, at this point, yields to God’s voice and repents.
In addition to the affects of unrepentant sin on our hearts and minds, sin has natural consequences. Gluttony, as example, can lead to obesity and a myriad of health problems. Drinking to excess can lead to liver disease. Promiscuity can lead to STD, AIDS, and ruin relationships.
God wants us to repent. He doesn’t enjoy watching us destroy our lives. He is a good Father, who has told his children what’s right, set the perfect example of what is right, and hopes that one day, we will wake up, and decide to give up sins, and repent.
Is there a return from such a state of depravity? Rare though it may be, no man or woman who draws a breath is beyond God’s reach. Could Judas have repented? Yes. Did he? Only he and God know. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the Temple. He felt full of remorse, but his reprobate mind perversely told him that his only way out was to end his own life. Did God speak to him as he drew his last breath, calling him to repent and be saved? Surely. He is a merciful God. Did Judas repent and believe? The Bible is silent on that matter.
Judas spent three years of his life pretending to be a close and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Few could have told the difference between his faith and the faith of Peter. Both failed the test, but Peter repented, asked forgiveness and then fully trusted upon the love and strength of God. He persevered only by surrendering to Christ’s love. Judas felt remorse and surrendered to his reprobate minds and did not persevere.
If you still draw breath, it is not too late to repent from your sins and fully trust in Christ’s love.