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Judas Iscariot: The Disciple Who Betrayed Jesus with a Kiss or More than a Betrayer

Judas’s name is the Greek version of the Hebrew “Judah” which roughly means “Praise” or “Let God Be Praised.” However, the origin of “Iscariot” is not as clear. It is widely held that the Greek iskariotes comes from Hebrew ishq'riyoth, meaning “man of Kerioth,” a city in Palestine.

Judas lived near the beginning of the first century A.D. If the speculations about the meaning of “Iscariot” are true, he would have been from southern Judah, which also means he would have been the only one of the 12 disciples from Judea; the rest were from Galilee. Though we don’t know for sure where he grew up, he joined Jesus during His three-year ministry, definitively placing him in Israel around 30 A.D.

At the time, Israel was occupied by Rome, which was newly transformed from a republic to a massive empire of rapid conquest. In Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious rulers of Israel and Jerusalem’s grand temple, but they were submitted in temporal matters under the authority of Roman-appointed kings or Roman governors.

Israel was already a fractured land with fighting between Samarians, Jews, and other local groups, but with the Roman occupation, Israel became a hotbed of political unrest, rebellion, and oppression, making it a volatile place to live—especially for anyone following a leader like Jesus who attracted so much attention and controversy.

What comes to mind when you hear the name Judas?

For most of us, I suspect, the first thing we think of is betrayal. Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus. Judas is the one who made a deal with the authorities. Judas is the one who sold out. Judas is the one who “went out” into the “night.”

Maybe the second thing that comes to mind is a sense of relief. “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain” who among them was the betrayer. “Lord, who is it?” one of them asks, but they all want to know. Their uncertainty and that question betray the possibility it could be anyone one of them. I’ll bet Peter and the others breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus gave the piece of bread to Judas.

You know what that’s like, right? Did you ever sit in class knowing the teacher was going to call on someone, looking at all the other students, and hoping it wouldn’t be you, but knowing it might be? Have you ever been called to a meeting after something happened, someone was in trouble, and the boss began by saying, “Who…?” And everyone looked around. Have you ever been in a situation where you knew someone was going to be named, picked, and you held your breath hoping it was anyone but you? And do you remember that sense of relief when it was Judas and not you? (At least not this time.) And you said to yourself, “Whew, that was a close call.”

We’ve all shared the disciples’ sigh of relief. The betrayal of Judas lets us off the hook. We can point to and look at him as way, a reason, an excuse, to not look at ourselves. We refuse to see that there might be more to Judas than his betrayal of Jesus. And I wonder if that’s our betrayal of Judas. We so often hear “the betrayal of Judas” as meaning Judas is the subject, the one who betrays. But what about “the betrayal of Judas” in which Judas is the object, the one betrayed?

The only time we hear about Judas in the scriptures is at the end of the story. We know the end of the story Judas, the Judas who betrays Jesus, but what about the beginning of the story Judas? I want to hold these two Judases in tension. They go together. They are two aspects of his life. To privilege one over the other is a betrayal of his life. Would you want someone to pick out a single event from your life and say that it defines who you are, who you’ve always been, and who you will always be? I don’t. (Not unless I get to pick the event!) And yet that’s what we’ve done to Judas, what we do to people in our lives, and sometimes what we do to ourselves. No one is ever just one thing; not Judas, not you, not me.

Judas’ name appears in the four gospels twenty times. Nine times he is identified as a traitor, the one who betrays Jesus. And nine times he is identified as one of the twelve, one of the chosen, a disciple.

I wonder what Judas felt the day he was chosen and numbered among the twelve? What did he feel when Jesus called his name? What were his hopes, and dreams? What excited him about Jesus? What gifts was he given? What was the promise he sought and followed in Jesus? With what was he entrusted?

He had to have been entrusted with something. I think we sometimes forget that side of Judas. Entrustment of some kind always comes before betrayal. You cannot betray unless you’ve first been given something to betray; love, friendship, trust, confidence, responsibility, a call.

Promise and risk always come together. Every promise is made and accepted with the risk it might be broken or not fulfilled in the way promised. Every gift is given with the risk it might not be opened, it might be returned, or it might be thrown away.

It’s not one or the other. It’s both at the same time. Before Judas was ever the betrayer he was an entrusted one. And aren’t we all? We’ve all been entrusted with something and we all carry the risk that we might betray that entrusting.

I think that’s the story of Judas. And it’s our story too. He is an image of ourselves. He holds before us the tension between trust and betrayal; a tension that lives within us, and a tension within which we live.

What does that tension look like in your life? Look at the people, relationships, opportunities in your life. Look at your values and beliefs, hopes, and dreams. With what have you been entrusted? What gifts and promises have been given you? In what ways are they calling to you? What are they asking of you? And how are you responding?

Don’t make this into a judgement, good or bad, right or wrong. Just recognise the complexities and contradictions that constitute our lives, that constituted Judas’ life. Let that inform and guide how you want to live.

And let’s not forget this one last thing about Judas. His feet were washed just like the feet of the other disciples. He was loved by Jesus with the same love as were the others. With all the complexities and contradictions of his life he had a seat at the table with Jesus. And so do we.


Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? - William Klassen

Michael Marsh Blog

Judas- The troubling history of the Renegade Apostle - Peter Stanford

Judas: The Gospel of Betrayal - Frederick Ramsay

Judas: The Man Behind the Myth - John Thompson

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