Judas: Not a traitor after all?

April 10, 2009

lolcat traitor

Judas. The name is synonymous with “traitor.” (Remember how in the presidential campaign, James Carville compared Gov. Bill Richardson to Judas Iscariot for disloyalty towards the Clintons?) I grew up learning that Judas betrayed Jesus, apparently for monetary gain. But then why did he throw the money back? If betraying Jesus was his goal, why was he distraught enough to commit suicide?

Underneath the following thoughts about Judas is a secondary tale of how different forms of technology shape me spiritually.

Back in 2003, I had interesting interactions with a blogger named Jared. He then invited me to a gathering called the Soliton Sessions. I went, and it saved my faith. The Sessions became an annual pilgrimage for me.

When I went in 2006, Kester Brewin shared something he had blogged about Judas: Maybe he handed Jesus over in order provoke a final showdown, perhaps provoking a riot as a catalyst for Jesus to ascend to power. Kester warns,

Whenever we try to co-opt God into our own programmes, box God up and decide for God what God is going to do, when we kiss Christ, but more in lust for power than love of the Other, we are playing Judas, and betraying this complex Christ who will not be controlled.


Every person seeks for either Love or Power. These two things are mutually exclusive.

Fast forward to Palm Sunday, 2009. A video clip is shown during our church gathering (I don’t know which movie it was) portraying Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Zealots (freedom fighters to the Jews, terrorists to the Romans) are in the crowd. They make contact with Judas, asking when Jesus is going to make his big move and step into political leadership. “Soon,” Judas responds, “I’ll make sure of it.” (Or something like that. Can anyone identify the movie?)

One of the people I met at Soliton was Mike Morrell. On Facebook, he posts “What Would Judas Do?” with a link to his blog. His blog post is an excerpt from The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins featuring a first-person narrative of the Last Supper, but from Judas’s point of view.

This gets me thinking back to the movie clip, and further back to what Kester said and wrote. I left a comment on Mike’s Facebook page:

“I’ve recently been touched by the idea that Judas wasn’t a jackass traitor, but that he wanted to force Jesus into declaring his martial kingship.
…A warning against trying to manipulate the kingdom on our terms…”

To this, another of Mike’s Facebook friends, someone I’ve never encountered before named Tim Keeler, left this follow-up:

I have once heard a man speak of Judas in the context of the two things in life that people seek after. Every person seeks for either Love or Power. These two things are mutually exclusive. If we view Judas’ actions in this light, perhaps he was, as Jon says, trying to force Jesus to show himself as The King of the Jews, in an earthly kingdom. In doing so, he took the money from the Sanhedrim, as payment for brokering a deal for an alliance. Thus, he would ask Jesus honestly, “is it me Lord?” when Jesus said one would betray Him.

I would also explain why he would hang himself when he saw the actual consequences of his actions.

It is a fact that we cannot Serve God (who is Love) and Mammon (power)

Inspector Javert

Again, wow. I shared these ideas with my family over the breakfast table. Kay said, “Oh yeah, I don’t think he meant to kill Jesus at all. He just wanted the kingdom of God. But he forgot the first and most important thing.”

“What’s that?” our youngest asked.

“To listen to Jesus,” Kay replied. “He might have picked up on the ‘greatest is least’ bit. And in the end, he might have forgiven, and been forgiven.”

“Like Inspector Javert in Les Mis,” I added. “He earnestly pursued what he thought was right, only to find that he was mistaken, and in the end, killed himself rather than be reconciled.”

I asked Tim for permission to blog this. He replied by expanding even further on my Facebook page:

The author that I was referencing was, I believe, Malcolm MacDonald.

About 20? years ago, I was in a church meeting where the speaker read from a book, and we discussed this issue. I am also drawing from Dorothy Sayers’ play “The Man Born to be King,” written for BBC Radio during World War II.

I am not sure how much of this I am collecting from these authors/speakers, and how much I am deducing myself, but I see it pretty much as follows:

We know that Judas stole from the common money bag. We know that he seemed surprised when Jesus said one would betray him. We know that the devil entered into him, and he went out from the Passover Supper, when Jesus said to him,”you are the one. What you are about to do, do quickly.” We also know that he tried to give back the money to the Sanhedrim, and when they refused it, he flung it onto the ground, stormed out, and went home to hang himself.

We also know that there was a party of Zealots who had contact with Judas, while trying to foment a rebellion, aimed at getting a leader to throw off the yoke of Roman Rule.

So, we put all this together.

Judas has control of the money. He uses some of it to pay messengers to communicate with the Zealots. Remember, most of the disciples believed that the Kingdom Greater than David’s, was one physically on earth, by swords and spears, not understanding the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven. In his mind, he is not stealing this money, but rather using it to further the Kingdom. He hopes to be hailed as one of the players in the coming of the King who would throw off the Roman Rule.

He negotiates with the Sanhedrin to lead them to Jesus, where he hopes to broker a deal to form an alliance. Thus, he is rather taken back by Jesus saying that one of them would betray him, and he would be killed. He asks, quite innocently, “am I the one?”

Judas identifies Jesus to the Temple Guard by giving him a Kiss. He has no idea of what he has just done. He still thinks that the Kingdom is one of earthly thrones, and he is driven by a desire for power. When Jesus is tried by the Sanhedrin, and sent to Herod and Pilate, finally being taken to Golgotha and crucified, his eyes are opened to the terrible thing that he has done.

He then tries to make amends, but finds it to be too late, where-upon he hangs himself.

He was trying to fulfill prophecy, but I think he was trying to make Jesus King, Greater than David, not trying to betray the Son of God to Death.

As I said on Mike’s page, Jesus said you cannot serve God (Love) and Mammon (Power). This has been the struggle through the ages, man seeks for either Love, or Power, and can never attain both.

Double and triple wow.

And so I share with you, dear reader, the words of someone I’ve never had any interaction with before, but who has blessed me through his comments on the Facebook page of someone I met at the Soliton Sessions, which I participated in because of a blogging relationship. I hope they are a blessing to you, as you read them here. On a blog. Which you likely found through your RSS reader, or through Facebook, or through Twitter.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

17 responses to Judas: Not a traitor after all?

  1. I wonder, though. What about John 13: 27 and verses like it? If Satan took an active role in the arrest of Jesus, what does that mean for Judas? Was he just a pawn of Satan’s at that point? Why does he hang himself if he thinks he has done the right thing? If Judas thinks that Jesus is the earthly king, why betray him? One is then reminded of the lyric: “My mind is clearer now. At last, all too well, I can see where we all soon will be. If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be.” Did John really know that Judas was helping himself from the treasury or did he just suspect it? Were his motives that simple-minded? Once again, if so, then why hang himself? Realization that Satan had duped him?

  2. Jim, the questions you raise are ones that have helped me down this path. Why was Judas so distraught, when it was by his own hand that Jesus was betrayed? It makes sense to me that he was trying to architect “the coming of the kingdom” as he understood it, hoping to maneuver Jesus into an ultimate confrontation that would lead to his claiming power. After all, Jesus claimed authority.
    The thing about reading the story in this way is that it opens up a world of lessons and applications for us. Rather than being the story of this mean, evil dude, I am suddenly faced with questions about whether we are understanding the kingdom of God, or trying to manipulate it according to our own understanding. It raises questions of how we use power. Suddenly, as some say, “The Bible is reading me.”
    And thanks for bringing up that lyric! Jesus Christ Superstar is an interesting example of an attempt to rethink Judas. The ideas don’t work for me, but the music is awesome. …Hmm, why can’t I find a photo of Judas wearing the white fringed jumpsuit for the title number?

  3. No, but I can find you pictures of Jack Black as Judas. Hoo boy.

  4. Jack Black as Judas?? Wait, a quick search reveals… ahhh, he played Herod. That must have been delicious. Though “delicious” is probably the wrong word for him.

  5. It probably works for him to play Herod. He would probably ham the role up out of all recognition. “Nacho Herod!”

  6. In point of fact, Lloyd Webber’s idea didn’t work for me either but do you remember the play we put on in high school in which Chris Thompson played Herod in “The Business of Good Government?” It was kind of along those lines as well.

  7. grimtraveller June 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    There’s been a kind of shift in thinking about Judas over the years {kind of a filmmaker’s view} but unfortunately the view being currently expounded here misses the point. Let me just start by saying that of all the characters that come up through the bible, Judas is the one I most feel sorry for. Him and Achan. My heart just goes out to the guy. He obviously felt sorry and was remorseful after his doggy deed and I will always wonder why he didn’t go to God and ask for forgiveness. After all, Peter’s denial was at least as bad, in my opinion. At least Judas didn’t pretend he didn’t know Christ !! But it demonstrates the essential difference between the two men.
    However, we need to remember that the only information any document in history offers us about Judas is the bible and therefore, we can only take what these pages tell us rather than read into matters what, at best, can only be supposition. And there is no evidence at all of any politiking or contact with the Zealots from Judas. From Simon, yes. But not Judas. I think “John”‘s words about Judas being a thief may be kind of bitchy…..or they may simply be true and what reason would “John” have for lying or trying to make Judas look bad ? He couldn’t look any worse, could he !!? The record clearly tells us that Judas was deliberate in his actions. After all, if all he wanted to do was force a confrontation, he didn’t need to take the money. Nope, Judas betrayed Jesus, no doubt about it. To suppose otherwise is to fly in the face of the only available evidence and popular as it may be, taking such a position is worrying. If I was on trial and innocent, I wouldn’t want such folk on the jury ! I’d not be confident that they would assess the evidence…..
    The Lord said prophecy had to be fulfilled so how much real choice Judas had is perhaps, at least questionable. Not much though. I still wish Judas had asked for forgiveness though, because deep down, I’m just a big softy.

  8. grimtraveller, that is a really interesting contrast you draw between Judas and Peter!

  9. grimtraveller June 29, 2009 at 7:15 am

    You know, I’ve been struck for many years by the similarities and differences between the Judas and Peter. To me they illustrate the essential difference between being sorry, full of regret and remorseful about something {which, in court terms, here in England can get a criminal a much lighter sentence when found guilty – the perception being that it is a good thing to be sorry} and what Paul refers to in one of his letters to the church in Corinth as “Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.”
    Jesus made it clear that anyone that denied him in front of men would be denied by his Father. Now, I no longer think that he meant one off denials. I believe that he meant continual denials, both verbal and behavioural, when the pressure was on. We have no way of knowing what Jesus and Peter said to one another after Jesus was raised from the dead but just Peter’s response to go running to the tomb after Mary’s report of him being alive tells you that Peter was a man that wanted to make amends, one way or the other. I think he gambled his entire reputation and pride in the belief that he’d be forgiven. He would have had some idea of what it would mean to be known as the guy that pretended he didn’t even know the guy that not long previously, the Father had revealed to him as the son of God. He had alot to lose ! Furthermore, it could have been the beginning of a lifetime of denials, a real achilles heel for Satan to whack at again and again and again. It was no consolation to him that all the apostles had run away when they saw the guards and their swords and clubs !! A big fisherman like Peter crying his eyes out when he did what he did ? He was sorry !!
    But so was Judas. It occurs to me that pretty much all of the above applies to him too. But his sorrow was not the Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. In other words, it didn’t go far enough. It was a self centered kind because he would not see beyond himself. Peter could’ve hung himself, but like the tax collector in Luke 18, he was desperate enough to recognize that if God really was merciful, then the only way he could honestly see that would be to take the gamble and throw himself “on the mercy of the court”. The worst thing God could’ve said was “Get lost, mate” and his position would actually be no different. But whatever one thinks of him, he trusted Christ. And Judas did not.
    The only thing that makes me slightly hesitate where Judas is concerned are Jesus’ words about prophecy being fulfilled and ‘woe to the betrayer’….one could read a certain inevitability into what happened. So the question remains as to exactly how much real choice Judas had and leading on from that, could he have repented ? I accept that that looks like it contradicts everything I’ve written, but it doesn’t really. I just try not to skirt around difficulties because they appear to contradict or because I simply can’t explain them.

  10. grimtraveller, thanks for expanding on the Peter/Judas thought.
    Some may have difficulty with the apparent contradiction you come to in the end. But in some ways that is a specific (and perhaps extreme) example of the tension between free will and predestination. I accept both. Our faith seems to live best in paradox.

  11. grimtraveller July 31, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Wow, that’s an age old chestnut, I know, free will vs predestination. I’d go further than saying that our faith lives best in paradox – as far as I can determine, it is paradoxical. There are so many believers who in practice live paradoxically {for example, if God has predestined things or knows in huge detail all future happenings, why pray ? But we do !!} but don’t accept paradox.
    If it’s of any use, for many years I’ve had this little theory that the sovereignty of God, the free will of man and the responsibility of man are not opposing doctrines to be used as a litmus test of where one stands in the faith, but rather, three sides of the same triangle. Take any one or two away and you no longer have a triangle. They are paradoxes, sure, but only to us. God obviously has no problem with paradoxes. Like the apparent chaos of the book of Acts, it’s actually quite ordered to God. I think. Maybe that’s part of what he was getting at when he said our thoughts and ways were not his thoughts and ways. While the Lord can be supremely logical, he’s not bound by our kind of logic, hence he can and does move freely in and out of paradoxes.
    I’ve felt for many moons that predestination is found in Genesis 1:26-27 and part of our problem is that we use the wrong definition whenever we use that word – also we make a grave error because for the most part, we link it with salvation and the afterlife. What I think we really mean 99% of the time is not predestination, but predetermination. And for me there is a universe of difference between the two.

  12. Oh, I like the triangle illustration!

  13. Here has alwas been my problem with callin judas a tradior. If jesus never died on the cross, he woudlnt have died for our sin. So why does it have to be that judas was doing it for mony why couldnt He have been supose to do it. How else could jesus had died at “our” hands to save us, if someone Didnt betray him. And Yes judas commited suicied. wich means that he felt bad for what he had done. If he really was an evil selfish person why would he have done that…why couldnt it be that he was told to do it and then feel terrible guilt over being the called to do something so horrible

  14. Kat,
    You’re right, it’s peculiar if you stop to think about it: Why would Judas feel guilt if what happened was what he had wanted? It really suggests that he wanted something else.
    But God can bring good out of an evil / hurtful / confused situation, and the cross is the greatest example of this.

  15. acually I was meaning,
    If jesus didnt die on the cross no one would be saved
    So maybe Judus was told or called to tell by god, to send him to the cross So that we could be saved. Because jesus on the cross blamed god not judas.
    but Judas might not have know what was going to happen,I think it was ment to happen. And probably it was a calling to him.

  16. Kat, however it worked out, it did work out. But both Peter and Judas turned their backs on Jesus. Both were wracked with guilt. Yet one went on as a key leader. I wonder, what would have become of Judas if he hadn’t committed suicide?

  17. Kat’s point is a valid one. But I still don’t agree with it. People commit suicide for many different reasons but in almost all cases, the decision is their own.
    It’s established without question that Judas was sorry. Matthew’s gospel is clear as day in that regard. But let’s suppose Judas was called by God to betray Jesus. He would have known, he must’ve known, that ultimately, God knew what he was doing. Because if not, then you start to get into a whole series of questions leading to conclusions that make little sense. Such as, did Judas think God was wrong and didn’t know what he was doing ? Why did he not simply say “NO!”. Why did he take money ? What was the sense in killing himself for doing what God told him to do etc, etc. It becomes an endless cycle of trying to separate the ingredients of a cake……once the cake has been baked and eaten !
    I think it will probably always make a great discussion point round the dinner table as to what would have become of Judas had he lived. I for one would happilly get into that one. Yet ultimately it’s irrelevant.
    One other thing I’d say for now is that God uses current events to further or fulfil his plans. For example, it wasn’t an afterthought that caused God to approach Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet, according to Steven, Moses had it in his own mind forty years previous to do just that and it led to him murdering an Egyptian. All through the old testament we see people doing things, but God weaving these things into his plan. How does he do it ? That’s what makes him God !
    And one final thing that has always had me curious – the religious establishment wanted Jesus dead one way or the other. They were going to get him. And God the son was going to be, as Isaiah put it, “bruised” and the Father was happy for this to happen. Judas went to the authorities. They never came to him. But in any event, they wanted to kill him. They’d already sent guards to get him so we know that. Some of the Judeans already wanted to stone him. So in reality, Judas was hardly crucial to their long term goal. They could’ve gotten Christ at many given points. Judas happened to be “the current event”.