How did Judas Iscariot, fervent disciple, turn into Judas Iscariot, ultimate traitor? God only knows his inner motivations, but here's how it might have happened.
It is very likely that Judas was a pleasant enough personality. For slightly more than three 'and a half years, from the time of his first eager acceptance of Jesus' call and his determination to remain a loyal disciple of Christ, Judas, as any other human being, would have drawn close to the other eleven. But in any group of a dozen human beings, there will grow and develop certain personal associations, and certain personality clashes and petty resentments. Each man was a strikingly different and unique personality, and it is therefore natural that two or three of the disciples would tend to gravitate toward each other, thus forming several different groups among the twelve. There would not be an artificial, homogenized, equal relationship among all of them. Judas no doubt formed a few fairly friendly attachments among the disciples. These are never mentioned in the Bible after the original group of twelve is identified. But surely Judas was included when Jesus sent His disciples out on a brief evangelistic tour to give them experience in teaching others what He had taught them, in learning the lessons of suffering, rejection and persecution in this or that town, and in having the courage to simply shake the dust off their feet and go on to the next place. Judas preached just as fervently as the rest of them, and who knows, he may have been used in performing miracles. But an educated guess about how his road to infamy may have commenced follows.
Judas the Thief
The first time Judas managed to find a bargain for some foodstuffs and lie about the price, pocketing the difference, he probably felt terribly guilty. Certainly Jesus would know about anything like that from the very beginning, for He could literally read human minds and hearts by the power of God's Spirit. Jesus could see right through the agony of conscience Judas was suffering. The more deeply Judas became involved, the more the normal psychological reaction of anger toward Christ developed. Judas had utter contempt for himself, and was tremendously jealous of Jesus' purity. These resentments smoldered and became twisted into the deepest sensitivity concerning his own "honesty" and "integrity" and into the deepest hostility concerning Jesus' "hypocrisy" and "egomania." Probably, if any of the disciples had actually called Judas a thief (and that was exactly what he was — John 12:6), it would have resulted in an insane screaming tirade, probably even physical violence, and Judas would have quit on the spot! As the months passed, and Judas continued to live the double life of petty pilferage whenever his lusts and appetites got the better of him, his growing irritation with Jesus' expenditures, personal tastes in clothing and foodstuffs, and most especially Christ's seeming inattention to the "poor suffering people" continued to wear on Judas' nerves. Did Judas influence any of the other disciples in these attitudes? Probably so. It would be ridiculous to think that he held these opinions totally secret inside himself. There must have been times when groups of three or four of the disciples in intense personal conversations would talk about the others who were not present, as often occurs in any collection of human beings. There were minor personality clashes and arguments from time to time, but these were usually silenced by Jesus Himself, who would rebuke the disciples for their hurtful attitudes toward one another. Some of the more violent arguments centered around the jealousies of those who were closest to Jesus. Proximity to the source of power in any human organization is always a subject of contention.
Scramble for Power
On occasion the disciples' own families became involved in the petty bickering. At such times, there was ample opportunity for a spate of self-pity: They complained of how much they had "suffered" and how long they had endured; the hardships they had undergone; the fact that Jesus didn't seem to be paying them enough attention. Attitudes of fierce family loyalties and mutual commiseration at these alleged slights finally became so intense that, on at least two occasions, there was open conflict about which disciple would "sit on His right hand and which on His left hand" when Jesus would set up His Kingdom. Though the disciples were mature men possibly well along in their twenties or even older, one of their mothers approached Jesus and besought Him to bring an end to the agony of doubt and curiosity by naming then and there which disciples would be His chief lieutenants in the Kingdom. (See Matthew 20:21-28.) Jesus exclaimed: "I'm sorry! That is not my decision. It is not my choice or my place to appoint who is going to be at my right hand or my left hand in the Kingdom, but my Father's!" Jesus gave the striking example concerning the giving up of family ties, homes, and human roots to settle this argument about the leadership in the Kingdom. He reassured His disciples in the strongest terms that anyone who had given up homes, families, lands, positions, businesses, personal wealth or even as much as life itself would "inherit an hundredfold" in the Kingdom. Jesus wanted to get across the lesson that when one is truly converted, even though his own family and friends might turn against him, he immediately becomes the "adopted son" of every member of the body of Christ (the Church) and, in that sense, immediately inherits hundreds of "fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters" in Christ. In the ultimate sense, of course, his literal kinship with the family of God after the resurrection will yield an infinite increase — of joy, power, wealth, and brethren! Gradually, though, Judas became Jesus' chief critic. Jesus knew it, even though on a day-to-day basis in their "love-hate" relationship (Jesus doing all the loving, Judas doing all the hating) there were pleasant enough exchanges and greetings. Not only did Jesus know Judas was stealing, but Judas also began to suspect that Jesus knew it, and this further exacerbated his anxieties. It even brought open criticism from him in public meetings near the last of Christ's ministry.
Mary's Misunderstood Gift
Mary of Bethany understood even more vividly than some of Christ's own disciples that Jesus literally meant what He said about His impending persecution, crucifixion and burial. Thus, Mary privately bought a very expensive ointment she was going to keep until the time of His death so she could ensure that He had the finest funeral possible. Mary had heard the tale of the town prostitute who had wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, splashing her own tears on His feet and totally humiliating herself in abject worship because of the weight of her sins and her deepest desire for Christ's forgiveness. During a large public dinner in Simon the leper's house in Bethany, not long before Christ's last twenty-four hours on earth as a man, Mary was overcome with emotion and grief as a result of the heaviness she saw in Jesus' face and in His demeanor. She then knelt at His feet, and producing this box of very expensive spikenard, began to anoint His feet with it, crying, and using the hair of her own head to wipe them. Judas probably looked around at the two or three disciples he had influenced the most, and, nudging one with his elbow, said: "Look at that! There is another example of terrible extravagance! Why in the world doesn't Jesus tell the woman to get up, and save that expensive ointment. It could be sold for a great deal of money, and we could give it to the poor [Mark 14:4-5]. That would be a far greater example of the compassion Jesus so readily preaches than allowing Mary to waste all of that expensive ointment on Him — especially at this time when we are in such financial trouble." Judas was pleased to observe that several of the other disciples were equally as outraged as he pretended to be. Judas had fostered this attitude in them by a long process of insidious innuendo. John later recalled and wrote that Judas said, "Why wasn't this ointment sold for 300 pence and given to the poor?" But John added, "Judas said this not because he really cared for the poor, but because he happened to be a thief, and, having control of the common treasury, was constantly skimming from it" (John 12:6, paraphrased). Jesus then made another of His unexpected statements, neither understood by many of His disciples then nor understood today by many who believe in a false Jesus: "What are you bothering this woman for? She has performed a fine thing for me. There will always be poor people in every society and, hopefully, whenever you find opportunity, you should do good to them. But you will not always have me with you! She understands what some of you don't seem to understand, and is anointing the hair of my head and my body in advance for my burial. "Indeed, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what this woman is doing for me here tonight will be spoken of her as a memorial." Judas became terribly angry at this stinging public rebuke, and his guilt, rising up like bile in his mouth, became so intense he simply had to choke it down. The only method to quiet his own guilt was to pretend Jesus could not have known about it, and to nurse feelings of righteous indignation against Christ, hardening his resolve to "get Him" if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Christ in His Own Image
Judas didn't like the real Jesus very much. He would have far preferred to have a Jesus much closer to the type imagined in the minds of many professing Christians today! When Jesus neglected to heal someone, not even bothering to acknowledge them at first, but only healed on those occasions when outstanding examples of perseverance or faith were shown, it annoyed Judas! He would do it differently! Judas knew he could be a better Messiah than Jesus was. Judas reasoned in his mind that if only he had studied the Scriptures as hard; if only he had that unique combination of personal magnetism, quick wit and incisive insight that could deftly turn a social disaster into a great spiritual and moral lesson; if only he had that amazing power to produce signs, wonders, and miraculous healing — then he could have been the real Christ instead of Jesus! Probably Judas came to the point where he honestly felt that he had influenced enough of the disciples so that a majority would follow him if he could overthrow Jesus. Actually Judas' attempts to overthrow Jesus seem to have begun well over a year prior to the crucifixion. He seized every opportunity to influence as many disciples as possible so that they would warm up to him, listen to what he said, agree with his contentions, and join with him in his continual abrasive attitudes toward Jesus' life-style, the decisions He made and the conduct of their day-to-day business. Finally, when Judas knew that Jesus had enraged the top leadership in Jerusalem, the time suddenly seemed right. He had toyed with the idea of betraying Jesus on many occasions, but the pieces never fit together. Then, almost instantaneously, the proper chemistry generated the sudden reaction — the time was ripe. His constant murmuring about Jesus' personal tastes and habits had scored on a significant number of the disciples. He reasoned he could easily neutralize Peter's bombast. However, James and John were quieter — especially John, whom several of the other disciples were jealous of anyway because of his continual closeness to Jesus. Judas' long campaign to disaffect as many of the disciples as he could had come increasingly into the open in recent months. Now a sufficient number of the disciples seemed to agree with Judas, and to disagree with Jesus' statement about the poor.
Tool of the Devil
Judas' hatred became so intense — exactly proportionate to the amount of his own deepest sense of guilt — that his mind was opened up to Satan the devil. As soon as he found opportunity, perhaps early the next morning, Judas, now literally possessed of Satan the devil, sought out the leading Sadducees of the Temple and struck a deal with them. Judas acceded to their demands that he deliver Jesus at a time when no large crowds were present, because the Sadducees knew that most of the people looked upon Jesus as a prophet. They told Judas of the many times they themselves had tried to have Him arrested, only to be thwarted because He always seemed to be surrounded by large groups of believing people. Judas craftily asked, "How much are you willing to pay me?" Perhaps one of the priests vaguely remembered Zechariah's prophetic words: "If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver" (Zech. 11:12). Either as a lark, or perhaps believing some twisted application of this scripture might in fact apply in the "cutting asunder" of a "foolish shepherd," the priest suggested precisely that amount: thirty pieces of silver. This was a substantial sum, easily comparable to several thousand dollars in today's economy. Judas agreed without haggling. Rejoining the group in Bethany, Judas was tingling with excitement, constantly scheming and thinking ahead, trying to determine the time when Jesus would be most vulnerable, away from crowds, and hopefully even isolated from some of His closest disciples, so he could inform on Him with as little risk to himself as possible. Also, Judas fervently hoped that his campaign of feigned love toward Jesus had succeeded, so that even in the events of the arrest itself he could posture to be shocked and unaware of Jesus' alleged "illegal ways." He could preside over the whole sordid scene with supercilious self-righteousness, shaking his head sadly, grimacing as if in pain, yet glancing significantly at those few disciples over whom he had almost complete control. Then, Judas planned, immediately upon Jesus' disappearance, incarceration, punishment, and perhaps even death, he could pick up the pieces of the organization and carryon. In Judas' twisted mind, he may have even imagined that he was doing this "for Jesus' own good." He would show Him. Wouldn't it have been far easier on their entire ministry if Jesus had gone further out of His way to give to the poor? Couldn't they have won far more friends, influenced far more people, and avoided the persecution that continually came upon them and the constant rumors of gluttony and drunkenness that followed Jesus throughout His ministry, if He would have avoided the appearance of profligacy? Judas wanted Him constrained. He wanted Him contained, rebuked, punished. Perhaps, though maybe he couldn't even admit it to himself, he entertained the thought that all their efforts to advance the Kingdom of God would be futile as long as Jesus remained in charge. In his own mind, Judas felt Jesus' arrest by the civil authorities would be the greatest event of his last three and one-half years, releasing his own full potential for leadership. He would then set about doing what Jesus seemed always to be so reluctant to accomplish: setting up the Kingdom right then and there by the secret recruitment of an army and the quick overthrow of the Roman forces occupying the country, in complete cooperation with the puppet king, and most especially, with all the religious and business leaders. Judas felt totally vindicated! In his own mind, he had so twisted the facts that he saw Jesus as the one who was the extravagant thief, the one who was abusive and abrasive, the one with whom almost no one could get along, the one whom no one could please. Judas so misinterpreted Jesus' motives that he came to believe he would be doing the world a favor if he could have Jesus imprisoned. All Israel would surely pay him homage for ridding the country of this egomaniac who was about to cause great slaughter by inciting the Roman occupation army to counter the threats of insurrection.
Of course, Judas had developed a whole scenario: He desperately wanted to take over the leadership of the twelve disciples for himself, and with Jesus out of the way there was nothing to stop him. He had the money, the personality and soon would have the public recognition and the support of the religious leadership as well. Perverted and ferociously misguided ambition had blinded Judas to reality. How many countless hours had Judas daydreamed during the course of the last year and a half about how marvelous it would be to see the crowd surrounding him! How many clever things he would say! Judas would immediately set up two or three of his closest confidants as the leading apostles, and most certainly, they would not be Peter, James or John! They were too attached to Jesus personally to be of any use in the future. Judas would demote Peter, James and John to lesser positions in the group — probably, on second thought, he would have to get rid of them altogether and appoint some new disciples from a few friends he had bribed here and there along the way. Thus Judas probably planned to set up a new organization which would solve all of their present difficulties, be they religious, social, political or financial. Judas could virtually see himself, in his mind's eye, plunging along the road toward great success and greater glory! Perhaps he would be able to set up the Kingdom right here and now! Surely the people were ready. But he would have to do it through wily
Judas wanted Jesus constrained. He wanted Him contained, rebuked, punished. Perhaps he entertained the thought that all their efforts to advance the Kingdom of God would be futile as long as Jesus remained in charge.
cooperation with the present powers, and wait until he had gathered a small army of many hundreds of the key people in the main villages and towns before he could begin an underground recruiting program. Judas thought he could amass thousands. He was certain he could do it! Jesus had fed the four thousand and then the five thousand, and, on the strength of that, Judas' shrewd mind began calculating the possible forces he could gather. He may have reasoned he could have at least fifty or sixty thousand troops ready in not much more than one year. There was only one "if" — if he could get rid of Jesus, and be given full leadership without any constraints. The popular impression that Judas simply wanted the thirty pieces of silver may well be rather simpleminded. Judas was playing for much higher stakes. It is quite conceivable, however, that Judas did not want Jesus to be crucified or executed, for it was the actual condemnation of Jesus (Matt. 27:3-4) that rudely awoke Judas out of his dream, shook him back to reality and triggered his suicide. Judas perhaps wanted only to get Jesus out of the way so that he could take over the leadership of the disciples and to humiliate Him a little, "to give Him a taste of His own medicine," and "to teach Him a lesson."
But Judas' game had gotten far out of hand. Once Judas had betrayed Jesus and turned Him over to the religious leaders, his role was finished — he could no longer control the situation. His combination of vanity, ego, guilt and deep personal shame over his deceiving ways, his vituperative resentment of any who would dare question his "moral integrity," and his megalomaniacal vision of his own importance led Judas straight down the road into total satanic possession and quick, self-imposed destruction. When Judas finally came to his senses, when the devil had accomplished his task and left him, he became filled with a sickeningly intense self-revulsion. And in a mindless state of ever increasing self-hate, Judas first tried to give the money back. Failing this, he simply cast it down in the Temple where he thought he could partially return the money to its rightful owners. He then went out and hung himself. The ignominy of Judas' death was compounded when his swinging body, bloated and decaying, "burst asunder and all his bowels gushed out" in the very field bought by the religious leaders with Judas' thirty pieces of silver. What does the future hold for Judas? Did he commit the unpardonable sin? Is he headed for the lake of fire? Is he lost for all eternity? Matthew reports that Judas "repented himself" (Matt. 27:3) right after Jesus was condemned and right before Judas committed suicide. What does "repented himself' mean? Was it only the carnal remorsefulness of self-pity following public failure and humiliation? It is impossible for anyone man to read and know any other man's heart and mind. It is fruitless for any human being to try to fully appreciate the internal attitude and approach behind the external actions and deeds of any other human being. (It's hard enough to know one's own heart and mind!) Only the God that created the heavens and the earth and all mankind will judge Judas Iscariot — and that's Jesus Christ Himself — the same fair and faithful and forgiving God that will ultimately judge us all.