Mark 14:10-11 (NIV): Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
Many kind-hearted souls try to make excuses for Judas, teaching that he was simply misguided, or even that he was someone whose intentions in betraying Jesus were actually honorable – that he was simply trying to force Jesus’ hand, encouraging Him to take the strong actions needed for Him to become the king.
But Judas was not an honorable man, let alone an altruistic one. As John pointed out in his gospel, even before the incident at Simon the Leper’s house (Mark 14:3-9), which seemed to be a tipping point for him, Judas had been stealing from the bag of money that had been donated to help with the needs of Jesus and His disciples (John 12:6). It was no noble desire that moved him to go to the chief priests with the offer of betrayal, but the desire for money.
Theologians have long debated why Jesus would ever recruit someone like Judas to be His disciple, let alone one of His twelve closest followers. And if Jesus had known that Judas would steal from the money bag, why did He entrust it to Him.
The simple answer to both of those is that God told Him to do it, and He simply obeyed (cf. John 5:19). God had always known which of Jesus’ followers would ultimately betray Him, so when Judas began to follow Jesus, he was brought all the way into the inner circle. That seems counterintuitive to many, but there were two key reasons that this was the right thing to do. First, by bringing Judas into a close and even trusted relationship with Jesus, he had every possible opportunity to change tracks. If he had opened his heart, he could have grown to love Jesus like the others did, developing a bond and loyalty to Him that would have drawn him toward Jesus and the kingdom that He had come to bring. But even demonstrations of conspicuous trust, such as entrusting him with the money bag, even giving him power and authority to heal diseases and cast out demons (cf. Matthew 10:1), failed to melt his hard heart, which was strongly attached not only to money, but to the glory and power that he hoped would come to him through being so closely attached to someone like Jesus. With so much opportunity to change, so many chances to turn away from the pursuit of the world and its riches, Judas’ ultimate refusal to change brings his condemnation on his own head.
Secondly, if Judas had not been in the inner circle, he would not have been in as strong a position to betray Jesus, bringing about everything that was foretold. He would not have had as strong a credibility with the chief priests, and he would not have been as likely to have known where Jesus would be camping that night. He might not have even been with Jesus in Jerusalem during that Passover.
The plain truth is that Judas was a man with a bad heart, a heart that even the unconditional love shown to him by Jesus was not able to touch. His priorities were not those of the kingdom of God, and when he realized that following Jesus was not going to lead to wealth and power, he turned elsewhere, even if it meant betraying the one who had loved him and shown him the light of God’s glory.
Father, this is a sad story. It is hard to imagine how one who had lived with Jesus for years, who had listened to His teaching, seen His mightiest miracles, and even been empowered by Him to do his own miracles, could ever betray Him. But there are still people like that in the world today. Their hearts are hard, their priorities are of this world, and even unconditional love doesn’t seem to make a dent. But, Lord, help us to always remember that there are also many with bad hearts, even hearts that are desperately bad, and who have terrible priorities, who CAN be changed by Your love, Your grace, Your salvation. (I was one of them!) Help us, like Jesus, to not write people off who seem to be so hard, but to draw them in, to show them Your love, Your wonders, Your trust, and allow You every chance to work in their lives. Amen.