By Bob Russell
Judas was greedy. That’s a common temptation for most of us, but it’s especially enticing for those with easy access to money that doesn’t belong to them. When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, Judas protested the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. A fellow disciple observed, “He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).
Judas was the treasurer for Jesus’ small group, and he found ways to feather his own nest. While greed was a factor in his tragic betrayal of Jesus, his issues seem to go much deeper. He surely could have brokered for much more than 30 pieces of silver for identifying Jesus at night. He probably knew Delilah was offered a lot more than that for delivering Samson into the hands of the Philistines.
Some suggest Judas’s real problem was impatience. He had left his former life to follow Jesus, convinced the Lord would be a political Messiah. But it seemed Jesus kept fumbling opportunities and wasting time with insignificant people. So, Judas decided to force Jesus’ hand—to put him in a corner where he would have to assert himself and jump-start the revolution. In this view, Judas was not guilty of rank betrayal but just overzealousness.
That explanation does not fit the biblical narrative. The Bible says, “Satan entered into Judas” (Luke 22:3). If Judas were just overeager, Jesus would not have been justified in the stern rebuke, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21; Matthew 26:24).
The Source of the Traitor’s Betrayal
I think the source of Judas’s betrayal was a gradual corruption of his heart. His catastrophe began with greed, which led to stealing. He perhaps initially just “borrowed from the petty cash.” Then he rationalized that he deserved some personal reimbursement for extra time spent handling the funds.
Slowly his attitude toward Jesus changed because of his secret sin. Instead of a teachable spirit, Judas became cynical. Instead of enjoying fellowship with the disciples, he became distant. Instead of loving Jesus, he began to resent him.
When Jesus rebuked him for his criticism of Mary’s extravagance, Judas had enough. “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?'” (Matthew 26:14, 15). Judas had become arrogant as well as bitter and decided to lash back.
A.W. Tozer suggested, “No man suddenly goes base.” There was a gradual erosion within Judas’s soul that was imperceptible to those closest to him. At the Last Supper when Jesus predicted, “One of you will betray me,” no one blurted out, “I’ll bet it’s Judas! He’s been in rebellion. He’s always sulking around. I think he’s stealing from the treasury!” No! Judas had become an accomplished hypocrite; no one in the inner circle suspected he was capable of betrayal.
The Traitor’s Tragic Mistake
But greed, impatience, and even his spiritual drift didn’t constitute Judas’s biggest mistake. His biggest mistake came after he betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. His biggest mistake was that he failed to repent of what he did. As a result, he completely missed the meaning of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.
When Judas witnessed the brutality against Jesus, he must have seen himself for who he really was: a thief, coward, traitor, and hypocrite. Judas felt such onerous guilt he tried to undo his crime and begged the temple officials to take the blood money back. When they scoffed at him, Judas became despondent. Feelings of self-loathing overwhelmed him. The final, tragic scene is that of Judas climbing a tree with a rope in his hand.
Judas made the fatal mistake of giving in to despair. As a result, he missed the offer of complete forgiveness and restoration that would have been available to him had he waited just three days. Imagine Judas, along with Simon Peter and a few other disciples, meeting the resurrected Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Judas sheds tears of repentance and makes an honest confession of his guilt. Jesus tenderly embraces him and commissions him to preach the gospel to all nations. Judas could have experienced total forgiveness and complete restoration because, as the hymn writer put it, while “sin had left a crimson stain” the blood of Jesus “washed it white as snow.”
Judas was remorseful but not repentant. There’s a difference. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
When my sister Rosanne graduated from Bible college with honors, I made a selfish decision not to attend. I was a senior in high school and wanted to go to a class party instead, so I stayed home alone. When my parents drove out the driveway to begin the 350-mile trip to Cincinnati, I immediately realized I had made the wrong decision. My sister and I were close, and she was going to be crushed. I had been totally selfish.
I called my Aunt Bert who lived five miles away. I said, “When my parents come to pick you up, please have my mom call me.” Minutes later, when mother called, I sobbed, “Please tell Rosanne I’m really sorry. I know I should have gone.” My mother said an awful thing. “OK, we’ll come back and pick you up!” Well . . . I wasn’t quite that sorry! I was remorseful but not really repentant. Repentance does more than feel guilty or shed tears. Genuine repentance ends in changed behavior.
In Acts 4 certain believers in Jerusalem sold houses and land and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Two chapters later, some people complained that the distribution of the funds didn’t seem equitable. This might indicate the early church missed Judas, the one with the most financial acumen.
If only Judas had waited three days, he could have been forgiven and restored to service in the early church. He could have heard the dying Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:34). And he would have heard the resurrected Jesus say, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Lessons from a Traitor
The tragic story of Judas has some crucial lessons for all of us.
Proximity to the sacred is no guarantee of spirituality. Judas lived with Jesus for three years but drifted away from him. You may have had godly parents, grown up in the church, learned the songs, and memorized Scripture, but it’s still possible to withdraw from Jesus. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Participation in sin does not end in satisfaction. Judas found no satisfaction in having more money. He found no genuine fellowship with the chief priests. There was no fulfillment in retaliation. The pleasures of sin are short-lived. “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction” (Galatians 6:8).
Feelings of remorse are not sufficient to receive forgiveness. Repentance involves conviction, contrition, and change. Jesus said, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3).
Suicide is not a means of permanent escape. Suicide may not be the unpardonable sin, but it certainly challenges God’s mercy. Who wants to stand before God when their last act on earth was to terminate a life that belongs to God? “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
Jesus’ resurrection provides hope regardless of your present despair. No matter how desperate your circumstances, complete forgiveness and restoration are available in Christ. So hold on! Wait three days! “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Bob Russell retired as senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky, in 2006.