Recently an international television broadcast a programme entitled The Gospel of Judas. The programme has raised the curiosity of people to know more about the Judas Iscariot, and other disciples of Jesus. The Gospel of Judas is not a part of the Bible. It is an apocryphal gospel which means, it is not a genuine gospel. The books of the New Testaments are written in the first century, while the Gospel of Judas was written in the second century and is not written by Judas, the disciple of Jesus but by some one else. Here we put aside the Gospel of Judas and speak about Judas as he appears in the four Gospels and in the Acts.
One thing can be said for sure about Judas. He was a disciple whom Jesus chose as one of his 12 disciples. The synoptic Gospel writers, Mathew, Mark and Luke give the list of the 12 Apostles with always mentioning Judas at the end as one who betrayed Jesus (Mt 10,4; Mk 3, 19; Lk 6,16). The author of the 4th Gospel John, while mentioning the name, says: Judas, even though he was one of the twelve, was going to betray him (Jn 6,71).
From Iscariot name of Judas, some biblical scholars believe that he must be a man from a town Kerioth in southern Palestine. Jesus and the other 11 disciples were from Galilee. We can say on the basis of the four Gospels and the Acts that Judas Iscariot stood out from the rest. His character and behavior vouch for him as the odd man in the twelve.
In the time of Jesus there was a group of Jewish people known as the Zealot. They wanted to throw away the yoke of Roman power over the Jewish people. From the resemblance of the names Zealot and Iscariot, some believe that Judas might have been a member of the Zealot group. But one thing is certain that Judas Iscariot was very different from the rest of Jesus disciples.
The Evangelist John calls Judas a thief. Once Jesus was at the table in the house of his friend Lazarus for a grand meal. In the description of the occasion John gives a fair picture of Judas Iscariot.
Then Mary took half a litre of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus disciples, Judas Iscariot the one who was going to betray him said, Why wasnt this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor? He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it (Jn. 12, 3-6).
John and Judas together with the other disciples followed Jesus for three years. They heard Jesus message. They saw his miracles. John wrote his Gospel some time between 55 and 85 AD, that is after many years after his personal experiences with Judas in the company of Jesus. So John described Judas in the above words after taking into consideration the incident of betraying Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus and the incident of Judas killing himself by hanging. John has certainly described without any hesitation Judas as a mean character.
Jesus has chosen Judas as he did the other eleven. He also made him the treasurer of the small group and entrusted the money bag. So we may conclude that Jesus may not noticed anything amiss in the character of Judas. Jesus must have seen in Judas a useful and efficient disciple when he chose him.
When Judas Iscariot joined Jesus and the other disciples he must have seen in Jesus a political Saviour who would free the Jewish people from the power of the Romans The Jews were expecting a Saviour at the time of Jesus birth. They believed that a political leader would free them from the domain of the Romans or at least save them from their economic difficulties and sicknesses. So some bible scholars say that Judas as a clever Jew became a disciple of Jesus believing him to be political Saviour. Hence Judas betrayed Jesus as a help to Jesus, a political Saviour to fulfill his mission as soon as possible.
But there does not seen to be any truth in the contention in the context of all the reference to Judas in the four Gospels that he betrayed Jesus in order to help him to achieve his goal as a political Saviour.
Mathew, Mark and Luke clearly indicate that Judas went to the Jewish Chief Priests on his own accord. Mathew says,
Then one of the twelve disciples the one named Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and asked, What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you? They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him. From then on Judas was looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them (Mt 26, 14-16; see Mk 14, 10-11, Lk 28, 3-6).
Obviously Judas Iscariot takes the initiative and goes to the chief priests. Jewish religious leaders are happy with his proposals and offer him 30 silver coins without any hesitation. Then according to Mathew Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss the sign of friendship and close relationship. Mathew writes, Judas went straight to Jesus and said, Peace be with you, Teacher, and kissed him (Mt 26, 49).
During the Last Supper Jesus had warned all the 12 disciples that one of them would betray him. I tell you that one of you will betray me one who is eating with me.
The disciples were upset and began to ask him one after the other, Surely you dont mean me, do you? (Mk 14, 19).
Jesus used to go to pray regularly in the Gethsemane Garden. Judas Iscariot knew about it, so Judas reaches there with the soldiers from the chief priests thinking that it is the right place to get Jesus arrested without any interference of the public. According to the sign given early to the soldiers Judas approaches Jesus to kiss. Then Jesus does not call him a traitor, betrayer, enemy or opposes him with shouting and making scenes. But calling him by name with love Jesus simply says, Judas, is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man? (Lk 22,48).
Here we can get an idea how cruel and treacherous is human heart with the behavior of Judas by kissing Jesus, which is a symbol of friendship and close human relationship! At the same time we are wonderstruct with the love of Jesus who calls his betrayer by name in such treacherous situation! Jesus had kept Judas with him three years with lessons and examples of a life of love, patience, forgiveness, service, peace, and mercy. Treading on the same path Jesus calls Judas to turn away from the sin of betraying.
But instead of turning to Jesus like Peter with repentance, Judas Iscariot takes the path of total frustration and disappointment! He cuts himself off from Jesus and all other disciples and kills himself by hanging!
A person can easily slip from one sin into another and into a third sin and go on! The path of sin is deceptive and treacherous. There is much wisdom to take the path of life by repentance and becoming cautious at the beginning. Jesus has indicated that road for us to follow. But the road of the devil is to get us into sin and ever more deeply and deeper into sin. Nobody can predicate how far a person is led by sin. But the way to turn to Jesus is always open irrespective of the depth of ones sin.
We can take another lesson too from Judas Iscariot. In spite of being with Jesus experiencing his love, mercy, and forgiveness and witnessing his miracles, a person can still take a wrong path and betray Jesus and get oneself lost forever.