Learning From Judas – Ray Stone

Ray Stone

The Bible is, more than anything else, a book of examples. Just think of the Old Testament prophets; our Lord, “I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15); or the apostle Paul, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me…” (Philp. 3:17) . Elders are also presented as examples 1 Pet. 5:3; as well as preachers (1 Tim. 4:12). Examples are powerful learning tools!

An example generally is considered a positive thing. From that viewpoint, our title seems to be an oxymoron (self-contradiction) at best. Yet the concept of “negative examples” is common in the Bible as well. “Remember Lot’s wife…” (Luke 17:32). Concerning Esau’s mistake (Heb. 12:16). “These things (Old Testament sins) were our examples, to the intent that we should not…” (1 Cor. 10:6), do as they did. Negative examples can be just as powerful, useful, as positive ones. The big difference is that positive examples point to rewards to be gained by doing right, while negative examples dwell on the punishment that wrongdoing brings. Valuable lessons can be derived from both.

So we come to the epitome of negative examples: Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of our Lord. That act was so contemptible his name has become synonymous with betrayal throughout the whole World, even among nonbelievers. What makes betrayal in general, and this betrayal in particular, so despised is that it is a violation of trust. Psalm 55:12-14 expresses this aspect clearly:

It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him. But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together; and walked unto the house of God in company.

It is particularly painful and despicable when that very trust is used as an actual tool to betray. Judas’ “kiss of treachery” makes this an especially contemptible act. “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psa. 41:9). Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being backstabbed by a supposed friend can identify with these sentiments.

And there is yet one more factor magnifying the heinous nature of Judas’ betrayal: His motive! This is important, for why one does what he does, makes a difference. Bad actions done for pure motives at least have that redeeming quality: “He meant well, even though he did wrong.” Good actions done for evil motives are worse, but it can be said “At least he did right, even though for the wrong reason” (cf. Philp. 1:15-18 for Paul’s comments on this very thing). But evil actions done for evil, selfish motives have no redeeming quality at all; nothing can be said about it but that it’s just evil, through and through. Such was the case with Judas: Cold cash was his motivation—the infamous “thirty pieces of silver” (Matt. 26:15). Incidentally, 30 pieces of silver was the going price for a injured slave (Exo. 21:32).

All that being said, it is all too easy to demonize Judas—paint him as the personification of evil all his life. But that would be a huge mistake: Judas was not “born that way” nor was it “the way God made him”, as some use as an excuse today for their wrong actions. Judas was born innocent, just like every other child ever born (Matt. 19:14; Isa. 7:16.) It is occasionally said of hardened criminals, to remind us of their basic humanity, “They all have mothers.” So it was with Judas. He had a mother and a father. We may assume they were good Jewish parents with the same hopes and ambitions for him that any parent has for their child.

So Judas was raised under the Law of Moses, and apparently as an adult was a faithful follower of that Law. He was of such character that Jesus chose him as one of His hand-picked 12 to further His teaching in the World (Mark 3:19). As testimony to his original purity of heart, we have those Psalm passages we’ve referenced already that assure us he was Jesus’ “own familiar friend”—as were all the apostles (John 15:15). And after Judas was called by Christ and joined that little band, he wasn’t bad—yet. For we read in Matthew 10:1 that Jesus, “called to Him His twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.” Just to be sure we understand “the twelve” included Judas, the following verses list them all specifically, including Judas (Matt. 10:2-4). So he was given, along with all the others, the ability to work miracles, including casting out demons.

Now that’s telling: Consider Matthew 12:24, when some Jews were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by using the power of Satan: Do you remember His reply? He said, “That doesn’t work!” He said, Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” He said, pure logic makes it clear: “I by the Spirit of God cast out demons”—so, too, did the apostles, including Judas! (v. 28). At that time, early in Jesus’ ministry, Judas was as pure and faithful as any apostle.

But, though he started out as a full-fledged, faithful apostle, Judas had a weakness–and that is lesson No. 1 we can learn from him. Money was the name of that weakness. Judas loved money—and that’s as serious a character flaw as you’ll ever see, one that leads directly to countless others. In 1 Timothy 6:10 puts God’s understanding on it: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…” and hear the rest of the passage with Judas particularly in mind: “…which some reaching after have been led away from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” That describes accurately what ultimately happened to Judas.

How important is money to you? Skeptics sometimes say “Everyone has his price” but that is why they’re called skeptics—it just is not true of everyone. Yet it can be a great temptation, and is to many people. Here’s God’s warning, a fact proved every day: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance, with increase; this also is vanity (emptiness)” (Eccl. 5:10). That’s a dead-end road.

Judas started out a faithful apostle—but circumstances required the group to establish a treasury (the Bible calls it their “bag” John 13:29), and Judas became their treasurer, “keeper of the bag.” And that marks the circumstance of his slide into sin, being tempted daily in his weakest spot. From that point on, he is depicted as more and more materialistic, then evil, as he even stooped to petty theft (we would call it embezzlement). The event marking his descent is found in John 12, at the house of Jesus’ close friends Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Mary sought to honor her Lord. She took “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair…” (John 12:3). Here is Judas’ reaction: “Why was not this ointment sold for 300 pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). But John goes on, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). The ASV version translates this, “took away what was put therein.”

So here is lesson No. 2 we can learn from Judas: Know yourself, both your strengths and where you’re not so strong, and don’t risk temptation in your area of weakness! The principle of 1 Cor. 8:9 and Rom. 14, that we are to avoid placing stumbling-blocks of temptation in our brothers’ way, applies to putting those stumbling-blocks in our own paths as well. Satan doesn’t need the help! Judas should have known himself well enough to “regrettably decline” the responsibility of “holding the bag” so avoiding the temptation to take advantage of the group’s trust. But he didn’t; and deliberately put squarely in his own path, temptations peculiar to himself; and ultimately proved the truth of Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Judas had his loyalty to Christ on the one hand, and his lust for riches on the other—a dangerous position; and he had done it to himself! Know yourself well enough to avoid his mistake.

We all know the final result of this: His bargain with the chief priests to deliver Christ to them, under cover of night, for thirty pieces of silver. Peter noted that Judas “by transgression fell from this ministry and apostleship…that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:25). And even before the betrayal, Jesus, knowing it was as good as done, said in His prayer to the Father, “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Judas’ love of money cost him his soul.

But wait. Didn’t Judas later repent? After all, Matthew 27:3-5 says,

Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

A penitent sinner is always forgiven, isn’t he? How then could Judas be lost?

A good word study is in order here: The Greek word most often translated repent is metanoeo. This is the word used by John the Baptist, Matt. 3:2, 8; 4:17). It is used in the well-known passages about the necessity of repentance, as Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30. In fact, it is used some 58 times in the New Testament and is always translated repent or repentance. Its literal meaning, interestingly, is “to have another mind!” So it is commonly defined as “a change of mind.” However, a more complete definition is “a change of mind followed by a change of action”—remember John preached “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Intentions are good, but there must be also the follow-through of a changed life.

But this is not the word used of Judas in Matthew 27:3. There it is the related but different word metamelomai a literal meaning of which is “to be concerned with regret.” It is used only 6 times in the New Testament. Both of these Greek words are used together in 2 Cor. 7:10, “For Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the World worketh death.” The first repentance our first word that describes true repentance; the second, repented our second word that describes a concern for, or regret; and in fact is so translated in the ASV in this verse: “For Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance that bringeth no regret; but the sorrow of the World worketh death.”

Within that context, it is easy to see the case of Judas: He regretted his actions, but didn’t truly repent. It could be said that his Worldly sorrow brought his death—physical and spiritual. If Judas had truly repented, he would be confessing it to Jesus if possible, to the other apostles who witnessed it surely, to God Himself certainly—but no, he went only to the very ones who had tempted him to sin in the first place—the chief priests and elders. Regret—being sorry—is not repentance. It may be a start, but it isn’t enough. Judas lost everything. He lost the money. He lost his life. Most regrettably, he lost his eternity.

So what do we learn from Judas?

  1. Beware of the sin of covetousness; of “love of money” (1 Tim. 6:10). It can be as addictive is any drug.

  2. Beware of deliberately putting temptations into your own path (1 Cor. 8:9). Satan doesn’t need the help. Know yourself well enough to know what to avoid!

  3. If you find yourself in sin in spite of all, confess it to God in repentance (1 John 1:9) as well as to anyone you might have sinned against (Jas. 5:16). There is no other way to gain forgiveness and avoid eternal consequences.

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Author: Editor

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