Life of Jesus
Trial & Death
JUDAS BETRAYS JESUS WITH A KISS
Jesus and his disciples met for an evening meal. All twelve were there, including Judas. Jesus knew Judas would betray him, but did not stop him. Judas brought soldiers to the Garden and gave Jesus the infamous kiss which identified Jesus to his enemies.
A problem solved. Once the Jewish authorities decided to get rid of Jesus, they had to find a way to do it without inciting a riot or an uprising. They knew that Jesus had supporters among the ordinary people, many of whom might take up arms on his behalf. They had to arrest Jesus quickly, without a fuss. But there was a problem. Since there would have been something like 100,000 people in and around Jerusalem at Passover that year, the chances of locating and arresting an individual, especially one who did not want to be found, were slight.
Suddenly a solution to their problem appeared. One of Jesus' disciples, Judas, approached the authorities and showed them how they might arrest Jesus.
'Quick and silent' was what was needed in this combustible situation. Once Jesus was arrested, even his popularity with the people would not protect him. He could be taken into custody and dealt with before the general populace was even aware of what was happening.
Why did Judas do it? Judas was, and still is a riddle. He walked with Jesus and knew him well. Not only that, he had been chosen as one of the special group of insiders who were Jesus' intimates. The gospels keep identifying him as 'one of the twelve', a phrase which highlights the tragedy of his betrayal of Jesus. But they also say he turned to the Tempter, a stark warning for all who think they can resist temptation, and perhaps the reason for St Paul's caution: "Let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Judas did not betray Jesus for the money. The equivalent modern value of thirty pieces of silver is not known, but it was a comparatively modest sum. When Judas faced the Temple authorities he did not quibble at the amount, or bargain for more.
The evangelist John suggests it was Judas' avarice and dishonesty which were the deciding factors, but money cannot have been his primary motive, given the amount.
Perhaps he did not agree with the direction of Jesus' ministry. Perhaps he had been won over to the politics of the Zealots, ancient-day terrorists who aimed to seize power and violently end Roman domination of Israel. Judas realized he was never going to get this through Jesus.
On the other hand, maybe Judas was afraid for his own safety. Did he think Jesus was becoming too radical, too dangerous? The attack on the money-changers had occurred only a few days before. Judas may have decided to get out while the going was good - and prove his loyalty to the Jewish leaders by handing over Jesus.
At the same time he fervently believed in Jesus, as his later despair showed.
Where it happened: the city of ancient Jerusalem lay in the lower left and centre of this 19th century photograph; the Kidron valley is lower right ; the Mount of Olives is extreme lower right
What happened? On the day in question, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem for the evening meal instead of eating in Bethany, where he had probably been staying since he arrived in the Jerusalem area. This ties in with the Last Supper being the Passover meal, which had to be eaten within the city walls.
In the middle of observing this important Jewish festival, Jesus stunned his disciples by saying that he was about to be betrayed. None of them seemed to have argued with him, which gives us some idea of the mood in that room. One by one they asked if it was they who would betray him. Not for a moment did they think he might be mistaken. Jesus then told Judas that he was the betrayer.
How does Jesus know that his betrayer was Judas? There is nothing 'magic' about it. Jesus had almost certainly been warned by various friendly sources in Jerusalem that the ruling priests had struck a bargain with one of his disciples. We know he had followers in positions of influence, and any one of these might have alerted Jesus to the priests' plans. And Jesus was of course an acute judge of people, and of what they might or might not do.
What happened then? Jesus handed Judas a piece of bread, the gesture of a friend and attentive host. The dish they dipped this morsel into was probably a bowl of sauce/gravy. To dip bread into this bowl and then give it to someone was a mark of honour. In this case it was a special, last appeal to Judas. Then Jesus told Judas to do what he must - but the meaning was ambiguous and the decision ultimately belonged to Judas.
People in the ancient world despised anyone who received hospitality or friendship (as Judas did) and then betrayed their host. Psalm 41:9 says "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me." But Judas' crime was even worse: he not only shared a meal with Jesus that evening, but took food from the very bowl used by Jesus.
Now Jesus' words had the effect of forcing Judas to act, one way of another. Jesus was saying stay with me, or go to the priests and betray me. Make up your mind. 'What you are going to do, do quickly'.
The gospel of John simply states that Judas immediately went out; and it was night. Again there's a double meaning: it was night-time, but also night for the soul of Judas.
The Last Supper, by Nikolas Ge; Jesus is filled with grief as Judas leaves the upper room
After Judas left the upper room where they had been eating, Jesus washed the feet of his friends in an act of godly service. Then they went out to a garden across the Kidron Valley, a garden they must have known well. Jesus prayed there, but the peace of the garden was shattered by the arrival of a contingent of guards and officials. They had come to arrest Jesus. With them was Judas.
Because there were many pilgrims around, it was necessary to have a sign (the kiss) to identify Jesus. If there had been a struggle the wrong man might have been arrested, especially in the dark. A kiss was normal enough; it was the way a pupil greeted a Rabbi, and Jesus had been a teacher to Judas. Mark, writing in Greek, uses an emphatic form of the verb katephilesen. Judas kissed Jesus with more than usual fervour and affection.
The Kiss of Judas (El Beso de Judas), Francisco Salzillo, 1754
The gospel texts describing his scene keep identifying Judas as 'one of the twelve', a reproach. The phrase drives home the enormity of Judas' treachery.
Jesus submitted quietly to the soldiers, but spoke some final words to Judas: Friend, why are you here?
The words can be read as a loving rebuke, but they can also be translated as Do what you came to do.
Suicide of Judas
There was no excuse for what Judas had done, and he knew it. His breach of trust and failure of loyalty made him a pariah, even to himself.
We can guess something of his despair when we learn that he took back the money to the priests, and tried to return it. It was a hopeless, despairing gesture. He knew he could not stop the train of events, and yet he deeply regretted his own actions. Tragically, he made his crime worse by yielding to despair. He went away and hanged himself.
Conscience, by Nikolas Ge; Judas stands alone, watching as the soldiers lead Jesus away
Meanwhile, Jesus faced the hastily assembled courts. His fate was already sealed.
At a last meal with his closest disciples, Jesus knew that one of them, Judas, was about to betray him. He tried to draw Judas back from the brink by offering friendship and forgiveness, but it was too late. Judas sold Jesus to his enemies, identifying him with a kiss. Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial.
What happened next? See The Last Supper
1 Judas agrees to betray Jesus: Read the blue text
2 Jesus and Judas at the Last Supper: Read the green text
3 The Judas kiss: Read the red text
4 The suicide of Judas: Read the black text
14:10-11 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief
priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were
greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for
an opportunity to betray him.
26:14-16 14 Then one of the twelve, the
one called Judas Iscariot, came to the chief priests and said 15 'What
will you give me so I will betray him to you?' And they set with him the
amount of thirty silver coins. 16 And from that time he began to
seek an opportune time in order that he might betray him.
Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the
Twelve, 4 and he went and conferred with the chief priests and the
officers about how he might deliver Jesus up to them. 5 They were glad
and decided to give him money. 6 He agreed and began to seek for an
opportunity to deliver him up in the absence of a crowd.
21 After saying these things Jesus became agitated in spirit. He bore witness and said, "Amen, amen, I tell you, one of you will betray
me. 22 The disciples looked at one another, at a loss to know of whom he was speaking.
23 One of his disciples was reclining at table close to the breast of Jesus--the one whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore made signs to him that he should inquire who it
was of whom he was speaking. 25 That disciple therefore leaned back on Jesus' chest and said to him, "Master, who
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Bible Study Guide: The Life of Jesus Christ: Jesus is betrayed by a kiss from one of his closest followers, Judas Iscariot
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher