Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss
Bible study questions
Judas brought soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane and gave Jesus the infamous kiss of greeting which identified him to his enemies.
- Why did Judas betray Jesus?
- What happened at the Last Supper?
- What is a ‘Judas kiss’?
- What drives someone to suicide?
Judas agrees to betray Jesus
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.
- Judas knew what Jesus’ movements were likely to be.
- He was well placed to find an occasion when Jesus would be most vulnerable.
- He also showed them how Jesus could be arrested during the festival without the event becoming too public, too disruptive.
‘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 realised 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.
Note: The gospels saw that ‘Satan entered into Judas’. This should not be confused with demonic possession. We know from the Qumran documents that many Jewish people at that time believed that there were two universal forces, good and evil. A person turned to one or the other in his actions, and in this case Judas aligned himself with evil.
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
Jesus and Judas at the Last Supper
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
The Judas kiss
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.
Read the red text at end of page
The Betrayal of Jesus by Judas, Caravaggio
The 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.
Read the black text at end of page
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.
For more, see The Last Supper
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What the Gospels say
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
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.
17 And when it was evening, he came with the Twelve. 18 And while they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me. 19 They began to be grieved and to say to him, one by one, “It is not I, is it?” 21 But he said to them, “One of the Twelve, one who dips into the bowl with me. 21 For the ‘son of man’ goes, just as it is written concerning him; but woe to that man through whom the ‘son of man’ is betrayed. Better for him if that man had not been born.”
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him.
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.
20 And when evening came, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said: “Truly I tell you that one of you will betray me. “22 And becoming greatly distressed, they began to say to him, one by one: “I’m not the one, Lord, am I? ” and he answered and said: “The one having dipped his hand with mine in the bowl, this one will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes just as it has been written concerning him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been better if that man had not been born.” 25 And Judas, the one betraying him, answered and said: “I am not the one, Rabbi, am I?” And Jesus said to him: “You have said he truth.”
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
3 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.
47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?”
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 is it?
26 Jesus answers, “It is he for whom I shall dip this piece of bread in the dish and give it to him.” After dipping the bread he (takes it and) gives it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after the piece of bread Satan entered into him. Jesus says to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly. 28 Now none of those reclining at table knew for what purpose he said this to him; 29 for some of them were supposing, since Judas used to keep the money-box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy what we need for the festival,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 After taking the bread, therefore, he went out at once; and it was night.
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
Comparing the four gospel accounts
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