Judas: An Enigma
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Judas: An Enigma

Luke 22:1  (ID: 2321)

Can Judas serve as a warning to believers? Alistair Begg explains that while Judas followed Christ, he never truly gave his life to Him. His vision of Jesus’ purpose and ministry were different from God’s, and he couldn’t reconcile his desires with the Father’s plan. Following his own priorities opened the door to temptation from Satan—and he chose not to resist. If our vision for our life is shaped by Jesus, though, we will have a faith that perseveres.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 12

Feasts and Betrayal Luke 22:1–38 Series ID: 14214

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn again to the portion of Scripture that was read for us a moment or two ago from Luke chapter 22.

Those of you who are familiar with the immense work of John Bunyan will perhaps recall the staggering way in which he closes his wonderful allegory that we know of as Pilgrim’s Progress. As he describes the scene of Faithful entering into the eternal glory, Bunyan writes, “[And] then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the [gate] of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.” And Bunyan was simply making clear what the New Testament says and the warning that it extends both by precept and by example, making clear to us that some professing Christians may not persevere in their profession of Christ right through to the end of their lives. The Bible makes it clear—experience confirms the fact—that some who profess to follow Jesus do not continue to the end and therefore will not be saved.

Now, nowhere do we have a more chilling illustration of this biblical truth than in the life of the individual who is the central character in the few verses that were read earlier. Judas Iscariot lives on in the pages of Scripture as an awful warning to any who may be tempted to grow content with being involved just in the routine of Christian pilgrimage without ever having come to place their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church and the Savior of those who believe.

Now, it is this that comes out as we turn to chapter 22. Here we are, 180 verses away from the end of Luke’s Gospel. For some of you, I know it can’t come soon enough. It seems as though we’ve been studying Luke for years. (That’s because we have been studying Luke for years.) The death of Jesus is now just around the corner. And the context in which these events unfold is that of the celebration of the feasts: Unleavened Bread, reminding the people that their forebears ate unleavened bread on the night before the deliverance and the exodus; Passover, reminding them of the liberation which they’d known in being set free from the tyranny of Egypt.[1] And every time, on an annual basis, that the thousands of people gathered in the city of Jerusalem, the national fervor would run high, and the prospect of civil disobedience was real—and especially because all that was filling their minds was the thought of national liberation and the prospect that maybe this kingdom of God would come, and perhaps in the words and in the activities of this Galilean carpenter, this amazing preacher, this wonderful man, all that they had anticipated with their forefathers of old may now dawn upon them.

The Authorities’ Dilemma

Now, the authorities were well aware of this. And that’s why in verse 2, Luke tells us that those who were in the position of influence were looking for some way in order to get rid of Jesus. This is not something that had just emerged. It had been their preoccupation for some time. As we’ve gone through Luke, we’ve seen that it is a recurring pattern that as he challenges the religious authorities, as he points out the inadequacy of so much that they were doing, so their animosity towards him grew. And for example, at the end of 19, we read that “every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests” and “teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying [very hard] to kill him,” but “they could[n’t] find [a] way to do it, because [of] the people.”[2] And that’s the dilemma here that is mentioned by Luke in these opening couple of verses. They wanted so desperately to get rid of Jesus, but they were afraid of the people. They were more interested, really, in what the people had to say than in what Jesus had to say of them and to them. Somehow or another, they needed to do this business under cover of darkness—perhaps when the Jerusalem crowds had dwindled, when things were getting back to normal. They shouldn’t do it, they said to themselves, during any of these feasts, because they may become the catalyst for an insurrection that they would be unable to put down, and then the authorities would come and deal with them at the same time. Mark actually points to the cunning that was involved in their approach when he says they “were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and [to] kill him. ‘But not during the Feast,’ they said [to one another], ‘or the people may riot.’”[3]

So that was the dilemma: “We need to get rid of him; we can’t get rid of him. At least, we can’t get rid of him now. If we do it now, with all of these people around…” And after all, there were so many people in the crowds who loved Jesus. Either they or members of their family had had their lives touched and changed by Christ. There were people who were able to look out on the panorama of the Jerusalem scene and see it with their own eyes, because Jesus had made them to see—Bartimaeus being one of them.[4] There were little children who had now grown a little, and they had been in there in the early days, when Jesus had taken them and dangled them on his knee.[5] There were families whose lives had been shattered by illness and by bereavement, and Jesus had come and touched them and changed them.[6] So how in the world were they going to achieve their purpose?

Well, they could scarcely imagine that the way out of their dilemma was going to be provided by one of Jesus’ inner circle. If they’d been sitting around for any length of time strategizing about how they could effect it, there wouldn’t have been one of them who would’ve been prepared to say, “Well, you know, I’ve got an idea: maybe one of the Twelve will just hand him over to us.”

“Don’t be silly! Don’t be silly! You mean those twelve individuals that are with him all the time, who’ve been following him, hanging on his every word?”


And then, perhaps, as they were in conference, the word came from the outer courtyard: “We have a visitor.”

“Who is it?”

“Well, it’s one of the Twelve.”

“One of the disciples?”


“Which one?”

“Well, it’s not Peter, is it? It’s certainly not James. It’s not John. We don’t really recognize him. Apparently, his name is Judas the Iscariot—the man from Kerioth, the Judean.”

“What does he want?”

“Well, I don’t know. Why don’t we bring him in?”

And they bring him in. And Matthew 26 says, “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and [he] asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’”[7]

“What? Huh! We’ve been sitting in here just trying to figure out a way that we could do this. And you come walking out of the darkness with a question like that? What are we willing to give you? What do you think, fellas? How about thirty pieces of silver?”

“Thirty? I can do it for thirty.”

The Influence of the Evil One

Now, the way in which this is described to us by Luke is quite staggering, isn’t it? It says in verse 3, “Then Satan entered Judas.” “Satan entered Judas.” In other words, the devil had a huge, active part in what now takes place. Not only in the words and activities of Judas himself but, indeed, in the whole unfolding drama of the cross, the crucifixion, the death of Christ, and so on, you have the forces of hell unleashed against this heavenly Prince.

Those of you who have good memories may recall that back in Luke chapter 4, when we considered the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, that Luke wraps it up by telling us in 4:13 that at that point, the devil left him, waiting for “an opportune time.” Waiting for “an opportune time.” “I’ll be back,” he said, “when the moment is right, when the time is right.” And all of a sudden, the opportune moment seems to have dawned. And it comes not in a vacuum; it never does. It comes in a person. It comes in flesh and blood. The real deals that we are concerned with are not vacuum events; they’re not strange funny businesses up there. The real problems that you and I face are problems of flesh and blood, starting with my own flesh and blood.

And in the Qumran community, when they identified this view of the world, they wrote as follows, in words that came out of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “In the hand of the Angel of Darkness is total dominion over the sons of deceit; they walk on paths of darkness. Due to the Angel of Darkness all the sons of justice stray, and all their sins, their inequities, their failings and their mutinous deeds are under his dominion.”[8]

Anytime you don’t want to do what you’re supposed to do, you may be sure that the Evil One stands close by.

Now, what Luke is telling us here is simply this: that Judas had surrendered to the power of Satan. He has allowed himself to come completely under the influence of the Evil One. This is a reminder to us of what Paul is going to go on and tell the Ephesians later. Remember, he’s going to say to them, “You don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.”[9] “Oh,” you say, “but didn’t you just contradict yourself? Didn’t you just say that it wasn’t up there; it was right down here, in flesh and blood? And now you’re telling us that Paul says it’s not flesh and blood, but it’s up there. What do you mean? What does he mean? What does anybody mean?”

Well, the fact of the matter is this: the struggle is not ultimately human, but it is definitely human. You understand? There is a cosmic dimension to what is taking place. But the battle is not being fought, somehow or another, beyond our ken, beyond our understanding, beyond our involvement. No, the battle that is about to take place is a battle that is happening right down in a real moment in time, in a real individual, in an encounter with a real group of people.

And indeed, the cosmic dimension of what is taking place should not be overstated, lest we use it as a means of trying to exonerate Judas from any blame. And I hear this all the time: “Well, you know, poor old Judas! You know, that was the reason he existed. You know, Judas was invented so he could do that. Judas didn’t have a part in it. Judas was an automaton. Judas was a pawn.” No, he wasn’t. No, he was not. When you read of Judas being entered, being encountered, by Satan here, what has it made you think? I bet more than 50 percent, when they read, “Then Satan entered Judas,” think in terms of an unwelcome invasion. If you do so, you’re wrong. You should be thinking of a welcomed invitation—not that Judas, somehow or another, although he was going in a totally different direction, was encountered by the devil, and the devil manhandled him, wrestled him to the ground, and made him do something he didn’t want to do. Not for a moment! No, the devil comes alongside and says, “Hey, you don’t want to go there, Jonah? I’ve got a boat going over here. You can get on it. It’s leaving in twenty-five minutes.”[10] Anytime you don’t want to do what you’re supposed to do, you may be sure that the Evil One stands close by, offering you a wonderfully viable alternative in order that we might go down the road that Jesus says we ought not to walk. Therefore, think of it in those terms. Don’t envision Judas as somehow being involuntarily possessed. That would be to miss the point altogether.

There is absolutely no hint—and you must search the Scriptures yourself—there is no hint that he is unable to control his own actions. Rather, the inference is that he opened the door to Satan, that he failed at the point that God had given warning of in Genesis 4, when he said, “Sin is crouching at [the] door; it desires to have you, [and] you must master it.”[11] In my journey of Christian living, that is not an encounter, a battle, that happened at a moment in time. That is an encounter and a battle that happens sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour for the whole of your life—that “sin is crouching at your door,” and “it desires to have you.” That’s the facts of human experience. But Judas opened the door. He did not resist the devil. Satan therefore did not flee from him.[12] Listen: Jesus had to suffer, but Judas did not have to be the traitor. Jesus had to suffer, but Judas did not have to be the traitor.

Now, Phillips gets at this by paraphrasing the opening phrase of verse 3 in this way: “Then a diabolical plan came into the mind of Judas.”[13] “Then a diabolical…” Diabolos is the word for the devil, right, in Greek? Diabolos. So the diabolical plan is now conceived in the mind of Judas. And you will notice the volitional aspect of all that then takes place: not Judas somehow being propelled by an unseen force over which he has no control and yet which apparently controls him; no, but Judas making his own choices.

So you read in verse 4. Notice all the doing words. Those are the verbs; that’s what we learned at school. “And Judas went to the chief priests.” He said, “Well, I think I’ll go down to the chief priests. I’ll go find these characters.” And so he did. And when he got there, he “discussed with them.” He had a conversation. He said, “I want to talk to you about what you’re willing to give me.” We just saw that in Matthew 26. “What are you prepared to do for me if I do this for you?”—the kind of transaction that takes place every day in the process of business: “I can supply this. How much are you prepared to pay me?” And having discussed with them, discovering “they were delighted,” and they having “agreed to give him money,” notice verse 6: “He consented.” You see the volitional aspect of this. He said, “Okay, it’s a deal. Let’s do this.” And then, having consented, he “watched for [the moment of] opportunity” in order that he might hand him over.

Now, I mention that simply to make the point that here we have Judas acting on his own cognizance. It’s actually a reminder to us of what James teaches about the nature of temptation itself, isn’t it? I mean, we can’t delay on this, but I’ll just remind you of it, in James chapter 1. You can do a little homework if you want. “When tempted”—James 1:13—“no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” Well then, what happens? Well, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he[’s] dragged away and enticed.” And “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown,” strangles the life out of the person—by his own evil desire. The things that were going on in the heart and mind of Judas as he followed Jesus, as he moved with the crowd, as he joined his colleagues in the process. There were things going on inside of him. There were evil desires. And instead of acknowledging his need of Christ, he tolerates these evil desires.

What Motivated Judas?

Now, all week I’ve been thinking, as my mind went into neutral, “Why did Judas do this?” I started thinking, “How could Judas do this?” and that question didn’t last very long at all, because I said, “I think I know exactly how he could do it.” I very quickly get to the answer, “How could Peter ever deny Jesus?” when I find myself bottling it—when I have an opportunity to tell somebody that I love Christ and that I want to follow him and serve him, and I want to cough and splutter and try and move the conversation to something else. The how question’s easy. How could he do this? I don’t need to spend long on how. But I am intrigued by why. Why? What’s the motive here? What does he really get out of it? What would stir a man or a woman to such betrayal? Well, of course, we cannot answer categorically. We can’t say with any certainty. We can only take inferences from the Bible and try and put together a composite picture.

Let me suggest to you that it is impossible for us to answer the why question without considering the influence of money. Now, that’s not exactly brilliant in its deduction, is it? Because after all, Jesus is betrayed by Judas, and you can’t say “Judas” without saying “thirty pieces of silver.” You can’t acknowledge the deed without the transaction that was taking place. Yeah, there was something going on in Judas about money—in Matthew 26, remember: “How much will you give me? What will give me?” In John chapter 12, after the lady has come with her alabaster jar of beautiful and very expensive perfume, which would have been kept by her for her dowry in marriage or for the embalmment of her in burial, and she takes that, and she breaks it at the feet of Jesus, and she wipes his feet with her hair as an expression of self-sacrificing worship—and John tells us that on that occasion, Judas got up on his high horse, and he says, “This is a dreadful waste of money. After all, this could’ve been given to the poor.” Yes, but is that your real concern, Judas? No. John editorializes, and he says, “Of course, Judas was not remotely concerned about the poor. He was the keeper of the purse, and he routinely dipped his hand into the coffers.”[14] He had a pilfering mind and a pilfering hand.

When he’d heard Jesus tell the parable of the shrewd manager, where the master says to the manager, “That was a pretty good thing you dreamt up there, coming up with that idea how to get yourself out of your problem”—it’s your homework in Luke 16—and Jesus then goes on to say, you know, “I tell you, use money to make friends for yourself,”[15] you can imagine Judas saying, “Now we’re going! That’s the kind of thing I’ve been talking about, Jesus! That’s it! Now we’re getting it! Now we’ve got a parable about what I love to think about: money! Using money! Getting money! Come on, Jesus, that’s a wonderful story. Let’s just cut it off right there.” And then he listens as Jesus says, “And let me just say another thing: if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property”—Judas is saying, “Ooh, this is getting a little close”—“how do you think you will ever be entrusted with heavenly property? And let me just summarize it,” says Jesus, “and tell you this: nobody can serve two masters, because either you will be devoted to one and hate the other, or you will love the one and despise the other. But you cannot serve God and money.”[16] And Judas is saying to himself, “Aw! I was so desperately hoping that I could.”

“The love of money,” says Paul to Timothy as a young pastor—“the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. [And] some people, eager for money…” Notice the phrase: not “having money,” not “with a lot of money,” not “with hardly any money”—nothing to do with the size of the bank account. People who are consumed with thoughts of money “have wandered from the faith and [have] pierced themselves with many griefs.”[17] Could he have written that without at least Judas in his mind?

“Why did you do this, Judas?” Money’s got something to do with it. That’s why Paul, when he says to Timothy as a young man—he says, “You’d better be careful, or you can get sidetracked by possessions, by power, and by passion.” Money, sex, influence—the three things that sell the magazines in the racks; the three great dangers for everyone in a close position of leadership with Jesus. I don’t think there has been someone fall out of the ranks of evangelical usefulness but that it may be traced to either money, sex, or power.

Does this touch you at all? It should. Touched me this week when I went to Dallas to speak at the invitation of one of the radio stations there that we’ve been on for the last seven years. A huge crowd gathered—two thousand plus. Earlier in the day, they had me go to a bookstore as to sign books. It always makes me smile doing that. I can’t tell you all the reasons why, but I always feel very diffident in doing it—sitting behind a table and having old ladies come tell me that they like me (and they never buy books; they just come and tell me they like me); having people come and give me their cell phone and ask me to speak to the person who’s on the other end of the line; surrounded by great mountains of books that nobody’s buying; and, as it wends its way to the end of the two-hour saga, recognizing that this poor bookstore owner has got 220 books and me and no prospect of much.

So I said to him, “Why don’t you get all of these books and bring ’em to the church, ’cause there’ll be thousands of people at the church. You’ll move all these books.” I could see his eyes: “Ah! I know what this guy’s up to. This.” No. I think I get 13 percent of cost, whatever his cost was—pennies on the dollar. I wasn’t remotely interested in that. I just felt bad for him having 220 books that he wouldn’t be able to move as soon as I left town. I mean, he might sell six more, but the rest, they’re going in the bargain basement fast. So I said, “Why don’t you take ’em all over there?” If I had really been interested in money, I would’ve cut him out of the deal. I would have had Truth For Life send boxes of books down into the church. I would’ve bought them at my cost. I would’ve sold hundreds of them at at least ten bucks a book. If I sold five hundred, that was five thousand dollars. That’s a pretty good evening. Why didn’t I do it? ’Cause I can’t trust myself. I can’t trust myself. Then I don’t know whether I’m selling books or preaching the gospel. Somebody else may be able to do it. I can’t. ’Cause I’m frightened that in saying that I love God, I may actually only love money and be using God as a mechanism to worship my idol.

You cannot see what happened to Judas without recognizing that the financial factor plays deep into what’s going on in his psyche. But it’s not the complete answer. Because if it was a complete answer, he shouldn’t have settled for thirty pieces of silver. No, because then he sold himself way short.

No, you cannot explain it only in those terms. He’s got a covetous heart; there’s no question of that. But a covetous heart doesn’t reveal itself simply in the issues of finance. It reveals itself in all kinds of other ways—for example, in jealousy. I don’t have any doubt at all that Judas was jealous. Read the Gospels, and what do you find? His name comes last on the list all the time. Every time, it comes last on the list.[18] “And there was Peter, and there was James, and there was Andrew, and Thaddeus, and so on. And there was Judas.” Now, that gets to wear on you after a while. You know, “Why is my name always at the… Why am I always at the last of the list? And why do they always say ‘Judas Iscariot’? Why do they have to mention my nationality? Why do they have to point out that I am Judean? Because I am the only Judean out of the Twelve. I’m the only one from a village in Judah. Why do they keep mentioning that? And by the way, while we’re at it, why wasn’t I at the transfiguration? Huh? I mean, I could have had a shot at the transfiguration. And I’m sick and tired of ‘Peter, James, and John,’ ‘James, Peter, John,’ ‘James, Peter…’ Always the same three! What about me? What am I? Where do I fit in this great scheme of things?”

You see, that’s when you know that grace has not refined your heart: when your great concern, when my great concern is whether I’m getting my just desserts, whether I’m getting the profile that I should have, whether I’m getting the opportunities that fall to my this or that, or whatever our warped perception of ourself may be. Grace says, “It is a miracle that you’re even on the team.” Grace says, “It is fantastic that I even have a jersey.”

You see, when you watch these baseball players… I just noticed the Texas Rangers, and they were—no, the Los Angeles Dodgers—and they were all out there in that wonderful royal-blue and white uniform, with those exercise bags lying on the ground that I was coveting. And I said to myself, “Man I’d like one of those bags.” But anyway, there they were. And I’ve watched. I don’t fully understand how they give the numbers out. It seems it’s totally crazy. In soccer, it goes, you know, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. In baseball, I don’t know what it does: one guy’s 22, another guy’s 43, another guy’s 97. But I think—as best I can understand, apart from strange issues—you know, if you get a high number, you’re probably not starting. You know, if they say, “Hey, Begg! Hey, Begg. Your jersey’s back there. Take it. 387. Go ahead. Go on, take your jersey.” Now, you take your 387 and say, “Man alive! That means there’s 386 people that are ahead of me in this operation. I’m ticked!” Or, if you’re honest, you ought to say, “It’s a miracle that I didn’t get 388, knowing me—and knowing my heart and the weakness of my arm.”

I think probably that Judas Iscariot bit his fingernails. I don’t see him as Joe Cool—at all cool. I see him like this—you know, sitting around before the lunch comes, and he’s always… He’s like Kramer on Seinfeld: he’s just at himself all the time. He’s processing information, ’cause he’s bright. And perhaps what he did was he said to himself, “This whole thing is going to come to a grinding halt. It is apparent to me: we are going down the way; we’re not going up the way. After all, my Lord and Master has had plenty of opportunities to seize the day, to establish his cause, to bring in the kingdom, but look at us! Look where we’re going! It’s getting worse and worse. And when he takes us aside, he says, ‘We’re going up to Jerusalem, where I must suffer and die.’[19] ‘Suffer and die’! Well, I want nothing to do with suffering and dying, because it is obvious to me that when Christ goes down, we’re going down with him. Therefore, I’m not going down. I’m turning King’s evidence. I’m turning governor’s evidence. I’m going to go in the cover of darkness. I’m going to betray him. And when he goes down, then they will look favorably upon me, and I will at least have a future, unlike these sorry friends of mine who are so brainless in their devotion to Christ.”

I think there may be something of that in it: money, jealousy, anxiety, protectionism. And for that reason, I don’t like the suggestion (which is a very common one; you read it everywhere) that in actual fact, Judas was trying to do Jesus a favor—that Judas was so concerned that the triumph of Jesus would come, that his glory would be established, that his power would be displayed, that his kingdom would be so visibly there that he decided that he would preempt the situation by creating a crisis that would force the hand of Jesus, and then Jesus would step up and do what, as far as Judas was concerned, he should have done a long time ago.

Well, it’s an interesting idea. Mostly it comes from people who are trying to exonerate Judas. But there’s not a hint of any substantiation for it in the Bible. Indeed, what you have in Jesus is somebody who is moving inexorably towards the cross. We’ve seen that in the opening chapters of John’s Gospel: “My time has not yet come”;[20] “The day has not yet come.”[21] And he’s moving constantly towards Jerusalem. To conceive of it in these terms, instead of Jesus moving sure-footedly towards his destiny, Jesus is portrayed as some kind of vacillating prince of Denmark. I mean, this is Hamlet! “I don’t know what to do! I can’t muster it up!” You know, “Witness [you] this army of such mass and charge,” says Hamlet to himself, “led by a delicate and tender prince, whose spirit with divine ambition puffed [gets him out on the battlefield].”[22] “But look at me. I’m not on the battlefield. I don’t know what to do.”

Now, this is the explanation: Jesus is dithering, and Judas steps in and says, “I’ll take care of it for you, Jesus,” you know? “I can get this kingdom to come.” Well, what you have then is, in place of Judas the traitor, you have Judas the misguided saint. Instead of treachery, you have an error in judgment. Don’t you think that Christ, in his goodness, would’ve overlooked a little error in judgment, a little exuberance on the part of one of the Twelve? He would’ve said, “Hey, Judas, that was a dumb idea. Come here. Let’s talk about that.” But he doesn’t do that. What does he do? He pronounces judgment on the man by whom the betrayal comes. Mark chapter 14: “Woe to the man by whom this happens.”[23] No, the only way we can ultimately view this is to see in Judas all of the infamy of man’s rebellion against the dominion of God.

Really, what we have in Judas is the spirit of the antichrist embodied. He is there in the crowd, he is there in the company, but in his heart, he is opposed to the one he professes to follow. And if we could pull back the layers of his deception, we would probably find that he’s saying to himself, “I thought this was going to be much more successful and much more profitable. I’ve been sold a bill of goods,” he’s saying to himself. “False hopes. Empty promises. This whole journey has been a complete waste of my time.”

Well, he could never hang that on Jesus, could he? Because Jesus hadn’t put the challenge in the small print—unlike many of the people on contemporary television that suggest, you know, “If you’ll come along now, you’ll get wealth and health and happiness, and if you give a thousand dollars, then the next year is going to be the most amazing year you’ve ever known,” and so on. And witness all these people with their Visa cards all marked up with this craziness and their lives a horrible shambles. They have reason to be concerned. They have reason for anger. They have reason for disappointment, because that was a false gospel that they were fed and to which they responded—which is no gospel at all,[24] which is the fact that they’re not saved, because only the gospel of the Lord Jesus saves.

And Jesus had extended his call to Judas just the same as the others. But presumably, he was annoyed. He was embarrassed. He thought he was going to be involved in something really successful. When they came into sight of Jerusalem, just when he might’ve expected that Jesus has said, “Okay, let’s mount the horses, and let’s marshal the troops, and let’s take Jerusalem,” instead, Jesus falls on his face, and he starts to cry like a child: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks?”[25] No, I think we have to say that Judas is standing there going, “Oh, get it over. Here we go again.” See? All of the time his thoughts are fueled with bitterness, with spite, with revenge—always realizing that Jesus could read him like a book; that his heart and his mind, his devotion, had all gone in a different direction, and the only thing that remained was not for him to point to Jesus; not for him to shout out, “There’s Jesus!”; not for him to walk up and poke Jesus; but all that remained was for him to kiss Jesus. “The one I kiss…”[26] What infamy is this? This is infamy beyond infamy.

The Roots of Judas’s Betrayal

Now, finally, in a moment, the other question I’ve been wrestling with during the week is not “Why?” but “When?” And I just say a word, and we’re through. Don’t get restless.

I said to myself, “When did this start?” See, when does it start? When does backsliding start in the professor? What is it? Where is it? Is it an event? Is it a day? What is it? After all, he left everything to follow Jesus, just the same as the rest. Jesus had come and issued his call, and the people had stepped out. Mark 3:14: “And he called them to be with him.”[27] And Judas said, “I want to be with you,” in the way that some of us have said that we want to be with Jesus. We went somewhere, and somebody explained something of the gospel, and they told us, “If you walk an aisle, you hold up your hand, or you write on this card,” or whatever else it is, “then that means that, ipso facto, you’re in the group.” And Judas had been living under his influence. He’d been witnessing the compassion in his eyes. He’d been watching the Great Physician heal. He’d been listening to his entreaties. And as he’d listened to his entreaties, he’d been recognizing that they were entreaties to which he needed to respond, but he couldn’t respond, or he wouldn’t respond.

There is a chilling warning here to every uncommitted follower and professor of Christ.

For example, Jesus says on one occasion, “Come to me.” “Come to me, all you who are weary and [heavy laden], and I[’ll] give you rest.”[28] How do you think Judas heard that, with a big bag of cash on his lap? He was weary, and he was burdened. He had the worst weariness and the worst burden, because he knew that there was a striking gap between his perception of things in terms of who Jesus was and his experience of the reality of Jesus’ power within his life. And when he heard Jesus say, “And you will find rest for your souls,”[29] “Oh,” he must have said, “that is exactly what I need: rest for my soul!” But he didn’t step out. I mean, it would’ve been embarrassing for him, wouldn’t it? After all, everybody who saw him said, “Well, he’s one of Jesus’ boys”—the way they look at the pastoral team and say, “Well, they’re all Jesus’ boys.” I trust so. It would be a fearful thing to have preached to others and then, in the end, myself to become “a castaway”[30]—to step out of the mainstream and acknowledge that I’m in the routine, I’m part of the falderal, I engage in all the activities, but as God searches my heart, I neither know him nor love him nor serve him. That was Judas’s predicament. And that will always come out! It will inevitably come out! And the when of it is secondary to the fact of it itself.

Oh, I say to you again: these little verses here are a warning to every unconverted believer. There is a chilling warning here to every uncommitted follower and professor of Christ. Oh, Jesus had seen him as a good recruit, seen him as marked by potential. Of course he had. But somewhere the clouds had come in—the disappointment, the bitterness, the frustration. He’d loved it when John the Baptist said, “Now the ax is at the root of the trees. Now the fire is going to fall.”[31] And Judas said, “I love that stuff. It makes me bite my nails, but I love it when he says that. Let the fire fall! Let the ax start.” What he was unprepared to acknowledge was that if the ax were ever to fall, it would take him out at his ankles. He’d be the first to go. See, our great protestations about the sinners and the dreadful people in the world—“And you come and judge them, God!”—is often a dreadful, subtle smokescreen for the fact that I am unprepared to face the searching gaze of Scripture in my own ugly, sordid, messed-up life.

I say to you again, Bunyan was right: “[And] I saw that there was a [path]way to hell, even from the [very gate] of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.” What he discovered was that he had never really been Christ’s man. He had never really been Christ’s. Oh, he was in the group that was close to Christ, but he wasn’t Christ’s. He’d never really known this love at all. You know, he’d known the “moons and [the] Junes and [the] Ferris wheels” and “the dizzy dancing way [it feels when] every fairy tale comes real.”[32] He’d done all that stuff. He’d been there for the feeding of the five thousand.[33] He’d been present for some of the dramatic miracles. But somehow or another, he… Da-da-da, “and feeling proud to say ‘I love you’ right out loud,”[34] you know? He just couldn’t get there. And when he put his head on his pillow, he said, “I really don’t know love at all. I really don’t know Christ at all.”

And says John, “The reason these people went out from us is because they weren’t of us. If they’d been of us, they would’ve continued with us.”[35] And the story of Judas and his treachery is a permanent, powerful, chilling reminder to every member of the visible church that there exists the dreadful possibility that among us—among us who are apparently living in close connection to Jesus—there are maybe those who are inwardly false and who are busily engaged in betraying him. And do not let appearances deceive us!

Do you remember this? “From”—and with this I close—

From: The Jordan Management Consultants

Sent to: Jesus, the Son of Joseph

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you’ve picked for leadership positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests. We have not only run the results through the computer but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you’re undertaking. They do not have the team concept.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, placed personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a skeptical attitude that would tend to undermine morale. Matthew has been blacklisted by the Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. And James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of your candidates, however, shows a great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness. He meets people well, has a keen business mind, has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your CEO and right-hand man.

Father, thank you that the Bible conducts a big CAT scan on us. Thank you that you come to us not with a telescope but with a stethoscope. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my [anxious] thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”[36]

And now unto him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.


[1] See Exodus 12:1–28.

[2] Luke 19:47–48 (NIV 1984).

[3] Mark 14:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[4] See Matthew 20:29–34; Mark 10:46–52; Luke 18:35–43.

[5] See Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17.

[6] See, e.g., Matthew 9:18–26; Luke 8:41–56.

[7] Matthew 26:14–15 (NIV 1984).

[8] The Rule of the Community (1QS) 3.20–24, in Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994), 6.

[9] Ephesians 6:12 (paraphrased).

[10] See Jonah 1:1–3.

[11] Genesis 4:7 (NIV 1984).

[12] See James 4:7.

[13] Luke 22:3 (Phillips).

[14] John 12:5–6 (paraphrased).

[15] Luke 16:8–9 (paraphrased).

[16] Luke 16:10–13 (paraphrased).

[17] 1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV 1984).

[18] See Matthew 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16.

[19] Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22 (paraphrased).

[20] John 2:4 (NIV 1984).

[21] John 7:6, 8 (paraphrased).

[22] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 4.4.

[23] Mark 14:21 (paraphrased).

[24] See Galatians 1:7.

[25] Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34 (paraphrased).

[26] Matthew 26:48; Mark 14:44 (NIV 1984).

[27] Mark 3:14 (paraphrased).

[28] Matthew 11:28 (NIV 1984).

[29] Matthew 11:29 (NIV 1984).

[30] 1 Corinthians 9:27 (KJV).

[31] Luke 3:9 (paraphrased).

[32] Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now” (1967).

[33] See Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:31–44; Luke 9:12–17; John 6:1–14.

[34] Mitchell, “Both Sides Now.”

[35] 1 John 2:19 (paraphrased).

[36] Psalm 139:23–24 (KJV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.