Life of Christ 162
|Judas Iscariot leaving the Last Supper,|
Carl Bloch, 1890
It is Tuesday afternoon. Jesus will die tomorrow. He and His Apostles are on the slopes of the Mount of the Olives where they have just finished a discussion about the end times. And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. (Matthew 26.1-2) It is worth noting that Jesus knows exactly when He will die (the day of preparation), the earthly cause of His death (betrayal), and the method of His death (crucifixion).
The Sanhedrin, which has been actively conspiring to assassinate Jesus for months, dearly wants to do it soon but they are afraid of His popular support at Jerusalem during Passover week. They gather together at Caiaphas' house sometime early in the week to plot how to get around this obstacle. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. (Matthew 26.3-5) The Sanhedrin had been mad at Jesus for a long time. For over a year they had been tacitly fomenting mob violence against Him. But when Lazarus was indisputably resurrected from the dead just two miles outside of Jerusalem a month ago they began to be more than mad at Christ – they began to fear Him as a political threat. (John 11.48) Then, to add insult to injury, Jesus shows up on Monday morning and ruins their best money making week of the year by wreaking havoc in the Bazaars of Annas. (see Life of Christ 149) They were mad at Him already and wanted to do away with Him. Then they got frightened for their political future. Then He again attacked them in the pocketbook. Now they have reached their breaking point.
The Sanhedrin, however, faced two problems in doing away with Jesus. First, they did not have the legal authority to execute someone; only Rome did. Second, they were afraid of the reaction of the common people packed into Jerusalem. They needed a way to solve both of these problems and they found it in the person of Judas Iscariot.
Judas solved their legal dilemma (or at least they thought he did). In Dwight Pentecost's excellent book on the life of Christ he discusses this aspect:
Judas agreed to fulfill a point of Roman law, a necessary requirement if the Sanhedrin was to proceed with their plot to execute Christ. A person could not be brought to trial before a Roman court until an indictment had been officially lodged against him, charging him with a crime. This indictment had to be signed by witnesses who, by signing the indictment, agreed to appear in order to give testimony for the prosecution against the accused. Thus Judas offered himself as a witness against Christ. He agreed to go before the Roman courts when Christ was brought to trial on a yet undetermined charge.
Not only that, but Judas also agreed to find a way to solve their publicity dilemma:
Luke 22.3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
4 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.
5 And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.
6 And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.
Now let us turn from examining the thinking of the Sanhedrin to examining the thinking of Judas. Last Friday night after arriving in Bethany a special dinner was held for Jesus. (see Life of Christ 145) The story is placed parenthetically in Matthew 26 to explain some of the reason for Judas' resentment. But I believe the actual root of Judas' discontentment with Christ goes further back than the previous Friday. Judas had long ago been chosen to help the group in administering its finances. He must have had some gifting in this area. A gifting implies a desire and there is only a short step from a gifting with desire to ambition. In my opinion, Judas latched onto Jesus because Judas was ambitious. He thought Jesus was going places – a throne – and Judas wanted to be right beside Him when it happened. Scripture shows us that thoughts of their place in the future kingdom were much on the minds of the Apostles on numerous occasions.
We know from our study of Jesus' life that He initially experienced a time of great popular enthusiasm especially in Galilee. Judas had watched that fade away and perhaps in his mind he placed the blame for that on Jesus Himself. John the Baptist had been beheaded and Jesus had done nothing about it except to run away. Jesus often seemed to flee, whether from confrontation or attempts to make Him king. Jesus chose not to publicly declare His claims on numerous occasions. Jesus refused to miracles in situations in which they would have been greatly advantageous. Jesus did nothing to defuse the growing animosity of Israel's religious leadership. Lately, He had often been referring to the morbid subject of His own death.
In the other Apostles this same deteriorating course of events led to a strengthening of their faith. Jesus at one point (John 6) asks His disciples if they would also go away and abandon Him like everyone else. Peter answers wonderfully, To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. Yet the same circumstances that increase one person's faith doom another's and this was the case with Judas Iscariot.
We see Judas completely unmasked in contrast with Mary during the Friday night supper referenced in Matthew 26. Her discernment, deep sorrow, and obvious love for Christ stand in stark relief to Judas' selfishness, covetousness, and hypocrisy. Since then the situation, from Judas' perspective, has only worsened. Jesus had a weird depressed thing going on during the Triumphal Entry. Jesus completely failed to capitalize on that great moment of popular enthusiasm. The next day He unnecessarily aggravated the authorities by cleansing the Temple again. All morning today (Tuesday) He had bickered with the powers that be in the Temple. Then, in the afternoon on the Mount of Olives, it had been all doom and gloom and the end of the world. Satan, sensing his time had come, takes possession of a Judas who had gradually brought himself to such a place of spiritual emptiness.
|The Pact of Judas, Barna de Siena, 1350|
I cannot leave this awful scene in the Passion week without mentioning one application. Our heart can turn to wickedness even in the best of surroundings. For three years Judas Iscariot lived in close proximity with Jesus. And the result was awful. A thousand years before Christ Solomon said, I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly. (Proverbs 5.14) You can surround yourself with the best of friends, insert yourself into a church on fire for the Lord, and vigorously protect what enters your eyes and ears – but if you do not guard your heart wickedness will find you anyway. It grows in all of us and the crowd we run with cannot protect us from a bad heart.
It is absolutely astounding to think of what depths Judas sank in relation to his close proximity with Jesus. No man has ever gone so low in hell from being so close to Heaven. Indeed, the distance between where he was and could have been and where he is now is greater than that of any other person in human history.…and there, but for the grace of God, go you and I. Beloved, let us never forget it.