Judas, The Savior
Judas, The Savior
Around 2,000 years ago a child was born in the land of Israel. He spent a significant amount of time in the area known as the Galilee and his name referred to a great Jewish hero. His name was Judas Iscariot, most likely named after Judas Maccabeas who led the Jewish Revolt some 160 years earlier.
There isn’t a lot known about Judas other than those last few hours of his life. We know that his father was named Simon Iscariot. Some people believe his “surname” derives from the corrupted Latin word “sicarius,” which means murderer. However, it’s more likely formed from the Hebrew “Iš-Qiryot” which means “man from Kerioth,” a town in southern Judea.
What we have been taught for 2,000 years is that Judas was a traitor. In fact, the Gospels and Acts call him just that. We scoff at Judas. We criticize Judas. We belittle the man who walked with Jesus for years as a disciple. What if, however, there was something more to him? After all, he’s one of the major villains in the Messianic story. What if we can learn more from Judas than simply, “You shouldn’t betray Jesus.”
In The Beginning…
Let’s start from the beginning. In the beginning God created…I’m just kidding. Don’t worry.
We can “guestimate” that for over a millennia the Israelites had been celebrating Passover starting on the 15th of Nisan every year. Passover was one of the major holidays (Or festivals. I had a woman publicly chastise me because I called them holidays at one of my speaking events – *rolls eyes*) when Jews were commanded to come to the temple in Jerusalem. So imagine hundreds of thousands of people coming into Jerusalem at that time every year.
The Struggle “Israel”
One of Israel’s major struggles almost their entire existence in Eretz Israel has been the rule of foreign powers. Seldom has Israel had political and religious independence. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome. The era that Jesus’ disciple known as Judas grew up under was political unrest as well as violent oppression and occupation by Roman rule. Judas didn’t grow up in a vacuum. He was raised, lived, ate, and prayed in this atmosphere where Roman violence and prowess dictated the lives of Jews living in the land during the first century.
Furthermore, the cross wasn’t only reserved for Jesus (and to set the record straight, it wasn’t for petty thieves either). The cross was for rebels and anyone who attempted to defy the Roman occupiers. Crosses were hung outside of the city walls to demonstrate that no rebellion would be tolerated. The two “thieves” who were next to Jesus were more likely brigands who were disrupting the Pax Romana and who are most likely to be a part of revolutionary groups (See Archaeology Study Bible, 1565).
It’s not hard to imagine why a people would be so expectant for a messiah to rise up. Some people claim hundreds of messianic verses are found within the Hebrew Bible. A more conservative number would round it down to about 60-100 solid messianic prophecies. Regardless of the amount of times a messiah figure is spoken of, there can be no debate that a need for a messiah existed in the descendents of Abraham, especially during the first century.
Herein lies the most important contextual piece for understanding the damning actions of Judas. The people of Israel in the first century, the people who lived in the time of Jesus and Judas, were expecting a military messiah; one similar to Judas Maccabeas who revolted against the Seleucid Empire in 160 BCE. Jesus wasn’t the first messiah figure and he wouldn’t be the last. They were expecting someone to overthrow the Roman government with violence so that Israel could exist independently. That is who the people expected. And that is who Judas expected.
So let’s put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Judas, who grew up in a politically and religiously charged atmosphere, who probably had not-so-great run-ins with the Romans himself, is called by a Messiah figure to follow him. This Messiah figure doesn’t show his face in Jerusalem the entire time of his ministry (Kind of. Not worth noting here. Scripture reference in case you want to see more: John 7) until when? Until all the Jews were going home for Passover. Jesus waited until the time when the tensions were highest to ride into Jerusalem.
You’re Not My Savior
Enter Judas’ paradoxical problem. The Messiah, as the people expected, was to be a military ruler who would overthrow the Romans. A typical military conqueror entered a city on a horse. It was a way of showing off his military authority. Jesus, however, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” I can imagine Judas walking nearby while Jesus rides in on a donkey thinking, “What the heck is going on! I’ve seen your miracles! I’ve listened to your teaching! You’re clearly the Messiah…but you’re not the Messiah I thought you’d be!”
Judas attempts to reconcile this problem by offering him up to the High Priests and ultimately the Romans themselves. It’s highly likely that the plan of Judas was to get the ball rolling, as it were, and for Jesus to finally come out as the military champion so many hoped He would be. Judas wasn’t flippantly betraying the person who came to be his Messiah, he was trying to start the next rebellion that would deal with Israel’s biggest headache of the first century – Rome. Judas believed he was saving Israel.
As we know, Judas’ betrayal did not go according to plan. Instead of starting a revolution, Jesus gets put on a cross like any other rebel and dies. Matthew and Acts differ in the death of Judas, but regardless, his fate was sealed. Judas dies and is regarded as the betrayer of the Messiah.
I’ll bet you didn’t think I was going into all that when you read the title, did you? So what can we learn from Judas and all this history?
Whose Lens, Whose Savior?
The major point we should take away from the story of Judas is that we often expect and think of Jesus to be one way. Many have taken it upon themselves to create and worship their own Jesus that fits their political and spiritual agenda. We rarely read the Gospels within a first century lens. Instead we read the Gospels and the rest of the Bible using a Reformation lens, an Azusa street lens, a medieval lens, an “America Is The Hero In The Story” lens, and many others. How often do we really read Jesus’ words without a bias that assumes what Jesus said (or any biblical author for that matter) agrees with our political or spiritual worldview and agenda? Jesus did not fit into Judas’ agenda so he sold him out to get his way. Can we say that we are any different?
This is why Christian leaders are supposed to go through classes called Hermeneutics. This class helps us to exegetically study scripture so that we’re bridging the gap between the original authors and today. We’re supposed to understand what type of cultural milieu the authors were writing in. In doing so, this helps us to understand the teachings and stories better because unless you’re a history professional, you probably don’t understand the authors’ time period. We don’t put our culture and presuppositions into scripture (eisegesis), we pull (exegete) the culture to understand it better. The bottom line is that throwing away certain lenses gives us a clearer picture into the author’s culture. Judas, like most of us, was using a different lens with which He thought the Messiah was supposed to be.
There are a lot of Christian leaders out there who are comparing you to heroes of the Bible. You’re like David! You’re like Abraham! You’re like Jesus (okay, hopefully not that last one)! But what if I actually told you that you’re more like Judas? I know. The truth hurts. I felt overwhelmingly convicted just writing this. But there is good news!
I Had A Dream
In 2009 I had a dream that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane. At this point, I had not visited the Garden in person; that would be a year later. I remember waking up in the dream to see Peter and Jesus, and Jesus told me to walk with him while Peter followed. As I walked with Jesus and Peter I saw a man kneeling down and bawling his eyes out. It was none other than Judas himself. I was in the Garden the night of the betrayal – I couldn’t believe it. I stopped and saw Jesus go forward and place His hands on Judas and say, “It’s okay Judas, I forgive you.”
I told this story to a church recently and I was questioned emphatically about it. Listen, I’m not telling you that Jesus was saying what Judas did was okay. I’m not rewriting scripture. What I’m saying is in that moment Jesus was showing me that I was like Judas. I had sinned against him and had betrayed God just like every other person on the planet. In spite of those sins, I’ve been forgiven because of Jesus’ work on the cross – and so have you!
The comparison game is dangerous, I know. At the end of the day, you and I aren’t like any other person on the planet. We’re made uniquely. We may have similar characteristics to other people, but that doesn’t negate the fact the God made each and every one of us exclusive. Biblical characters teach us lessons so that we can learn how to follow God’s commands better and learn from others’ mistakes. You’re not David. You’re not Judas. You are [enter your name here]. One of the biggest lessons we can take away from Judas is that we should be careful with which lenses we look at Jesus with.
I’m not naive. We all have biases. We can never clearly, perfectly read through scripture without coming in with our own presuppositions. We can, however, train ourselves to put some lenses away. Ask yourself a couple of questions when reading scripture. “Who was this author writing to and what was the culture like during that time?” “Do I believe the author was saying something because of my bias, or were they trying to communicate something else?” There are many other questions, but those are a good start.
Not everyone can afford thousands of books and commentaries on the Bible. I do, however, highly encourage people to get the Cultural Study Bible, which will help you to read the bible through the lens of the original authors. The Archaeology Study Bible is also a great resource if you want to spend the extra money.
Judas wasn’t the savior. Jesus wasn’t the savior Judas expected him to be. Thankfully, for all of us Jesus was something greater! For those of us who follow Jesus, we have been given the incredible and humbling responsibility of building God’s Kingdom on earth. We aren’t only redeemed for a distant future, we’re redeemed for a present mission – “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” One of the greatest lenses we can throw away is the idea that we say a prayer and then one day we’ll go to Heaven. This lens comes with a view we just go to church and check it off our “Christian duty” every week until we die with no real “follow” action. Jesus initiated the Kingdom on earth and He fully expected his disciples – those who consider themselves Christ-followers – to continue that mission. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus wasn’t the pause button until He returns; it was the authority handed down to us to keep doing what He was doing. We aren’t redeemed for the future, we are redeemed for right now. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ…” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19a
About Justin Boothby
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About The Author
Justin is a lifelong student who loves to travel, film, write, design websites, and life coach. Most importantly he loves to Pastor in all different kinds of ministry settings. He’s also an avid pizza lover, metalcore listener, and shot glass collector.
M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem
M.Div. Regent University
B.S. Southeastern University