Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible?With two thousand years of history between us, we know what the other eleven disciples of Jesus did not know as they sat around the table at the Passover dinner—that Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus. With that knowledge in hand it is easy to demonize the man who handed over Jesus to be crucified. Likewise, there are even people who glorify him because the crucifixion eventually led to Jesus' resurrection upon which our salvation is founded. Yet to his fellow disciples Judas Iscariot was just a normal human being. It is important that we do not lose sight of that detail because our fate, like his, rests on whether or not we choose to follow Jesus.
During Jesus' three-year ministry Judas Iscariot was one of His twelve disciples. Judas is named last in the lists of disciples found in Matthew 10:1–4, Mark 3:16–12, and Luke 6:12–16, always with the caveat that Judas was the betrayer. Judas Iscariot is not to be mistaken as the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3) or another disciple (John 14:22) who were also named Judas. Judas Iscariot acted as the group's treasurer and was often preoccupied with money. John even recalls that he stole from their resources for his personal gain (John 12:6).
Though Judas is not often mentioned in the Gospels apart from the events surrounding his betrayal, John does mention him at other times. A week before Passover Jesus and His disciples were spending the day with His friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary poured perfume over Jesus' feet and wiped them down with her hair. Judas questioned why this perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus rebuked him, seeing through his feigned interest in the poor to his true desire to have more money (John 12:1–8). To be fair, the other disciples asked a similar question of a woman who poured ointment on Jesus' head (Matthew 26:1–13; Mark 14:3–9). However, while they chose to trust Jesus and learn from Him, Judas instead proceeded to seek out the chief priests and betray Him (Mathew 26:14–16; Mark 14:10–11).
Many people wonder why Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas most likely joined Jesus initially agreeing with His principles or hoping He would lead a rebellion against the Romans. Over time he may have found Jesus' teaching too radical or, realizing that Jesus was planning on dying, believed that He was not the Messiah he had been expecting. In addition, Judas would have been aware of the religious authorities' desire to kill Jesus and may have seen it as a way for financial gain. Others suggest Judas was attempting to force Jesus' hand into leading a Jewish rebellion against the Romans, hoping that forceful opposition from the priests would prompt some sort of revolt. Regardless of his reasoning, Judas did decide to reveal Jesus' identity to the religious leaders in Jerusalem in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:13–15).
During the Passover meal Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me" (Matthew 26:21). Each of the disciples sorrowfully asked if it was him who would betray Jesus—"Is it I, Lord?" (Matthew 26:22). Jesus told them, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:23–24). Then Judas asked, "'Is it I, Rabbi?'" and Jesus replied, "'You have said so'" (Matthew 26:25). Shortly after, Jesus told Judas to go to do what he had planned (John 13:27). Interestingly, the other disciples did not immediately recognize that Judas was the one of whom Jesus spoke. Some assumed Jesus had sent him to buy more provisions for the feast or to give something to the poor (John 13:28–29).
There is some debate as to the specific timeline of events with Judas and the Last Supper as the various Gospels record different details, not always in chronological order, that can be difficult to give a precise timeline for. Luke 22:3–6 seems to imply that Satan entered Judas prior to the Last Supper, and possibly even prior to seeking out the chief priests, though others propose that he had sought out the Jewish leaders earlier and was simply discussing details with them in Luke 22. Others debate whether Judas participated in the institution of communion / the Lord's Supper or whether he left prior to that.
Whatever the case, later that night while Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane Judas arrived with a crowd of people to arrest Jesus on behalf of the chief priests. To add insult to injury, he approached Jesus and kissed Him so they knew who to arrest (Matthew 26:49). Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came to do" (Matthew 26:50) and also, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). In this we see Psalm 41:9 fulfilled: "Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me."
After Jesus was condemned, Judas felt remorse and tried to give back the money he received to the chief priests. He told them, "'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.' They said, 'What is that to us? See to it yourself.' And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself." Judas showed regret for his actions, but not true repentance. We never see him turn to Jesus. The chief priests took the money and bought the potter's field to be used for burying foreigners. Acts 1:18–19 tells us this is the field where Judas killed himself.
Judas' actions fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament and Jesus' predictions about His own death. The experience of Zechariah as a shepherd in Zechariah 11:1–17 foreshadowed Jesus' death and the role of the thirty pieces of silver and a potter's field in His betrayal. This was the amount of money a slave owner would be paid for a slave that had died after being gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32). Judas received this meager amount for handing Jesus over to be killed and later his dead body fell from a tree into a potter's field. Various times Jesus also predicted that one of His disciples would betray Him (John 6:70; 13:21–30). Jesus confirms that His betrayer, Judas, was not clean, referring to his lack of faith and therefore salvation (John 13:10–11).
Judas' story often raises questions about the relationship between God's sovereignty and human free will. God is all-knowing and exists outside of our earthly timeline. He knew that Judas would betray Jesus and also that Jesus must die in order to overcome the sin of the world. Jesus Himself knew these things since He is one with God. Did Judas have a choice then or was he predestined to betray Jesus? The answer is that he had a choice. God gave humanity free will so that people can make their own choices and choose whether or not to submit their lives to Him. Judas chose to sin against God even after knowing Jesus personally. As one of the disciples Jesus certainly loved and prayed for His friend that he would repent. However, God knew Judas' heart and Satan's plan to use him to kill Jesus. He worked through these events to bring salvation to the world.
What prompted Judas to betray Jesus? How did Judas' betrayal of Jesus unfold?
Was Judas Iscariot saved? Was Judas forgiven?
Who were Jesus' twelve (12) disciples / apostles?
How can a Christian be an ambassador for Christ?
Who can be saved?
Truth about People in the Bible