Twelve men … they followed Jesus for three years. They saw miracles, they heard astounding discourse, they felt the elation/relief of reunited families, they smelled the smoke of campfires while traveling together from place to place, and they tasted the same bitter herbs, unleavened bread and lamb during the Passover feast. Yet one – Judas Iscariot – betrayed Jesus. How does this happen? How does someone who saw such wonders performed and heard such words spoken, then resort to betrayal? How does one who shared dangers with Jesus come to betray him in the end?
We can make assumptions and guesses about why Judas went to the Sanhedrin and took them up on their sedition. We could say that he did it for the money – thirty pieces of silver was a lot of money. We could say that he did it simply to fulfill prophecy – after all someone had to betray the Messiah. We could even say that he had given himself over to Satan through greed and had been therefore used as Satan’s pawn in a game of spiritual chess. But none of these get to the bottom of the issue and I wonder if Judas’ problem/motivation was something which can plague each one of us.
Now this is simply speculation on my part (so take it as that and nothing more), but I think that Judas could have really believed that he was doing the right thing by turning Jesus in. I’m certainly not saying that Judas WAS right or that he should be looked at any less harshly (God forbid!), but I am saying that he is a poignant warning to all sinners (in other words, everybody). He could have missed truth – even talked himself out of truth – and therefore missed the very power of what he was witnessing. In other words, he was too close to see the plan of God through the mists and fog of human assumptions, fears and distractions.
It’s obvious that Judas thought Jesus a great man. He even said (after the betrayal as he threw the thirty pieces into the temple) that he “had betrayed innocent blood.” I have thought many times about what potentially could have gone on in Judas’ head before he went to the Chief Priests. His internal dialogue must have been incredible. Perhaps a bit of impatience and frustration was present? He could have even said something like this:
It’s been three years now and I’m getting tired of waiting. What does Jesus think that he’s doing? Does he think that healing people and delivering sermons is going to win our country back from these Romans? That sort of thing was great when we first started, but it’s getting old and time is getting short. Neither the Romans, nor the Sanhedrin are very impressed by healing or upsetting the current order. If the Romans had their way we’d all be wiped out and they’d ship in Macedonians and Greeks to colonize our homeland; and if the Sanhedrin had their way half of them would want a general and half would want an acquiescent puppet.
So why are we wasting time moving into the gaping maw of hostile powers? Why are we giving up the safety of the countryside to move toward certain destruction? If Jesus asked me (he never asks me), I’d tell him to stay out in the hills. We could gather more followers over time and simultaneously not upset the date cart of the powers that be.
Which brings me to another thing, why doesn’t Jesus listen to my advice? I’ve told him several times that he needs to be careful about the people with whom he talks and interacts. These prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors are a step up on Centurions and Samaritans I’ll grant you, but they aren’t the type of people that will win you friends in the capital.
He also seems completely unaware of his own danger! I warned him that some of the things he was saying and doing were starting to make people think the either he IS the messiah, or that he THINKS he is the messiah. Either way, it freaks out the normal person and offends the more religious amongst us.
This means that I have to act. God has placed me here for a reason – and this must be it. In fact, it’s in the best interest of both Jesus and the other companions. I can see what will happen: either Jesus will say just one too many things that implicates himself as God – making the people fall on him and stone him, or one of the more impetuous amongst the eleven, probably Peter or Simon, will do something like grab swords and start a rebellion before things are set.
Which makes me wonder what is the least worst option? I could leave the group. But I’m way more loyal than that. And what would they do without me taking care of the money? In fact, what would they do without me to keep them grounded? It would be as bad as killing them myself – I’ve kept them afloat for this long, any swell in the sea after I left would leave them swamped.
Maybe I could save Jesus by turning over Peter and Simon? They seem to be the most likely to cause things to boil over. Jesus and the others (including me) would be safe after they left. But that would probably throw things into more upheaval. Andrew would likely pick up where Peter left off and you can never tell what those “Sons of Thunder” will do anyway. They’re just as liable to turn violent as Peter and Simon once the die is cast.
Perhaps I could just stand up and tell them what I think? I’m sure they recognize me as the smartest guy here – at least about diplomacy and strategy. I could persuade them with a little of the world famous Judas charm. But that Thomas is always so inquiring. He’d probably ask just one too many questions and break up my entire argument.
There has GOT TO BE A WAY! There must be a way to save Jesus from himself. To let them all know that death is right around the corner unless they chill out and get in line!
I … I guess I could … NO! I couldn’t do that … could I? I’m not sure who to trust, but if anyone can be trusted it must be the Chief Priests. Caiaphas and Annas … God put them in their places for a reason – just like He did with me. They must know what to do. How could I not trust them? And it will show them my faith in God’s plan … and maybe show them that I can be trusted with the greatest things … that I see things hidden from others’ view. They’ll know that I love Israel, hate the Romans and believe in the future redemption of our people … just like from Egypt! What’s more, they could protect Jesus … and the rest … and help him understand his role in life … in the history of God’s people!
I’ll do it … I’ll go to the Chief Priests and let them know that I’m willing to work with them. They’ll be happy, God will be happy and, when enough time has passed, Jesus and the rest will be happy too. I’ll have saved all of them … and maybe pocketed a little good will in the process.
Obviously none of us truly know what went through Judas’ head on that fateful day, but it could have been similar to the words above. You see, I truly do think (as I said before) that Judas was too close to see the power of God’s plan.
You know that you’ve seen the too-close-to-see-clearly person before: a co-worker who has been studying their one piece of the project so carefully that they forget how their piece must be combined with the work of others to present a synergistic whole; a teammate who is so transfixed by shooting on goal that he misses the buddy completely unmarked at the far post; a jilted friend who’s giving too much in their relationship, bankrupting their reserve of kindness, patience and love; a person so focused on their next way to fall into their recurring sin that they can’t see God’s hand in front of their face, offering to pick them up.
I know that it is a very obvious parallel, but it has to be pointed out anyway for the sake of this lesson. If you are standing a foot away from a mural painted on the side of a large building and you look directly in front of you, you are liable to describe the entire painting by the little bit that you can make out, “It’s a blob of forest green pushing up into field of azure blue.” And, to be honest, you’re probably partially correct when you describe it that way. But what happens when you take a step back? Two steps? Ten steps? Fifty steps? You see so much more! You see that your blob of forest green is indeed dark branches of fir trees and you see the azure blue was indeed sky … but the true picture is so much more rich and vibrant – the Artist intended it to be viewed from further away than a foot. A gold sun is rising over a cityscape. Automobiles and trains dart through the countryside and aircraft shoot into the azure, scattered with pink-white clouds.
If Judas could have stepped back from his limited view, he would have seen that yes, indeed Jesus was hurtling toward death … but it was His plan all along. Admittedly, it would have been hard for Judas to see God’s plan completely. But a realization could have easily been made – especially given three years of prime examples – that Jesus had a much deeper understanding of the world than those around Him and probably knew where He was going and what He was doing much better than did His followers.
Now, how does this apply to you and me living in the 21st Century with the benefit of millennia of aftermath and review? Simply this: the view we have, the understanding we harbor, our interpretation of events and motives of people around us are much more skewed when we are too close to this world. It is easy to begin “navel gazing” when we latch onto the popular culture – it preaches a gospel of self-aggrandizement and self-gratification. And though our own humanness can prevent a full-scale view and understanding of the mural of God’s plan, a step back is always in order … as long as that step back is in the direction of God and with God’s goggles on our eyes and His word in our hearts.
Truth therefore is all we have available to see God’s plan … to make out as much of it as is possible considering our fallible, broken, blinded and frustrated state. We can only find truth from those things which point to God, and we can only see things properly through and juxtaposed against what God has revealed through His word (the Bible) and through His creation. Our challenge is to break free from our self-imposed blinders, to step back from our self-latched shackles and begin to see anew our situation against the backdrop of the here and now, silhouetted against the truth of God.
Judas couldn’t do this and ended up paying for his folly, while hurting those with whom he had walked for three years. Numerous others have been caught fixated on themselves and their reputation in the world. Can we break the cycle, step back and see the glorious plan of God?