Witnesses of the Cross series:
Judas Iscariot and the betrayal
I was one of the chosen twelve, Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. I’m reliable, ambitious, forward-thinking. A real leader.
So it always bothered me that I was responsible and valuable enough to be the group’s treasurer, yet I wasn’t invited into the inner circle. I never saw the transfiguration. I wasn’t invited in Jarius’ house to watch Jesus raise his daughter from the dead. And there were so many times, when Jesus pulled aside Peter, James, and John and left the rest of us to do the more menial work. Left me standing with this rag-tag group of followers, refereeing Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector, whose opinions differed on every front. Nathaniel, whose honesty was downright annoying. Thomas, whose analytical mind kept him from dreaming about the future–who was a wet blanket over every idea I offered.
I could see the future. I recognized the potential of Jesus Christ, so I got behind Him. He could draw massive crowds with simple storytelling and profound messages. He held babies and honored women. He reprimanded–and silenced–priests and demons alike. If there were ever a political mastermind, it was Jesus. He was mesmerizing. The destiny of this man–this prophet–was unlike any in our history. I had no doubt he would thrown off the Roman oppression, but my expectations were higher than that. He would rule the world. And I would be there, on the front row–maybe not in the top 3–but close. And knowing Peter, he would be the cause of some catastrophic mistake, and I would be ready to take his place next to Jesus. Secretary of the Treasury. If only I could wait it out.
That was the problem. This whole coup was taking too long. Somewhere along the way, I moved from curious to admiring to disillusioned. Three years of wandering through deserts, pinching pennies to feed our growing number of followers, wearing the same cloak and sandals day after day, mobbed by the diseased and the desperate. All those hands, touching, grabbing, begging. It nauseated me. I never realized that ministry could be so exhausting.
We all knew that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. How many times had Jesus already escaped their verbal entrapments? Several times they picked up stones to kill Him, yet He slipped away, unharmed. I’d like to see them try to capture Him–He was much too smart for that. They’d need someone’s help on the inside, for sure. Someone He trusted. He would never allow Himself to be fooled by their schemes.
The idea of capture flitted about my mind for some time. Perhaps Jesus’ capture would push Him to declare Himself. Force Him to make His move. Provide an avenue for a triumphant escape. He talked so much about doing God’s will. Wasn’t it God’s will that He save our people and establish His kingdom? Isn’t that what He was always talking about? Then why wasn’t He doing anything? Just talk, talk, talk. No action.
Then I heard that the chief priests would pay someone to turn Jesus over to them. So I inquired. Oh, the thrill of standing in the middle of that group, watching their beady eyes turn toward me in respect–their mouths parted in anticipation–their plans dependent solely upon me and my relationship with the most famous man in all Israel.
They offered me 10 pieces of silver. I turned them down. This was a delicate and difficult situation to orchestrate. It was Passover week. The crowds were insane over Him. Twenty, they offered.
No, I said. Thirty. They agreed. I left the Temple with the bag of coins jangling from my waist. I hatched my scheme.
The Passover did not go as I expected. At dinner, Jesus said one of us would betray Him. No one could think who it might be. I’m not a bad guy, you see. No one thought it would be me, not even after Jesus gave me the bread and told me to “do it quickly.” Something happened in me then. I can’t quite explain it. It was an infusion of rebellion, power, and cunning–a clarity of thought and action that filled me with beautiful arrogance and showmanship, like I was on the cusp of fulfilling my destiny. I felt like the most clever and powerful man in the world.
I slipped out of the house and went straight to the Temple. The leading priests, the Pharisees, and the elders were waiting with armed guards, which sent my heart thumping wildly. All the Jewish leaders were here! This was going to be an impressive arrest! We waited for more soldiers and priests to arrive. Then I told them my plan and led them through the city streets, through the Ashpot Gate, down the Kidron Valley and up the rocky hill toward the olive grove. I knew Jesus would take the disciples there to pray and rest. We had spent much time in that grove and the garden beyond. Always waiting around and doing nothing.
I led them through the darkness until I heard voices. Jesus was waking Peter and James out of a dead sleep. I could hear their muffled voices, the clanking of Peter’s sword at his side, the stretching and yawning, their discussion about the time.
The guard’s torch lit up the path, and there He was. Standing serene and powerful. Even in the darkness, I could feel Jesus’ eyes riveted on mine.
Sudden fear gripped me, but I called in my most cheerful voice, “Hail, Rabbi!” I stepped forward and kissed Him, so the soldiers would know whom to take.
Jesus said to me, “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
I looked away.
Then Jesus said to the soldiers, “Who are you looking for?”
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am He.”
As the soldiers moved forward to grab him, One of the disciples asked, “Lord, should we fight? We have our swords.” Of course, Peter drew his, and the other armed disciple must have been Simon. He’d been waiting for this moment for years!
Peter made a great slashing movement toward the closest in my company and severed the ear of the high priest’s slave, named Malchus, who screamed and fell to the ground. Jesus rebuked Peter and reached out his hand to Malchus. He cupped the side of his bleeding head, and when Jesus pulled His hand away, the ear was restored. Even in the shadows, we could all see that. I felt sick.
Then they tied Jesus’ hands behind him. The disciples fled into the darkness. I think John and Peter followed along at a distance because they surfaced later at Caiaphas’ house. Peter loitered by the fire, but John was allowed entrance because he knew Caiaphas.
The rest of the night was surreal, like a nightmare unfolding before you that you once controlled in your thoughts; but then the events began speeding past you while you watched, and you had the horrible feeling that you might die by the end of the dream.
The soldiers took Jesus to Annas’ house, then to Caiaphas’s residence to hold a trial–in the middle of the night! Of course they had no crimes to bring against Him. The trial was illegal. False witnesses rolled through with preposterous testimonies. The leaders asked entangling questions to incriminate Him.
Finally, they said, “Are you the Son of God?”
That’s what ended it. Of course He responded truthfully.
Early in the morning, they bound Jesus and sent Him to Pilate, the Roman governor, to be executed because the Jews had no authority to kill Him themselves. The arrogance and shrewdness with which I had betrayed him turned to a vile sickness in my stomach. When I realized what had happened, I took the silver and raced back to the Temple.
As I entered the outer court, I saw the chief priest and elders standing along the side courtyard, talking excitedly among themselves.
“I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood!”
They looked at me disdainfully. “What do we care? That’s your problem.”
I threw the coins at their feet. As they clinked against the floor and rolled in all directions, I turned and fled.
Yes, I had altered the course of history, but not as I had hoped. How could I have betrayed the Son of God to be executed? For what purpose? Money? Power?
Oh, the cost of ambition! I’ve lost my soul!
image from Виталий Смолыгин