Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He is known best for betraying Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events occurred in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Given John’s characterization of Judas, it’s a bit unnerving, perhaps, to think that Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Jesus intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. He “called it” at the Last Supper.
Have you considered the fact that Jesus allowed Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do? John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.
The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan. It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”
What sort of man betrays Jesus? Was Judas just an evil person?
The little we know of Judas suggests an answer. He was focused on money. He kept the funds for the group, and he helped himself to it. He betrayed Jesus for a bag of coins.
Judas wasn’t focused on the purposes of Jesus. He was out for himself, but that isn’t all Judas was. That view of Judas, the person is too simplistic, too one-dimensional. People are more complicated than that.
We have to consider, also, that Judas left whatever life he led before Jesus came along, and he walked with Jesus throughout the time that Jesus was engaged in public ministry. Judas was remorseful, but it came too late. He threw the money back at the temple in disgust and took his own life when he realized the significance of what he had done.
We dare not view Judas as being all that different from us. No doubt there are many people like Judas in our churches. We might even be like Judas, part of the fellowship of believers, sitting in pews on Sunday mornings, appearing for all purposes like good Christians, but our focus is off the purpose of God.
I am reminded of a couple who were part of the early church, Ananias and Sapphira. As everyone was selling their possessions and putting the funds into a community pot for the good of all, they also sold some property and put some of the funds into the community pot. But, they held some back for themselves … and they lied about it.
Things didn’t go well with them. They both died when their plot was exposed. They apparently wanted to appear like the other people who gave all the proceeds from the sale of their possessions. They may have deceived the apostles and their fellow Christians until they were exposed, but they certainly deceive God.
In attempting to deceive the apostles, they were, in effect, attempting to deceive God, and that reveals something about them. They didn’t truly believe that God is who He is. Whatever their motivation to be involved in the early church, it wasn’t a motivation stemming from a genuine faith in God.
It didn’t matter that they gave something to the community of believers. They held back for themselves. They held back, trusting in their own resources rather than the provision of God, but they wanted the appearance of belonging. They gave like they were all in, but their hearts were not submitted to the lordship of the Holy Spirit. They gave out of some motivation other than a genuine desire to devote themselves to God.
The trouble is, if I am perfectly honest, I see some of Ananias and Sapphira in myself. I might convince myself that I would never betray the Lord of life, but the story of Ananias and Sapphira hits closer to home. I am tempted to act like everyone else, to act like I am all in, while holding something back.
The important thing to understand, I believe, is that we don’t fool God. We dare not think that we fool God. The issue with Annanias and Sapphira is not the holding back, but the intention to deceive. The issue is the fundamental lack of faith, the failure to recognize that God knows us intimately, including our very thoughts and feelings. If we aren’t honest about them, we are only fooling ourselves.
Jesus knew all along what Judas would do. Jesus knew well what motivated him. God knew exactly what was going through the minds of Ananias and Sapphira. He knows my thoughts and your thoughts. We are an open book to God. The only person who is fooled when I am not honest, is myself. Faith is understanding that about God and about ourselves. This is why David prayed:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
God can and will forgive us for our sins, but we have to be honest enough to see our sinfulness and to confess our sins to God. As difficult as it can be to face our sins and our weaknesses, it is the only way to salvation and the only way to freedom in Christ.