While reading Luke 22 today, I was struck by a juxtaposition of two characters and their relationship with Jesus – namely, Judas and Peter. As I explored the parallel accounts in the other Gospels, an amazing underlying story emerged. I see it weaving an intricate message of two men in similar circumstances but with very different hearts and outcomes. One represents the seed of the serpent (i.e. the mind of the flesh) while the other is the seed of the woman (i.e. a person of faith).
Let me begin the discussion by outlining a cross-Gospel account of the progression of Judas’ relationship with Jesus as he “became the traitor”. Luke 6:16 Here are the ways Judas is described in the gospels and Acts ( I have arranged them in progressive order – note how the verb tenses change):
Now he meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him John 6:71
Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, who was intending to betray him John 12:4
he was a thief John 12:6
Judas who became a traitor Luke 6:16
Judas who was betraying him Matthew 26:25
satan entered in to Judas, who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve Luke 22:3
the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray him John 13:2
Now Judas, who was betraying him, knew the place John 18:2
Judas, also, who was betraying him, stood with them (Roman cohort & Chief Priests) John 18:5
Judas who had betrayed him Matthew 27:3
Judas who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus Acts 1:16
Judas turned aside to go to his own place Acts 1:25
There is a great deal of meaning when one looks at this progression in the description of Judas’ life.
As we analyze this progression we can note some astonishing facts. Judas began as one of the twelve – an eager, participating, excited disciple. (We know from the Psalms that he was a close and trusted friend of Jesus in this early phase – Psalm 41:9, Psalm 55:13-14) Somewhere along the line – in the subtle way that all of our hearts tend to stray – Judas’ love began to grow cold. He went from the one “intending to betray him” to “the traitor”. Those junctures or niches in his faith-armor are where the adversary/false accuser “entered” him. Those moments when he chose to follow his own desires for whatever reasons. That is the time when he became (in its most active and progressive sense) a traitor. He “was betraying” over time – not just the final ultimate acts of Luke 22, but in small daily words and actions (including stealing from Jesus). The lies/deceptions of sin and his own agendas slowly filled Judas’ thoughts until he succumbed to, what even he describes as, “betraying innocent blood.” Matthew 27:4
Once the desires have become actions and prevail, he becomes “Judas who had betrayed him” – the dirty deeds have accumulated, the progression is complete. Now Judas “stood with” the most evil of false accusers (the chief priests & Pharisees) allying himself with the mind of the flesh completely – he was no longer a disciple of Jesus. In fact, he “became their guide” – his accountability and guilt supersedes even that of those corrupt priests and rulers! Sadly, pathetically, the last testimony of him is “he turned aside to go to his own place”. How very true! He chose; self, deceived motives, and sin. This choice always leads to hopelessness, depression, guilt, and self-condemnation. He knew no other recourse but suicide.
Now, “How did this happen and what about the satan part?”, you might ask. Good question! The answer lies in what we already described as a heart based progression. And yet, there is another very telling clue in a phrase in the John 13 account of this story. Jesus identifies Judas with David’s betrayal by a close friend (Ahithophel) in quoting Psalm 41:9:
…he who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me.
And in quoting this passage in particular, Jesus give us a clue to the evil happening here.
Lifted heels should always take our mind to Genesis 3:15, and enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Jesus recognizes Judas’ betrayal as the ultimate blow of sin on the righteous Son of Man. It looks as though Judas is going to crush Jesus with his lifted heel (and it certainly felt that way to Jesus!). In the wisdom of God, however, through these events it is actually Jesus’ heel that will only be bruised. And through his sacrificial death, he will bring a head-crushing death-blow to sin. Note Jesus even calls himself “Son of Man” to Judas after the betrayal kiss – thus identifying with his heritage as seed of the woman. Luke 22:48 So Luke 22 coupled with the crucifixion become a story of the seed of the woman (Jesus – perfect faith and obedience) prevailing over the seed of the serpent (Judas and the Leaders – mind of the flesh).
I believe the Bible’s portrayal of Judas is careful to show us this progression of relationship. Many focus on the Satan with a translator’s capital S of this chapter expounding a false idea of some outside source for his sin. In contrast, I believe the Bible carefully lays out this progression over the whole character study it reveals of Judas’ life and his interactions with Jesus.
His temptations probably started the very day he joined the band of the 12 following this new rabbi. And the culmination is here in Luke 22 where it says satan entered him twice the night of the Last Supper to highlight the moments when the mind of the flesh won Judas’ heart finally and completely. Jesus had talked to him, worked with him and given him opportunity to repent – but sin won. Judas is a living parable of the crossover from desire into sin and death described so eloquently in James 1:14-15:
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Judas’ tale is a story of a man’s progression from ardent follower into skepticism, unbelief and hopelessness. He is not some gravely evil person and yet it is in his little choices that the evil builds up. He becomes a tempted man who gives in each time he pilfers from the purse or condemns others more righteous than himself, like Mary in anointing the Lord. At last he utterly succumbs to his own desires in taking money to betray his master. While many speculate, perhaps it is fitting that we don’t really know the actual, specific motivating force behind him. He becomes everyman this way. Everyman that makes daily choices that slowly quench the fire of faith and belief that Jesus really is indeed the Son of God.
The Bible carefully aligns him with his OT Psalm 41 & 55 counterpart, Ahithophel – David’s dear friend-turned-betrayer – both of whom commit suicide. The Psalms make it clear that both of them made deliberate choices for which they will be held accountable. The Lord Jesus even says it would have been better for Judas not to have been born! Serious indeed!
I will just briefly outline the other protagonist in this chapter – a man like Judas, but one who makes far different choices. Hopefully, he represents you and me. He is the seed of the woman – a person striving to remain faithful in spite of weakness. He too, is “sifted” by temptation and sin (satan/adversary) when fear, selfishness and self-preservation lead him to betray his Lord three times. But in the end he repents and turns back to Jesus. It is so poignant that verse 61 points out the seemingly minor detail that Jesus looked at Peter from afar – just after the cock crowed. I find it to be one of the most moving scenes in Scripture. At that point, the man of faith, Peter, “went out and wept bitterly”. Unlike Judas, he chooses repentance, forgiveness and mercy in spite of his betrayals. In his brokenness he is healed. At last he is ready to be a disciple fit to “strengthen his brethren.” Luke 22:32
It is not by accident that Luke 22 juxtaposes Peter’s Jesus-look with the reality that Jesus looked at Judas too – especially so when he handed him the morsel at the last supper! At that similar pivotal point, the seed of the serpent/man of flesh, Judas, “went out immediately, and it was night.” John 16:30 Judas chose darkness over light. Hopelessness and death over forgiveness and life.
I think the lessons are pretty clear. Judas and Peter stand as permanent reminders to us to examine our ways. To be careful lest we too become “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) We must not share sweet counsel as friends of Jesus, and then let the insidious creep of sin’s deception blind us such that we, like Judas, “crucify the Lord afresh.” Hebrews summarizes the warning against becoming a traitor quite succinctly:
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame…Hebrews 6:4-6
Poignantly sad, Judas. He tasted the good word and saw the wondrous miracles of Jesus day-in day-out and yet remained unmoved. As Jesus said, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born!” Matthew 26:24 Amazing that Jesus still calls Judas “Friend” in the Garden, as Judas kisses him – with the violent mob lurching behind him. Just imagine Jesus’ heart-wrenchingly grief-filled look into Judas’ eyes at that particular moment! He knew the terrible choice Judas would make that night.
Contrast the other betrayer – repenting faithful, Peter. The Jesus-look changed him forever. He would never forget the sad love and mercy of that look. The difference is that he responded to that look. It pierced his heart. He went on to become the leading Apostle to change the world with the Good News of the Gospel.
For us too, the look of Jesus at important junctures in our lives can go either way. It is entirely our choice whether it causes us to harden our hearts still further or let them be cracked wide open. His look can bring cleansing tears such that we see our sin through the bitter knowledge that we can never save ourselves. It is only at that place, in that choice that our bright future is set.
May Jesus’ strength be made perfect in our weakness and his victory lead to our abundant life – both now and in his coming Kingdom!