Villains of the Bible

Judas Iscariot Betrays Jesus: The Love of Money

Learn from Judas’ mistake. Do not love money. Do not stray from the Way of Jesus.

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Much ink has been spilled speculating on reasons why Judas betrayed Jesus.

Many of these speculations try to rationalize what Judas did.

Perhaps Judas was only trying to force Jesus to show his miraculous powers by calling on legions of angels to throw the Romans out of Israel. Jesus would rule Israel by re-establishing the dynasty of King David and King Solomon. Naturally, Jesus would give glory and honor to the Twelve Disciples who formed his closest friends—Judas among them!

Perhaps the key was that Judas controlled the money bag. He was “building his resume” to become the “Secretary of the Treasury” in the monarchy that King Jesus would establish. From that position of power over the collection of taxes and the spending of the tax dollars, Judas could siphon off money for his personal gain on a large scale. And why not? He was already siphoning off money on a small scale by stealing from Jesus’ money bag. (John 12:6).

Perhaps Judas was disillusioned by Jesus rebuffing and insulting the enthusiastic crowds who wanted to make him king. (John 6:14-15, 26-27). Not only did Jesus miss golden opportunities to lead a rebellion against the Romans. Jesus also was becoming a real Debbie Downer, constantly predicting he was going to suffer and die. (Matthew 16:21). Even as close a friend of Jesus as Peter rebuked Jesus for making such depressing predictions. (Matthew 16:22-23).

Ultimately, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. Judas took the further step of actually betraying Jesus.

Early Christians—who lived under the specter of martyrdom—well understood the difference between denying your faith to save yourself from torture and death, compared with betraying your fellow believers to gain money for yourself.

Anyone—even someone as devoted to Jesus as bold Peter—might weaken to avoid ridicule, torture and death. Like Peter, they would hope to be forgiven for their moment of weakness and be given a second chance to affirm their faith.

In contrast, there was no forgiveness or restoration for those believers who betrayed other believers, condemning them to ridicule, torture and death.

Why would Judas—or any believer—betray another believer? The answer for Judas is plainly given in the Bible. It is only our horror at his betrayal of Jesus—a good, kind friend who had been his close companion and teacher for three years—that makes us recoil from the obvious answer. Judas was greedy! He betrayed Jesus for the money!!!

Jesus warned years earlier—during the Sermon on the Mount—that no one can serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24). In the days leading up to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Judas heard this truth again and again. Finally, Judas snapped. He chose money instead of God. Thirty silver coins instead of infinite love.

Bad choice!!!

Yet how often do we make similar selfish, short-sighted choices? Let’s review the events that led to Judas’ bad choice, hoping that we can learn from his mistakes. Hoping that we can overcome our love of money!

The downward spiral toward betrayal was sparked when Jesus rebuked Judas in front of the other disciples.

It was a few days before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—a few days before the week of confrontations with business, religious and political leaders that led to the torture and execution of Jesus by Friday.

Jesus and his disciples were staying a few miles outside of Jerusalem in Bethany. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, were throwing a dinner in his honor. Why? Jesus had raised their brother Lazarus from the dead a short time before. (John 12:1-2).

Jesus was reclining as he ate (this was the customary way to “sit” at a dinner table in that culture). “Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3).

Judas decided that this was the perfect time to show off—hypocritically pretending to care more about helping poor people than about loving money. He “objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’” (John 12:4-5).

When the Apostle John told this story, he made sure his listeners knew that the true motive of greedy Judas was not his love of the poor. The true motive of greedy Judas was his love of money!

John explained: “Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6).

Jesus jumped to the defense of his good, faithful friend Mary. In doing so, Jesus rebuked and humiliated Judas publicly. “‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” (John 12:7-8).

Judas must have felt the sting of Jesus’ rebuke even sharper in the following days as Jesus kept warning people not to be greedy—not to love money! This had been a major theme of Jesus’ teachings from the earliest days that Judas was traveling with him.

The Sermon on the Mount urged people to seek God first and foremost. In a famous Teaching that Jesus doubtless repeated many times when Judas was listening, Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24).

After three years of hearing Jesus condemn loving money, it was finally sinking into Judas’ greedy heart that this wasn’t mere PR. Jesus wasn’t like the religious leaders who made lengthy prayers for show while stealing widows’ money. (Mark 12:40). Jesus truly meant that we cannot serve both God and money. Jesus insisted that his followers serve only one God, his Father. Never money!

Jesus made this point crystal clear when he tossed the business people out of the temple. The day after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.” (Mark 11:15).

How did Jesus drive out these greedy business people who were profiting from religion? “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” (Mark 11:15-16)

None of this would have pleased Judas. He already was profiting from religion—by stealing money from the money bag! (John 12:6).

Judas would have been even more offended when Jesus quoted the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 56:7) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11) to denounce those like Judas whose greed so consumed them that they dared to profit from religion. Jesus “said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17).

Perhaps Jesus looked Judas right in his eyes as he condemned Judas for being part of that greedy “den of robbers” who misuse religion to exploit people

Imagine the shame and anger that Judas felt a day or so later when Jesus praised the tiny offering of a poor widow instead of the huge offerings of rich showoffs.

Jesus was in the temple teaching. He had just denounced religious hypocrites who love to show off how religious they are. Yet these religious hypocrites “devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” (Mark 12:38-40). As Judas listened, Jesus said, “These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:40.). Perhaps Jesus again looked right into the eyes of Judas.

Immediately after this, Jesus called his disciples (including Judas) to the place in the temple where people donated their money. “[T]he crowd was putting their money into the temple treasury.” (Mark 12:41). Jesus and Judas saw “many rich people” [throwing] in large amounts.” (Mark 12:41).

Perhaps Judas fantasized about being one of these rich people showing off their wealth and winning the praise of everyone. Perhaps Judas plotted how, after making an ostentatious show of being generous, he would steal money out of the huge amounts flowing through the temple’s coffers.

But the rich hypocrites didn’t win the praise of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus prophesied that the temple itself would become nothing but a pile of rubble—a prophecy that was fulfilled forty years later (a biblical generation)—when the Romans leveled it to the ground.

Jesus didn’t praise the wealthy showoffs. He praised the poorest of the poor—a widow in extreme poverty struggling to survive.

The widow “put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (Mark 12:42). Jesus called his disciples over to him, including Judas, and said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44).

As they were leaving the temple that day, Jesus had another chance to make the point that we should give extravagantly to help others today—to bless others today!

Such extravagant giving enables others to fill their lives, families, communities, and civilizations—all Humanity—with the sweet “fragrance” of expensive “perfume.”

Such extravagant giving of our money and our power empowers others to fill their lives, families, communities, and civilizations—all Humanity—with blessings as countless as the stars.

Jesus condemns hypocritically showing off our wealth in selfish ways that are calculated to make us look more “successful” than others. Jesus condemns relying on our wealth to bless us (as the wealthy donors did) instead of relying on the fruits of our generosity to bless us (as the poor widow did).

Nowhere was such mistaken reliance on wealth more apparent than when Jesus warned his disciples that the magnificent temple itself would be destroyed in that very generation. This would be another in the long line of examples of the futility of storing up “treasures on earth [not even in the temple’s treasury!] where moths and vermin [and Roman armies] destroy and where thieves [and Roman armies] break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19).

The destruction of the temple by the Romans lay 40 years in the future (a typical timeframe for a biblical “generation”). On this same day when Jesus condemned the extravagant hypocrisy of rich people who made-lengthy-prayers-yet-stole-from-widows and when Jesus praised the extravagant giving of the poor widow who gave-away-everything-she-had-to live-on, Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, including Judas.

“[O]ne of his disciples said to [Jesus], ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2). Privately, Jesus warned his disciples that this disaster would strike before that very generation passed away. (Mark 13:30).

Judas decided that disaster would strike Jesus that very week. The religious leaders had already decided that they needed to kill Jesus. Why? Fear.

Fear that history would repeat itself—the history of the Babylonians when they destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, then killed or carried into exile all of Israel’s political, business and religious leaders.

Fear that all of the turmoil being fanned by Jesus and his followers would cause “the Romans to come and take away both our temple and our nation” (John 11:48).

Their fear was legitimate. Forty years later the Roman army did indeed come and take away both their temple and their nation.

Their way to overcome their fear was illegitimate. They silenced the turmoil by killing Jesus.

Not only was their way evil. It was futile.

Their fear blinded them from seeing that the Way of Jesus (who himself followed the Way of the Mosaic Law and the Jewish Prophets (Matthew 17-19)) was their last, best hope of avoiding destruction—their last, best hope of avoiding the hopeless revolt against the Romans forty years later that led to the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and all Israel.

The Way of Jesus was to render unto Caesar the things of Caesar and to render unto God the things of God. (Mark 12:17).

The Way of Jesus was to turn the other cheek rather than revolt. (Matthew 5:38-39).

The Way of Jesus was to forgive our enemies.

The Way of Jesus was to love our enemies. (Luke 6:35-36; 23:33-34; Matthew 5:44-45).

The Way of Jesus was to pray for those who persecute us Matthew 5:44-45).

The Way of Jesus was to make peace with those who make war against us. (Matthew 5:9).

The Way of Jesus was to build all Humanity—our lives, families, communities, and civilizations—by putting into practice the wise, dependable foundation of his teachings as summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:1-8:4).

And lest you think that the Way of Jesus was a naive, hopeless way to overcome the Darkness of Roman legions and Roman power and Roman cruelty, remember that history proves otherwise.

It took three centuries for the Way of Jesus to overcome pagan Rome. But when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity three centuries after the Sermon on the Mount, the Light of the Way of Jesus overcame the Darkness of Rome!

Admittedly, the imperfect followers of the Way of Jesus triumphed imperfectly. And we imperfect followers of Jesus spread his Light imperfectly to this very day.

Yet—to modify a famous saying of Churchill that “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried”—I say that the Way of Jesus is the most foolish way of living, except for all the other ways of living that have been tried!

This is especially true when we remember that the Wisdom of the Way of Jesus is often the same as the Wisdom taught by other religions and philosophies when they describe the wise, dependable foundation on which we should build Humanity—our lives, our families, our communities, and our civilizations. (Romans 2:14-15).

This universal Wisdom is the Tao described by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man.

This universal Wisdom of the Way of Jesus urges us to overcome our selfish love of money and tyrannical love of power, living instead so that (every day and in every way) we do unto others what we would have them do unto us. (Matthew 7:13).

This wisdom eluded Judas. His love of money blinded him to the Light of the Way of Jesus.

And so, Judas went to the fearful religious leaders. Their fear of losing their power and their money blinded them to the Light of the Way of Jesus.

They feared the crowds if they arrested Jesus openly in the temple while he was teaching. (Matthew 26:3-5). Judas had the answer. He would lead the temple guard through the darkness of night to where Jesus would be praying and resting. (Matthew 26:14-16; 47-50).

His price? A mere thirty pieces of silver. Gladly they paid it.

Jesus gave Judas a chance to change his mind. Near the beginning of the Last Supper, Jesus made it clear to Judas that he knew Judas planned to betray him that very night. Jesus warned Judas that if he carried through on his plan to betray Jesus “it would be better for [Judas] if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24).

When Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples at the Last Supper, he once again looked Judas right in his eyes, offering him friendship, love and forgiveness.

Not even these personal appeals to Judas from Jesus overcame his love of money. Judas left the Last Supper. He led the temple guards to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew where to go because “Jesus had often met there with his disciples” (John 18:1-2).

In order to avoid any confusion in the darkness about who they should arrest, Judas established a pre-arranged signal—arrest the man who Judas kissed. Together with “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs,” Judas spotted Jesus. (Matthew 26:47). Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi’ and kissed him.” (Matthew 26:48-49).

Even now, Jesus tried to overcome the Darkness in Judas’ heart with the Light of infinite love. As Judas approached, Jesus asked, “Judas, are you really going to betray me with a kiss?”. Nevertheless, Judas kissed Jesus, making it clear that he refused even this last, plaintive plea to change his mind. Jesus replied sadly, “Then do what you came to do, friend.” (my paraphrase of Luke 22:48 and Matthew 26:50).

Guided by the kiss of Judas, known for ever after as the Betrayer (see Matthew 26:48), the guards arrested Jesus, beginning the brutal day when Jesus was tortured and executed.

Too late, Judas learned why he needed to overcome the Darkness—the destructive power of the love of money. Realizing the horrible thing he had done to his good, kind friend, he committed suicide.

The Darkness overcame Judas.

Learn from Judas’ mistake.

Do not love money. Do not love Darkness. Do not stray from the Way of Jesus.

Love the Light. Follow the Way of Jesus.

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This blog is based on pages 235-259 of my book, Hoping in the LORD.

Notes to this blog may be found in my book, Hoping in the LORD.