The Judas Question

We have very few records of conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. Conversations with Peter, James, and John are much more prevalent. Consequently, most of what we know about Judas comes from Hollywood. In other words, we don’t know much at all.

When I think of Judas, the setting is usually the Last Supper. Jesus has just announced that one of them will betray him. Judas (along with everyone else) asked, “Is it I, Master?” (Matthew 26:25; RSV) Since I know the end of the story, I look at his inquiry through rather jaundiced eyes. I want to say, “C’mon Judas! We all know it’s you!”

But I get this nagging feeling that even Judas wasn’t so sure—even at that late stage. I suppose up to that point, he had entertained the thought of betrayal. He may have even laid some groundwork for it. But I’m not so positive his mind was set in stone before the moment Jesus sent him away to do his worst.

“I tend to be a big softie.”

I’ve always felt particularly sorry for Judas. You can’t go by my feelings, however. I tend to be a big softie. I’ve actually had moments (fleeting as they were) when I’ve felt sorry for the likes of Hitler and Saddam Hussein. I know, I know…

One of the few things we actually know about Judas was that he was the group’s treasurer. Despite the position he was given, his trustworthiness was somewhat in doubt (see John 12:6). Nevertheless, when Jesus announced the betrayal, all the disciples were shocked to think it could be one of them—Judas included.

If Judas was like most of his countrymen at that time, he was undoubtedly disappointed by Jesus’ actions during the final week of his life (or maybe I should say, “Jesus’ inaction”). Most of the Jewish citizens were probably looking for a Messiah to come and lead a successful rebellion against the Roman Empire.

Did Jesus Live Up to Expectations?

Israel had long been under the thumb of an oppressive force, and people were fed up with living in an occupied territory. In Judas’ mind, if the worst Jesus was going to do was turn over a few tables in the Temple, things weren’t moving fast enough. Here they were—in Jerusalem. It was the perfect setting to get the ball rolling, but nothing was happening. Maybe Jesus wasn’t living up to Judas’ expectations.

Judas was one of the original twelve. He loved Jesus. Jesus inspired him. He believed in Jesus. Maybe he thought, “If I just give him a little push…”

Jesus’ apparent lack of a military approach may have caused Judas to attempt to force the Master’s hand. Maybe Judas’ hope was, by turning the Lord into the authorities, Jesus would take up arms. Who knows?

We’ll never fully comprehend it in this life. But I wonder if the actual betrayal was a last-minute decision. Maybe he really meant it when he asked Jesus, “Is it I, Master?” I sometimes painfully wonder if I could have done the same.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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