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The DEEP

Sicario

Judas the Knife

John 13:21-30

 

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

 

Have you ever been betrayed? Perhaps someone you knew closely, even intimately, took advantage of your relationship to better himself or herself at your expense. A best friend, a coworker, a business partner, or even a beloved family member could have suddenly turned against you for reasons real or imagined to hurt you and forever destroy a once-happy relationship.

As you remember back to that shocked, sinking feeling, you recall all the months or years you and your betrayer spent together, sharing the experiences of your life–even your innermost thoughts and feelings. Somehow, for some reason, this person chose to use all of this against you, and in the end, left you feeling empty, vulnerable, and emotionally hurt.

Here in John Chapter 13, the apostle recounts a devastating moment during Jesus’s final hours. The scene is the upper room with Jesus surrounded by His disciples–His inner circle of friends–and as John, Peter, and the others gather around Him at the table, Jesus lets them in on a dark secret. One of His own, one of them, will betray the Son of God this night–and there is nothing that they can do to stop it.

They discover that Jesus has known all along that this was coming–and that it was part of His Father’s plan.

As you read this passage and the account of that night, you are reminded that betrayal by someone you love may be a sad fact of life in this sinful, fallen world, but there was one betrayed man who not only knew who his betrayer would be, He also knew that your salvation would be made possible through all of His pain.

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”–John 13:21 

Jesus is, of course, talking about His twelfth disciple: Judas Iscariot.

Judas Iscariot is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. For all his monumental act of betrayal, he does not figure prominently in any of the Gospel narratives–at least in the same sense of Peter, John, and the others.

Jesus, in all four Gospels, never even uses Judas’s name directly, only referring to him obliquely as He does in verse 21. Jesus’s interactions with Judas in the Gospels are limited to their actions during the Last Supper and later in the garden–aside from Jesus’s rebuke of Judas over the devoted Mary’s perfume offering in John 12.

It is almost as if the Gospel writers want to forget that Judas Iscariot even existed. Can you really blame them? Even John’s Gospel shows that whenever he is compelled to mention Judas by name, he usually includes “who betrayed him.” Judas Iscariot’s final actions follow him through eternity in the Gospel record. 

Who was Judas Iscariot? Why do you even care? Like the Apostle John and the others, you almost prefer to forget Judas too–except for the value that may be gleaned by understanding the road that led Judas Iscariot to betray his master and end up in the pauper’s grave. 

Judas is depicted in western Christian culture in similar ways, as a caricature of misery and evil. Dante’s “Inferno,” the first part of the 14th-century Italian epic poem “Divine Comedy,” depicts Judas Iscariot in hell. Instead of being condemned to one of the many “circles” of misery and punishment, he is in the very mouth of the Devil–being chewed for all eternity by the dark lord. 

Modern movies and media portray Judas in a more varied light, from a greedy madman to a misunderstood supporter of Jesus who was simply trying to do the right thing.

Judas, in the 1971 Broadway production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, thought that Jesus had simply gone “too far.” In the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus because he is concerned that Jesus and the disciples were going too far in provoking Rome and he feared consequences for the Jews. Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ, portrays Judas as a picture of greed and insanity, chased by visible demons.

Not much is known about Judas’s background. “Iscariot” may refer to a geographic location–although no other disciples are referred to this way. It is clear that he shares the title with his father, Simon Iscariot, as we see in verse 26. Many scholars believe that “Iscariot” is a reference to the Sicarii, a Latin word meaning “dagger-man” and the origin of the modern word sicario or "hitman." The Sicarii were an active militant splinter group of the Zealots. Known for violent ends, these extreme patriots were named for the Sica, or dagger, that they were reputed to carry and use when needed. 

Judas Iscariot may literally mean Judas “The Knife.” 

And that’s no Bobby Darin song.

Support for the idea that Judas Iscariot was one of these men is found in that he is mentioned with and seemed to be paired with Simon the Zealot–another disciple with political associations.

Why does Jesus, a man of peace, wish to consort with not one, but maybe two members of militant groups? You could think in a way that He would be including terrorists in His inner circle.

This is because even Judas Iscariot has a place in God’s plan for salvation.

After Jesus reveals to His disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them, the room is filled with stunned silence:

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”–John 13:22-24

Peter, never one to take things in silence, whispers to John to find out what on earth Jesus means by this.

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.–John 13:26 

Jesus does not point His finger, shout a name, or even reveal Judas in a way that calls attention. His simple act of dipping the bread reveals that while John sits at Jesus’s left, sitting at the Savior’s right hand, the place of honor, is none other than Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.

In this Jesus echoes the pain of a betrayed king in a Psalm of David:

Even my close friend,

    someone I trusted,

one who shared my bread,

    has turned against me.–Psalm 41:9

You see, Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas Iscariot would betray Him–and even chose him to become one of His disciples: 

70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)–John 6:70

Judas was no late arrival to the party who took advantage of a moment to capitalize off Jesus’s importance. Judas Iscariot was with Jesus and His disciples for His entire ministry. He witnessed miracles–the blind were healed, the lame made to walk–was in the boat when Jesus walked on the water, and sat at the table of the resurrected Lazarus.

And Judas threw it all away.

Jesus included Judas Iscariot because He knew that only a friend can betray another friend. It had to be someone close, someone that even Jesus loved as one of His own.

Judas not only sat at the place of honor that night, he also held a place of honor in the group: he was the treasurer, the man with the money bag. You know from your church or non-profit board that the treasurer is an important role. A good one is prized–but a bad one will ruin an organization. John reminds us in Chapter 12 that when Judas protested Mary’s “waste of money” on the perfume:

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.–John 12:6

I believe that when Jesus called Judas Iscariot to follow Him, He called a sincere man who may have genuinely wanted to serve this mercurial young Rabbi. Judas bore witness to great things, took part in the ministry, and was even given a position of honor–but then he began to abuse it. Taking a little “cash from the till” fed the selfish greed within him to the point that it revealed his heart had no love for his master. 

In time, Judas Iscariot came to hate Jesus. As Scottish pastor Alexander Maclaren said, 

"No one could live near Him for three years without coming to hate Him if he did not love Him.”

Judas is an example of how a man can serve God, even in the ministry, and yet not know the love of Jesus. Sinclair Ferguson points out that Judas, exhibiting all of the good works of a believer, nevertheless abandoned the Gospel, the faith and ultimately his Lord and savior. This shows that there is “no correlation between gifts and grace.” You must believe and trust in Jesus Christ to be saved–not in your own works–even if it means a lifetime spent in ministry and service in the church.  

John records, almost chillingly:

27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

Jesus knows that the time has come:

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.–John 13:30

The Devil is a farmer who can only plow in fertile ground. Judas, at that moment, revealed his heart to be a rich field of bottomland soil, and Satan was ready with his harrow blades.

In the end, Judas Iscariot got what was coming to him. More than the meager thirty pieces of silver–the price of slave–for which he sold his friend unto death, Judas claimed an empty reward. It is ironic that the one who had been skimming coins from the operating fund came up empty-handed for eternity.

Like how the cunning, ambitious Flem Snopes, in William Faulkner’s classic Southern novel The Hamlet, tricked his greedy neighbors into buying the worthless, ruined “Frenchman’s Place” land by secretly burying modern coins and then pretending to dig for Confederate gold in the moonlight. His neighbors pooled all of their savings, bought the wasted land and soon unearthed their "treasure":

They emptied the bags onto the floor. Each of them took up a coin, examined it briefly, then set them one upon the other like a crowned king of checkers, close by the lantern. Then one by one they examined the other coins by the light of the dingy lantern. “But how did he know it would be us?” Bookwright said.

“He didn’t.” Ratliff said. “He didn’t care. He just come out here every night and dug for a while. He knowed he couldn’t possibly dig over two weeks before somebody saw him.” He laid his last coin down and sat back on his heels until Bookwright had finished. “1891,” he said.

“1901,” Bookwright said. “I even got one that was made last year. You beat me.”

If you take the devil’s worthless coins, you will only come up ruined for all eternity. 

There have been times in my life when I have been betrayed by friends, and times when I have betrayed others–even those closest to me. My sinful habits and choices often have placed me on the same rebel footing as Judas Iscariot as I pursued my own righteousness, leaving pain and sorrow in my wake. I know that my righteousness must be Christ’s righteousness and that I can do nothing good apart from Him.  

Could you betray Jesus as Judas Iscariot did? Each of us in our sinfulness is capable of doing so. It all depends on whether you are trusting in Jesus or in yourself.

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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