A study of the life and death of Judas Iscariot has, perhaps, never been more necessary than it is today. All of Christendom is familiar with this man’s most defining act—the betrayal of our Lord and Savior. We are all familiar with the 30 pieces of silver, the traitor’s kiss, the attempted repentance, and the suicide. But, it appears, because we have always focused on the end of Judas’ life, we have yet to look deep into the beginning of his story. It is in Judas’ beginning that we can find a terrifying parallel between his discipleship and ours. A close study of the traitor’s life will give us chilling symptoms of the last days’ apostasy. The life of Judas will show us a pattern of what it looks like to go from anointed disciple and minister of Jesus Christ to antichrist-spirit-filled traitor and son of perdition.
Though the name, Judas, is synonymous with betrayal, with even the world using the term as a pejorative, Judas did not begin his discipleship as such. There is nothing foretelling about his name. Judas (Ioudas) is the Greek equivalent of Judah, meaning he shall be praised. Two of Jesus’ twelve disciples were named Judas—Judas the traitor and Judas also called Thaddeus. The epistle of Jude, written by Jesus’ half-brother, Judas, bears the same name. His surname, Iscariot, indicates to us that he was a man of the city, for Iscariot means men of Kerioth, or men of the city. He would have been the odd man out among the disciples, but this does not necessarily require him to be a traitor, for the Lord calls all to Him, from every facet of life. So what caused him to turn on the Lord?
First, we must understand that there are five Old Testament prophecies concerning the betrayal of Jesus and some of the characteristics of the man who would betray Him.
- Psalm 41:9/John 13:18: Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
- Psalm 55:12-14: For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
- Psalm 69:25/Acts 1:20: Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
- Psalm 109:7,8/Acts 1:20: When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
- Zechariah 11:12,13/Matthew 27:9,10: And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.
These prophecies reveal many things about the Lord’s traitor: (1) he would be a close friend, (2) they would serve God together, (3) he would eat at the Lord’s table, (4) he would betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, (5) the silver would be used to buy a potter’s field, (6) the potter’s field would be desolate, being used to bury strangers, and (7) another man would take the traitor’s place in the Lord’s ministry. For all of these prophesied facts, the name of the traitor was never revealed. God, knowing who it would be by His foreknowledge, chose not to reveal it. So, though the prophets foretold that the Lord would be betrayed, and though they prophesied several of the specific details surrounding the betrayal, they never revealed whom the traitor would be.
The New Testament promises this same cycle and pattern of betrayal will repeat itself. Just as the Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed by someone close to Him, the New Testament testifies that some shall depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1), that a falling away from the faith will occur (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and that the love (agape) of many shall wax cold (Greek: psycho–remorseless, past feeling, no guilt) (Matthew 24:12). The inference here is that Judas was not going to be the last disciple to betray Jesus Christ. In fact, the Bible predicts that great numbers of Christ-followers will become Christ-betrayers. As 1 Timothy 4:1 predicts, some shall depart from the faith, but you can’t depart from the faith unless you were once in it. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 predicts a falling away of apostasy, but you can’t fall away from the faith unless you were once in it. As Jesus Christ forewarned in Matthew 24:12, the agape-love of many shall become psycho, yet only Christians can have the agape, God-kind of love, working in their hearts. Just as the Old Testament didn’t specifically name who would betray Jesus Christ, the New Testament is likewise silent on who will betray Him in this day. We don’t know who it will be, only that it will be. This warning should caution every Christian to take heed, lest they fall.
However, before anyone boasts themselves too strong a Christian to ever fall away or even deny Jesus Christ, we must bear in mind that Judas did not begin his walk with Jesus Christ as a traitor, but rather as a fervent disciple. Consider his testimony: He was hand selected by Jesus Christ. He was called to be with Jesus. He left father and mother. He took up his cross. He left his city-dwelling lifestyle to serve the mass crowds, with no place to lay his head, even risking his life to run with the controversial young Rabbi (e.g., angry mobs, stormy ships, a nervous religious class, etc.). He was not only anointed to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out devils, and raise the dead—he actually did all of those things. He was the trusted treasurer. He was active in the Lord’s ministry, helping Jesus by running security, securing transportation, and helping to feed the multitudes. He prayed with Jesus on a regular basis. Jesus even called him “friend” (Matthew 26:50, Psalm 41:9). He was distraught to hear Jesus speak of His betrayal and crucifixion (Matthew 17:22,23). We forget that Judas was a disciple of Jesus Christ and by the looks of the aforementioned resume, he was a much better disciple than many Christians are today. So what happened? How did Judas stay so close to Jesus and still manage to betray the Holy One of Israel? And did it have to be Judas?
First of all, we know that Satan was going to succeed in crucifying the Son of God. He first sought entrance into Jesus’ life by tempting Him in the wilderness only to be resisted and rebuked by the Son of God. He departed for a season, and ultimately found no way into Christ’s personal life (John 14:30). Satan then returned by moving upon the Lord’s enemies and by working on His disciples. His new tactic was a twofold approach, working not just from without the Lord’s ministry, but also from within. The devil moved upon the religious class to kill Jesus but they never found the opportunity to do so (John 7:19, 8:37). At the same time, the devil was working amongst the disciples. It would be presumptuous to think that Judas was the only disciple being targeted by the devil. In fact, we know that Satan wanted to sift all of them as wheat (Luke 22:31 NIV). Peter was even called “Satan” for rebuking Jesus and saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matthew 16: 22), indicating he, too, had yielded to Satan at some point. Whether it was a quarrel about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom or who would have the Lord’s right hand seat, there always seemed to be some kind of strife being stirred up amongst the twelve disciples. It does not appear that it had to be Judas, but it had to be somebody. It is my conviction that it was Judas because he gave in first, even as the Lord warns us in Matthew 24:22, if the last days aren’t shortened, no flesh shall be saved.
But how did Judas manage to betray the Lord? He began with one little act of betrayal at a time. Here a coin, there a coin. Perhaps he repented and replaced the coin, but only to go back and steal two coins the next time. He simply yielded to the spirit of antichrist in the area he served Jesus. We must understand that the spirit of antichrist will work to get us to betray Jesus Christ right where He currently trusts us. The betrayals always start off so small and seemingly excusable. But just as the little foxes spoil the vine (Song 2:15), these little acts of betrayal always open the hedge of our heart for the more egregious acts to follow. These little acts of betrayal soften our convictions while subtly callousing and even searing our conscience. This spirit of antichrist will cause us to become religious in our Christian service, maintaining the proper form but no longer having a heart for our Lord.
The spirit of antichrist is not anti-religious, just anti-Christ. The spirit of antichrist is still working today in the children of disobedience and it will have its ultimate expression and power when it possesses the one man who will be known as the Antichrist. Even 1 John 2:18,19 points out that currently there are many antichrists and these antichrists begin their work while among the Church, but they eventually leave the fellowship of the believers, even as Judas did. The spirit of antichrist causes a Christian to slowly callous and then sear their conscience, grow remorseless and cold in their godly convictions, and ultimately revolt against God’s absolute truths; all this while they are able to stay in a local church and perhaps even serve there. This is why we must allow the witness of Judas to provoke us into a very thorough self-examination of our own Christian walk. Consider some of Judas’ many behavioral warning signs. These symptoms can be used to diagnose the degree to which the spirit of antichrist may have already influenced your life:
- Judas constantly stole God’s money (John 12:6)—A 2012 Barna poll indicates only 5% of American Christians tithe.
- Judas skipped important prayer meetings (Luke 22:39-48)—Most churches don’t even have prayer services, even though church should be a house of prayer;
- Judas skipped important discipleship time (John 13:30-16:26)—Most Christians are Sunday morning only Christians.
- Judas was comfortable fellowshipping with the Lord’s enemies (Luke 22:3,4)—Many Christians have two sets of friends: Christian and enemy of the cross.
- Judas cared not for the poor (John 12:6), but only for himself (Matthew 26:14-16)—Many Christians care only for themselves, going to church “to get their blessing on” and to be served.
- Judas never called Jesus “Lord”, only “Rabbi” (Matthew 26:25,49; Mark 14:14)—How many Christians refuse to submit to Christ’s lordship?
- Judas was obsessed with material things (John 12:4,5)—Many Christians are only interested in their next toy or promotion, even as the great missionary Brother Andrew recently stated in an interview: “Instead of rewarding an old man who still follows Christ, you should punish all the rich people in your church who spend all their money on the bigger boat, and bigger this, that and the other. That should be the system, but don’t reward a man who is near eternity because he still follows Jesus; it is the calling of all of us.”
- Judas seemed to somewhat care for Jesus, even requesting that the soldiers handle him softly (Mark 14:44)—Many Christians still claim to care for Jesus.
- Judas did not see his actions as betrayal, even asking the Lord, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” after he had covenanted with the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:25 NIV)—Do you think most Christians count their selfishness as rebellion?
- Judas realized his betrayal all too late (Matthew 27:3-5)—Will Christians have time to repent once they realize their subtle betrayal?
Also of terrifying consideration is the fact that Jesus never treated Judas any differently from the other disciples, though he knew from the beginning he would betray Him (John 6:64). Jesus still entrusted Judas with the ministry finances. He still anointed Judas to preach, teach, heal, and cast out devils, all the while giving His disciples numerous warnings about His betrayal (Matthew 17:22,23; 20:18; 26:2). You would think these warnings would have given His men pause and cause for self-evaluation. Even today, the Lord is warning His disciples that there is a falling away taking place. Is anyone judging themselves? He is warning His Church that He will be betrayed by some of His saints. Does anyone take pause? And yet, He continues to treat these modern traitors-to-be the same. The Lord’s benevolence never tells off on who will betray Him. He still anoints them, still uses them, still blesses them, still provides for them, up until the moment their hearts depart from Him. If you’re reading this article, you probably personally know someone you once served Christ with, and yet, they are no longer in the faith. There may still be room for their repentance, but as of currently, they are still reprobate. Should this not cause a fear and a dread to pass over us (Hebrews 12:21)? It would be wise for us to judge ourselves whether we even be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5 KJV, NIV, NAS).
Our past successes in Christ are no guarantee or prediction of our long-term fidelity. We cannot rest on our spiritual laurels. The book of Jude opens with the most fearsome exhortation of the entire New Testament (paraphrased here): Don’t forget, God having saved Israel from Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And of His angels (which He made for His purpose) that abandoned their proper place, He keeps in eternal bonds under darkness awaiting judgment. In the same vain, Jude continues his warning and states that in these last days some believers will be like Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Like Cain, who, having begun in right standing with God, will rebel against God and be cursed. God spoke to Cain in an attempt to bless him and prevent judgment, but ultimately had to mark him. Men will be like Balaam, who in one moment can prophesy about the coming Messiah, but in another, lust and greed will drive them to side with the heathen. God used Balaam to bless Israel, warned him not to sin, but ultimately had to destroy him for his rebellion. Men will be like Korah, who though he had a rightful place among the Levites, spoke against Moses, was warned not to rebel, and yet still went to hell alive. All of these men walked in the same spirit as Judas. They all began right with God, only to rebel against warnings and be destroyed for it. Likewise, Ananias, Sapphira, Hymaneus, Philetus, and Demas of the New Testament.
It seems that in these dark days, many Christians have more in common with Judas Iscariot, Cain, Balaam, Korah, and Demas, than they do Peter, James, or John. In the end, there will be a body of believers, former disciples, who will yield to the spirit of antichrist, betray Jesus Christ, all the while, convinced they are still the friends of God. It will be spiritual suicide. They will not be known as the sons and daughters of God, but like their forerunner, Judas, they will be known as sons and daughters of perdition. Will you endure until the end or will you sell out for 30 pieces of selfish silver?