A Life Wasted
Up to this point, we have focused on the apostles who are indeed worthy of imitation. Sadly, we see one apostle who had every opportunity to enjoy the riches of eternity but wasted that opportunity. He was not the first person to do so, nor the last, but he is perhaps the most tragic example.
Judas Iscariot is remembered for one thing: his betrayal of Christ. He was one of the original twelve chosen by Jesus and given every opportunity and lesson just as the others. Yet he chose to put himself ahead of Jesus. As a result, he is lost for all eternity. As someone once said, Judas was a man who had given his life to Christ but not his heart.
Judas was a common name and means; "Jehovah leads." Because of his betrayal of Jesus, his name will forever be looked upon negatively. He was not from Galilee but from Kerioth, a region south of Judea. He was not related by family or profession to any of the others.
We have no record from Scripture of how or when he was called by Jesus. He might have been part of the larger numbers that heard Jesus teach, saw the power of the miracles, and decided to become a disciple. There simply is no record.
Only Peter is mentioned more times in the gospels than Judas1. Matthew gives the most details and Mark the least. Luke and John both state that Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). John describes Judas as untrustworthy, giving the detail of Judas in charge of their money and sometimes taking from it (John 12:6).
When we put all the references together, we see a man who was part of the original apostles, having the same opportunities to grow spiritually into a faithful servant. The seed of God's word not only fell on hard soil (Matthew 13:1-9), but upon a hostile heart seeking only selfish gain. The soil of Judas' heart was ripe for the evil of Satan's seed.
Some speculate that Judas entered a point of no return in John 12:1-8 when Mary anoints Jesus' feet at Bethany. In this incident, Mary (probably the sister of Martha and Lazarus) uses an expensive ointment to wash the feet of our Lord.
Judas takes offense of the event because of what he feels is a waste of a valuable ointment. John indicates that his offense was from his greed. Jesus tells Judas to leave her alone. Note also that Jesus provides an insight into an event when later we see that the women went to the tomb to prepare His body for final burial (Mark 16:1).
Some feel there is a contradiction between the selection of Judas as an apostle and his betrayal of Jesus. There is no contradiction based on his choice. In Scripture, we see that he made a conscious choice to betray Jesus (Luke 22:48) and that he chose to be a thief giving into the greed in his heart (John 12:6).
Judas' act of betrayal was part of God's sovereign plan (Psalm 41:9, Zechariah 11:12-13, Matthew 20:18 and Matthew 26:20-25, Acts 1:16,20). God's plan did not specify Judas was the one who would betray, only that one close to Jesus would betray. Judas did what he did because of the evil in his heart. He gave Satan a foothold through his greed and evil deeds. Sadly, Judas represents too many who are under the continued influence of Satan and not the love of our Lord.
After the arrest of Jesus, Judas realized his guilt of betrayal. He became remorseful and sought to return the money (Matthew 27:3-4). The chief priest rejected the money, so Judas went out and took his life. We must remember that Judas was in control of his life, how he lived it, and how it ended.
Remorse is not the same as repentance. Judas was sorry for what he had done but he did not turn to our Lord for forgiveness. He turned to the chief priest and elders, showing where his faith lay. Matthew records that he threw down the money and went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).
We have more detail in Acts 1:18-19 of the ultimate end of Judas. After hanging himself, Judas fell into a field where he burst open, and his internal organs spilled out. There is no contradiction here. Matthew records the method of his death and Acts records what happened to the body. An evil man who suffered a tragic and lonely death made more tragic because of the wasted opportunity to return to our Lord for forgiveness.
Lessons from Judas
Even though we might not think there is anything to learn from Judas, there is value in looking at what was not done.
Judas shows that God has a plan that cannot be overcome.
Even before God created us, He put into place a plan that would redeem us from our sin and bring about reconciliation with Him. He began to reveal that plan in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. At the betrayal and crucifixion, it seemed to all that it was all over, and that Satan had won. But it was God's plan for a pure sacrifice to endure the ugliest of all sins for us. Yet three days later, Jesus proved the glory of God's plan when he conquered death and arose.
It is tragic that Judas had a role in that plan, but the point is, he chose, even seeking the opportunity for his role. God graces us with the ability to choose His way which leads to life, or to reject Him which leads to death. When we sin, we can choose to return to our Lord in repentance and receive forgiveness (I John 1:5-9)
Judas is a tragic example of lost opportunity.
He was with Jesus all through His ministry and could have asked Him anything. Judas had received the same power to perform healing and other miracles as the other apostles (Matthew 10:1). But Judas failed to learn what Jesus taught and offered.
In the same way, we have every opportunity to accept our Lord on His terms and receive the blessings He offers. Yet many go through life rejecting Jesus and, in that way, spiritually betraying Him. Rather than repeat the sad end of Judas by taking our life, we must submit to Jesus and gain life… again, the choice is ours.
Judas causes each of us to look at our own life.
We are not disciples for Jesus because of personal gain or fame. We are disciples to serve and honor the Master. As Peter stated,
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."
- John 6:68-69
When we fail, as we so many times do, we must not give up. We must accept our Lord's forgiveness and seek restoration. If Judas had turned to our Lord, he would have gained forgiveness just as others had. Peter received forgiveness after denying Christ (John 21:15-19). The thief on the cross received forgiveness after first mocking Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:40-43). Later Paul, after approving of the stoning of Stephen and seeking to persecute Christians, was forgiven, and in fact, he was then put to work in the Lord's service (Acts 9). More to the point, no matter our sin, when we turn to the Lord, we gain forgiveness. That is the lesson Jesus taught in Luke 15 with the three magnificent parables on forgiveness, especially the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
There is no song we sing that Judas can sing with us today. He can no longer praise the Lord. He cannot express his love and devotion. He cannot ask for forgiveness; it is too late.
This lesson is purposefully titled, "Judas Iscariot: A Life Wasted" because Judas was in control of his life and chose to waste it rather than allowing our Lord to redeem it. He is an example for us, but not for imitation. Rather, his is a lesson of one who traded the riches of eternity for a fleeting moment of false gain. He heard Jesus when He said to lay up treasure in heaven but ignored this choosing to serve his personal greed and ambition.
Today, we also hear Jesus and see both sides of the story. Equipped with the teachings of the Lord and the examples of the apostles, we must choose wisely and follow the Lord and not do as Judas did wasting his opportunity for eternal life.
- "Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus?" (William Klassen, Fortress Press, 1996)
- Summarize information about Judas from Scripture and why you feel he was willing to betray Jesus.
- How do you reconcile that Jesus chose Judas and that Judas chose to betray our Lord?
- Using Matthew's account of the death of Judas and the reference from Acts 1:18-19, how do you see Judas' death portrayed.
- We know Judas experienced remorse for his actions. How does this differ from repentance, and what can we apply from this to our relationship with Jesus?
- How does Judas help us look at our own life as a disciple of Jesus?