Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles during His ministry. He is most known for his infamous betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, one of the first events that lead to Jesus' crucifixion. Though Judas is a more troublesome and fickle biblical figure, he was still a close follower and disciple of Jesus for three years before his betrayal.
It’s difficult to understand how Judas could betray the Savior of the world, especially after he was able to witness miracles and participate in Jesus' earthly mission. However, there are still lessons to be learned from his actions, from both the hurtful and helpful events.
Judas’ story emphasizes the pain, isolation, and suffering Jesus had to experience to perform his greatest act of love: the Atonement.
What Does the Name “Judas Iscariot” Mean?
Judas is most commonly known as Judas Iscariot, though he has also been called Judas the Zealot, Judas the Apostle, or “the son of Simon Iscariot” (John 6:71). There was another Judas in the Bible, Judas Thaddeus, who is sometimes just called Thaddeus to help distinguish between the two apostles.
“Judas” means “praise” or “the praised one” in Hebrew, and the name was fairly popular in the time of the New Testament. Now, the name Judas has become more synonymous with “traitor” because of the betrayal of Jesus.
The name “Iscariot” isn’t as clearly defined, though there are a couple of interpretations of its origin and meaning. People didn’t have surnames like we do today, so a second name like this often described where someone was from, or maybe a distinguishable attribute. In Greek, the name “Iscariot” translates to “a man from Kerioth,” Kerioth being a town found in Judea. This would separate Judas from the other apostles, making him the only Judean among the others, who were all Galilean.
Other history scholars suggest that Iscariot is a form of the Latin word “Sicarius,” which loosely means “murderer.” However, this isn’t definitive, so the surname’s significance is still debated by scholars.
Who Was Judas Iscariot Before He Was An Apostle?
Outside of the Bible, scholars don’t have many texts or historical references about Judas. This makes it difficult to fill in the gaps about who Judas was before becoming an apostle and some of the details about his personal life.
As mentioned, the Book of John refers to Judas as the son of Simon Iscariot several times over, so most scholars believe that Judas was born in the town of Kerioth. If his name Iscariot is related to the term “Sicarius,” it’s also possible that Judas’ family is tied to a radical Jewish group called the “Sicarii,” some of which were extreme enough to be considered terrorists. Otherwise, we know very little of Judas’ family background.
In some Christian texts, Judas Iscariot is believed to have followed John the Baptist before he followed Jesus. However, there isn’t a biblical reference that confirms Judas was or was not a follower of John the Baptist.
Significant Events Involving Judas Iscariot
Judas followed Jesus for three years, so there were many miracles and significant events that he participated in. We do know that he was a member of the 12 disciples; in the Bible, he’s listed last and usually identified as the one who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 10:4).
Despite his ultimate betrayal, as a member of the 12 disciples, Judas was directed by Jesus to go out to serve and heal others. We learn in the Bible that “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1). This means Judas was given the power and authority to serve alongside the rest of the 12 as a faithful disciple.
Treasurer and Thief
In his years of discipleship, probably his most notable role was acting as the official treasurer for the 12 disciples (John 13:29). This means Judas had the responsibility to manage the money of the 12 disciples, though several scriptures also label him as a thief. According to the Book of John, Judas would steal money from their savings to serve his own purposes.
One example of this occurs when Mary uses a valuable perfume to clean Jesus’ feet after He raised Lazarus from the dead. Judas comments on how the expensive perfume should have been sold to give the money to the poor. However, scripture clarifies that 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 tells Judas to leave her alone, but his actions earned Judas a dishonest and greedy reputation.
Feeding the 5,000
A miracle that Judas was present during was the feeding of the 5,000. Soon after John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus had gone out on a boat for some privacy. Eventually, though, a large crowd gathered to be with the Savior, and He came ashore to heal their sick people. Later, instead of leaving to feed and care for himself as His apostles suggested, Jesus insisted on staying with the people and providing food.
Despite only having two fish and five loaves of bread, Jesus took the food and “looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves” (Matthew 14:17-19). Then He had his disciples pass the food around, which fed at least 5,000 men, plus the women and children there. At this amazing event, Judas was there as one of the apostles that distributed bread to others.
Raising Lazarus From the Dead
Judas was also with Jesus and witnessed him raise Lazarus from the dead as written in John 11:1-44. Lazarus was a man from Bethany, but he was seriously ill. Mary and Martha, his sisters, reached out to Jesus, telling him that their brother was sick, but Jesus told them that his sickness wouldn’t end in death. Jesus did visit them, but departed to Judea for a time with his disciples.
Later, when He returned to Lazarus and his sisters, “Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” and that many had visited the sisters to comfort them in their brother’s passing (John 11:17-19). Both Martha and Mary expressed to Jesus that they believed, had He been there, that He could have saved their brother. Still, the two sisters expressed great faith and also told him that they knew He was the Messiah.
Jesus was deeply moved by these events, and He also loved Larazus (John 11:33-36). He went to the tomb, and even though Martha told Him that it had been four days, He had them move the stone of the tomb. Then, after praying to God, “Jesus called in a loud voice, “‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). Miraculously, Lazarus came out of the tomb wrapped in linen after being laid in the tomb.
Calming the Storm
It’s also believed that Judas was there when Jesus calmed a massive storm while he and the disciples were out on the water. The storm was so severe that the waves began to enter the boat they were all in. Jesus was sleeping, so the disciples woke Him and expressed their great fear of the dangerous storm. When they asked Him to save them, Jesus simply said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26). Then Jesus rebuked the waves and the wind, and incredibly, the storm calmed.
We can see from these examples that Judas was involved in Jesus' ministry, which makes Judas betraying Jesus all the more painful.
Jesus’ Betrayal from Judas Iscariot
As discussed in Matthew 26:14-16, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Despite having served and ministered with Jesus as one of his disciples, Judas’ selfish desires made him a traitor to his friend and Savior.
At the time, the people were calling for Jesus’ arrest, and Judas went to the chief priests and asked how much money he could get for delivering Jesus. When they offered 30 pieces of silver, he waited for an opportunity to turn Jesus over (Matthew 26:14-16).
Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, and even told the 12 disciples at The Last Supper that he would be betrayed. When they asked who would betray Him, Jesus told them that “the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me,” which was Judas.
Judas even asked Jesus, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26: 23-25). Jesus, though, knew Judas’ intentions and true desires, and said to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Even though Jesus could have stopped Judas then, He also had to perform the Atonement, which included his crucifixion.
The same is true when Judas brought soldiers to arrest Jesus. He went straight to Jesus, greeted him, and kissed his cheek to identify Him for the soldiers (Matthew 26:48-49). Jesus went with the soldiers willingly, and even made His other loyal apostles stand down, saying: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54).
Jesus' willingness to go with His enemy and His lack of interference with Judas’ actions doesn’t excuse Judas’ behavior, but it does show Jesus’ commitment to the salvation of God’s children.
What motivated Judas to betray Jesus? It’s hard to say exactly what led to such events and decisions. However, it was in character for Judas to covet wealth and riches, which is seen in his thieving habits as the treasurer. Judas’ small decisions and choices, such as being dishonest in his financial responsibilities, put him on a path that led him to be a traitor.
How Did Judas Die?
After Jesus was handed over to the enemy, Pilate, Judas Iscariot supposedly regretted his betrayal. He tried to give back the silver but ended up throwing it into the temple and leaving. According to Matthew 27:1-10, after Judas learned that Jesus was going to be crucified because of his actions, he felt so remorseful that he committed suicide by hanging.
Judas Iscariot was a follower and apostle of Jesus and bore witness to many miracles Jesus performed. Sadly, he also ended up becoming one of the most disliked persons in biblical history for his betrayal of Jesus.
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