Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
What a horrific turn of events. Knowing the story well, we have anticipated this sinister decision of Judas, leading inevitably to his betrayal of Jesus. But encountering the story for the first time this moment comes as a shocking surprise. Why on earth does he do it?
The Gospels don’t answer all our questions, but we get insights from two angles: human sin and satanic intrusion.
From the human point of view, Judas has a weakness for money. His opening question to the chief priests focuses on how much he might gain from betraying Jesus. The price named is “thirty silver coins,” equalling about 120 days’ wages, not an insignificant amount, but not equal to the magnitude of the betrayal. Yet clearly Judas is enticed.
Interestingly, both Matthew and Mark tie this incident directly to the preceding one, namely the anointing at Bethany, where the issue of money was also front and centre. “This ointment could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor,” the disciples complained (Matthew 26:9). It’s John, in his Gospel, who lets us know that the primary voice in this complaint belonged to Judas, who didn’t say this because he was interested in 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). The love of money had gripped him. It was a weakness that set him up for worse things yet.
But the key factor, likely capitalizing on Judas’ avarice, was the intrusion of Satan. Luke, in recounting this same incident of Judas’ bargain with the chief priests, introduces it by clearly stating that “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3). John confirms this reality, telling us that prior to the Last Supper “the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus”(John 13:2).
We don’t know all that went through Judas’ mind as he came to this decision, nor how he rationalized it to himself. But clearly his own sinful weakness conspired with the intrusion of the devil to lead him into this horrific betrayal.
It’s an ongoing portrayal of the blackness of sin and the oppressiveness of the evil one, urging us to stay close to Jesus, filled with the Spirit, and submitted to the Father. It gives us renewed impetus to continually pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done … And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:10, 13). Amen.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven … And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. To the glory of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Reflect: Judas' betrayal is in a class by itself. But is there any area of sin and temptation in your own life that sets you up for worse things yet? Confess it. Submit it to the Lord. Seek his strengthening guidance. What further steps need to be taken to close that door?