By Russ Ramsey
While writing her play about Jesus, The Man Born to Be King, Dorothy Sayers struggled to understand what drove Judas. She asked, “What did the man imagine he was doing? He is an absolute riddle. He can’t have been awful from the start, or Christ never would have called him.”
He was a riddle. We know Judas was greedy and that he skimmed off the top (John 12:6). But the money the chief priests offered in exchange for Jesus, thirty pieces of silver, hardly compensated for the three years he spent following Jesus. Though no one can really say conclusively all that drove Judas, there are some things we do know. First, we know the man he seemed to be. He seemed to be a devoted disciple who did the same things as the others. He had concealed his duplicity so well that when Jesus declared one of the disciples would betray Him, no one immediately pointed in Judas’s direction.
Second, we know he acted under the influence of Satan. John tells us it wasn’t just that Judas was indifferent to Jesus. He was acting in collusion with the devil (John 6:70; 13:2, 27). Think of all he saw and heard: every miracle, parable, and act of mercy. Neither Jesus’s words nor His actions penetrated Judas’s heart. He was a riddle, to be sure, part pragmatist, part pretender, part conspirator. Maybe even he couldn’t even explain his own reasons.
During the last supper, when Jesus offered Judas bread, it was a gesture of love, an opportunity to consider their history together. But Judas’s mind was already made up. He took the bread from Jesus’s hand and then he left. Everyone likely figured since he kept the money, he was off to settle a tab or give the customary Passover alms to the poor on their behalf. They were wrong.
As one who saw this moment unfold, John tells us what was really going on as Judas disappeared: “After receiving the piece of bread, he immediately left. And it was night” (John 13:30). Light and darkness are prevalent symbols throughout John’s Gospel. He often spoke of Jesus as the Light of the World (John 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46). John described Judas as a man abandoning the Light of the World to step into the darkness. The next time the two would meet would be later that night when Judas arrived at Gethsemane with a band of soldiers.
“Friend,” Jesus asked him, “why have you come?”
Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested him (Matthew 26:50).
Jesus knew full well why Judas had come, yet He kept the door open for reconciliation until the end. But Judas wouldn’t have it.
Is Christ offering you reconciliation today? If you are a pretender, it’s possible the only ones who know it are you and Jesus. There is grace and joy to be found in Him, but this isn’t a game. Judas reminds us that we can sit under solid teaching, spend time with believers, even participate in ministry, and still be a fraud. Being known as a Christian and loving Jesus can be two entirely different things.
As you see Judas go out into the darkness, may you also see Jesus, the Light of the World, remain unshakably dedicated to His mission to die in your place. He loves you. Do you love Him?
Written by Russ Ramsey