From the very beginning he was destined for greatness. At the age of 14 he ran away from home and fought in the French and Indian War. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he joined the American army and as a colonel in 1775 and shared a command with Ethan Allen in the capture of Ticonderoga. Later he led 1000 men into Canada where he fought in the battle of Quebec. His courage in battle won him a promotion to brigadier general. His future looked bright and then something went horribly wrong. Thoughts of compromise ate away at his patriotic zeal. Soon the unthinkable happened. He offered his services to the British, and in 1780 devised a plan to surrender West Point to British. You know the name of the man of whom I speak, Benedict Arnold (1741-1891), the greatest traitor in American history. In this blog, we remember the greatest traitor in the history of the world, Judas Iscariot (3-30).
We are instructed today from the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew. The scene is familiar to us. It is Thursday of Holy Week. Much has happened but there was still much work to be done. In a few moments Jesus will leave to go to the garden to pray. His earthly ministry is nearly complete, and he finds himself in the middle of a political storm. He knows the outcome. He will be arrested, put on trial by his own people for blasphemy, then put on trial in front of the Roman governor, Pilate, as an enemy of the state. The outcome is obvious. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, the perfect one, the Son of God, will be found guilty and will be executed. I cannot say this too strongly. There is not much time left and every second must count. One of the things he must do is assemble the disciples together for one more meal. He is building for them a living memorial. It is at this meal that Jesus talks to the disciples about the one who was going to betray him, Judas Iscariot, the greatest traitor in the history of the world.
It is Jesus who brings up the topic of betrayal. The disciples cannot believe their ears. Verse 22 says, “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” It is not possible that one of them was going to betray Jesus. They had been through so much together. Jesus himself had selected every one of them. They had sacrificed together and ministered together. They had heard Jesus’ teachings together and had witnessed the miracles. They had felt the power of the Master’s presence and had dreamed of the future. They could hardly believe it when Jesus identified Judas Iscariot was the traitor, they had even trusted him their money.
Through the generations people have wondered why Judas Iscariot did it. Biblical scholars tell us there may be as many as six reasons why Judas Iscariot did it. Let me list them for you.
1) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because he was the only none Galilean of the disciples. Iscariot is not a last name it is a location. He was from Kaerrioth. Maybe he got tried and bitter from being the odd man out?
2) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to save his own skin? He knew in the political game of the day that the Romans were a safer bet.
3) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because of old fashion greed? He betrayed Jesus for about $10,000 in today‘s money. What would you do for a quick $10,000?
4) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because he grew to hate Jesus? He wasn’t part of the inner circle. Peter, Andrew, James, and John got more attention and were privilege to more information. What made them better then him?
5) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because of his name? Iscariot is not a derivative of the Hebrew Ish Kariot as much as it was a form of the Greek word that meant “Dagger Bearer.” Now the Dagger Bearers were a band of violent nationalists who were prepared to use every means available to them, including assassination to free Palestine from Roman rule. Perhaps Judas had set his hopes on a Messiah who would deliver his people from his oppressors. And then in bitter disappointment he betrayed him.
6) Maybe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because hoping to force his hand? He saw the Master’s power, but things were moving too slowly. He never intended for Jesus to die that day, instead he hoped to force his hand, so that when he was betrayed, he would use his power to liberated Israel.
The truth is we will never know why Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, but we do know Judas Iscariot brayed Jesus. That was not a wise choice. Judas Iscariot lived to regret it. In the chapter beyond our reading, Matthew 27, we are told that Judas Iscariot regretted his choice to betray Jesus so much that me committed suicide, he hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-4 says once Jesus was handed over the Roman governor, Pilate, Judas Iscariot tried to return the money. The problem was it was too late. According to the text, Judas Iscariot threw the money into the temple and left to hang himself. The authorities used the money to buy a plot for him to be buried.
So, what can we learn from the greatest traitor in the history of the world? Consider these four things. Maybe someday we will look at them in detail.
First, sin never delivers what it promises.
Second, it is possible to be near Christ and still not be truly saved.
Third, we are responsible for our own decisions.
Fourth, remorse is not the same as repentance.
The First Battle of Bull Run might not have been a smashing Confederate victory without the flowing curls of Rose Greenhow (1814-1864). On July 9, 1861, she hid a message in her lovely tresses; when she combed out her hair for Rebel officers, they learned that Union troops were about to march on Richmond. A second message contained the invaders’ strength and marching orders. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard (1818-1893) later said that Greenhow “lived in a house within rifle shot of the White House.” Her house became the heart of a Southern spy network, and at the height of her activities Greenhow directed more than 50 agents. To the Confederacy she was a hero. To the Union she was a traitor! How close was Jesus’ traitor? He was closer than a rifle shot. He was so close he dipped his fingers into the Master’s bowl. Can anyone question your loyalty?