Jesus and Judas in Holy Week

judas receives silver

Judas receiving silver for betraying Jesus. 16th century fresco painting on the vault in the Saint Sébastien Church, in Planpinet. Clarée valley, Hautes alpes département, France.

I wrote of Jesus’ trial before Pilate a couple of years ago and noted that Jesus had to work very hard to keep from being acquitted. Studying the Last Supper and events leading up to it, I notice that Jesus had to work just as skillfully to orchestrate his betrayal.

Judas went secretly to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. Luke’s account (Luke 26:3) specifically says that Satan entered him. Once the conspirators agreed on the fee, He kept his eyes open for an opportunity.

He had to act at just the right time, without the rest of the disciples understanding what was happening, in order for the divine plan to work. Jesus was firmly in control.

What Judas would have preferred

What better time than when the whole team gathered for a meal? The temple guards could burst into the room and arrest Jesus without drawing a crowd. None of the other disciples would know that he was the betrayer.

That scenario, ideal for Judas, perhaps explains the odd details of Peter and John arranging for the room. Jesus did not tell them to rent a particular room. He did not even tell them whom to talk to about it.

Instead, they were supposed to look for a man carrying a jar of water. Since carrying water was considered women’s work, there would not be more than one man. Jesus told Peter and John to follow that man and speak to the owner of the house that he entered.

In other words, Jesus had arranged a clandestine meeting with a man who would lead Peter and John to another man, who would show them the guest room. Judas could not possibly arrange to have the temple guards arrest Jesus at that meal, because he had no idea where it would be until Jesus led the entire group there.

In the upper room

judas leaving last supper

Judas Iscariot (right), retiring from the Last Supper, painting by Carl Bloch, late 19th century

With everyone gathered together in one place, Jesus had another problem to solve. He had to identify the betrayer to someone, but he couldn’t let everyone know.

All evening Jesus was very direct in announcing his betrayer, but took pains not to identify him by name. He loved Judas too much to make a public accusation. (Plus it’s Satan who is the accuser!)

When they were all together, Jesus left the table, stripped down, took a bucket and washed everyone’s feet, including Judas’. Only after this completely unexpected act did Jesus tell everyone that his betrayer was in the room, but he did not say who it was.

Could Jesus have possibly meant that someone would betray him deliberately? Or would perhaps someone make some kind of simple mistake out on the street that would alert the authorities? If any of the disciples thought of those questions, they would have found the latter possibility more plausible and palatable.

The disciples had just been arguing among themselves who was the greatest, but they all had at least some recognition of their own weakness. One by one, they approached Jesus with a question.

In the King James Version and modern versions based on it, they asked, “Is it I?” The New International Version more plausibly translates the question, “Surely you don’t mean me.” When Judas approached Jesus, Jesus said, “Yes. It is you.”

No one else heard, but Judas knew that Jesus knew. That knowledge, plus the love with which Jesus said it, must have made him uncomfortable.

As everyone gathered around the table to eat, Peter asked John to ask Jesus who the betrayer was. The questions and Jesus’ answer had to have been whispered. No one else at the table could have possibly heard. Otherwise, the divine plan could not have been carried out.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus said, “the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” If no one but Judas had dipped his hand in the bowl, Jesus picked a very cryptic way to identify him. John’s account is somewhat different. Jesus told John, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.”

In either case, it seems obvious that when Judas left, no one but John, and maybe Peter, knew he was the betrayer. Everyone else thought Jesus was sending him out on a routine errand. If they all had known he was the betrayer, surely one or more of them would have tried to prevent him from going out.

Jesus and Judas must have made eye contact more than once. Judas must have seen the love in Jesus’ eyes and heard the love in his voice. It’s at the point when Jesus gave Judas the bread that John’s gospel records that Satan entered Judas.

Perhaps the differences between Luke’s and John’s accounts are simply among the ways that it is difficult to reconcile chronology. Or perhaps God did not allow Satan to stay in Judas after he met the priests.

In any case, before he entered Judas, Satan spoke and had a willing listener who obeyed his voice. But everyone listens to the devil from time to time. In giving Judas the bread, Jesus gave him one last chance to repent. It’s hard to imaging that anyone, experiencing so much love, could have failed to repent unless possessed by the devil.

God’s plan succeeds


Stone relief from west choir screen, Naumburg Cathedral, depicting Judas kissing Jesus and Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear

Judas knew that Jesus and the rest would leave the room and go to Gethsemane. Either that was an established evening habit when they were in Jerusalem or Jesus had announced that part of the plan when Judas could hear it.

Judas had conceived the idea of betraying Jesus. Events prevented him from pursuing the most advantageous plan. He managed to get out of the room with no one trying to stop him. His alternate plan was obvious.

All he needed to do was go to the temple guards and lead them to the garden—after unintentionally giving Jesus plenty of time for prayer. And then according to Matthew 26:50, Jesus addressed him as “friend” one last time.

Jesus dealt with Judas successfully. After further exercise of skillful and patient control over events, he went to the cross, where Satan’s apparent success became his greatest defeat and God’s victory.

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