Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot is one of the most widely known disciples. He infamously betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, which lead to Jesus’ death on the cross. Today, “Judas” is virtually synonymous with “traitor.”

Judas appears in several New Testament stories, and while the Gospel writers are in unanimous agreement that he betrayed Jesus, they present various takes on his motives and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Judas Iscariot in the Bible

Judas Iscariot may have been considered “good with money” or trustworthy because somehow he wound up being the designated treasurer for Jesus and his disciples. Ironically, the first passage that tells that he was in charge of the group’s money also tells us that he was completely untrustworthy.

(Granted, Judas was long dead after this was written, so maybe this is John’s hindsight talking.)

“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” —John 12:4–6

This is part of the reason many people believe Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus out of greed. (But there may have been several other motivations at play as well.)

During the Last Supper, Jesus claims one of the disciples will betray him, and then tells Judas, “What you are about to do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). Somehow none of the other disciples picked up on that though. They assumed it had something to do with him being in charge of the money (John 13:28-29).

Each of the gospels gives a slightly different version of the moment Judas betrayed Jesus, but the main thread goes like this:

  • Judas meets with the chief priests and agrees to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14–16).
  • Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and the disciples keep falling asleep (Matthew 26:36–44).
  • Judas arrives with an armed mob sent from the chief priests and points out Jesus by greeting him with a kiss (Matthew 26:47–49).
  • Shortly after, Judas regrets betraying Jesus, and tries and fails to return the money the chief priests gave him (Matthew 27:3–4).

How did Judas Iscariot die?

Judas Iscariot’s death was unique among the disciples. While James son of Zebedee was the only apostle to be martyred in the Bible (Acts 12:2), Judas Iscariot was the first to die. His death is also one of the go-to “gotchas” when people talk about contradictions in the Bible.

The Gospel of Matthew says he hung himself:

“So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” —Matthew 27:5

The chief priests then used the money to buy a potter’s field (presumably the field Judas hung himself in), because it was blood money, so they couldn’t put it in the treasury (Matthew 27:6-10).

But Luke seems to record a different death for Judas in Acts 1:18–19:

“(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”

Some people make a point of trying to reconcile these two accounts, suggesting Judas hung himself and then the rope broke, or that he remained hanging there for so long his body decomposed and . . . yeah, it’s just gross. And that still doesn’t solve the problem of one account saying the priests bought the field after Judas died, and the other says Judas bought the field before he died.

It could be that one of the writers goofed a detail. It could also be that the circumstances were convoluted enough for both writers to be correct. But consider this:

  • Both accounts were written decades after Judas’ death
  • Neither Matthew nor Luke were present for Judas’ deal with Jesus’ enemies
  • Since Judas was dead, much of the information would have to come from the people who made the deal to kill Jesus.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the details are so blurry.

Author: Patriarch Gregg

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