Matthew 26:14–16

Matthew 26

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Island of the Day Before, a 17th-century man named Ferrante surprisingly encounters Judas Iscariot chained to a rock in the sea. After inquiring as to the nature of his punishment, Judas offers this explanation:

            Why, because God has willed that my punishment consist in living always on Good Friday, to celebrate always and every day the Passion of the man I betrayed. The first day of my suffering, when for other human beings sunset approached, and then night, and then the dawn of Saturday, for me only an atom of an atom of a minute of the ninth hour of that Friday had gone by. As the course of my sun began to move even more slowly, for the rest of you Christ was rising from the dead, but I was still barely a step from that hour. And now, when centuries and centuries have passed for you, I am still only a crumb of time from that instant…[1]

This is not the only legend that creatively depicts Judas Iscariot’s suffering and punishment. There must have been something especially heinous about Judas’ behavior for the coming generations to engage in this kind of imaginative exercise. And, indeed, there was!

Judas’ treachery became forever attached to his name.

There is a lot we do not know about Judas Iscariot. In her interesting article for, Sarah Pruitt points to a couple of clues that might give us a little better understanding of Judas’ background.

Intriguingly, Judas Iscariot is the only one of the apostles whom the Bible (potentially) identifies by his town of origin. Some scholars have linked his surname “Iscariot,” to Queriot (or Kerioth), a town located south of Jerusalem in Judea.

“One of the things that might set Judas apart from the rest of Jesus’s disciples is that Judas is not from Galilee,” says Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. “Jesus is from the northern part of Israel, or Roman Palestine. But [Judas’s] surname might be evidence that he’s from the southern part of the country, meaning he may be a little bit of an outsider.”[2]

Again, this is interesting but it is also conjecture. Tantalizing clues do not an airtight case make! Even so, it is hard to resist the temptation to want to know more about Judas.

Yet, there is one thing we definitely know about Judas, and it has attached itself to his name in the biblical records. All four gospels mention Judas and all four gospels refer to him as the betrayer of Jesus. For instance, in Matthew 10, we read:

Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The same is said in Mark 3:19 and John 12:4. Luke, in Luke 6, adds an interesting nuance.

16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He “became a traitor.” This seems to point to a moment, as if perhaps this was not Judas’ original intent. Did Judas begin with a sincere desire to follow Jesus? Perhaps it points to the moment, as we will see, when Satan entered Judas and, indeed, when Judas seems to have given himself over to his murderous plot.

In Mark 14, Judas’ standing as a disciple is seemingly highlighted.

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.

It is almost as if Mark is saying, “Lest we forget…Judas was a disciple!”

So attached was Judas’ nefarious behavior to his name that pains were taken to not tarnish other Judases with the one that lives in infamy. For instance, in John 14, we read:

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”

Judas (not Iscariot). I imagine that this Judas added that little postscript a lot when meeting people! Judas’ name has become a mark of shame and distance needs to be maintained!

And so, throughout history, has it continued. Dominic Bouck has referred to Judas as “[t]he worst sinner in Christian history”.[3]

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante places Judas in

the lowest region [of hell] and the darkest

And farthest from the heaven which circles all.

Dante depicts Satan as a great, giant monster who is half frozen in ice. He then places Judas (along with Brutus and Cassius) in the central of Satan’s three mouths, head first, where he is eternally gnawed upon while his back is constantly flayed by Satan’s claws.

Judas’ name continues to survive in shame and dishonor. I will let you all in on a little secret about Mrs. Richardson: she loves a good Dracula movie! I kid you not! And I love that about her. Recently, we were sitting at home and she started watching this kitschy version of the Dracula story called “Dracula 2000.” At one point in the movie, Dracula, played by Gerard Butler, reveals his true identity: He was none other than—you guessed it—Judas Iscariot!

Judas. A name that will (understandably) live in infamy!

Judas’ own motivation might have been some combination of greed, disappointment, and/or manipulation.

Why did Judas do what he did? To be sure, the scriptures do not take us deep into his psychology, but, again, there are clues.


I would like to argue that the strongest and clearest biblical evidence suggests that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus had something to do with greed. Judas’ relationship with money is referenced more than once in the gospels and the picture that is presented is not a flattering one.

We begin with our text and Judas’ probing monetary question to the chief priests.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary notes of the thirty pieces of silver:

The counting out of thirty silver coins calls to mind Zechariah 11:12. This amount was the price of a slave accidentally gored to death by an ox (Ex. 21:32). The identity of the coin is not specified, but a manuscript variant reading has statēr, the most common coin used for paying the temple tax…It was the equivalent of four denarii, so that a total amount is equivalent to four months’ wages, or about $5,000.[4]

What is most interesting, however, is Judas asking, “What will you give me…” That sounds like a man seeking a payday. And this idea is consistent with what else we know of Judas and money.

We find in John 13 a reference to Judas’ job as treasurer.

27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

So “Judas had the moneybag.” This sounds innocuous enough. Somebody had to do it! However, in John 12, more details are given about what kind of keeper-of-the-purse Judas was. In John 12, it is Judas who is incensed at Mary’s anointing of Jesus with the expensive ointment.

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.

There are a number of damaging pieces of evidence here.

  • It was Judas who protested the lavish gift of the expensive anointing.
  • It was Judas who rather quickly calculated the value of the ointment.
  • Judas was being disingenuous in his supposed concern for the poor.
  • Judas would steal money from the common purse.

The picture that emerges is of a greedy man, a calculating man, a man who was in it for himself. Frederick Dale Bruner believes that “when Matthew alone has this ‘what-will-you-give-me-for-it’ line…it becomes clear that in Matthew’s opinion greed joined hate as a motive in the Judas Plot.”[5]


There has also long been a theory that Judas betrayed Jesus because, ultimately, Judas was disappointed that Jesus was not who he thought he was. Normally, this idea is bound up with the theory that Judas was part of a violent, anti-Roman sect called “the Sicarii.” But caution needs to be exercised here. Sarah Pruitt writes:

Alternatively, others have suggested that the name Iscariot identified Judas with the Sicarii, or “dagger-men,” a group of Jewish rebels who opposed the Roman occupation and committed acts of terrorism circa A.D. 40-50 on behalf of their nationalist cause. But there’s nothing in the Bible to link Judas to the Sicarii, and they were known to be active only after his death.[6]

Like all conjectures lacking a clear defeator, this is possible, but we cannot know for sure that Judas was part of the Sicarii.


One final theory is rooted in pure conjecture about Judas’ psychological state. It is perhaps connected to the theory of the Sacarii, though not necessarily. In this theory, Judas assumed that Jesus’ was going to be a political Messiah who would throw off the shackles of Rome in an earthly rebellion. When, after three years, Judas did not see his assumptions becoming reality, he sought to force Jesus’ hand, to push Jesus out into the open, as it were. And, to do this, Judas manipulated an earthly collision between Jesus and the powers that be. In this theory, Judas did not actually expect his betrayal to lead to Jesus’ death. He expected it to lead to Jesus setting aside all of these strange notions about the Kingdom of God being for the poor and for children and taking up the sword. So, in this theory, Judas’ suicide was a result of his shocking realization that he (a) had misread Jesus and (b) had actually contributed to Jesus’ death.

Once again, this is conjecture. Furthermore, the scriptures do not offer any evidence for this. So we must tread carefully.

Whatever earthly motives Judas might have had, Satan was using him toward his own ends.

As far as what was going on “inside” Judas, the scriptures do give us some very helpful and very tragic information. In short, whatever earthly motives Judas might have had, Satan was using him toward his own ends. This, the scriptures make clear in a few different ways.

First, in Luke 22, we read:

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

Satan “entered into Judas.” This is a chilling picture. It must be made clear, however, that Satan entering into Judas does not mean “against Judas’ will.” Judas’ low character has already been established in the gospels. This was a cooperation, not merely a possession.

John 13 offers us two helpful pieces of information.

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him

The devil “put into the heart of Judas Iscariot.” This wording leaves more room for us to find Judas’ own free agreement with what the devil put into his heart! The devil put it there, but Judas did what he very much wanted to do! Then, later in John 13:

26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Here again, “Satan entered into him.” This raises an interesting question: Is there a distinction between “the devil put it into” his heart and “Satan entered into him”? Did the devil put the temptation there and, when Judas agreed, the devil moved in and took over?

Earlier in John, in John 6, the language is even harsher.

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Here, Jesus calls Judas “a devil”! This is reminiscent of Jesus saying “Get thee behind me, Satan” to Peter in Matthew 16:23. The difference, of course, was that Peter would ultimately repent. But there is a powerful point to be made here: When we do the devil’s bidding, we join our name to his! Shudder to make such an alliance!

Judas Iscariot. A tragedy.

We began with the legend of Jesus chained to a rock. We conclude with the following, recorded in Calvin Miller’s The Path of Celtic Prayer.

On the island Brendan [the first Celtic sailor] meets Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus! Judas explains that, by the mercy of Jesus, he is on the island for a brief respite from his never-ending suffering in hell:

“I am Judas, most wretched, and the greatest traitor. I am here not on account of my own merits but because of the mysterious mercy of Jesus Christ. For me this is not a place of torment but rather a place of respite granted me by the Savior in honor of his Resurrection.” It was the Lord’s own day. “It seems to me when I sit here that I am in the Garden of Delights in comparison with the agonies which I know I shall suffer this evening. For I burn like molten lead in a crucible day and night at the heart of the mountain which you see, where Leviathan lives with his companions. I have a respite here every Sunday from first to second vespers, from Christmas until Epiphany, from Easter until Pentecost, and on the Feast of the Purification and the Assumption of the Mother of God. The rest of the year I am tortured in the depths of hell with Herod and Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas. Therefore I beseech you by the Savior of the world to be kind enough to intercede for me with the Lord Jesus Christ that I may be allowed to remain here until sunset tomorrow and that the devils may not torment me, seeing your arrival here, and drag me off to the hideous destiny which I purchased with so terrible a price.” St. Brendan replied: “The Lord’s will be done. You shall not be consumed by devils tonight until dawn.”[7]

This is an interesting idea—that Judas is given periodic rest from his punishment—but one without any biblical warrant. A little later on in our chapter, Matthew 26, Jesus will say:

24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

The question of whether or not Judas went to hell when he died is actually debated to this day. For myself, I will simply say this: Jesus’ words about Judas do not sound hopeful and there is no evidence that Judas ever received Jesus in faith. And, if indeed Judas is in hell, he is without hope. The scriptures simply leave no room for the idea of any exit from hell, either permanently or temporarily, as in the legend above. Jesus’s words about Judas are most dire!

Heed the warning of Judas. Walk with Jesus in integrity. Love Him as Lord and God. Do not put your expectations on Jesus and then grow disillusioned that He does not conform to your image. Rather, let Jesus redefine your expectations and make them truly Kingdom-shaped. Let Jesus take hold of your heart and shape it into His own image.


[1] Umberto Eco. The Island of the Day Before (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), p. 466-467.



[4] Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen ed. Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.162–63.

[5] Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew. Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p.608.


[7] Calvin Miller, The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007), p.76.

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