22 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.
3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. 4 And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. 5 They were glad and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd.
We’re given another interlude with the religious men as they discuss how best to kill an innocent Man. It’s funny how such folks who were meticulous in keeping the more esoteric tenets and traditions of their faith could calmly sit down to discuss the best way to murder their rival without consequence. It’s a testament to man’s nature that with one mouth we can bless God and say all the right things in church, while at the same time acting in ways that betray our religious principles.
John goes a bit into their motives.
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”
They were desperately afraid that they would be displaced, that Jesus would lead a rebellion or that a rebellion would start to make Him the Messianic King and that Rome would put it down and destroy the Temple and the nation as a whole. So they planned pragmatically to kill Him and save themselves, their power, their Temple, and their authority. They believed they were doing good. In a bit of tragic irony, they would still lose all that they had sought to save by killing an innocent Man.
Those who seek to save their lives will lose them…
We’re introduced to Judas again, who (seemingly out of the blue) decides to betray Jesus. One of the things I find interesting is that the earlier gospels of Mark and Matthew don’t mention a supernatural element to Judas’ betrayal, while Luke and John do. Was this an added detail that developed later on as a possible motive and explanation as to why a disciple who had been close to Jesus would suddenly betray Him? Was it because the original motivations for Judas’ actions had been lost and people were wondering how such a thing was possible? Or did the earlier gospel writers not include it simply because it wasn’t relevant to their narratives?
And if Judas were possessed by Satan, how could he be culpable for his actions? Did Judas have an intent to do Christ harm and then the devil came on the scene and took charge? Was this ‘possession’ not possession as we understand it in our own cultural terms, but merely a supernatural influence perhaps giving the errant disciple the extra push needed to go forward with his plans?
We don’t know.
Ultimately, scripture condemns his actions and assigns culpability to him, so I assume he had some choice over his actions.
The motives remain unknown. John mentions money as a possible motivator, citing that Judas was a thief who took money out of their common purse. Though if money were the motivator, I would have expected him to walk away with a lot more. The Temple treasuries were full of gold and the priests would have been willing to pay much more. Perhaps he simply tired of being a poor itinerate disciple of a poor itinerate Rabbi who wasn’t spending His time amassing an army and planning for war so much as He was spending His time helping the sick, the needy, and the hungry. Having left all to follow Christ, perhaps Judas had lost faith and decided to leave Jesus, selling Christ to the priests for enough money to buy a small plot of land where he could settle and rebuild his old life.
Again, we don’t know. But like the story of the priests and holy men calmly contemplating murder, it’s fitting that this is here. The disciple, the one who cast out demons and healed the sick, the one who went on missionary trips through Galilee, calmly goes to the priests and offers up the head of his Friend and Lord. Holy men behaving badly. Religious men of the old ways and a religious man of the new ways conspiring together to murder.
Perhaps that’s why Satan is mentioned here too. An archangel becoming the chief devil. A high priest becoming a murderer. One of the twelve becoming a traitor. Evil covering itself in the clothes of piety.
We see it today too.
We may see it within ourselves. Perhaps not as bluntly. Our sins are probably not so spectacular as murder, betrayal, or fighting a war against God. But it’s easy to justify our sins when we cling to pious trappings.
Ultimately, it’s not what you believe that matters; it’s what you do that counts. Our actions define us. Our actions are manifestations of our beliefs. Our actions reveal the true us. They pull down the masques we cling to for a brief moment and define us.
Our intentions, our words, our beliefs, what church we go to, they’re a construct. If you want to know a man’s heart, look at what he does. Look at what he spends his time, resources, money, love on. Look at what he does.
Does that scare you? It does me. I’ve been raised in a religious tradition that says faith alone saves and encourages sinner’s prayers (sometimes weekly) and makes it very clear that in order to be saved, one must believe the correct things. I’ve defined my salvation by what creed I held. I’ve defined my salvation as beginning with a magic prayer said by a teenager 20 years ago. I’ve defined it by reading the bible, by praying, by all of the other trappings of Christianity.
I’ve never defined it by my actions.
Will my works save me? No. But they will reveal the truth of whether or not I believe in Jesus and believe that His life should be my life, that the Way He lived should be the Way that all men live.