Judas Iscariot had accompanied Jesus from the beginning of His ministry—a witness to countless miracles and awesome power. A close friend . . . a trusted companion . . . and, for just a few month’s wages, the perfect snitch.
I imagine Matthew’s otherwise steady accountant’s hand trembling with deep-seated emotion as he scratched his candid account of the ultimate betrayal onto the page of his Gospel: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matt. 26:14–16, ESV).
For centuries Christians have pondered the Wednesday of Passion Week as “Spy Wednesday,” when Judas, like a shifty-eyed double agent, took steps toward stabbing His Savior in the back. Yet if the accounts of Jesus’s works in the Gospels are accurate, how could that brilliant light of his miraculous ministry fail to drive out the darkness of Judas’s in-grown soul? The modern mind can conceive of a whistle-blower sounding the alarm on a charlatan. But on a genuine miracle-worker the likes of which the world had never seen? Unthinkable!
Because of the inconceivable contradiction between what Judas witnessed and what he did, in recent years some have attempted to rewrite Judas’s reputation as the quintessential turncoat. “Perhaps Judas was just trying to force a show-down between the Almighty King and the corrupt Empire. Yeah, that’s it. He knew Jesus was the God-Man, the long-expected Messiah, Israel’s deliverer. He was just trying to manipulate circumstances that would allow Jesus to finally break out of His humble Rabbi ruse and take care of business. Oh the confrontation and victory would be glorious!”
Or maybe Judas accidentally stumbled into the role of unwitting victim of political manipulation. He found himself stuck between his zeal for Israel’s political future, his faithfulness to the old system, his fear of the Roman authorities, his understandable irritation at the opportunistic and self-seeking disciples, and Jesus’s wishy-washy messianic claims. “Poor Judas had been victimized by the clever authorities taking advantage of a man at his wits’ end. Poor Judas was at the wrong place at the wrong time—a circumstance that would turn any normal person into either a villain or a hero. His coin just landed on the wrong side. Surely he couldn’t have intentionally handed over the King of kings!”
Why these attempts at reconsidering Judas’s motives?
Because the alternative is unthinkable. Consider: if a hand-picked member of the Twelve could turn his back on Truth incarnate, why wouldn’t any of us do the same? Judas’s betrayal exemplifies the reality of humanity’s depravity. If an eye-witness could turn traitor, what keeps us from following suit?
Let me be the first to confess it. My Christian life has all the ingredients of a Judastic collapse. And so does yours. The warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12 should call us to attention: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” You see, I have no doubts about whether or not I can withstand the barrage of trials and temptations leveled against me from the flesh, the world, and the devil. I am completely confident that left to my own strength, I will follow Judas in his meteoric plummet. I know that in some dark, musty closet of my life—unvisited for months by God’s cleansing breathe—some toxic black mold spreads along the walls. Like Judas, the mold’s poison can easily cultivate in my heart until the viscous spores consume every chamber of my life.
Yet the astonishing contradiction, the incomprehensibility of Judas’s tragic fall drives us to a glorious truth. Our security lies not in our own strength, but in the power of God who seals us by His Spirit and vows never to forsake us (Eph. 1:13–14; John 14:16–18). In light of Judas’s unthinkable betrayal on “Spy Wednesday,” we must cling to that unshakable promise that our Lord will keep us from stumbling (Jude 1:24). Indeed, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38–39).
When we ponder the unthinkable, then the words of Robinson’s classic hymn become our own: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.”