What could have led Judas to betray Jesus into the hand of His enemies? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his sermon series in the gospel of Luke to consider the motivations behind this diabolical action and its place in the sovereign plan of God.
Today we will continue our study of the gospel according to Saint Luke. This morning we will look at Luke 22:1–6, then 47–53. I ask the congregation to please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 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. . . .
While he [Jesus] was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
This shameful record comes to us from Luke, who was superintended and inspired by God the Holy Spirit. The record carries the full weight and authority of God Himself. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we come to You humbled by this account and record of the treachery once performed against our Savior and our Lord. Help us this hour to understand what could possibly motivate such utter evil and wickedness, how we could find a reasonable explanation within our own hearts for this kind of diabolical behavior. We ask You to help us in our understanding of this text, that You by Your Spirit may apply it to our understanding, to our own conviction for our redemption. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Betrayed. What a brutal and ugly word that is in the human vocabulary. There are all kinds of ways in which we sin against God and each other, but when the word betrayal comes up, there is something sickening about it, and we respond to it in our gut.
We think of the Revolutionary War and Benedict Arnold, who is buried now as a hero in Westminster Abbey, given the perspective of the British side of the matter. We think of the name Quisling, who betrayed Scandinavia to the Germans in World War II, as a word that has become synonymous with this kind of deceitfulness and treachery.
The traitor of all traitors, who committed the most pernicious betrayal in the history of the world, was a friend and disciple of Jesus, Judas Iscariot, who sold his Savior for a handful of money. What I want to focus on about this matter is this question: Why? Why in the world did he do it? What so motivated Judas that he would commit one of the most treacherous acts in the history of the human race?
We can look at this from different perspectives. We can look at it from the worm’s eye view or from the bird’s eye view; from the proximate cause as distinguished from the remote cause; the near at hand explanation or the more distant view of the matter.
Betrayal for Money
We look first from the proximate perspective, and we can see two reasons that jump out at us to explain this dreadful deed. The immediate explanation we get was that Judas did it for the money. Before the Lord’s Supper took place, before he met with the rest of the disciples in the celebration of the Passover, Judas had already met with the chief priest, the scribes, and the Pharisees in secret.
Judas said: “Let’s make a deal. You want Jesus in a way that you can capture Him privately without spectators being gathered because of His popularity with the crowd. Why don’t we do it at night? Send us a battalion of soldiers. Come out under the darkness. I’ll make sure they recognize the One that they want to capture. This will be the sign: I’ll go up to Him and kiss Him, and then you’ll know He’s your man. Let’s make a deal.” The authorities responded, “How much do you want?” They offered him thirty pieces of silver.
Right before the gospel account of the prediction that Judas would betray Jesus is a short pericope of a woman who, out of extravagant love for Jesus, anointed Him with precious perfume. Some of the disciples protested this, saying, “What a waste of money this is; we could take this money and give it to the poor.” But Jesus blessed her and commended her for her love and affection. The perfume used to anoint Jesus was worth twice the amount of the thirty pieces of silver.
In the grand scheme of economy, the sum paid to Judas for betraying Jesus was paltry. It was nothing. After the deed had been done and Judas was overcome with remorse, he knew that it was nothing. He came back to the scribes and Pharisees and hurled those coins onto the ground, and in despair he left the room, left the money, and committed suicide. Thirty pieces of silver for the Pearl of Great Price, for the most precious jewel the world has ever known. He was bought and paid for with this thieves’ ransom of silver.
That is one reason we can look at to explain this act of treachery: Judas did it for the money. But I think we must look a little bit more deeply than that to get a greater perspective on what was taking place in this hour.
Betrayal with Satan
The Bible tells us that right before Judas committed this act, Satan entered into him. He was not simply harassed by Satan, but was literally possessed by the prince of evil. Satan entered into the inner core of Judas’ being, and he fired up the avarice and intensified the greed, as Judas would seek profit for his dirty work.
We can step back from that and say: “This is really an excuse for Judas. Like Flip Wilson used to say, ‘The devil made me do it.’ How can you hold poor Judas responsible for his behavior after Satan came into him and possessed his soul? Wouldn’t that exonerate him at the judgment seat of God?” No, no, no.
Satan found for himself a willing companion. Satan did not come and coerce Judas to perform the act. They were as much partners in crime as any partners ever had been. Judas acquiesced willingly out of the darkness of his own heart. He did not need to have Satan possess him; he was happy for that occasion. That is another possible explanation for why he did it.
Betrayal by Predestination
Let me give you a third explanation, not from the proximate view, but from the remote view; not from the worm’s eye view, but from the bird’s eye view; not from the near, but from the distant view. From the overarching, supernatural view, God Almighty eternally predestined Judas to carry out this act. If anything would seem to excuse him, it would be God’s sovereign activity in this entire drama.
Beloved, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the action of Judas was not an accident. It was planned from eternity. It was planned from the beginning. It was decreed by almighty God, and whatsoever God ordains must necessarily come to pass. As the Westminster Confession rightly teaches in chapter 3, God ordains everything that comes to pass, but not in such a way as to do violence to the will of the creature or to bypass secondary causes.
We see in the mysterious doctrines of God’s providence and concurrence this combining of choices between the human and divine to bring certain actions and consequences to pass. We think of the hours of Joseph with his brothers when they stood trembling before him, fearing the consequences of his wrath, and Joseph tried to put them at ease. He said: “Do you think I’m going to play God with you? No. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
From one perspective, we see that Judas committed the most evil action in the history of the world. From a different perspective, the most glorious deed ever performed on our behalf was the betrayal of Jesus Christ. Through that work orchestrated by God’s sovereignty, our salvation came to pass.
Judas was willing. He had his intention. His purpose was to strike at Jesus. God’s purpose was to redeem us through this very same act. We see the drama of the Old Testament exodus in the contest between the most powerful sovereign on the planet, Pharaoh of Egypt, and the even more sovereign One who inhabits the heavens. It was really no contest, there was no question of how the exodus would eventually work itself out.
Test after test, plague after plague, each time a plague occurred, Pharaoh would be distressed and inclined to say, “Let them go.” Then we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Who hardened it? God hardened it. Not because, as Luther understood, God would create fresh evil in the heart of Pharaoh that he would become more obstinate and rebellious against God’s salvific plans, no. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was to give him more rope, remove more restraint, and let him act according to his own character.
The Son of Perdition
What we have said helps in understanding the drama of Judas, who was not a victim of fate or whimsical providence by which God created fresh evil in his heart and forced him, against his will, kicking and screaming, to betray the Son of Man. No, betrayal was already in the heart of Judas.
Jesus would say at the Last Supper: “What you are about to do, do quickly. I know what you’re going to do, I know what you want to do. Go do it.” This appointment made from eternity was fulfilled by one whose heart was already desperately wicked.
Let me look at a passage concerning this in the gospel according to Saint John, where we get to the High Priestly Prayer in the upper room after Judas is gone. John 17:9–12: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name.”
This was the passionate prayer of Jesus for His disciples: “Preserve them, keep them, do not allow them to be lost. Teach them what you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except”—here is the exception—“the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
Jesus was, in effect, saying: “Not one of them has been lost except that one who is the son of perdition, that Scripture might be fulfilled. The passages of the Old Testament that predicted this one would betray Me. He was never saved. He was never converted. It was not like suddenly Judas lost his faith and turned to darkness to sell his soul. No, he was the son of perdition from the beginning, as the Scriptures told us.”
The Disciples’ Fear and Anger
Returning to the proximate view, we ask the question: Why? How could he possibly do this? Let me do a little speculation, looking back a short time before this moment in history. When Jesus was with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi in the northern part of Galilee, He asked the question, “Who do men say that I am?” They responded, “Some say that You’re a prophet, some say You’re John the Baptist,” and so on.
Jesus said, “Who do you think that I am?” and Simon gave the great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was a great day, that was a wonderful confession, and Jesus responded, “Simon, thou are Petros, the rock, Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, because, Simon, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” It seemed like a great day for Simon.
Seconds later, Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “Gentlemen, we’re going to Jerusalem, and when we get there, I’m going to be betrayed into the hands of My enemies, and I’m going to suffer and die.” Simon spoke again: “May it never be. It cannot happen. No way, Jesus.” Instead of calling him the rock, Jesus looked at Simon and said, “Get, behind me Satan.”
Jesus called Simon the devil. He heard the voice of Satan, just as He heard it in the wilderness, trying to detour Him from our redemption. Satan offered a way to escape the suffering and death required in the atonement, and Jesus said: “Simon, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re voicing the theology of Satan.”
Just a few days later, three of the disciples bowed at Jesus’ glory at the Mount of Transfiguration, the most glorious revelation He gave to His disciples during His earthly ministry. While Jesus was being transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared, and they conversed with Him. What did they talk about? They talked about what was waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem. When the cloud vanished and the glory subsided, Jesus looked at His friends and said: “Let’s go. I’m setting my face toward Jerusalem.”
What do you think the disciples were feeling? Every step they took between Galilee and Judea, their hearts were pounding in fear. Their minds were dazzled by confusion: “How could this be? We’re going to Jerusalem?”
What do you think Judas was thinking? I am speculating, I admit. You know what I think motivated Judas more than anything else to betray Jesus? Unmitigated anger. He was furious: “This isn’t what I signed up for. I didn’t leave my lucrative business to go to Jerusalem, following somebody who is going to be executed as a criminal.”
What was in Matthew’s mind? “I was lining my pockets with the fees from the Romans raising taxes, and a stranger came up to me one day and said, ‘Follow Me.’ I left everything for what, so we could go to Jerusalem and have Him betrayed and killed? James, John, Andrew, Peter, we had it made in our businesses when He came, stopped us in our tracks, and said, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ and we went. We were sure He was the Messiah. He was the One who would come and drive the Romans out, liberate us, and now He says we’re going to follow Him to His death.”
Anger and Pain
I do not think that most anger arises out of pain. I think it all does. If somebody punches you, it makes you mad. If somebody disappoints you, it makes you mad. If somebody frustrates you, it makes you mad.
Look at a little baby, with his little tinker toy, his little board with square pegs and round holes. You see this baby, seemingly infinitely patient, taking the mallet and trying to pound the square peg into the round hole. He does it and does it, he smiles and smiles, and after about a minute of that, he throws the mallet, kicks the stool over, gives into his frustration, and starts screaming. It hurts him to fail.
Failure, pain, disappointment, and frustration give rise to anger. I believe Judas’ anger reached a crescendo with every step he took toward Jerusalem: “I’m not going to be a part of this.” When they arrived, went to the preparation for the Lord’s Supper, and sat down at the table, Jesus said, “One of you is going to betray Me.”
What did the disciples do? One by one they went around the room: “Is it I?” “Am I the one?” “Lord, is it I who will betray you?” What does that tell you? They were as caught up in the web of confusion and frustration as Judas was. They did not know whether they were going to make it.
Matthew was looking at himself and thinking: “I hope He’s not talking about me. Maybe He is.” The one whom Jesus loved said, “Not me Lord, please.” They did not know. Do you know, when push comes to shove, whether you will stand with Jesus or love this world more? One by one, they each asked the question. The only one sure it would not be him was Simon, but we must deal with that question later, because his confidence was not valid. Judas said, “Is it I?” Jesus said: “Yes. Go, hurry up. Get out of here.”
Jesus Will Never Betray Us
I have met tens of thousands of people in my lifetime, but I have a list of four names that represent people that I sorely wish I had never met at all. What do they have in common? They were all not just my friends, but close friends. The other thing they have in common is they all, every one of them, betrayed me. Every one of us has been betrayed by friends, and every one of us has betrayed our friends.
We know when it comes to Jesus, Judas, and the disciples that Jesus was John’s Savior. Jesus was Matthew’s Savior. Jesus was James’, John’s, Andrew’s, and Peter’s Savior. Jesus was Nathaniel’s Savior. Jesus was Thomas’ Savior. He was not Judas’ Savior, but He was Judas’ friend.
Even in the darkness of the night of betrayal, when Judas approached Him, he called Him “friend,” and Judas, with his agreed-upon sign, gave Jesus the kiss of death. They came with clubs, swords, and lanterns, and they arrested Him to take Him to His trial. Judas watched them go, his lips as frozen as ice after he kissed the Son of Man goodbye.
Beloved, Jesus said this: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. If you’re My friend, do what I tell you to do.” You and I know that there are a thousand ways in which we have betrayed Jesus by not keeping His commandments; by not willingly participating in His suffering, affliction, and humiliation; by seeking escape from the scandal that is the stone of stumbling to the world in Jesus.
Never once has Jesus betrayed me, and never once has He betrayed you. God grant by His grace that, when push comes to shove—and it will—we who belong to Him will stand.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.