Holy Week culminates with Easter, the greatest feast of the Church year.
We began the week with Palm Sunday. For most Christians the next important day during this time is Maundy Thursday. However, the Gospels also include accounts for intervening events for the first half of the week, some of which are covered in my past posts:
Monday of Holy Week: Jesus and the money changers — Jesus displayed righteous anger in the Temple courtyard (Matthew 21:12-13)
Tuesday of Holy Week: the High Priests plot against Jesus — The proximity of events between Jesus’s raising Lazarus from the dead and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday put the Jewish hierarchy on high alert. The Jewish people were amazed by what Jesus had done and many more began to follow Him spiritually, whilst others believed Him to be a political Messiah. The High Priests therefore concluded that Jesus threatened their own standing in Jewish society on a number of levels. They decided that it was time for Jesus to be quietly arrested, as this was also Passover week (Mark 14:1-2) and Jerusalem was full of pilgrims. The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus to be quickly put to death.
Wednesday of Holy Week: Spy Wednesday and More on Spy Wednesday — The Jewish leaders had spies circulating around the Temple whose job it was to find out more about Jesus’s whereabouts after He finished preaching and to find someone who could betray Him. As we know, Judas offered his services for 30 pieces of silver. These days, Wednesday of Holy Week is the day when Catholic bishops, with parish priests in attendance, celebrate a special Chrism Mass during which the oil to be used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Sacrament of the Sick and Dying is blessed for the coming year.
Looking ahead to Maundy Thursday: Some churches will be holding a special service with a particular ritual at the end. If you have never attended a Tenebrae service, please read this first.
Two materialistic men — Judas and Barabbas — featured in the story of Christ’s death. Barabbas was born into a religious family of social standing but was seduced by crime and activism. His reputation was enough for the mob on Good Friday to clamour for his release. If he were alive today, we would know him as a community organiser and a proponent of liberation theology.
Judas was in love with money. It was he who during Jesus’s three-year ministry was in charge of the money bag for Him and the Apostles. It was he who objected when Mary, Martha and Lazarus’s sister, anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive spikenard (John 12:1-8). Emphases mine:
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6He 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. 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Let this be a warning to us about people using the poor as a special personal crusade when they are really out to enrich themselves. Often, these people, who may be working for activist agencies or in the public sector, do very well financially whilst doing nothing for the poor.
So, when Judas — an opportunist — saw the chance to make a few months’ salary on the side with 30 pieces of silver from a guaranteed source, he took it. He loved money more than he loved Jesus.
The imprecatory Psalm 109 indirectly prophesied Judas’s betrayal in the New Testament, as King David in the Old Testament prayed for the total vanquishing of his greatest enemy — perhaps Doeg the Edomite or perhaps Ahithophel, who joined in Absalom’s (David’s son’s) revolt against him. Others believe it was Saul. In any event, Psalm 109 is known as the Iscariot Psalm. This is because Peter cited it in Acts 1:16-20 when he spoke retrospectively of Judas:
16“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20“For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
“‘Let another take his office.’
The first citation about the camp is from Psalm 69 (verse 25) and the second from Psalm 109:8.
Jesus, being all divine and all human, knew that one of His own would betray Him (John 6:70-71) and called Judas a ‘devil’:
70Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?
71He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.
In John 13, after Jesus washes the Apostles’ feet before the Last Supper, Jesus cites Psalm 41:9, which also concerns David lamenting the actions of his enemies. That Psalm is about Ahithophel. Absalom had turned against his father David. Ahithophel joined Absalom in this rebellion. Psalm 41:9 reads:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
Note Jesus’s words in John 13:16-20 after the foot washing:
16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Returning to Psalm 109, the character of Judas has horrified and disgusted Bible scholars since the Crucifixion. In ‘The Treasury of David: Psalm 109’, the great confessional Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon reviewed theologians’ quotes from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Spurgeon first explains why Peter said what he did in Acts:
So used were the Jews to look upon these verses as the doom of traitors, of cruel and deceitful mind, that Peter saw at once in the speedy death of Judas a fulfilment of this sentence, and a reason for the appointment of a successor who should take his place of oversight. A bad man does not make an office bad: another may use with benefit that which he perverted to ill uses.
Then Spurgeon draws from his ‘Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings’:
In this psalm David is supposed to refer to Doeg the Edomite, or to Ahithophel. It is the most imprecatory of the psalms, and may well be termed the Iscariot Psalm. What David here refers to his mortal enemy, finds its accomplishment in the betrayer of the Son of David … — Paton J. Gloag, in “A Commentary on the Acts,” 1870.
We may consider Judas, at the same time, as the virtual head of the Jewish nation in their daring attempt to dethrone the Son of God. The doom pronounced, and the reasons for it, apply to the Jews as a nation, as well as to the leader of the band who took Jesus.—Andrew A. Bonar.
Nor does David imprecate these punishments so much on his own enemies and Judas the betrayer of Christ; but that similar punishments await all who fight against the kingdom of Christ.—Mollerus [Heinrich Müller].
This Scripture (Ps 109:6-20.) also greatly helped it to fasten the more upon me, where Christ prays against Judas, that God would disappoint him in all his selfish thoughts, which moved him to sell his master: pray read it soberly. — John Bunyan
St. Jerome says that Judas’s prayer was turned into sin, by reason of his want of hope when he prayed: and thus it was that in despair he hanged himself.—Robert Bellarmine.
When we consider of whom this Psalm is used there will be no difficulty about it. No language could be more awful than that of Ps 109:6-19. It embraces almost every misery we can think of. But could any man be in a more wretched condition than Judas was? Could any words be too severe to express the depth of his misery—of him, who, for three whole years, had been the constant attendant of the Saviour of mankind; who had witnessed his miracles, and had shared his miraculous powers; who had enjoyed all the warnings, all the reproofs of his love, and then had betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver? Can we conceive a condition more miserable than that of Judas? And this Psalm is a prophecy of the punishment that should overtake him for his sin. S. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, quotes part of this psalm, and applies it to Judas: he applies it as a prophecy of the punishment he should suffer on the betrayal of the Son of God. It is probable that in this psalm, when it uses the word children, it does not mean those who are his offspring by natural descent, but those who resemble him, and who partake with him in his wickedness. This is a common meaning of the word sons, or children, in Holy Scripture. As where our blessed Lord tells the Jews, Ye are of your father the devil, he could not mean that the Jews were the natural descendants of the devil, but that they were his children because they did his works. Again, when they are called Abraham’s children, it means those who do the works of Abraham. So in this psalm, where it is foretold that fearful punishment should happen to Judas for the betrayal of his Lord, and should be extended to his children, it means his associates, his companions, and imitators in wickedness.—F.H. Dunwell, in “A Tract on the Commination Service,” 1853.
The Revd P G Mathew, pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, discussed Judas in ‘The Failure of Materialism’, taking as his text Matthew 24:1-10. (Mr Mathew earned his theological degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).)
Jesus Delivered to Pilate
1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over toPilate the governor.
Judas Hangs Himself
3Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
First, what is a materialist in a theological context? Mathew tells us:
A materialist is one who believes that the universe is all there is. Such a person believes, therefore, that there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no angels, no devil, no demons and no moral absolutes. A materialist is only concerned with a life of maximum pleasure and the means to achieve it. What is the materialist’s motto? “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, like beasts, we will die.” A materialist may even affirm some faith in God in theory but in practice a materialist lives as if there is no God.
Many who affirm Christian creeds live as materialists. We see a number of such materialists in the Bible.
I’ll have more on modern-day materialists later this month, by the way. They abound in our churches.
For now, back to Judas:
Judas was a materialist, and, sadly, he was not changed in any way by his close association with Jesus. After three years he remained a materialist. During the time he walked with Christ as an apostle, Judas never stopped looking for power, position, and, above all, lots of money. He exhibited the nature of an antichrist, a son of perdition. Jesus even referred to this in his high priestly prayer (John 17:12, KJV), and in John 6:70-71 Jesus called him a devil. Why? Judas was an unbeliever.
Now I am sure Judas was excited when Jesus chose him to be treasurer of the group. Why? He knew he could then steal from the monies deposited with him. We read about this in John 12. He became extremely annoyed when Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume to show her love for him. Judas wanted Mary to give him the cash so he could pilfer it and enrich himself. Judas himself did not love Jesus ...
Matthew 16:21 tells us, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
At Jesus’ announcement the hopes of Judas were dashed. Who needs a suffering Messiah, a Messiah who was only destined be killed? So Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemies for thirty shekels of silver. Judas would do anything to make a buck.
Judas had second thoughts once he fully realised what the the Jewish leaders — the Sanhedrin — were going to do. The Sanhedrin wanted to move quickly in charging Jesus with blasphemy then achieving a death sentence by appealing to Pilate, as only the Romans could issue this type of sentence. So, Judas became filled with remorse and a tortured mind. However:
if you read the Greek text you find that Judas’ actions were not true repentance. He was merely emotionally disturbed. The Greek word used for Judas’ behavior is metamelomai , which means remorse, not metanoeo , which means repentance. Remorse is pain of mind, not change of mind. Remorse is due to fear of punishment or loss of a blessing, as it was in the case of Esau (Heb. 12:17). Judas “repented,” but it was just remorse and not true repentance …
The remorse of Judas is what we call attrition, not contrition. Attrition involves self-reproach, depression, the smiting of conscience, a feeling of guilt, loneliness, a fear of punishment, self-pity, and so on. But contrition involves three components. The first is our mind. We must know that sin is wrong and we must change. The second is our emotions. We must have godly sorrow and a profound hatred for sin. The third is our will. We must decide to turn from sin and turn to God in faith. True repentance, in other words, is a whole-souled activity. The person who repents will truly forsake his wicked ways and turn to the Lord with his mind, soul, and will …
The repentance of Judas was not like the repentance of Peter, who also had failed and denied the Lord. Peter had godly sorrow and wept bitterly. Jesus had prayed for Peter, and then sought him out to restore him. But although both Peter and Judas failed, only Peter truly repented and was restored. And we must note here also that Judas confessed only to the high priest. He never confessed to Jesus and asked for his forgiveness. Had he done so, I assure you, Jesus would have forgiven all his sin. Jesus never drives out any person who comes to him in faith.
Judas ended up a lonely man, alone with his moral and spiritual emptiness. It drove him mad and the only way he could alleviate the void was through suicide. He went from bad to desperate to worse, ending up with the death of his soul, the second death.
Judas, the materialist who wanted to gain all, lost all. He was a loser. He lost his money, his ministry, and his life. He lost the fellowship of Jesus and his apostles. He did not inherit eternal life. He went to his own place of torment. And finally, he lost his new-found fellowship with the Sanhedrin also. When he confessed, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood,” he was declaring that Jesus was absolutely innocent. In effect, Judas was preaching to the Sanhedrin by that statement, and they could have even then repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. But they did not. They had no use for Jesus and no use for Judas … Remember how he left the upper room to betray Jesus? In John 13:30 we read that it was night. For three years Judas walked with Jesus, who was the light of the world, but Judas had been walking in darkness, not in light. So now he went out into the darkness to betray Jesus. It was a lonely journey. Later that night in the garden of Gethsemane he betrayed the light of the world by a kiss. He had aligned himself with Christ’s enemies, but now those enemies told him, “If you sinned, it is your responsibility. You take care of it.”
Let Judas’s last moments serve as a warning to those who crave money, influence and acclaim at the expense of goodness, truth and eternal life. Mathew describes what happened:
… he went and hanged himself. The rope broke, and his large corpulent body fell headlong, burst open and his intestines spilled out, as we are told in Acts 1:18. From the height of constant fellowship with Jesus, Judas fell into the nadir of wretchedness. As his final act of unbelief he violated the sixth commandment and committed suicide. Thus, Judas demonstrated his utter rejection of the gospel he had heard Jesus Christ preach and that he himself had preached.
Incidentally, Mathew tells us that the name ‘Judas’ is from ‘Judah’ and means ‘praise’. How ironic and how sad that someone with such a beautiful name could end up in total disgrace.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, getting promoted and accumulating money. However, when we start to love money and ambition more than we love the Lord, we have a problem. We become materialistic. And if we attend a church where the Cross and Resurrection — the ultimate signs of Christ’s selfless love for miserable sinners — are not preached, we are likely to become shaky in our spiritual direction and obedience.
Sometimes we become trapped in our own mistrust of Christ which then turns into too much introspection — without yielding repentance.
There are a lot of broken souls and broken hearts in the world. Some are hostile, some are sad, some are cynical and some are worldly. Today’s Church may do little to nothing in relieving the pain. It’s up to each of us to take that step, to approach Christ humbly and with contrition to ask His forgiveness and then to turn our hearts towards Him in repentance.
We won’t always have this chance. One day, it will be too late. Let’s make sure it won’t be so for us.