Judas Iscariot is a name which lives in infamy. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, Judas has been known primarily for his betrayal of of the Christ. Scholars have surmised why Judas would betray Jesus; why he would hand Him over to the Jewish religious leaders with a simple kiss. Some think he did it because he began to understand that Jesus was not the type of Messiah he wanted. He wanted a warrior king, but Jesus, much to Judas’ dismay, had other plans. Perhaps he knew what was coming and did not want to be caught in the middle of it; therefore, he decided it would be safer if he aligned himself with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe he did it just for the money.
No matter what his motivation may have been, Judas turned Jesus over to the religious authorities. However, in majestic sovereignty, God used the actions of Judas (which were prophesied hundreds of years prior) to complete the purpose of Christ’s incarnation — to be the wrath bearer for our sin resulting in God’s mercy toward us.
But what was Judas like before the Passion week? What kind of man was he? Why is there not much said about him? The answers might be surprisingly simple when we see what the Bible says and does not say about him. Apparently, Judas was like the other disciples. He followed Jesus and listened to His teachings. He showed a devotion to Jesus just as the others did, and Jesus chose Judas to be a disciple (distinguished from all the other followers or students of Jesus). We do not read of any protests from the other disciples or the crowds concerning the selection of Judas. He seemed to fit right in with the rest of the motley group, and maybe that was his best (and worst) attribute.
Just One of the Guys
Judas Iscariot means “Judas from Kerioth,” a village in the southern part of Judea. He was the only disciple from that part of the territory. The rest of the disciples were from the northern area of Galilee. Surely, there had to be some minute cultural differences, but those are never brought up in Scripture. The disciples knew each other’s background, but from what we can observe, none of them brought up the “southern heritage” of Judas.
Judas appeared to be a trustworthy individual. John tells us that Judas was responsible for carrying the money bag (John 12:6; 13:29). No one objected at the time, although we find out that Judas was stealing from it (John 12:6). We know Judas preached the good news with the other disciples, and most likely faced persecution for his preaching. So why wasn’t more written about Judas? Because there was nothing extraordinary about him. He fit in, he was one of the guys, he did what they did, and he seemed like a responsible and upright guy. However, Judas was wearing a mask the entire time. He wasn’t who he seemed to be. But certainly, someone like that would have no chance of swaying or influencing what the disciples thought or did, especially the inner circle of Peter, James, and John…or would he?
Getting the Whole Picture
By using parallel passages, we are able to see different aspects of a single event. We observe other viewpoints and can even see progression in a story. There is perhaps no greater story to see the influence of Judas than that of Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany.
“…a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor,’” (Matthew 26:7-9, ESV).
Notice who was complaining. It was the group of disciples. Matthew does not leave anyone out (which had to be very humbling for him since he was writing about an event in which he participated). “The disciples saw it, they were indignant, they were saying.” All the disciples were indignant, grieved, and afflicted by this event.
“…as He was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her,” (Mark 14:3-5, ESV).
Mark records that only some were complaining and saying this to themselves. They were only thinking this, but their internal thoughts soon became verbal as they spoke to one another, and then this culminated in their scolding of Mary for her “waste.” So, what we see from the two passages is that only some of the disciples simply began thinking about what Mary had done. Then, those who were thinking began to speak, which led to all the disciples contemplating and eventually complaining. But where did all of this begin?
“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. 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?’” (John 12:3-5, ESV).
And there it is. John points out that it was Judas who started it all. He asked a simple, practical question, and the disciples listened to him. They thought about what he asked, and then they ran with the idea. Notice, Judas did not initially say the ointment was “wasted.” Although implied, the wording happens later. It seems the concept evolved in their discussion. At the time, they did not know Judas was only out for himself. Remember, he fit right in. Yet, one man — an unbeliever in the midst of believers—was able to influence some, and then all the disciples with a simple suggestion to the point where they all scolded one of their best friends (and probably frequent hostess) for her selfless act of worship. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch? I think it can do a lot more than that.
The Judas Effect Today
What does the “Judas Effect” look like in our time? It could be a number of things. It could be an unbeliever (who looks, talks, and acts like a believer) who suggests a course of action so he can directly benefit from it. Perhaps it is the thought that we need to give our best to something or someone other than Christ. It could be someone who makes us question Christ’s worth. It might be the idea that our ministries are more important than worship. Maybe, it is the person who has incredible knowledge of Christ, who has experience in Christian ministry, yet he is constantly criticizing others.
Could it be that we have been influenced by a “Judas” in our own lives? Have we been swayed to believe that our compassionate ministries are acceptable in spite of our lack of worship? Maybe we’ve been influenced to believe that our wants take precedence over anything else. Or worse, could it be that we are the ones who start the complaints? Maybe we are the ones who feign compassion in order to be noticed. Maybe we minister only to reap some benefit for our pride. Perhaps our negativity is the contagion in our churches. Could it be that we are the ones responsible for the Judas Effect?