My Minority Report on Judas Iscariot

Posted on 2024-03-28
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Today is the commemoration of the Last Supper and an anniversary, of sorts, of Jesus’ betrayal by His disciple, Judas. (Once, when my kids were little, I pointed to a carving of The Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci at the back of the Church as we left and asked if either of them knew what that was. My little daughter immediately responded that it was, “The First Feast.” I started to correct her, but caught myself…for she was literally correct – but I digress.)

Most believe that Judas was simply a grifting thief who had lost his faith. I have a different point of view. If my interpretation is correct it significantly illuminates what the heart of Judas’ sin was – which is different than what we usually think. It serves as a vital warning to each of us in these times. Finally, it fits all the facts involved in Judas’ betrayal into a seamless, coherent narrative.

I was always bothered by Judas’ suicide after Jesus was taken. If he had lost his faith and no longer believed in Jesus, why would he commit suicide after the betrayal? What did he expect would happen other than what actually did? It is possible, but quite unlikely, that he would react in this fashion with such cynical, disillusioned malice in his heart.

I think that Judas was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and his faith was unaltered. But I also think Judas, like all Jews of his time (including John the Baptist until shortly before his death) expected the Messiah to be a great political and military leader who would overthrow the Romans and restore the state of Israel to greatness. After over three years of traipsing around the desert and preaching to increasingly large crowds, who nonetheless were still just a tiny fraction of the whole population of the area, Judas wanted to get this show finally rolling. So he acted to force Jesus’ hand, to create a set of circumstances where Jesus would finally have to reveal His mighty power. I believe Judas thought his actions would finally spark the revolt he so longed for. That would explain why he committed suicide – because things did not work out at all as he had expected. It would also explain why, after Jesus told him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” at the Last Supper, Judas departed so eagerly to finish the betrayal. If he thought this would spark the overthrow of the Romans, his warped sensibility might have even interpreted this as Jesus’ tacit approval of his intentions.

If this is an accurate summary of the motivations involved, Judas’ fundamental error was not greed, nor malice, nor even loss of faith. If he was, indeed, a zealous believer, Judas’ fundamental sin was to take a little knowledge and a vast misunderstanding of what the Messiah’s actual aim was and then substitute his own judgment for the Master’s. It was neither cynicism nor greed, but vanity and hubris. It was when his plan blew up in his face that Judas went into despair and lost his faith, now believing his actions had cost the life of an innocent man who had no real power. Judas’ very zealotry made it impossible for him to see beyond his own petty, temporal expectations. Even though he believed fervently that Jesus was the Messiah, Judas also thought this Messiah was something of a rube who did not know how to kick off a revolution properly. So he substituted his own intentions for those of Jesus, intending to force the Master’s hand to behave as Judas wanted him to.

How often, when we pray, is it an effort to bind God to our will rather than an effort to more fully know and submit to His will? This is not a caution against invocatory prayer: I often pray in such a manner myself. But when I do, I always end the prayer by saying, “I thank you for hearing my prayer, Lord. Thy will be done.” That is in recognition that I do not know what is best, but do know that God does – and humbly trust that He will do what is best, regardless of my deficiencies and misunderstandings.

It has always annoyed me that the main reason many people want to hear prophecy is so that, by getting some “inside information,” they can kick God to the curb and make their own plan. When I was at the height of public controversy I spoke of the “Storm” that was coming. While approving prudent preparations, I warned people against making huge, elaborate preparations because they were a vain, pitiful effort to outwit God. Yet some people spent more than they could afford on such things and then, when the storm was delayed, blamed me for their improvidence. Why do so many put so much stock in what God is purportedly saying through mystics with so little concern about what His plan is? It is a vanity – and a very dangerous one.

We all want to make a plan. God has a plan. It is not a human plan. If you follow even approved prophecy with the intent of devising your own plan without reference to God’s intent or His plan, you commit the sin of Judas. It is not an effort to draw closer to God, but an effort to outwit Him. It leads to despair and a potter’s field.

I take solace in the last line of my favorite Psalm, the 27th. It is wise counsel for all on how to walk with the Lord, rather than restlessly trying to get ahead of Him.

“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”

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John Daniel Davidson maintains that we cannot maintain the blessings of liberty and prosperity a Christian ethos bestows while abandoning the faith. Nor can we avoid the depredations of slavery and tyranny paganism always brings while embracing a pagan ethos. His new book, Pagan America: The Decline of Christianity and the Dark Age to Comegoes into detail far beyond the scope of his marvelous essay in The Federalist on the subject.

I disagree with him on one point. Though things will get far worse if we do not recover our Christian moorings, the new dark ages have already begun. But fear not. God has a plan. The question is, will you seek to discern and submit to God’s plan or will you waste yourself in a vain effort to rally God to your plan?

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Whenever I quote the Psalms or, for that matter, most wisdom literature from Scripture I use the King James translation. It is unsurpassed in the power of its poetic language.

After having read an abundance of different translations of the Bible, I came to a greater appreciation for the accomplishment of the translators King James set to work in the very early 1600’s. Anyone who knows more than one language knows that the toughest thing to translate is poetry. Usually, you either keep the literal sense of the work while mutilating the poetry or keep the poetry while garbling the literal sense. Amazingly, the King James translation does honor to both without doing violence to either.

For a long time I joked that the only thing I had against the King James translation was the books it omitted from the canon in order to be a Protestant work. Then, while going through San Antonio during my pilgrimage, I discovered that the central San Antonio library has a genuine first edition King James Bible on display. I had to see it. To my astonishment,  behind the glass case, the Bible was open to the Book of Tobit – one of the seven Old Testament books Protestants eliminated from their canon. The original King James translation DID include all the books, though it grouped the seven books edited out to a section called the “Apocrypha.”

I asked one of the librarians how long that original King James Bible was on loan to San Antonio. He told me that it was not on loan, but belonged to the library. I asked if he knew how much it cost them, for it is a rare edition, indeed. He replied, with a grin, that it cost nothing. The man said that they found it during an expansion of the library. When busting out the wall to an old, unused room, there it was. They submitted it for authentication, cleaned up the dust and grime that had accumulated on it, and have it on permanent display. But at that time in 2011, they still had no clue how it got there or was originally acquired.

I guess my primary objection to the KJV now is that the original, at least, did not maintain all the books in their proper, canonical order. But they are all there in the original, even if the KJV you can buy at a store does not have them any longer.

If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim

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