Satan Entered Judas: The Great Betrayer, part 1

“So he appointed…Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
Mark 3:16a, 19, NRSV


Of all the characters in the Gospels, few stand out like Judas Iscariot. It isn’t because he is as verbose as Peter can be nor is it because he stands out like James and John. Whereas most of the disciples fade into the background behind Peter, James, and John, Judas doesn’t because of what he does to Jesus. In each of the Gospels the first thing that is said of him is that he was the one who betrayed Jesus (Mark 3:19, Matthew 10:4, Luke 6:16, John 6:71). Being a traitor is his claim to fame and to this day his name used to describe someone who acts as betrayer.

The Gospels do not give us very many glimpses into who Judas really was. But what is interesting to see is how Judas develops over time as we move from the earliest Gospel to the latest. It is upon that issue that this series of posts will focus.

JUDAS ISCARIOT IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK

We aren’t told in the Gospel of Mark how Judas came to follow Jesus. He isn’t called like Peter, Andrew, James, and John are (Mark 1:16-20). Nor is he sitting at a tax booth and hears the words “Follow me” come from Jesus lips as Levi heard (2:13-14). It isn’t even clear that the first mention of “disciples” (Greek, mathétés) in Mark’s Gospel includes the group we typically consider to be Jesus’ core disciples (2:15). Rather, the first time we see Judas named it is when Jesus ascends a hill and “called to him those whom he wanted” (3:13). Out of that group, he appoints twelve “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (3:14-15). The last one to be listed in the series of twelve names is “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (3:19). We learn two things about Judas from those few words.

First, Judas is given the surname “Iscariot,” a word that likely means “man from Kerioth,” a village in the southern region of Judea. [1] If this is the meaning of “Iscariot,” then it is an interesting part of the story. In fact, it may mean that Judas was part of a group of people from “the whole Judean countryside” who had gone to see John the Baptist and were baptized by him (1:5). Perhaps it was there he first encountered Jesus. Admittedly, while this is a plausible scenario, it is purely speculative.

Second, Mark describes Judas as hos kai paredōken auton – “the one who also betrayed him.” The verb rendered as “betrayed” in the NRSV is paradidómi, a compound word that stems from the Greek preposition para and the verb didómi, “to give.” Ceslas Spicq notes that paradidómi is in the New Testament became “a technical term for Jesus’ passion” and while it “is to be taken first in its legal and judicial sense,” it also “conveys…a moral or psychological nuance and a theological value.” [2] Spicq writes,

The verb rather often also connotes this nuance of criminality: desertion to another camp, breach of sworn faith, betrayal of someone’s trust. It is certain that the first Christians saw Christ’s crucifixion less as an atrociously painful form of torture than as an ignominy and a result of perfidy. To say that Jesus was handed over, then, means that he was betrayed. [3] 

As we will see, when Judas Iscariot appears in Mark’s Gospel it is always associated contextually with some form of paradidómi though not every instance of paradidómi is contextually associated with Judas.

Passion Predictions

Before Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in 11:11, he makes a couple of statements that predict what will happen to him when he gets there.

First, as Jesus and the disciples pass through Galilee on their way to Capernaum he begins teaching them: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed [paradidotai] into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” (9:31). Jesus doesn’t say who will betray him, only that he will be betrayed. Mark then comments that “they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). Since the “they” refers to the disciples of 9:31, Judas must have been included.

Second, while on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and tells them what will happen when they get to the city: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over [paradothēsetai] to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over [paradōsousin] the Gentiles” (10:33). So he will first be handed over to the chief priests which takes place when Judas leads the chief priests and scribes to Gethsamene in 14:43. And then the chief priests and the scribes will hand Jesus over to “the Gentiles.” This takes place in 15:3 – “They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over [paredōkan] to Pilate” (cf. 15:10, 15:15).

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Once Jesus and the disciples reach the city, all that Jesus had predicted begins to happen. It all begins to go downhill after he enters the temple and begins to kick out the merchants and their customers from the temple (11:15-17). Once the chief priests and the scribes get wind of what he did they begin to look for a way to kill him, “for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching” (11:18). The religious authorities begin confronting Jesus to question his authority (11:27-33), seeking to arrest him but refraining because of the crowds (12:12).

Two days before the Passover, the religious authorities begin to plot a way to quietly arrest Jesus and kill him (14:1). “Not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people” (14:2). Meanwhile, Jesus and the disciples are in the home of Simon the leper where he is anointed by an anonymous woman (14:3-9). At some point, Judas leaves the group and returns to Jerusalem where he meets with the religious authorities “in order to betray [paradoi] him to them” (14:10). They are thrilled with the prospect and promise Judas payment in exchange for his cooperation. From then on Judas “began to look for an opportunity to betray [paradoi] him” (14:11).

Another Passion Prediction

On the evening of the Passover Jesus shares a meal with the Twelve. While they are eating, Jesus interrupts with one hell of a conversation starter: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray [paradōsei] me” (14:18). The disciples are distressed by this prediction and they each ask Jesus who will do it (14:19). But Jesus doesn’t give them any specifics – “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” As they were all “dipping bread into the bowl” with Jesus, that piece of information doesn’t help the disciples figure out about whom Jesus is speaking. But Mark’s readers know!

Jesus also says of the one who would betray him, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai]! It would have been better for that one not to have been born” (14:21). This is an interesting statement from Jesus because on the one hand it implies that what is about to happen to Jesus was already set in stone (“the Son of Man goes as it is written of him”) yet the one who plays his part in bringing that about would have been better off never coming into existence!

“The Betrayer”

At no point in Mark’s narrative are we told when Judas leaves to lead the religious authorities to Jesus. He either does so right after the meal or right before Jesus goes to pray in Gethsemane. My personal feeling is that he does so right before they get to Gethsemane since Jesus being in that area would have allowed the chief priests to arrest Jesus quietly (see 14:1). Interestingly, the Gospel of John records that Judas left Jesus after he had dipped bread into a dish and had given it to Judas (see John 13:26-30). How he knew where Jesus would be is not made clear by John.

As Jesus goes into Gethsemane he tells his disciples to wait for him while he goes to pray (14:32). He then takes Peter, James, and John and tells them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake” (14:33-34). But they fail to stay awake not once, not twice, but thrice! (14:37, 40-41). After the third time he catches them sleeping, Jesus says, “Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai] into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer [paradidous] is at hand” (14:41-42). As he speaks to Peter, James, and John, along comes Judas and with him the religious authorities and a crowd armed with swords and clubs (14:43).

For the rest of Mark’s Gospel the character of Judas Iscariot does not appear. Mark strips Judas of his name and the last thing he is called in the Gospel of Mark is ho paradidous – “the betrayer.” Judas has gone from one of the men closest to Jesus to one who gave him up to the religious authorities. Judas had told the chief priests that whoever he kissed was the one that they wanted, and so Judas approaches Jesus, addresses him as “rabbi,” and kisses him (14:44-45). Jesus is then arrested and led away (14:46).

There is nothing more said about Judas Iscariot. We have in Mark neither the Matthean scene wherein Judas throws his blood money back at the priests and then hangs himself (Matthew 27:3-10) nor the details of Judas’ demise offered by Luke (Acts 1:15-20). His story ends in Gethsemane with a kiss. It is abrupt and it is haunting.

Next Time

In the next post in this series we will continue our analysis of Judas Iscariot by examining how he is portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew.

ENDNOTES

[1] Edwin D. Freed, “Judas Iscariot,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 395.

[2] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendricksen Publishers, 1994), 21.

[3] Spicq, 21-22.

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