Character Profile: The Disciple Judas
“I am telling you the truth: one of you is going to betray me.”
If you knew that someone was going to betray you, would you invite them to dinner?
Jesus knew about Judas Iscariot, and still welcomed him to the Last Supper, a final meal with his friends. Judas was no mere acquaintance; he was one of the twelve disciples, part of Jesus’ team, the treasurer. They traveled together, worked together, did life together. Ate together. In that time a shared meal was more than a social convention, it was a sign of warmth, friendship and acceptance. And at this meal we’re told Judas and Jesus sat close enough that they dipped their bread in the same dish.
All the while, Jesus knew Judas would betray him.
You only need to look at popular culture to know about betrayal. Whether its Shakespeare writing “Et tu, Brutus?” in Julius Caesar, or Taylor Swift singing about “Bad Blood,” betrayal is a powerful ingredient in the stories we watch and the songs we sing.
And you only need to be human to know the devastating pain of betrayal. It’s a powerful ingredient in our own stories too. The parent who walked out on your family and didn’t once look back. The mentor who exploited your time and your talent for their own agenda. The colleague who stole your ideas, used them for their own professional advancement. The love of your life who walked away with your closest friend, stealing your happily-ever-after. Yes, we know how betrayal feels.
Perhaps that’s why Judas emerges as one of the most intriguing figures in the story of Jesus’ Passion. We know what he did—leading the authorities to Jesus’ secret hangout so they could arrest him without a crowd of fans in the way. But why? Judas knew Jesus in a way we can only imagine. Judas saw Jesus’ love and compassion in action. He saw miracles with his own eyes, heard Jesus’ teaching first hand. Judas was a disciple; one of the team. So why would Judas betray Jesus?
Through the years, various writers have tried to answer that question. Was Judas a revolutionary who expected Jesus to lead an armed rebellion against the Romans? Did he betray Jesus out of disenchantment, or in an attempt to force Jesus to fight back? Or was Judas plotting with Jesus to make the crucifixion happen? If so, was Judas just a pawn in a divine scheme? (Some of Jesus’ later comments would challenge that theory.) Or was Judas just in it for the money (John’s gospel notes that the team treasurer had already been embezzling funds)?
We’ll never know what was going through the betrayer’s mind as he was excused from the Last Supper and stole into the night. Still, we’re left with this surprising and frankly uncomfortable fact: Jesus knew Judas would turn against him. Yet Jesus invited Judas to share a final meal with him anyway.