Whenever someone does the unspeakable, neighbors and acquaintances nearly always seem to say, “he seemed like such a nice person, I would never have dreamed he’d be capable of this kind of thing.” So it was with Judas Iscariot. He was possibly the most talented man among the twelve apostles. Judas spoke with wisdom and forethought, unlike the brash Simon Peter. Judas was exceptional at money management; it was Judas, not Matthew tax-collector, who was the treasurer among the apostles (John 12:6).
Most telling of all: when Jesus predicted His betrayal, not one of the apostles suspected Judas (John 13:21-29). “He seemed like such a genuine disciple,” they might later have said, “we would never have dreamed that he would betray the Lord!” A number of sobering lessons can be learned from the tragic life of Judas:
Some people sin against more opportunity than others — Judas was an exceptionally blessed man. He had a good name (“Judas” means “praise”). He was gifted with people, and had tremendous financial ability. Judas also spent three and one-half years of his life with Jesus. He heard the Lord teach, he witnessed countless miracles, and he was trained in evangelism by Jesus Himself (cf. Luke 9:1-6). The lesson? Tremendous blessings also carry tremendous responsibility (Luke 12:48). We are to be stewards, not merely consumers of blessings like our time, talents, abilities, opportunities, and material things. Where God sees great potential, the devil sees great opportunity; Judas likely sinned against more opportunity than any man who has ever lived.
Religious activity does not necessarily translate to transformed character — Judas was as close to Jesus as one could be, and yet he still lived and died a hypocrite. One can be involved in many good works, and still be apostate in heart (cf. Jn. 12:6). Jesus once asked, “why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). It is possible for Christians to live a lie — professing to be close to Jesus while our hearts are far from Him (Matt. 15:8ff).
How we see Jesus makes a difference in how we live — Judas seems to have wanted Jesus to be a national redeemer — an earthly King to conquer the Romans and restore the glory of Israel (Jn. 6:15ff). When Jesus’ proclaimed mission did not meet Judas’ expectations, Judas was disappointed and disillusioned (Jn. 6:60-71). How Judas saw Jesus was one of the reasons for the betrayal — Judas might have been attempting to “force” Jesus to use His power against the Romans and start a Jewish revolution at the Passover feast (cf. Luke 22:47-53). Likewise, how we see Jesus today makes a difference in our lives. Some want Jesus to save them, but bristle at the thought of Him controlling every facet of their lives (Luke 9:23). We might be more like Judas than we would like to imagine!
Someone could tell us the truth and we could still destroy ourselves — Jesus knew the conflict in Judas’ heart, and the Lord continually tried to help him redirect his priorities by speaking truth to him (cf. Jn. 6:70-71; 12:1-8; 13:18-30). Significantly, when Peter was reprimanded by the Lord he repented (cf. Matt. 16:21-23), but when Judas was confronted with truth he resented it (cf. Jn. 12:1-8). It takes more than merely hearing the truth to be right with the Lord! James called those who hear but don’t do, “self-deceived” (James 1:21-27). Judas’ tragic life teaches us the danger of nearness to truth — if we fail to live it, we eventually become impervious to it! —JB