As it’s Good Friday I am musing on one of history’s famous traitors and other often mistaken aspects of the crucifixion.
Firstly, every Good Friday preachers will usually refer to the darkening of the sun at twelve noon on the execution day as an eclipse of the sun. It wasn’t. Solar eclipses don’t last three hours. Totality is only for some minutes. So what caused the darkness?
Moreover, the crucifixion was at the time of the Passover Festival. This was always held near a full moon. It is scientifically impossible to have a solar eclipse when the whole of the Moon’s face is towards us as the Sun would be behind the Earth shining on the lunar surface. The moon has to be between us and the sun for an eclipse.
When Jesus was crucified a hardened Roman Centurion was moved to say, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It wasn’t just some sarcastic response to Jesus hanging there. He knew something strange was going on; as darkness is said to have covered the land for three hours.
So, what caused the darkness? Those that say it was just an ordinary eclipse still have darkness covering their minds. Perhaps they need the light from the Son? What puzzles me is why many people, including Christians, try to explain away the supernatural with natural occurrences. Surely, the fact that a man came back from the dead is the most supernatural and important thing? If we can accept that, then why can’t we seemingly accept other supernatural events without rationalising them? And that really is the crux of the Christian faith. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. If He did not, then all bets are off and you can throw the whole of the Bible and faith in God out of the window. But if He did, then everything is possible and real. He must still be alive today. Just think on that.
So to Judas: was Judas a traitor? Was he inherently evil or just misguided? I refer to Judas Iscariot who is described in the Gospels as having betrayed Jesus with a kiss on the Mount of Olives.
There have been many postulations of why Judas did this and his motives. I can add to those but what really arouses my interest is why was it necessary for him to betray Jesus and what drove him to so do?
John’s Gospel infers that as the treasurer of the band of disciples, Judas dishonestly misappropriated their funds but would that drive him to engineer Jesus’ death? I have my doubts.
Many think that Judas wanted to force Jesus into demonstrating his power against the Romans and that to me has some credence. My main reason for thinking this is the clue in his name, Judas Iscariot.
The word ‘Iscariot’ derives from the word ‘Sicarii’ which describes a group of rebels and assassins who used a special type of dagger. It comes from the Latin word ‘sica’ meaning dagger. In short, they were ‘Dagger Men’. Of course, some historians believe the Sicarii came a few years later but to my mind that does not negate the connection. When the Gospels were written, much later than A.D.33, it is reasonable to assume that the writers would label Judas as a rebel or terrorist by using the epithet ‘Iscariot’. Contemporaries would know what the writer meant.
For me, it’s a short step to believing that Judas was a member of one of the many secret organisations dedicated to overthrowing the Roman tyranny. In particular, this links him with the Zealots; zealous defenders of the Law and national identity of the Jewish people. They were the Sicarii. Did Judas have pressure exerted upon him to use Jesus for political purposes? Did the Zealots know of Jesus’ miracles and thought that if he was truly the ‘Messiah’, a warrior king, by orchestrating his capture he would destroy the Romans if he faced torture and death? It is quite possible that Judas’ political leanings would want him to bring the moment to the boil and that he completely misunderstood Jesus’ references to ushering in the kingdom of God.
So, we have a motive for Judas ‘betraying’ Jesus. However, why was it necessary to betray him at all? Why didn’t the Chief Priests and members of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) simply arrest him in the daytime in full view? Simply, they feared a riot and Roman punishment as a consequence. Even though his reputation was bigger in the rural areas than the town, Jesus was popular with many and the noisy welcome for him on his entrance into Jerusalem would have been noted. If he was to be taken it had to be at night in secret.
Now, at Passover Jerusalem swelled to probably 400,000 inhabitants; at least double the normal population. There was never room enough for all these people to find accommodation in the city. Therefore, certain areas were designated to certain tribes for them to stay and pitch their tents or shelters. The Galileans stayed on the Mount of Olives which was where Jesus and his disciples made their camp. It was very dark at night in those days, so trying to find one Galilean on the Mount of Olives amongst thousands would be like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
That’s where I feel Judas comes in. He was needed for the clandestine arrest to be made. Nevertheless, was Judas predestined to make his betrayal, or did God just use that event from human choice to help His own plan? I prefer the latter.
Judas was necessary for God’s plan to work so Jesus could become the sacrifice by which all other sacrifices were redundant. The Passover lambs, raised on the hills of Bethlehem, killed by slitting the carotid artery and then hung on wooden posts to drain their blood and die, would never again be necessary. The symbolism is inescapable. No need for many lambs. There was now only one ‘Lamb of God’.
One final thing that is worth considering. When Judas realised his mistake and that Jesus was not going to be the type of Jewish saviour he thought, he returned the thirty pieces of silver given by the Sanhedrin and committed suicide. Was that the act of an evil man or one who was so contrite he could not live with what he had done?
Judas made a mistake and was clearly upset by it. Nevertheless, don’t forget that Jesus warned ALL the disciples that they would desert him and they did. They ran away and even Peter, The Rock, denied him three times.
History has Judas damned for evermore as unforgivable, probably because he failed to rectify his mistake later like the others did. However, what do you think Jesus would have done if Judas had gone to the cross and asked him for forgiveness? That really was Judas’ biggest mistake in my view.
Remembering that Judas was one of the twelve called by Jesus, I rather like the legend about Jesus going to visit Judas in Hell just before the resurrection. Satan asks Him, ‘What are you doing here?’ Jesus replies, ‘I am here to see my friend, Judas.’
How many would refuse to accept the invitation of an offer to eternal life?
K. L. Freeman