John 6.67-71 (rethinking Judas Iscariot And His Sin)

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67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

Throughout Christian history, the Jewish people as a whole were often charged by the so-called Christian majority with the charge of deicide (the killing of God). One of the side issues in this type of accusation against the Jews is the Christian connection of the Jews with the person of Judas Iscariot. Although Jesus had two disciples called Judas, the fact that the name of the one who betrayed him was connected with Jews and Judaism, added oil to the fire of anti-Jewish sentiment. You can probably see why. Judah/Judas, Judea and Jews are etymologically connected. Even such giants of Christian thought, like St. Augustine, understood Judas Iscariot to be the symbol of all Jews. Consequently, John’s Gospel was also reinterpreted to be an anti-Jewish document instead of an inner Jewish one (Read “He came unto His own”). The character of Judas Iscariot was also misread in an effort to fit the textual facts into this anti-Jewish theory. So much so that in most languages that were influenced by Christianity, the word Judas became synonymous with the word “traitor.”

Unlike the Gospel of Judas (a later work written in the name of Judas) which portrayed Judas as the truest disciple of Jesus and a hero, I see him in an opposite role. I suggest that Judah/Judas was not guilty of the sin he was charged with (betrayal for money), but he was indeed guilty of something far worse. Please, let me suggest an alternative to the traditional theory.

I think that there is a good argument to be made for Judas Iscariot being a former sucarii; the dagger-related movement that was known for killing Jews who endorsed Roman occupation with the help of a dagger in the populated city squares. In other words it is possible that Judas in his pre-Jesus days was a member (as were at some point several other members of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples) of an ultra-zealot movement that was not unlike the modern Al-Qaida. The name Iscariot is of unclear origins and may mean several things including being connected to the sucarii .

When Judas consistently saw Jesus making what he felt to be all the wrong steps to bring about a Jewish revolution against Romans and their Temple poppets, he grew restless. He continued to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who would free Israel from oppression (he witnessed majority of his miracles!), but disagreed with him as to how he was going about it. Remember he betrayed Jesus at the time of Passover celebrations. Make no mistake about it, Passover was the traditional time for starting Jewish revolts. Everyone, including Judas, knew that. He also began to implement his plan only after he saw Jesus being anointed by a prostitute. What pushed him over the edge was Jesus’ insistence that this story would  be told for many ages to come and to all nations. This hardly fit the vision that Judas had for Jesus’ mission.

The word to betray does not indicate the usual charge of selling for 30 coins of silver. The Greek word simply means to hand over. The risk of being considered the betrayer of Jesus in Galilee was disproportionately high (given Jesus popularity there) compared to the payment Judas would have received from the Temple in Judea. My point is that he did not do what he did for money. What Judas tried to do, being fully convinced of Jesus’ divine powers, is this: he thought that when the arrest would be attempted, the long-awaited revolt would finally begin. Jesus would have to show his power. God would finally intervene and Jewish land would be liberated. It was a deeply religious desire that drove Judas to his actions.

If I am right in my reconstruction, the sin of Judas was not the “selling of Jesus” to the Temple authorities (betrayal for goods like money), but the much greater sin of seeking to force Jesus’ hand so he would obey the will of Judah. Therefore, Jews should not be associated with Judas as they often are in a Christian anti-Jewish view. Judas’ plan failed miserably. Jesus did not resist arrest (though his former zealot disciples attempted to do so). He was crucified instead. Judas was overcome with despair when he saw his leader crucified. For Judas, committing suicide was therefore a fully logical response to the events he set in action.

When people stand against God’s will, resisting it and forcing God’s hand, they commit the terrible sin of Judas. It is the absolute opposite of how Jesus taught Judas to pray: “Your will be done… on earth as it is in haven.” May none of us become guilty in the same way as Judas. May His will be done.


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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. phillip

    I’m afraid I must totally disagree with this much speculation on the motives of Judas Iscariot as it contradicts the implied words of Scripture that he was a thief who carried the bag of money. He seemed rather fussy about the funds thereof.
    Another pertanent question here: why on earth did our Lord call Judas a devil, when no other human person in the entire Bible is ever called such?

    Ok, please allow me to jump off the cliff in heresay here and argue that Judas was not as human as we like to think he was that. As I believe that Paul personified Judas as “The Lie” in thessalonians 2: 11, and by connecting him with the same title which Jesus used of Judas: “the son of perdition.”

    Then we have John 8: 44 where this apostle said of Satan: “When he lies, he speaks out of his own( own what: his son), for he is a liar and the father of it( father of what: “The Lie”.

    This then refers us back to Acts chapter one where we see these apostles still dealing with Judas.
    There we are told in verse 20 that David had prophecised in Psalms 69: 25 that Judas would not be laid in any grave.
    And in verse 25, we are told that they prayed for the Lord to show them who will replace this malefactor with another more worth “That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own (idos) place.”

    I believe that peculiar and most unusual place for humans would be the prisonhouse of fallen angel, the bottomless pit. From which the very same apostle also testified that he, the man with the beastly character would come stepping up out of that bottomless pit in these last days.

  2. Kat Hobaugh

    I am wondering if Judas was still under the old covenant (since Jesus had not died or risen yet). If so the penalty for the shedding of innocent blood would be death. Makes me wonder if hanging wasn’t suicide, but rather the right thing to do (and nobody else cared) under the old covenant? I am still stuck on who the one doomed to destruction is? I thought Jesus didn’t come to condemn? Thanks for the article Dr Eli, you always make me think and I enjoy thinking.

    1. Susan W

      Whether it’s the old covenant or the new, according to the Bible, Judas didn’t shed anyone’s blood. Where in the “old covenant” does it state that committing suicide by hanging is the “right thing to do”? “Thou shalt not murder” includes yourself. The one “doomed to destruction”, the only, “son of perdition” is Satan not Judas.

  3. RamonAntonio

    A note of excuse: IPad IOS for some reason changes written text after it sends it for publishing. Most errors appear after reading the post and are not evident before submitting them. Please excuse.

  4. RamonAntonio

    Even though I don not concur with some of the most important assumptions and premises of this article, the basic conclusion is indeed illuminating and opens far reaching implications for meditation and prayer for interfaith relations and for Christians.
    As far as I have been able to study, the evidence for the existence of a supposed revolutionary movement that “killed” Jews who responded to Roman occupation is very scarce and the possibility of such movement of even existence is cast in heavy doubt bymany. I tend to concurr with this position. Roman domination was an absolute statement of presence. A Roman garrison headed by centurions was one of the most formidable SWAT forces of history. It is simply a great “tour de force” to try to justify the existence of armed assasins oposing a Roman occupation. The consequences of such existence had been proved wrong by the corpses of all implicated in such actions in previous nations that daredto oppose Roman occupation in those times including revolts and the supposed people to be liberated. The time of Jesus was mostly a time of tense peace, but peace after all. Recorded protests in those times were not armed but political statements to be negotiated. Anything beyond that met with a Roman answer… Death.
    However, I do concur with the peroposal that John was indeed a very Jewish Gospel, that Judas sin was not necesarily a sin of treason but a political maneuver with the Jewish priestly elite, that the money was a payment for “profesional services” and that Judas immediately understood the significance of his betrayal and lostall hope of forgivance. We have to admitthat. Not only Judasbetrayed Jesus but everyone begining with Peter. Only John, the youngest, the darest and the most loved persisted in accompanying Jesus in his trial and surprisingly he was never confronted with being a supporter of Jesus. Was it posible that by some unknown or unwritten clue John was almost acting as a Paraclete of Jesus in his trial and thus not questioned?
    All of this is open to further debate not less by the far reaching consequences of this otherwise very interesting article.

  5. Susan W

    There is no doubt that the possibility of Judas being involved with the “sucarii” and the zealot movement sheds light on this event. Further research into the sucarri, I’m sure, would be interesting as well as research into the origins of the name, Iscariot. The name Judas is diffinitely synonomous with “traitor” but wasn’t it prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver and that the potter’s field would be bought with it? The Bible also makes reference to one of Jesus’ other disciples by the name of Simon, the “Canannite” (a Zealot) Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of Man, Son of God, chose both of them to be His disciples and knows the end from the beginning. The only thing that doesn’t fit with this picture of Judas being part of this dagger/zealot movement is Matthew’s account that says he “repented himself..” returned the silver “and went and hanged himself”. I think it was too dangerous for other parties involved to have allowed Judas to have lived. I believe his supposed hanging and subsequent “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts) was an act of murder. It’s been believed that the “ones” who helped with his “suicide” was the chief priests and elders who couldn’t risk their popularity with the people if it was found out that they actually paid to have Jesus betrayed by one of his own.

  6. gustavo vargas angel

    Anyway, about Judas, I think who he was the only one in understanding the true mission of Jesus here on earth, besides he could have awaited a warrior savior(like Maccabee or Bar Kochba, perhaps)like else people in Israel in those days; I mean, because his education(translator, from a tycoon family)with no despite of other apostles. It could be the cause of his “betrayal”, when understood the deep meaning at all. And I am not justifying, but trying to undertand.

  7. Dolores Luthi

    I am impressed by the knowledge printed here of Judas Iscariot being a member of a society maybe somehow described as a modern Alquaida. This description of his possible membership caught me off guard. I thought all the disciples were teenagers. Guess my thinking of teenage occupation is offbase, not at all like how I grew up. Things are beginning to shape my thinking in a different place and manner, learnng about the culture then as compared to as now.

    1. Dolores Luthi

      Guess I should say the information in these articles are beginning to have an effect on how I think about what was happening at the time of the Crucifixion.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        We all are learning together, Dolores. Learning never ends.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think normally people do not think that they were teenagers, but not often do we think of some of his disciples as former zealots.

  8. Peter Michael Thornber

    As ever, many thanks for an astute post which provokes thought and prayer.

    I must say I’ve never made a connexion between Judas and any communal Jewish guilt [which, in any case, runs counter

    a) to the doctrine of original sin which, surely, would make all of humanity guilty and see any attempt to fob this off as passing the buck as originated by Adam when he passed the blame onto Eve.

    b) to Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them” echoed by Stephen).

    I’m sure, as an infant prodigy, I read in the Fifties in the Yorkshire Post, always warmly supportive of both the state of Israel and of Leeds’ own Jewish community, a report that King Saud had accused the Jewish people of inherited guilt for the killing of Jesus. Hardly a reliable commentator on either Christian or Jewish theology!

    Theologically, the Crucifixion is a sin of which we are all guilty, its causation being traceable back to Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. But it is also and infinitely more importantly the means whereby we are redeemed. Thus the recent controversial reinvention, anticipated by Borges in his Three Versions of Judas, of Judas himself as a martyr.

    In addition to Pilate’s passing hand washing and hand wringing and passing the buck, when Judas is filled with remorse and goes to the chief priests and elders, they shrug him off.

    So he is not the exemplar and representative of the Jewish people ; he is, rather rejected and alone. That is his real tragedy; that and that he does not think of repentance.

    And in drawing up the indictment against Judas, we must consider other disciples such as Peter who is so revolted by the idea of Jesus’ foretelling His Passion he protests, only to be rebuked by Jesus in the strongest terms: “Get thee behind Me, Satan”, who takes up the sword to defend Jesus and yet, in the High Priest’s palace denies Him.

    Horribly compromised as he must have been, Caiaphas is prophetic when he says of Jesus that it is meet that one man should die for the people. Otherwise, the scene shifting between Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate is a continuation and swelling of the confusion glimpsed in the darkness and gloom of the Garden where Jesus is,to all intents rejected and alone which is part of His Agony and His Glory.

    And at the same time, He is not alone. in His self-manifestation of the Messiah as Suffering Servant Jesus is the exemplar and representative of the Jewish people and the human race.

    Just as with Caiaphas’ proclamation of Jesus as propitiatory scapegoat, so too the exclamation of the Jewish people may be seen as positive.

    Of course John’s Gospel is not an anti Jewish document. Rather it is a meditation in which the thunder of Boanerges has become light at last.

  9. Fred Aguelo

    I am intrigued by your interpretation of events but it does make a lot of sense. I too believe that Judas wanted a Messiah that will free Israel from Roman oppression. He probably did not understand the Gospel taught by Yeshua and prophesied by Isaiah and King David. Indeed it is a great sin to desire the fulfillment of one’s will rather the Father’s.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes. This is my take on it and has been for over 10 years :-).

  10. Kat Hobaugh

    You make a lot of sense about Judas having a connection to the sucarii and that he was an ultra-zealot. I am wondering why you believe Judas thought Jesus was the Messiah. He called him Rabbi. He did feel remorse and guilt for the shedding of innocent blood. What would the word Messiah meant to Judas?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think he believed Jesus to be the Messiah in the sense of someone who will free Israel from foreign oppression and bring long-awaited spiritual renewal to the people of Israel. Calling him a rabbi does not mean, that he did not also believe him to be something greater than that.