Traitor is an ugly word in any language. Few people who are more despised than those who betray country, cause, or trust. The most infamous traitor in American history is Benedict Arnold. When passed over for a promotion and seeking money to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, Arnold offered to surrender the key fort at West Point to the British, but Arnold’s plot was exposed, and he fled to the British and fought against his own countrymen. He died in exile in England scorned by Americans and British alike.
The most notorious traitor in Scripture and in all human history is Judas Iscariot. Judas was one of the closest followers of our Lord. He heard the greatest preaching in history, saw scores of eye-popping miracles and observed the only sinless man who ever lived. Yet Judas betrayed Christ to His death, revealing the depths of evil to which the human heart can sink.
In this passage, we watch Judas’ betray Christ (18-30). Jesus wanted to make sure that the rest of the disciples knew that He was not a surprise victim of Judas’ treachery. Jesus was not caught off guard, nor would His omniscience allow Him to be a poor judge of character. He deliberately chose Judas that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Jesus quoted from Psalm 41:9 written by David probably referring to Ahithophel, who betrayed David. Both traitors committed suicide.
Jesus warned about covetousness; Judas continued to steal. Jesus’ preached about unbelief; Judas kept rejecting the truth. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet, but Judas’ hard heart did not yield. God sovereignly “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11) and He used Judas’ evil plans to bring about redemption. Jesus’ statement in verse 20 seems disconnected from the context. But the Lord makes this statement to His disciples to reassure them that Judas’ betrayal was known to Him and would not lessen their credibility as His ambassadors in the world.
Jesus became “troubled” in His spirit. The Greek word here describes severe mental or spiritual anguish. It is the word used to describe the disciples when they saw Christ walking on water (Matthew 14:26) and when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias while he was ministering in the temple (Luke 1:12). Jesus was undoubtedly troubled by the fearful fate that awaited Judas, by the presence of Satan who would possess Judas, by the sin-bearing that awaited Jesus the next day on the cross. Jesus’ human emotions convulsed at all of this.
It is a tribute to the effectiveness of Judas’ hypocrisy that none of the other disciples thought it was Judas that Jesus was referring to. Mark’s gospel records that they began to say to Jesus one by one, “Surely not I?” (Mark 14:19) Peter asked John to ask Jesus for specifics. Jesus spoke softly so the others would not hear. The morsel was a piece of unleavened bread dipped into the herbs and vinegar along with the crushed dates and figs. To receive the morsel was to be singled out for a special honor. Jesus showed kindness to Judas up to the very last moment, but Judas spurned this act of love as he had other similar gestures for the last three years. Satan entered him, which could not have happened unless Judas granted him admission. Christ was about to administer the first Lord’s Supper and He would not have it marred by Judas and Satan’s presence. Judas left and “it was night.” That speaks of more than just the time of day: Judas left the Light of the World and stepped into everlasting darkness.
But then we also see Peter’s denial of Christ (31-38). In this section, Jesus viewed His death in terms of the glorification that would result from it. Through the cross, God’s glorious nature was put on display–His wisdom, power, justice, mercy, and love. Christ’s death purchased salvation satisfying the righteous demands of God’s justice. Jesus’ glorification meant that He would have to leave His disciples, but eventually they would be reunited. In the meantime, they were to have a new kind of love for one another, a self-sacrificing love for one another that Jesus had and would demonstrate. Throughout history people have identified themselves as followers of Christ by various external marks, such as special clothes or even distinctive haircuts. Today it might be done with jewelry, wristbands or bumper stickers. Those are not necessarily wrong, but they are merely outward symbols. In verse 35, our Lord gives the true testimony of Christ-followers– love for one another. Orthodoxy is important, holiness is critical, but love is our true calling card.
Peter couldn’t let Christ’s earlier statement slip away. Where was Christ going and why couldn’t Peter come along? Then Peter made a foolish boast–”I am willing to die for the Christ and the cause!” “Peter’s intentions and self-assessment vastly outstrip his strength” (Carson, p 486). Jesus predicted the coming reality of Peter’s faltering commitment. Before cock crows you will deny me three times. But that was not the end of the story for Peter; Jesus would not let him slip away after his failure – Jesus found him and restored him (John 21).
In conclusion, we see that Judas is the ultimate example of lost opportunity and wasted privilege. Spiritual opportunities are squandered if we are preoccupied with our own agenda. Jesus is ever patient in reaching out to individuals with His loving-kindness. But Satan is always at work to steal the hearts of those who vacillate in their commitment. Peter’s denial serves as a reminder to all of us that the profession of our commitment will be tested. We should be humble in our self-evaluations and continually ask God for grace.