Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

180 Judas and the Chief Priests (Matt. 26:3-5; 14-16; Mark 14:1 ,2, 20, 11; Luke 22:1-6)*

"Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover." Was Luke writing with a pen dipped in irony? They called it Passover, but with their evil intentions it could be no true Feast of the Lord. The true Passover that weekend was the deeply religious rite—"this passover"-which Jesus kept with his disciples (Lk.22:15).

And unleavened bread was to be a pointed reminder to all Israel of the uncorrupt life before God to which the entire nation was called.

But now was the time, so Jesus ominously reminded the twelve (including Judas!) when "the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified" (Mt.26:2RV).

It was with such portentous words that Jesus again prepared the minds of his disciples for what lay ahead. His hour was come, and-fully instructed by the Holy Scriptures—he knew it well, but it is very doubtful whether they did, even though their Master had made persistent efforts (Studies 150,151) to prepare their minds for the faith-shattering events which must soon come to pass.

"The Son of man is being betrayed", he said. Then, at that very time (so the next verse insists) the chief priests and scribes were meeting unofficially at the high priest's palace, and not in their normal place of meeting, the Hall of Unhewn Stone. It was a hand-picked assembly. Wracking their evil brains, they conferred how they might remove this troublesome prophet of Galilee. Men like Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Joseph of Arimathea, had not been invited.

Not long before this, Joseph Caiaphas had roughly thrust his point of view at the Sanhedrin. "Ye know nothing at all," he had said, offensively expressing his dislike of the Pharisee-dominated council which normally gave him little co-operation, "neither do ye consider that it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (Jn. 11:49,50).

And now, at last, they had all come round to his point of view. The devastating arguments of Jesus and his withering censure of their hypocrisy had made converts of them all-to the ruthless policy of a scheming high-priest.

Recent events had frightened them. The tumultuous acclamation of Jesus by the Galilean pilgrims, his high-handed assumption of authority in the temple, his easy parrying of their dialectic as though they were so many brash undergraduates, and his blazing white-hot anger at their religious impostures, had made it painfully evident to the most cautious of them that Jerusalem, and indeed all Jewry, must soon make its choice between him and them. Vested interests were in peril. Jesus had hurt their most sensitive spot. So "they sought how they might take him by craft (s.w. Gen.3 :1 Dt.27:24 LXX; ls.53 :4) and put him to death".

But how? Ah, there's the rub! A review of past moves against this mild Galilean gave little cause for satisfaction or self-congratulation.

Past efforts against Jesus

There had been a campaign against his cool disregard of the tradition or the elders about Sabbath-observance; yet he had discredited them all and had ruthlessly exposed the utter hypocrisy of their position-and this before the multitudes. A dead loss! (Mk.2 :24 and 3 :2; Jn.5:16and9:16).

A different line of attack showed greater promise, and for a while they had plugged away with dogged pertinacity. 'Miracles? Yes, of course he works miracles!' Who would dream of doubting it? But, can't you see, the explanation's obvious-he casts out devils because he himself is possessed by the biggest devil of all; he casts out devils by the prince of the devils; isn't it clear that the man is out of his mind? '(Mt.9 :34 and 10 :25 and 12 :24; Jn.7 :20 and 8 :48,52 and 10 :20). But the irresponsible lunatic had turned on them and exposed the flimsy illogicality on which their blasphemy rested, the crowd meanwhile laughing at their discomfiture and marvelling at the deft use of such quick rapier-like mental powers.

It was no good. To meet this man head-on was to invite further trouble. They must work behind his back. So they had begun a nasty whispering campaign about his origins. That would put the brake on the progress of his campaign, for what Jew would find room for a Messiah born of fornication? (Jn.8 :14,16,19,41,46,48; 9 :29). But in reply, this Jesus had dared to return the charge against them, the nation's holy men. They, and not he, were the false children, disowned and cast out by the God of Abraham, whilst he could assert with confidence his origin not only from a pure and holy woman but also from God Almighty Himself! And, in proof, he challenged them to find one single sin in all his life (Jn.8:33-47).

What could they do against an adversary of such calibre and character? Their resort to physical force ended only in futility and puzzlement. For when they sent the temple guard to arrest him, these police returned empty-handed, inviting their own dismissal with their openly-expressed admiration of him (Jn.7 :45,46). And when they themselves, simulating holy indignation, had taken up stones to batter him to death, he had somehow vanished or hidden, and the chance was gone (Jn. 8:59 and 10 :31,39).

A renewed frontal attack by a guards brigade of Biblical experts had been sent reeling back. Even the cunning attempt to embroil him with the Romans over the ticklish question of tribute to Caesar had been quietly and easily parried, and they had finished up feeling foolish and quite unable to hide their mortification (Mt.22:46).

By this time it was patent to the Pharisee majority in the Sanhedrin and to every priest in the cabal of Annas that this Jesus must go. It was he or they! And if desperate measures were needful to save for them "their place and their nation," then in the name of God let desperate measures be taken.

But again, what or how? Whatever was done must be done quietly, for the Romans were nervous about the excitability of the Passover crowd, and only a few days ago this most recent pilgrim invasion of Jerusalem had shown an exasperating enthusiasm for this unmessianic Messiah. So, at all costs, not on the feast day. One speaker after another insisted on this—not because it was a feast of the Lord, but for the sake of their own skins! Nor must the thing be done openly with the knowledge of the crowd (yet with what gladness were these evil men soon to leap at an opportunity to be rid of Jesus on the very day of Passover; glad also to use the mob at its worst to force their will concerning him upon a reluctant governor!)

Evil hopes revived

There seemed to be only one ray of hope left to them. They must try to wreck this movement from within. That did not seem to be an altogether hopeless proposition, for already the secret dossiers compiled about the helpers of Jesus had revealed signs of faltering loyalty (Study 94), especially in Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot-"Judas, the one of the twelve" (Mk.14 :10 RV). The expression might imply: the disciple of outstanding ability or of high social standing; or, by anticipation, the evil one amongst them.

Yes, that line of attack offered some promise. They must act quickly. Mark has a sinister conjunction of phrases "they sought how they might put him to death . .. Judas sought how he might betray him"! (14:1,11).

Judas and Satan

That very day a Satan (Lk.22:3), an emissary of these desperate unscrupulous rulers, was empowered to enter into negotiations with Judas right away. This agent found his task easier than he could have believed. On some plausible pretext "he entered in unto Judas" (so Gk: see Notes) perhaps at the home at Bethany. Perhaps, like some of the other Jews of Jerusalem who had gone out to Bethany (Jn.12 :9), he too feigned a consuming eagerness to see Lazarus.

There can be little doubt that the Satan passages in this part of the gospels (Lk. 22:3, 31; Jn.13:2, 27) should all be read with reference to the human enemies of Jesus. With this approach all four places make good sense. The usual "superhuman Satan" interpretation is quite unBiblical.

Weakening loyalty.

The timing of this encounter with Judas could hardly have been better. For a year now (Jn.6 :15,60-71) his convictions regarding Jesus had been becoming more and more unsettled, and in various ways the past week had added bitterness and disillusionment.

At the house in Bethany his virtuous (sic!) protest against the criminal waste of expensive ointment had earned for him blunt rebuke before the others, coupled with a pointed reminder about his Master's impending burial. Then how could Jesus be the Messiah? A dead Messiah was of no use to anybody. And even Jesus had no right to make him a target of rebuke before the rest (Jn. 12:4-8).

Then, next day, there had come the wide-open opportunity presented by the tumultuous entry into Jerusalem, for all the world as though he were a king taking possession of his capital. Pilate can't have slept much that night! And yet such a superb chance as this was frittered away in a quiet disapproving tour of the bazaars of Annas in the temple area, Judas meantime gnawing his tongue with vexation (Mk.11:7-11).

The next day in the temple court there had been that parable of the vineyard, so plain that a child could understand it. Here was Jesus representing himself as the Son of the Lord of the vineyard-but a Son to be despised, killed and cast out, whilst the rest were left in possession (Mk.12:6-8). His Master, it would seem, was obsessed with a sense of failure. Then what use all those fine qualities of his if this weakness was to cancel them all out?

The day after that, the faith of Judas had reeled under another blow, and once again it had come from the mouth of a Master he had loved and honoured with the consecration of his own not inconsiderable talent. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Mk.12 :13-17). Did Jesus really mean that? If so, there was an end to all hopes of seeing a Son of David reign in Jerusalem on David's throne. Here surely Jesus was now going back on his own earlier plainly-expressed Messianic claims. Judas, this company of woolly-minded disciples is no place for a man of shrewd balanced judgment like yourself. Isn't it time to make a break before the crash of failure involves you along with all the rest?

There was the more need to act with decision because, as the vision of a royal throne in Jerusalem faded, Judas had quietly and systematically re-couped himself by surreptitious embezzlement of the funds entrusted to him (Jn.12 :6 RV). Already he had some of it invested in a useful piece of real estate in Jerusalem (Acts 1 :18). How long could he keep such transactions from the knowledge of his leader and from the prying eyes of his fellow-disciples?

So the contact with the emissary of Caiaphas and Annas came at just the right moment, and without loss of time Judas was closeted with the chief priests and the officers of the temple police. The former of these were, of course, the authors of the strategy to be employed, and the latter directed the tactics of the scheme, for they would need to plan every move down to the last detail.

A sordid bargain

"What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?", said Judas. This was an excellent opportunity to save himself from the inevitable ruin which must soon overtake the movement. By this act of betrayal he would simultaneously ingratiate himself with the authorities and at the same time usefully feather his own nest a little more. So "he went his way (s.w. Jn.6 :67), and communed" with them (what a fellowship!) how-not whether or why or when —he should betray him (Lk.22:2,4). And these desperate evil men rejoiced (Lk: they were glad) at a much earlier prospect of success than they could have thought possible.

Judas went away from the secret meeting, his purse heavier with thirty pieces of silver. The difficulty associated with this sum of money is often overlooked. It represented in terms of modern English currency (1983) about £1500. When it is considered that the chief priests controlled all the revenue of the temple-millions of pounds a year-this was a very small sum for an avaricious man to ask for supplying such crucial help in an acute problem. It was the price of a mere slave (Ex.21 :32).

Thoughtful readers of the gospels have often osked themselves why Joseph, that impressively full and detailed type of Christ, should have been sold for twenty, and not thirty, pieces of silver (Gen.37 :28 and cp. Lev.27 :4). Is this Scripture's way of emphasizing that Joseph, although so much like Jesus was not a Jesus?

Regarding this cash payment there is a significant difference of detail between Matthew and Mark. The former passage means that Judas received the money there and then (so the RV; Matthew quotes verbatim the Septuagint version of Zechariah 11 :12, where the meaning is plain enough; see Study 219). Also in Matthew 27 :3 Judas had already received the money. But Mark says the money was promised to him. (Lk: covenanted; s.w. 22 :29).

The obvious explanation is that the thirty pieces of silver were a token payment to show good faith (!), whilst the real wages for the execution of such a nefarious job would be paid when all had gone through successfully. Let the reader put himself in imagination in the place of these men dealing with a traitor, and ask himself: Would I have followed any other course? So it may be confidently surmised that if all had gone according to plan, a second sum of money (ten times as much?) would likewise have changed hands.

Thereupon, "Judas promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude" (Lk.22 :6). This verse calls for re-translation. It must be either "he confessed (faith in their promises)", or else-the normal meaning in the Septuagint version (Jn.18 :3; Lk.22 :52; Mt.26 :55)-"he thanked them." Either way there is something tragically pathetic about this exchange of faith in Jesus for confidence in the power and wealth of a group of godless schemers. And the Greek phrasing seems to suggest that Judas was making a condition that Jesus be taken with as little snow of force as possible. It was a condition which they readily accepted, and then as readily went back on.

Thus Judas Iscariot, the man whose surname would sound in Jewish ears as meaning "the man of great preaching" sold his birthright and became instead (as the name might also mean) "the man of cutting off" or "the man of divorcement" (contrast Ps.55:13,14). That agreement with his Master's enemies was his bill of divorcement.

Notes: Mt. 26:1-5, 14-16

Consulted. Gk. middle voice here is eloquent: not for righteousness' sake, but for their own selfish interests.
Lest there be an uproar. Not, be it noted, because the occasion was a Feast of the Lord!
Then. The context requires a careful link-up with v.6-13, inserted here to explain Judas's sudden decision.
Covenanted. RV: weighed; but not literally. This is "the use of an ancient form of speech after the practice had become obsolete,” employed here to make the link with Zech. 11:12 LXX more evident.

Lk. 22:1-6

They feared the people. What a praiseworthy fear! and (v.5) what a righteous gladness!
Entered into Judas. The Greek verb here is identical with that in Luke 19: 7, 45 and 22:10 and 24:3, 29 and many other similar places.

Being of the number. Literally: out of, suggesting more pointedly the divergence between Judas and the rest.

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