King David knew a thing or two about betrayal. Ahithophel was a member of David’s cabinet. He was a close friend, a man who dined at David’s family table, a man whose counsel David trusted, whose advice was blessed by God and who contributed to the outward success of David’s kingdom. Yet when David’s son Absalom attempted a coup, Ahithophel betrayed David and joined Absalom’s cause. For David, that betrayal must have been particularly biting.
For a king like David the only man close as his cabinet member is his general. David’s general was Joab, and the two of them had seen a lot together. Joab had even displayed fierce loyalty when David asked him to be an accessory to Uriah’s murder. “Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead” (2 Sa 11:24). But even Joab’s loyalty to David eventually ran out when he backed Adonijah instead of Solomon to succeed David as king. That betrayal must surely have been bitter.
From the time he dropped Goliath until his dying breath, David’s life was filled with more drama than Game of Thrones. Saul tried to kill him, his sons schemed to steal his throne, his friends betrayed him; he was constantly on the run from enemies. In one of his many psalms, David lamented, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, who shared my bread, has turned against me” (Ps 41:9).
We expect unbelievers to persecute us. We know that corporate life brings office politics. We get the gossip chain of the neighborhood Facebook group. But we expect our family and friends to be loyal. When we’re close with someone, when we share our deepest secrets and trust him or her completely, and then he or she betrays that trust, that is intensely painful. Betrayal burns like the sun; it scalds the soul.
David certainly wasn’t the first person to have been betrayed, and he wasn’t the last either. In fact, Jesus himself took up David’s lament in Psalm 41 to predict his own betrayal by Judas. Like Joab, Judas was close with Jesus. Like Ahithophel, Judas was part of the inner circle, one of the Twelve. He was a trusted friend who broke bread at Jesus’ table. And like them both, Judas had lifted up his hands in betrayal.
The name Judas is so synonymous with “betrayer” that we’re tempted to think of him as, perhaps, especially wicked from the womb. Why would anyone do something like this to Jesus? It’s true that Judas was sinful from birth, but in the same way everyone is born sinful. Judas was just as sinful as Andrew or Philip. He was just like you or me. And just like with other sinners, Jesus called Judas to be a disciple. He followed at Jesus’ invitation, evangelized with the Twelve and the 72, and served alongside the rest. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, and now he was present as the disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover with Jesus one last time.
Judas wasn’t unique. His temptations weren’t either. The Bible makes it clear that Judas had a greedy heart. When Mary came and anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, that perfume pouring was expensive—worth a year’s wages! Judas argued it was a waste of money. That it should have been sold to help the poor. The Holy Spirit lets us in on Judas’ real motives. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (Jn 12:6).
Can you see how it happens? Satan was determined to use that greed. When you’ve already sold out to dipping your dirty hands into the disciples’ petty cash, it’s a pretty easy sell for the devil to suggest, “And what exactly would you be willing to do for 30 pieces of silver?” Judas didn’t predetermine his betrayal; he didn’t flip a switch. Garden variety greed, unrepented and unchecked, was the sin that corroded his soul over time, and eventually put Judas’ betraying hands at the table. “The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus” (Jn 13:2).
Betrayal hurts because it’s personal. But another part of what makes betrayal so brutal is that it’s done in secret. Judas was living a double life, promoting himself as a disciple but letting his greed run amok in his soul. The rest of the disciples were fooled; they thought of Judas as a friend and ally. They didn’t see the greedy darkness in Judas’ heart. But Jesus knew. Jesus chose the Passover meal, before the institution of the Lord’s Supper to reveal his betrayer. “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me’” (v. 21).
Imagine yourself in that moment. You’ve been there. When you belly up to the Thanksgiving table, there is an understanding: you check your baggage at the door. Husbands and wives drop the argument. Kids are banned from snark and fighting. You’re expected to be civil; it’s a celebration after all! But here is Jesus celebrating with thanksgiving God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery with his disciples for last time. His accusation brings instant tension to the room. The disciples react the same way everyone reacts when accused. They are defensive. They deny. They deflect. “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant” (v. 22). “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Mt 26:22).
There is more in the disciples’ words than defensiveness. It was the ambiguity… Jesus hadn’t identified the betrayer by name. He said, “One of you will betray me” (v. 21), which naturally sent the disciples’ minds introspecting. Was there a disciple who argued in self-righteousness that he’d never, ever do such a thing? Remember, Peter said he’d never deny Jesus—and we know how that turned out. Was there a disciple who went soul searching in self-doubt? “Is he talking about me? Could he be talking about me? I know he’s God; he knows everything and can see my soul. He sees something in one of our hearts that nobody else sees. What does he see in my heart? Am I capable of this?”
Well, you seated here with them, are you…capable? What secret sins do you have hiding in your heart? Have you ever sold God out for money? Have your secret sins gone unrepented and unchecked for so long that they eat away at your faith and corrode your soul? Is greed the sin that is crouching at your door? What is the secret sin that you fight to hide from everyone else, but the devil waves it in front of your face because he knows it brings you to your knees? Ask yourself honestly, because it’s not good simply to take away tonight that Judas was a bad guy. But to realize: nobody wakes up in the morning determined to fail God—but we are all sinners, and sinners sin. Anyone is capable of any sin, especially if left unchecked and unaddressed. What does the all-knowing Jesus see when he looks in your heart? Can any of us truly answer, “Surely not I, Lord?”
Jesus didn’t leave the disciples in suspense for long: “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly’” (vv. 26,27).
The Bible teaches how to deal with someone caught in a sin. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal 6:1). Jesus taught that gentle restoration first requires a private conversation. “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Mt 18:15). Throughout the years that Judas was a disciple, Jesus exercised pastoral care for Judas with a gentle touch. At least three times Jesus confronted Judas in the hearing of Twelve. At the end of his Bread of Life sermon, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (Jn 6:70,71). When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he said, “You are clean, though not every one of you” (Jn 13:10). Even at this advanced hour, Jesus was trying to jar Judas’ conscience and dislodge the greedy grip sin had on his soul by calling Judas out publicly. At the Passover table, Jesus dips his hands into the bowl with Judas’ betraying hands. Jesus was reaching out to Judas. He was telling him, “Resist Satan. Don’t do it.” Even to his own betrayer, Jesus showed love and pastoral concern for Judas’ soul right to the end.
Judas went ahead with his betrayal by identifying Jesus with a kiss. Jesus went ahead down a path that led to another “betrayal” even worse. Jesus went to the cross, where in agony he called out to a faithful friend who had abandoned him. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34 CSB). God treated Jesus as though he had committed Judas’ betrayal, as though he had turned traitor like Ahithophel and Joab. God banished Jesus to suffer hell’s punishment for our sins of greed, for our idolatrous love of money, for our obtuse self-righteousness, and for every embarrassing secret sin we insist on hiding. They have been punished in full, and they have been paid in full. So that it is as Isaiah says, “By his wounds we are healed” (53:5).
We might be tempted to ask, “How could Jesus love a traitor like Judas?” Jesus did love him but that can seem unbelievable – especially to the betrayer. Judas finally was so distraught over his betrayal that he reasoned God’s only move was to treat him the same; he was certain God would betray him in return. In an act of unbelieving despair, Judas took his own life. But the gospel teaches us that God doesn’t betray sinners; instead he turned his back on his own Son. He forsook Christ! He reconciled the world! Banish the thought that God will banish us for our sins. God made peace with man in Christ. Tonight then, ask not how God could love and forgive a traitor like Judas. Ask “How could God love and forgive a traitor like me?” And recall: In Christ alone. Amen.