What Happened to Judas Iscariot?

Pam Kramer: It is May, the betrayal and passion is over, and we are writing about Judas Iscariot? Why? Because he is still on my mind! Generally, we accept the “facts” that Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles and that he betrayed Jesus by disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts for thirty pieces of silver. Judas brought men to arrest Jesus and identified him with a kiss. Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed. So, what more do we know? How does the Judas story end? Did he hang himself? Throw himself into a deep hole where his body exploded? The Gospels have several different tales to tell. If he was the Treasurer of the Disciple’s group, did he take the money out of greed?

So many questions! Some of them lead us to ask about our Loving God! Was Judas following instructions he had received from God? Was he obeying and sacrificing himself for Jesus? Did Jesus know Judas was going to betray him and thus comment at the last supper: “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12). What does that mean? It is also written that Judas regretted immediately and returned the pieces of silver (a bit too late). But did he repent? If Judas committed suicide, even if he repented, did that mean he went straight to hell? Or, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

I believe that grace, the undeserved love, and favor of God, is kindness from God that we don’t deserve. There is nothing we have done, nor can ever do to earn this favor. Should I not also believe that Judas was granted the same grace for obeying the plan that God had made for him to carry out Jesus’s mission. (Mission Impossible?)

Pastor Justin: In the words of Bob Dylan, “…That Jesus Christ was – Betrayed by a kiss – But I can’t think for you – You’ll have to decide – Whether Judas Iscariot – Had God on his side.”

I am often drawn to the antiheroes in stories, hence my fascination with Judas Iscariot. Was he just possessed by the devil and forever damned to live eternity in hell? He is the archetype of betrayal, a Sunday school lesson on what not to do. Or was Judas Iscariot a complex character, loved by Jesus and God who, like us, finds it hard to follow this life of faith at times? What we know most about Judas: his secret meeting with the chief priests (Matt. 26:14); the bargaining price for his betrayal (Matt. 26:15); his early departure from the Last Supper (John 13:26-30); and his infamous kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:47-48). We also know what happened afterwards. Filled with remorse, Judas told the chief priests that he had sinned by betraying innocent blood (Matt. 27:3-4). Then he went out and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). It is important to remember that Judas, along with most of the disciples and those following Jesus, expected Jesus to be the Messiah (a militaristic understanding even used for the Roman Emperor) who would overthrow the powers that be. Judas expected military type strength, and the revolution to begin with Jesus tearing down oppressive powers and reestablishing God’s Justice on earth.

Pastor Justin: You know, I get that. Every time there is another school shooting and politicians flock to twitter to offer up their “prayers” for the families of the children who were killed, I find myself angry. I EXPECT change. I EXPECT someone to do something about the grave injustice. So, MAYBE Judas and I have something in common. Maybe we all have something in common with Judas. Maybe, just maybe, Judas has something to teach us about faith, life, God.

Sidebar: I don’t read Judas’ story as a warning to all would-be betrayers /sinners/pseudo-Christian practitioners. If it helps you to cast Judas to the outer darkness, go with God. If it helps you to embrace the outer darkness, because you have been there a time or two, and find God’s redemption even there…Amen! I promise that Jesus, Judas, and God have figured things out. There is a Gnostic gospel known as the Gospel of Judas. It was likely written 175-300 years after Jesus’ death and by a Gnostic Christian community, not Judas himself. It is not considered a part of our Christian Canon as it does not agree with the synoptic gospels, most notably it does not suggest Judas betrayed Jesus. Rather, contends Judas was simply acting on obedience to Jesus’ instruction. Fun stuff to play around with if you enjoy that kind of rhetorical/theological debate.

I believe we all have the ability to be Judas. Sure, it is nice to think that we would never betray Jesus the way Judas did, but let’s be honest, we probably would…or at least to some degree. And that is something I have learned from this antihero. When it comes to life, faith, and relationships, it is all nuanced. Black and white works for cookies and cake, but not when it comes to our human lived experiences. Judas loved Jesus, and Jesus loved Judas. Judas was committed to the cause, and Judas betrayed his friend. Jesus’ ability to forgive was, and IS, bigger than our ability to betray.

My last thought…to hear some Christian leaders talk about Judas, you often hear references to hell. I must imagine the immense hell Judas was in after betraying his friend. The overwhelming pain he felt when Jesus was killed, and the powers that be just kept on going, how Judas’ expectation wasn’t met. How alone and scared Judas must have felt. Where was his community? Where were his friends? We have all made hard decisions in life, we have hurt others and ourselves, we have betrayed friends and family and our better angels. We have been Judas. AND AND AND we can be a community that holds space for that pain/hell, we can hold one another as we slowly give ourselves over to the forgiveness and love of God, we can embody the radical love of Christ that breaks into our locked rooms bearing the wounds and speak the only words that possibly make sense “Peace Be With You.”

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