94. Judas' Betrayal (Luke 21:37-22:6)

Audio (28:15)
Gospel Parallels §§230, 231, 233

James J. Tissot, detail of 'Judas Goes to Find the Jews' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, detail of 'Judas Goes to Find the Jews' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

We're beginning the fifth and final section of Luke: the Crucifixion and Resurrection (21:37-24:53).

These chapters are difficult to read. As we've followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, we've come to see his passion, feel his compassion, and marvel at his teaching. But to see him betrayed, insulted, falsely accused, and tortured to death is almost too much.

Why do the Gospel writers spend so much time on Jesus' passion? Because Jesus death and resurrection are at the heart of the Christian good news -- that Jesus died for our sins, has been raised victorious over death, and is coming again.

"21:37  Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38  and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. 22:1  Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2  and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3  Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4  And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5  They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6  He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present." (Luke 21:37-22:6, NIV)

To the Eleven, Judas' betrayal was a shocker! Twenty centuries later the Bible's account of Judas' treachery still raises all sorts of questions -- several of which we don't know the definitive answers to. But as we consider this  text, let's not spend as much time speculating about what we don't know, as trying to understand what we do know about Judas.

Jesus Spends His Nights on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37-38)

Location of Bethany, Bethphage, and the Mount of Olives.
Location of Bethany, Bethphage, and the Mount of Olives. (larger map)

"Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple." (Luke 21:37-38)

These verses describe Jesus' pattern the last week of his life. The section of temple teaching that begins with similar phrases in 19:47-48, ends here.

Jesus would start teaching in the temple rather early in the morning, and would teach there throughout the day, but in the evenings he would spend on the Mount of Olives, a hill just east of Jerusalem. The phrase "to spend the night" (NIV) or "abode" (KJV) is the Greek verb aulizomai, which can mean (1) generally, "to have temporary sleeping arrangement, spend the night," or (2) to have housing, without special reference to nighttime, "live, stay."968 Whether he camped out, or stayed overnight with friends in one of the small towns on the east side of the Mount of Olives, we don't know. But Judas knew to find him in the Garden of Gethsemane across from Jerusalem, on the west slope of the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). This Greek verb is in the imperfect tense, indicating repeated action in the past, that this was Jesus' customary pattern that week. (See Appendix 2H. The Chronology of Holy Week.)

Unleavened Bread and Passover (Luke 22:1)

"Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching...." (Luke 22:1)

Passover is the oldest of the Jewish festivals, celebrating the night in Egypt when the angel of death "passed over" the people of Israel who dwelt in houses marked with the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorframe. Each year, Jews who were able would come to Jerusalem to sacrifice a Passover lamb in the temple, and then eat it together in a solemn meal of remembrance of the Exodus and God's victory over the Egyptians. Every spring, Passover is celebrated at twilight on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan.969

Immediately following Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was held for a week, from the 15th through the 21st day of Nisan. (Exodus 12:15; Leviticus 23:5-6; Numbers 28:16-17; 2 Chronicles 35:1, 17). This feast celebrated the suddenness of the Exodus.

"So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing." (Exodus 12:34)

To commemorate this, ever after Jews would look throughout their homes and remove any leavening they could find prior to the week of the festival. Often, the New Testament refers to both festivals under the single name Passover.

Jesus' Enemies (Luke 22:2)

By this time in his ministry, Jesus has accumulated quite a cast of enemies who fear and hate him. These are not just Galilean Pharisees, but Jerusalem leaders who wield a great deal of power:

  1. "Chief Priests" (Greek archiereus) are mentioned in this verse. These are appointed by Herod for a one-year term and rotated regularly among well-placed, wealthy families. They are no friends of the Pharisees, who practice a much stricter form of Judaism. The chief priests apparently also have a financial interest in money-changing and sale of approved sacrifices in the temple. When Jesus challenges this practice, he alienates the chief priests.970
  2. "Teachers of the law" (NIV) or "scribes" (KJV, RSV; Greek grammateus) are professional Torah scholars charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Law. They oppose Jesus because he claims to speak and act for God (Mark 2:7) in ways that challenge their own authority and interpretations. Scribes could be either Pharisees or Sadducees. Jesus has severely criticized the Pharisaic scribes for their hypocrisy, drawing their fury, and the Sadducees for their errors in interpreting the Scripture.971
  3. "Officers of the temple guard" (Greek stratēgos) are mentioned in 22:4. It is considered an abomination for Roman soldiers to enter the temple area, so it is guarded by Levites. Their captain meets with the chief priests and Judas to determine a way to capture Jesus when he is not surrounded by the crowds.972
  4. "Elders of the people" are added to the enemies list in Matthew 26:3 and Luke 22:52. The Greek noun presbyteros refers here to "members of a group in the Sanhedrin."973

To this list of enemies let's not forget two others that appear in 21:23:

  1. Satan
  2. Judas

Seeking to Get Rid of Jesus (Luke 22:1-2)

Each group has strong differences with the others, but they have one thing in common -- get Jesus. They are now beyond the inquiring and learning stage. They feel threatened and "were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people." (Luke 22:1-2) The word translated "get rid of" (NIV) or "kill" (KJV) is Greek anaireō, "to get rid of by execution, do away with, destroy," mostly of killing by violence, in battle, by execution, murder, or assassination.974

The problem is that "they were afraid of the people." Jesus isn't hiding, but he is surrounded during the days with hundreds or thousands of attentive listeners. If his enemies try to arrest Jesus publicly, it will probably trigger a riot, causing Roman military intervention, and perhaps cost them their jobs. They must both maintain the fragile peace in the city of Jerusalem and at the same time get rid of Jesus. They are stymied by how to get Jesus alone. Just then, the answer to their problem walks in the door -- Judas, who can provide insider information.

Satan, the Unseen Enemy (Luke 22:3)

But this is not just a wicked human conspiracy; there is a cosmic dimension at its root. Verse 3 mentions Satan. Satan appears several times in the Synoptic Gospels and Luke (Luke 4:8; 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:31; and Acts 5:3; 26:18). Satan seems to be used synonymously with the term "devil" (Greek diabolos) which means "adversary" (Luke 4:2-13; 8:12; and Acts 10:38; 13:10).

I spoke to a clergyman today who suggests that Satan and the devil are likely beings that we humans have created to explain the evil we find in the world. I contend that unless we are prepared to accept the fact that Jesus himself believed in Satan, taught about Satan, and personally opposed Satan, we are unlikely to understand what is going on in the Gospels -- or the Bible, for that matter. If you don't believe you have a real, external enemy, then you're a sitting duck for spiritual ambush.

The Apostle Paul saw the conflict in cosmic terms, too:

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 2:1-2)

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves." (Colossians 1:13)

In Paul's view, unbelievers, the spiritually blind, follow the usurping "ruler of this world" without knowing it. They are subject to his worldview and open to his suggestions and promptings.

Jesus, too, teaches that people can be under the influence or direction of Satan without being aware of it. He rebukes Peter with the harsh words, "Get behind me, Satan" (Mark 8:33). He notes, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (John 6:70). To his vocal adversaries he says,

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

People can become Satan's mouthpiece and agents without even knowing it. The only way to escape his pervasive influence is to cling to Jesus steadfastly. In the very context of being enslaved by Satan, Jesus says:

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

Judas (Luke 22:3)

One of the scandals of the Bible is that one of Jesus' handpicked followers betrays him. Judas is a pretty common name in Jesus' day, since it is the name of the patriarch of the tribe of Judah. Others with this name were the famous Judas Maccabeus (a godly and bold leader about 165 BC in a war of rebellion against the Greeks that occupied Palestine), Jesus' own brother (Matthew 13:55, perhaps the same as the author of the Epistle of Jude), and a second disciple, "Judas son of James" (Luke 6:16). It is an honorable name -- until Judas Iscariot comes along.

Iscariot probably means in Hebrew "man of Kerioth." Kerioth is sometimes identified with Kerioth-hezron, a location later called Hazor (Joshua 15:15, 25), about 12 miles south of Hebron. There is also a Kerioth Moab (Jeremiah 14:41; Amos 2:2). Whichever town he comes from, Judas seems to be the exception, since the other Eleven all come from Galilee.975

Satan Enters Judas (Luke 22:3)

"Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve." (Luke 22:3)

The phrase, "Satan entered Judas," is curious. When I read this, questions flood my mind: What does it mean, "enter"? Why does this happen to Judas? What can Judas be thinking? Does Judas have any control over his actions? Is he responsible? Why does Jesus select Judas if he knows he is untrustworthy? Or did Jesus even know what will happen? These are the big questions that underlie such heavy-duty doctrines as predestination, foreknowledge, as well as the perseverance of the saints, demonization, and a few more. We can't resolve all these questions in a single lesson, if ever. The questions are bigger than we are.

But let's begin with the meaning of "Satan enters Judas." Does this imply some sort of demon possession? The word translated "entered" is Greek eiserchomai, "to move into a space, 'enter'."976 Eiserchomai is a very common word in the New Testament, used regarding evil spirits entering pigs and men and causing a kind of insanity or loss of control (Mark 5:12-13; 9:25; Luke 8:30, 32-33). The verb is also used in John 13:27 at the Lord's Supper: "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him."

If we contend that Satan takes over Judas against his will, then Judas bears no responsibility for his action -- he is an unwilling victim in the same way that an abducted child bears no guilt. But we know that this betrayal is both foretold by Jesus (John 6:70; 13:10-11, 21; Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21) and the person who commits the betrayal is condemned by Jesus (Luke 22:22).

"But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." (Matthew 26:24)

Therefore, I conclude that Judas is not an unwilling pawn, and that "Satan enters Judas" is not like demon possession. Jesus built his ministry on casting demons out of unwilling victims. But you can't cast out demons from a person who wants them there; that would require a violation of the will. Modern-day deliverance ministers have found this to be empirically true.

We find some clues when we examine a parallel passage in John's Gospel:

"The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus" (John 13:2).

The word translated "prompted" (NIV) or "put into the heart" (KJV) is a phrase that the KJV translates literally and correctly. The Greek verb is ballō, which can indicate both forceful action ('throw') as well as simple action ('to put or place something in a location, put, place, apply, lay, bring').977 We see a similar expression in Acts:

"Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled (Greek pleroō) your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?'" (Acts 5:3).

Certainly, Satan is the agent of planting the thought in Judas' and Ananias' minds, but then Judas and Ananias follow through by sinning rather than rejecting the thought.

Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, but at each point he answers with Scripture and resists the temptation. James gives us a helpful insight into how sin operates:

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15)

For temptation to have any power, it must resonate with a sinful motive or desire within the person. That's what Jesus is referring to when he says, "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (very literally in the KJV) or "He has no hold on me" (NIV; John 14:30). Paul writes,

"In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (Greek topos, 'place')." (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Martin Luther once said that it isn't your fault if a bird flies over your head, but it is your fault if it makes a nest in your hair. When we harbor sin in our hearts, we do give the devil a foothold and can easily become his unwilling dupes. This is no game, but deadly warfare.

I've spent some time on this, but I believe it is important to establish that "Satan entered into Judas" doesn't refer to some kind of irresistible demon possession, but a deliberate courting of sinful thoughts and beliefs that make Judas vulnerable to be manipulated by Satan, yet fully responsible for his actions.

This is not the place to argue for or against the Eternal Security of the believer. How you see Judas depends on your theological position more than what the text actually says about him.

What is Judas' Motive for Betraying Jesus?

When we try to guess someone's motive we're on pretty shaky ground. We don't know what is going on inside that person's head. More often than not, a number of motivations tumble together and combine -- some unknown even to us -- that cause our actions. Trying to figure out Judas' motivation is pure speculation, so let's not expend too much energy on it, but let's consider some of the possibilities:

  1. Money. Label this "greed."
  2. Disillusionment with Jesus' ministry and cause. Call this "unbelief."
  3. Hurt by some rebuke by Jesus that Judas doesn't accept, and which festers and turns into hatred. I see this as "rebellion" and "pride."
  4. Jealousy of other disciples who are more prominent that he. Perhaps the betrayal is a sick way to do something historically important, if only for a moment. It could be jealousy mingled with a low self-image and an extreme self-absorption.

Of these, only the first has Biblical evidence. The Gospel of John declares:

"... he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (John 12:6)

Money was clearly one of Judas' weaknesses. People have done some pretty awful things for money --- even a relatively small amount of money. Mammon can be a god that competes in our heart with the true God and seeks to rule us (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).

One theory sees "Iscariot" as derived from Latin sicarius, which means "dagger-man," a word applied to members of the Zealot movement. Thus Judas is a political zealot who believes that Jesus is the true Messiah who will free Palestine from Roman occupation. But he is disappointed that Jesus seems to be pursuing a spiritual and educational agenda, rather than one which will lead to conflict with the Romans. Judas is convinced that if conflict with the Romans does occur, Jesus the Messiah will lead the nation to military victory. Thus the betrayal is a plot designed to force Jesus' hand into taking action against the Romans. Or, perhaps Judas is disappointed and betrays Jesus out of revenge. Or .... It sounds pretty convincing until you realize that there is absolutely no evidence to support it.

The truth is that we just don't know Judas' motives for betraying Jesus, except that money probably played some part.

Judas Negotiates the Betrayal (Luke 22:4-5)

"And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money." (Luke 22:4-5)

The officers of the temple guard are Levites who worked under the chief priests to keep order in the temple. They represent a small armed force the chief priests have at their disposal. Notice that Judas seems to initiate the betrayal. He is not seduced to do so by Jesus' enemies, but by Satan -- and Judas' own desires. Matthew's account makes it clear that Judas is after money:

"Then one of the Twelve -- the one called Judas Iscariot -- went to the chief priests and asked, 'What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?' So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Matthew 26:14-16)

It's a pretty simple negotiation. Judas has what Jesus' enemies need -- inside knowledge of where Jesus can be found at night when he is not surrounded by crowds of people. And the chief priests have what Judas seems to desire -- money. They agree on thirty silver coins that they will give to Judas when he follows through on his end of the deal (Mark 14:11; Luke 22:5). The "thirty pieces of silver" are probably Tyrian shekels or tetradrachmas.978 How much were they worth? Not that much, really.

Tyrian Shekels
Tyrian Shekels or Tetradrachmas

Judas Seeks an Opportunity to Deliver Jesus (Luke 22:6)

"He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present." (Luke 22:6)

From now on, Judas is seeking his own interests rather than Jesus' interests. He has betrayed Jesus in his heart, and is about to betray him in fact.

Why Does Jesus Select Judas?

Before we conclude, let's examine a couple of unanswerable questions. Does Jesus have foreknowledge that Judas will betray him when he selects him to be an apostle? Apparently so. St. John says:

"'64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.' .... Then Jesus replied, 'Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!' 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)" (John 6:64-65, 70-71)

We just don't know all that Jesus knew about Judas when he selected him. We know, however, that he selected him with much prayer and consultation with his Father (Luke 6:12-16). The Father, who knows all things, knew. What he communicated this to Jesus at that time, we don't fully know. But to say that Jesus chose Judas so that he might betray him is speculative, a step beyond what we know. The Scripture doesn't tell us why.

Does Judas Have Any Freedom of Choice?

In a later passage we'll discuss the prophecies about Judas' betrayal. But does Judas have any freedom of choice? I believe that he does, though the debate of predestination vs. free will, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, isn't one we'll resolve here. Let's not debate among ourselves these unanswerable questions. We just don't have enough data from the Scripture to understand it well enough. But in a nutshell, here's what I believe, for what it is worth.

  1. All men seem to have some freedom of choice, since they are held responsible for their actions.
  2. Divine foreknowledge that Judas will in the future betray Jesus does not remove Judas' free will and responsibility for his action; it only indicates that God knows it ahead of time.
  3. Judas harbors sins, such as greed and selfishness. These provide an opening for Satan to seduce him into larger and larger sins. This can be true of all of us.
  4. Ultimately (though this is out of the scope of our study, since it is discussed only in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19), Judas is remorseful, but loses all hope, and commits suicide. Peter, who also betrays Christ, is remorseful but continues to hope, and is ultimately restored.

Who knows "what if"? We don't, and speculation is useless here.

What Lessons Does Judas' Betrayal Teach Us as Disciples?

 To me, Judas is a very sober example of how a good disciple can go bad.

  1. His betrayal is hidden from his closest associates. I find it interesting that though the Apostle John is aware of Judas' weakness for money and theft (John 12:6), he doesn't know who the betrayer is until Jesus tells him. All the disciples had weaknesses and patterns of sin -- that's how sinful humans are. So that Judas has a recurrent sin is no indication to anyone that he is a betrayer. It is possible for you and me to betray Jesus in our heart without anyone knowing. Except Jesus. Jesus knows.
  2. Judas' sin ruins him -- and others. It makes him vulnerable to the seducing voice of Satan. Our sins can ruin us, too. And, very possibly, those around us whom we love.
  3. Is it I? We'll look at this further, but the disciples at the Last Supper don't know who will betray Jesus, and each wonders if it might be himself? Each of us has in us the seeds of betrayal. We must be vigilant.
  4. Even Jesus has one of his leaders turn against him. Sometimes as Christian leaders we castigate ourselves when one of our leaders turns against us. What did I do wrong? we ask. But even Jesus had this happen. Yes, good leadership is important, but the root of failure lies within the person, not necessarily the leader. 


Father, have mercy upon all of us. Forgive us our sins and purge us of them, lest they cause us to betray you. Give us the grace of repentance. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve." (Luke 22:3)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. What kind of schedule does Jesus keep the last week of his life? (Luke 21:37-38)
  2. In what way do the crowds of people protect Jesus from his enemies? Why do they want to kill him? (Luke 22:2)
  3. How does Judas enable Jesus' enemies to capture him cleanly? (Luke 22:6)
  4. How can greed so overwhelm a person that he'll betray his Friend and Savior for money (or drugs or ....)?
  5. In what ways do our sins give Satan inroads into us so he can control us?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[968] Aulizomai, BDAG 150-151.

[969] M.R. Wilson, "Passover," ISBE 3:675-679.

[970] Wayne O. McCready, "Priest, High," ISBE 3:962.

[971] Graham H. Twelftree, "Scribes," DJG, p. 735.

[972] See Josephus, Antiquities 20, 6, 2, and Edersheim, Temple, pp. 147-148.

[973] Presbyteros, BDAG 862-863.

[974] Anaireō, BDAG 64.

[975] George Wesley Buchanan, "Judas Iscariot," ISBE 2:1151-1153. David John Williams, "Judas Iscariot," DJG 406-408; William Klassen, "Judas Iscariot," ABD 3:1051-1096.

[976] Eiserchomai, BDAG 293-294.

[977] Ballō, BDAG 163-164.

[978] H.W. Perkin, "Money," ISBE 3:407, 409.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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