Which Disciple Betrayed Jesus

Mon September 7, 2020 · Comments

Every month about 6,000 people ask Google who betrayed Jesus. The truth is that Jesus was betrayed by two of His disciples: Judas and Peter.

But there are significant differences between how Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. They didn't betray Him together. And they didn't betray Him in the same way. Their motives were different, their responses were different, and the outcomes were different. So let's examine the differences between their betrayals and discover what we can learn from their examples.

Judas, the betrayer

By the time the Gospel writers were ready to document their experiences with Jesus, enough time had passed to reflect on everything that had happened. Because of this, you can catch little glimpses of their attitudes toward Judas.

Matthew, Mark, and John—the three Gospel writers who spent time with Jesus—almost can't help themselves. They all insert personal commentary about Judas in their stories. When Matthew is introducing the disciples, he finishes with Judas, saying, ". . . and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him" (Matthew 10:4b).

John tells a story about a time when Jesus turned off many of His followers by talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. After most of them left, He turned to the disciples and asked if they were also going to leave. Peter wisely responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68–69).

John adds: "Then Jesus replied, 'Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!' (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him)" (John 6:70–71).

The disciple adds the parenthetical point to let the reader know what he didn't realize at the time: Judas was going to be a major problem.

Judas's problematic behavior

In retrospect, the disciples probably compared notes and realized things were off with Judas from the beginning. But at the time, there was no reason not to give Judas the benefit of the doubt. But the Gospel writers demonstrate that there were always problems with Judas.

John tells us this story:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 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 (John 12:1–6, emphasis added).

It's unlikely that the disciples knew Judas was stealing at the time. They probably all saw him do things that seemed odd, but they shrugged it off. It probably wasn't until after the crucifixion that they started trying to understand how they missed Judas's activity. Most likely, that's when they began seeing Judas's patterns.

Here Judas makes a big show about caring for the poor, but John tells us that his intention was really embezzlement.

Striking a deal with the chief priests

At some point, Judas decides to betray Jesus, and Matthew tells us that he's the one who approaches the chief priests and strikes the deal:

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 deliver him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:14–16).

Why would he do such a thing? Some have suggested that Judas wasn't happy with how things were unfolding and wanted to force a conflict between the Temple authorities and Jesus—and if he could financially benefit from doing so, even better.

This might explain why Judas was so full of remorse when, instead of displaying His power and might, Jesus was arrested and condemned to death. This doesn't seem to be the outcome Judas expected. It also helps explain why Judas immediately went to return the money he took for betraying the Lord and went off to hang himself (Matthew 27:1–5).

We may never know how Judas justified his betrayal, but we do know that there were other factors at work. Luke's version of Judas's treachery reads this way:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 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. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 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. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present (Luke 22:1–6, emphasis added).

Luke wants us to understand that there were supernatural forces at play here. In fact, the last time we saw Satan in Luke's Gospel, he was tempting Jesus in the desert. When Jesus passed his test, Luke tells us that, "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). As it turns out, Judas's character provided the opportunity the devil was looking for.

To add heartbreaking insult to injury, Judas brought the chief priests and guards into the garden. He had arranged a signal with them that they should arrest the man he greeted with a kiss. Jesus, knowing why Judas was there, remarked on this fact, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss" (Luke 22:48)? Judas used this act of intimacy to entrap the Lord.

Judas, the son of perdition

When everything was said and done, Judas's reputation was lost. The other disciples never looked back at him as a misunderstood figure who required compassion. Toward the end of John's Gospel, Jesus prays to God to protect the disciples. He makes this observation:

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17:12, emphasis added).

In the Greek, the words translated as "the one doomed to destruction" are literally "the son of destruction" or "son of lawlessness." These are the same words Paul uses to describe the antichrist:

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

The use of the same language here isn’t accidental. Judas allowed himself to be used by the devil to fulfill wicked goals, and Judas will never be known as anything but a traitor.

This is much different than Peter's experience.

Peter turns his back on Jesus

There's no question that Peter was an integral disciple. Along with James and John, Peter was part of Jesus's inner circle. And Peter publicly recognized that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. So how is it that Peter ended up betraying his Lord?

It starts at a dinner celebrating the Passover just before Jesus was arrested. Toward the end of the dinner, they have this exchange:

Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

"'I will strike the shepherd,
     and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

"Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same (Matthew 26:31–35).

As was typically the case with Peter, he leads with his heart here, refusing to entertain the idea that Jesus is right. Peter cannot imagine a situation in which he'd ever disown his Lord. But Peter has no idea what's coming.

This exchange probably helped propel Peter to demonstrate his loyalty by cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant (Matthew 26:51). But in the end, Jesus was still arrested.

Peter denies Jesus

In Peter's defense, most of the disciples scattered when the priests arrested Jesus. So Peter wasn't alone in abandoning the Lord. Where Peter got himself into trouble was when he was identified as a follower of Jesus in the courtyard:

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said.

But he denied it before them all. "I don’t know what you’re talking about," he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."

He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away."

Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:69–75).

What is the difference between these betrayals?

Unlike Judas, Peter's reputation didn’t suffer for the rest of his life. Peter emerges at Pentecost as the lead apostle, preaching a sermon that led 3,000+ people to follow Jesus. In the end, his commitment to Jesus would lead him to his own execution. Why did Judas's betrayal ruin his life, while Peter seemed to emerge from his experience stronger and more fiercely loyal?

First of all, Judas's treachery was malicious. He didn't just make a bad decision under the pressure of the moment; he sought out an opportunity to betray Jesus. It might be that he never considered for a moment that Jesus would actually be convicted and sentenced to death, but it doesn't matter much. Regardless of his motives, he tried to financially benefit from turning Jesus over to the authorities.

On top of that, Judas's character deficiencies made him someone that Satan could use as a tool to end Jesus's ministry. Whether intentionally or not, Judas allowed himself to be used by God's greatest enemy to stage a coup attempt.

Peter, on the other hand, responded poorly to a stressful situation. Betraying Jesus was never his intention. Unlike Judas's calculated treason, Peter stumbled into a situation where fear got the better of him. Does that excuse his denial? No, but it makes it understandable.

Conflicting examples of remorse

The Gospels tell us that both Judas and Peter felt remorse, and there's a lot we can learn from their responses to their guilt.

Judas immediately tried to return the money he got for turning Jesus in. He knew what he'd done was wrong and even told the priests, "I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood." When the chief priests wouldn't take it, Judas threw the money into the temple and left. His shame would lead him to take his own life.

The moment Peter realized that he had done exactly what Jesus said he'd do, he wept bitterly. But from then on, we see him with the rest of the disciples. He didn't allow his shame to isolate him. He's there when Mary Magdalene announces that the grave is empty—in fact, he outraces John to be the first one in the tomb.

When the disciples are out fishing and Peter recognizes Jesus on the shore, he doesn't waste a moment. He strips off his outer garment and jumps into the water to swim to the Lord. His grief drives him to Jesus, not away. And it's here that Jesus and Peter have a dramatic conversation of restoration and reconciliation:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me" (John 21:15–19)!

Both Peter and Judas had spent years with Jesus. They'd heard Him teach on loving one's enemies. They'd watched Him extend grace to prostitutes, adulterers, Roman centurions, Samaritans, tax collectors, and other undesirables.

For whatever reason, their shared experience with Jesus encouraged them to respond in vastly different ways. Peter ran toward Jesus, and Judas ran away. Peter felt he could trust the mercy and grace of his fellow disciples and the Lord, but Judas didn't. After years of walking beside Jesus, Judas never fully internalized the message that mercy triumphs over judgment—so when he needed mercy, he didn't know where to turn.

Remember to run toward Jesus 

Every single one of us will make mistakes. Hopefully, they will not be premeditated acts of disobedience, but even if they are, we can't allow those sins to drive us out of God's presence. It's when we're at our worst that we need Jesus the most. And if we learn anything about the difference between Peter and Judas, it's that we should always let our failures drive us into Jesus’s arms.

If you're looking for inspiration to help you get through troubled times, check out the post 30 Bible Verses about Peace.

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