Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Jesus Christ? Yes, a disciple of great distinction. We may be tempted to say, “What a misfit!” Yet we will see he was a perfect fit for a significant role in the redemptive plan of God, established before the world began. And for this purpose he stands out among the twelve.
The distinction of his name
His name, Judas, is Greek for the Hebrew name Judah (also Jude). Judah means “celebrated.” He was one among the twelve sons of Jacob. Through the seed of Judah, the Messiah came as prophesied in Genesis 49:10 and as celebrated in Revelation 5:5.
Iscariot identifies him with the men of Kerioth, a city in Judea. This presents another point of distinction: Judas was the only Judean disciple; the rest were Galileans. It was Peter’s Galilean accent that betrayed his association as a disciple of Christ (Mk. 14:70).
His distinction among the 12
There are three listings of the twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels. Judas is always listed last, with the comment that he betrayed Christ. In fact, every time his name is mentioned, he is either identified as the betrayer of Jesus or his name is found in the context of the betrayal event.
The name Judas is found 33 times in the New Testament. Ten times it refers to someone other than Judas Iscariot:
a. Another disciple, the brother of James (Lk. 6:16)
b. Christ’s half-brother (Mt. 13:55)
c. A prophet of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22, 32)
d. A false messiah (Acts 5:37)
Eleven of the 23 times, his full name, Judas Iscariot, is used as a distinguishing mark. Note the special handling by John so as not to confuse the other disciple named Judas with the betrayer (Jn. 14:22). To this day, the name carries a stigma and is seldom used. It is sometimes used as slang in connection with undesirable character traits.
Distinction as an appointed disciple
On the evening before the Lord called twelve men to be His disciples, He spent the entire night in prayer on the mountain. The next day, He selected the twelve, including Judas Iscariot. As God manifest in flesh, Jesus knew the hearts of men (Jn. 2:24-25) and also knew the prophesies that must be fulfilled. Matthew gives us the words of Christ regarding Judas Iscariot: “…woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” But he needed to be born and selected as one of the twelve. He had a role to fulfill.
The traitor, as he is called, was given to Christ by God the Father. At least seven times in John 17:6-12, Christ makes it clear that the disciples were given to Him from the Father. Verse 12 indicated that Judas Iscariot was included. It is in this verse that he is called “the son of perdition” and identified as the only one of the twelve that is lost. The last phrase of this verse is key: “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
His distinction in ot prophecy
There are several Old Testament passages that speak of Judas Iscariot. David speaks prophetically of him in Psalm 41:9, “Yea, my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” Christ quotes this passage after washing the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:18). Christ then reveals that one of them will betray Him and identifies Judas as the traitor by the dipping of the sop with him (Jn. 13:26).
The prophecy of Zechariah foretells the price of betrayal, thirty pieces of silver, and its final use in relation to the Potter’s Field (Zech. 11:12-13). Matthew quotes Zechariah’s prophecy as he records the thirty pieces of silver which Judas Iscariot cast down in the house of the Lord (Mt. 27:9-10).
Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 jointly speak of the replacement of Judas Iscariot. Peter, prior to Pentecost, makes reference to these scriptures in Acts 1:16 and 20. Seeking the mind of the Lord, the eleven disciples fill the vacated position with Matthias, who was then numbered with the eleven (Acts 1:24-26).
His distinction in Christ’s earthly ministry
Peter declares that Judas Iscariot was “numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17). What was his part? Judas Iscariot holds the distinction as being the only disciple revealed as having a routine job assignment. John tells us that Judas had charge of their money bag and that Christ would, on occasion, direct him to purchase needed items or dispense money to the poor. This responsibility exposed his character flaw as a thief who stole from the finances of the ministry (Jn. 12:6). We would suppose that to preserve Judas Iscariot for the ultimate task of betrayal, Christ graciously tolerated this sinful behavior of one of His disciples.
Earlier, the Lord spoke of Judas Iscariot as “a devil” (Jn. 6:70). The final role of this traitor was formulated in the mind of Judas Iscariot by the influence of Satan (Jn. 13:2). To a lesser degree, Satan is still using this approach against the disciples of Christ today. Have there been times when we have betrayed the relationship we have with our Savior?
his distinction in the sovereign grace of God
Although we see signs of strong remorse from Judas Iscariot (Mt. 27:3-4), it appears there was not cause for forgiveness. Realizing the seriousness of his condemnation, he hanged himself. There was no hope. Luke records the prayer of the disciples as they sought a replacement for Judas, who “by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:25). He chose to have an awful part in the ministry of Christ but would have no place in eternity with Christ.
To a great degree, the role of Judas Iscariot among the twelve disciples and his eternal damnation is a mystery not yet revealed by the heart of God. We must rest our curious minds in the same place Abraham found when he said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). We accept the truth that God is righteous. He does all things well. His ways are truly unsearchable to us (Rom. 11:33-36).
We may take an application from this scene. Many people today claim a part in the religious functions of a church but, in time, will hear from the Lord, “Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt. 7:23). What a precious assurance there is to those who “are accepted in the Beloved.” As the days grow darker, may we be willing to claim Christ’s name and suffer for Him, if need be. Soon, we will reign with Him. Each believer has a vital part in the ongoing ministry of Christ now on this earth, and, in a coming day, we will have a place in His presence, sharing in His eternal glory.