Has Judas been misunderstood?
Apologies if that heading seems flippant but it does ask a serious question. It asks a question that just about no-one normally asks: What was Judas's motivation? It is normally assumed that it was greed for the famous 30 pieces of silver. But if Judas was as callous as that, why did he commit suicide when he saw Jesus executed? And what are we to make of it that Jesus predicted to him what he would do?
No-one at this distance can get into his mind but there is one explanation for his behaviour that does make considerable sense. Could it be that he was overawed by the miraculous powers Jesus had displayed and wanted Jesus to use those powers on a large scale -- perhaps even to drive the Romans out? Did he think Jesus only needed a small push to get him to do that?
And when Jesus predicted to him what he would do, did he take that as a sign that Jesus actually WANTED him to do that? And was he heartbroken at the actual outcome of his actions? Was his suicide born out of a realization that he had got it tragically wrong?
Broadly, that explanation seems to explain what actually happened. It fits better than actions motivated by mere greed.
A Christian correspondent of mine has attempted to go even deeper into the matter, however, so I reproduce below his thoughts as well:
I don’t think Jesus so much prophesied that Judas would betray him as told Judas to betray him.
I think Judas was spiritually immature, a material man, a little too hooked on the material and emotional pleasures of life. He didn’t understand Jesus’s teachings in a spiritual/heart/soul sense.
He believed Jesus should be some sort of worldly king or leader. Judas had seen or heard of Jesus perform many miracles, healing people, walking on water, disappearing from the midst of a crowd trying to kill him, killing the fig tree by pointing at it.
Judas was enraptured by Jesus’s power and presence. He thought something like, “Just let them try to take my master, and see what happens. My master will cast them aside and destroy them like he did the fig tree.”
Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, but not betray him out of spite, but out of immature love, like the childish love a little boy has for his father, thinking his father is the strongest man in the world and can beat up any other man.
Judas not only thought that Jesus would defeat any attempt to capture him, but he also thought that an attempt to capture him would force Jesus to demonstrate his powers upon the authorities, and thus give Jesus the recognition Judas believed he deserved. Then Jesus would be elevated to some sort of leader, as Judas believed he should be.
Jesus knew that Judas thought like that.
And he let Judas go and betray him, even told him when to go.
Not that Jesus encouraged him, but knew that he could not be stopped from doing it because of his immature love for Jesus.
And Jesus knew betrayal would serve his cause, and he also knew the awful suffering that would come back upon poor Judas afterwards when we would realise what he had done.
And that came true. When Judas saw Jesus powerless and being tortured to death, Judas could not bear it, he realised his awful error and went and hanged himself.
He was not a betrayer so much as an immature man with a childlike love.
The lesson is that betrayal need not be consciously treacherous, it can be merely immature.