For the past two thousand years, the name of Judas Iscariot has been synonymous with traitor. But is this designation deserved? Is there perhaps a reason why Judas betrayed Jesus? Was it even a betrayal at all?

The Judas Kiss

But Jesus understood it and said to them, Why are you troubling the woman? She has done a good work to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not have me always. But this one who poured the perfume on my body did it as for my burial. And truly I say to you, Wherever this my gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told as a memorial to her. Matthew 26:10-13

It is clear from the above passage that Jesus knows he is about to die. I believe this is a deliberate plan and not a premonition, but more on that later. For now, we see that Jesus knows he is about to die.

Then one of the twelve, called Judah of Iscariot, went to the high priests; and he said to them, What are you willing to give me, if I deliver him to you? And they promised him thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:14-15

Here, Judas is making his plans to hand Jesus over to the authorities. I believe this was done by prior arrangement with Jesus himself. And I believe he asked for money not because he wanted it, but because if he didn’t the authorities would have suspected a plot.

And while they were eating he said, Truly I say to you that one of you will betray me. And they felt very sad, and began to say to him one by one, Is it I, my Lord? And he answered, saying, He who dips his hand with me in the dish will betray me. The Son of man is going just as it is written concerning him; but woe to the man by whose hand the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been far better for that man never to have been born. Then Judah the traitor answered, saying, Master, perhaps it is I? Jesus said to him, You say that. Matthew 26:21-25

The Last Supper

“The Son of man is going just as it is written concerning him.” Jesus is acting in order to fulfill a prophecy. Sure sounds like a deliberate plan.

When Jesus sits down with his disciples for the Passover meal, he announces that one of them will betray him. They ask who and he responds with, “He who dips his hand with me in the dish will betray me.” Well, that’s easy. All each disciple has to do to ensure he is not the betrayer is to avoid dipping his hand in the dish at the same time Jesus does. This is not a prediction. It is a request for a volunteer. If Judas really had been sneaking around plotting to betray Jesus, why ask if he is the traitor? He would have known for sure that he was and if he had any hopes of making a clean get away with his thirty pieces of silver he would have been more inclined to say nothing in order to avoid the wrath of the other disciples. As I see it, the more likely scenario is that Jesus had discussed this with his disciples on a previous occasion, expressed his need for someone to betray him and only Judas had the stomach for it. In the end Judas couldn’t live with his actions. He ended up returning the silver and hanging himself. That combined with two thousand years of vilification has rendered true the words, “It would have been far better for that man never to have been born.” Jesus knew what he was asking.

Judas Suicide

I cannot claim credit for having thought of this alternative interpretation on my own. It was pointed out to me about twenty years ago, but after reading the words, I had to agree. Imagine my excitement when, in 2006, National Geographic provided confirmation when it published an article about the then-newly translated Gospel of Judas. In this document, Jesus sets Judas aside as being special and imparts to him teachings not shared with the other disciples. He tells Judas, “you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” In other words, Judas will free Jesus from his earthly body.

The entire translation of the Judas Gospel can be found here:

What do you think? Was Judas the ultimate traitor or has he been unjustly accused?