At daybreak He called together all of His disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names: Simon (He also called him Peter), Andrew (Peter’s brother), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed Him). Luke 6:13–16 (NLT)
Having looked at the roster of the notables, let’s look at the one who is “despicable” — let’s look at Judas Iscariot. If you look up the name Judas in the dictionary, you will find “one who betrays another under the guise of friendship; a deceiver or traitor”. As a result, the name “Judas” is no longer a popular choice among parents determining the name for their bouncing baby boys. That wasn’t always the case. In the first century A.D. it was a name synonymous with honor, and therefore a very popular name (two of the twelve disciples were named Judas). The name was given in recognition of Judas Maccabaeus, one of the great generals in Jewish history. He and his followers defeated the Syrian armies in 165 BC, restored the religious rites and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews, through their observance of Hanukah, celebrate this victory to this day. Simon Iscariot named his son Judas in the hope that he would be a man of honor in the tradition of Judas Maccabaeus.
Simon made sure that his son attended synagogue and sat under the teachings of the rabbis. Judas knew the Scriptures. He knew the prophecy of the Messiah. He probably was faithful to pray for the coming of the Messiah, so that the people of God — the children of Israel — might be freed from the tyranny of their foreign conquerors. He prayed and waited, believing that the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom and the bonds of tyranny and oppression would be broken once and for all. Judas was zealous in his belief and was dedicated to the cause.
Judas also had a good head for business. We see that demonstrated by the fact that he was chosen by the other disciples to be their treasurer — the keeper of the purse. They would not have made that selection lightly. As we have seen, several were successful fishermen and Matthew was a tax collector; but together they perceived Judas to be the best educated, the most astute and sufficiently trustworthy to handle the group’s finances. He continued in that role for almost three years which indicates that the performance of his duty was satisfactory to the rest.
One day, Judas met a man named Jesus. He had heard rumors of healings performed by this man. He heard that Jesus taught as one with authority. And one day Judas heard Jesus in person. He watched in amazement as the blind were made to see and the lame to walk. He followed Jesus at a distance and continued to observe Him in His teaching and His practice. Judas began to ask himself if this was their Messiah — the One for whom they had waited and prayed. And if this was the Messiah, he wanted to be a part of His inner circle. Judas saw an opportunity not only to experience the freedom of the Messiah’s reign, he also saw the opportunity to be a part of the Messiah’s government. Judas drew closer; and Jesus chose him to become one of the twelve. He sat beside Jesus. Wherever Jesus was, he was there. And he watched. And he waited. His wait would soon be over.
Each day as he traveled with Jesus, he saw more of the oppression being experienced by the people — and he became more zealous for the cause. Each day as he traveled with Jesus, he saw the Master perform great miracles — the feeding of the five thousand, Peter walking on water, the storm stilled, and the miracle of miracles, Lazarus raised from the dead! And he became more convinced of the opportunity for personal gain. He would be a lieutenant to the Messiah — imagine the power and the prestige. He could very easily become the treasurer of the kingdom! He began to see this journey with Jesus as a ticket to ride to all that he could ever desire — freedom for his people, and personal gain for himself. And he was prepared to tolerate the trip to the “pot of gold” that awaited him at the end of the journey — the nights without a roof over his head, the long journeys, and the masses that just came for what they could receive.
But as days became months and months turned into years, Judas began asking himself why Jesus was not making His move. Everywhere they went the masses shouted praises to His Name. His popularity was increasing daily. Now was the time for Jesus to make His move. Why wasn’t He? To delay any longer would be counter-productive. Couldn’t Jesus see that the time was right? There was no question that Jesus had been sent by God; He was the Messiah! Why wouldn’t He take the step to become the rightful ruler of Israel? Maybe Judas would have to help Him take that step. After all, he was the keeper of the purse; He was the one with the best head for business. Maybe Jesus was just waiting for one of His lieutenants to step out and do something. Surely it wasn’t going to happen on its own. And we couldn’t wait for this rabble of poor to lead the charge. The time had come to make it happen. The people would be free, Jesus would be in power and Judas would be rich. There is no downside to that business proposition. Everybody wins! Yes this “ride” with Jesus would turn out just right. Judas would get just what he wanted. Now all he needed to do was watch for the right time and the right opportunity. Obviously Jesus was being patient; he would be also. After all, Jesus had brought him along for the ride, there was no way Judas could fail.
Then, he saw the moment and the opportunity. The religious leaders had been seeking to trap Jesus for years, but He was just too smart for them. What if someone helped them corner Jesus and bring Him before a public trial? Jesus would be left with no choice but to finally establish His “kingdom” and step into the position for which He had been born. The wait would be over. It was within Judas’ grasp. He would help tip the scales. And the thirty pieces of silver — that was just a signing bonus.
But imagine the horror as night turned into day, and he realized things were not going the way he planned. Jesus didn’t declare Himself. He didn’t marshal the troops to establish His kingdom. Rather, all was lost — Jesus was to be crucified. All that Judas had worked for and waited for wasn’t going to happen. And instead of “helping” Jesus, he had betrayed Him. He had become merely a device that the religious leaders — and the enemy — used to accomplish what they thought would be their victory. The demons of hell were ecstatic — Jesus was about to die — and Judas had become a pawn in their scheme.
How many of us are like Judas? Oh we hear his name and we shudder, but we’re just like him. We too have come along side of Jesus for the ride. We’re looking around to see what’s in it for us. Oh yes, we know that the Messiah will bring victory over our oppression, but then we’re looking at the opportunities that victory will create for us — health, wealth, prosperity, position, et al. And somewhere along the line, we miss the Master’s purpose for the journey and get sidetracked by our own. At that moment, we just continue to go along for the ride.
Don’t miss the lesson from Judas. Don’t settle for a ride of selfish ambition that merely seeks what Jesus can do for you. Join Him in His journey. The journey is not about you and it’s not about me — it never has been. The journey is about the Master — His plan, His mission, His purpose, His gospel. The journey leads to His glory. The journey may pass through the valley of death, poverty, illness — perhaps even persecution, before we arrive at the journey’s end. We don’t get to set the course or the timetable. Only the Master does. But trust Him — He knows exactly what He’s doing! Don’t join Him for the ride; join Him for the journey!