Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 264. The Motives of Judas in betraying Jesus.

It is difficult to decide upon the motives that impelled Judas to the outrage which he perpetrated. How could one that had daily enjoyed the influences of Christ’s Divine life, had been a witness of his mighty works, and received so many proofs of his love, have been driven to such a fatal step? It cannot be supposed, as we have before remarked,700700   Cf. p. 118. that he originally attached himself to Jesus for the purpose of betraying him; it rather appears that his motives were at first as pure as those of the rest of the disciples. Had not Christ seen in him capacities which, with proper cultivation, might have made him an efficient Apostle, he would not have received him into his narrower circle on the same footing with the others, and sent him out along with them on the first trial mission.701701   Cf. p. 257, seq. Nor does this view deny either that the evil germ which, when fully developed, led him to his great crime, lay in his heart at the time; or that Christ saw the evil as well as the good.702702   John, vi., 64, teaches that Jesus knew at once the motives of all that attached themselves to him. No mock faith, founded on carnal inclinations, could deceive him, and therefore he knew at once the spiritual character of the one that should betray him. The pas. sage does not necessarily imply that he marked at first the person of the traitor; but only that he noticed in Judas, from the very beginning, the disposition of heart that finally led him to become a traitor. But it need not appear strange to us if John, after so many proofs of the superhuman prescience of Jesus, attributed to the indefinite intimations of Christ, given by him to Judas in order to make him know himself, more than was really expressed by them at the time. But the Saviour may have hoped to make the latter preponderate over the former.

Among the possible motives for the crime of Judas are, (1.) His alleged avarice; (2.) Jewish views of Christ’s Messiahship on his part; and, (3.) A gradual growth of hostile feelings in his heart. These we shall now examine in order.


Was Judas impelled by avarice?

There are certain intimations in the Evangelists that appear to favour the hypothesis that avarice was his leading motive. In John, xii., 6, this vice is ascribed to him, and he is charged with embezzling money from the common purse, committed to his charge as treasurer. Moreover, according to the synoptical Gospels, he bargained for a certain sum of money, as the price of his treachery. It might be inferred, therefore, that a love of money, which sought to gratify itself by any means, even by the violation of a sacred trust, grew upon him to such an extent as finally to induce the commission of his awful crime.

But there are many and strong objections to this view of the case. If Judas’s avarice were so intense, it is difficult to conceive how Christ, whose piercing glance penetrated the recesses of men’s hearts, could have received him into the number of the disciples. Could He, who knew so well how to adapt the special duties which he assigned his followers to their individual peculiarities, have allowed precisely this most avaricious disciple to keep charge of the common purse? And, had he attributed Judas’s reproof of Mary703703   Cf. p. 352. (John, xii., 5) to this motive, would he not have noticed it in his reply?704704   Dr. G. Schollmeyer, a young but promising theologian, remarks this in his “Jesus and Judas,” Lüneburg, 1836. It must be remembered, John’s explanation (v. 6) was added after Judas was known to have bargained to betray his Master for money. Had such an accusation been made at an earlier period, he would doubtless have been removed from the treasurership. In all Christ’s allusions to the character of Judas that have come down to us, there is not the slightest indication that He thought it necessary to warn him against this sin. There may, indeed, have been indications in John’s memory which he believed to afford sufficient ground for such a charge;705705   Strauss (iii., 422, 3te Aufl.) thinks this is inconsistent with my fundamental principle, since I acknowledge the Apostle John as the author of this Gospel; just as if I accused the Apostle of a groundless slander. The black deed of Judas justified John in ascribing this vice to him, as many of his recollections seemed to indicate it. He certainly could not be expected to exercise a cool impartiality towards the traitor. In the mean time, I think I am justified in saying that John’s allusions are not to be taken unconditionally as proof. But the single trait of avarice suits well the general character of Judas, in whom earthly aims were all-controlling. and, after attributing the treachery of Judas in betraying Christ to avarice, he might have been led to look for traces of the same vice in his previous management of the common funds.

Again, it is difficult to understand, if the crime was committed for the sake of money alone, how so small a sum as thirty shekels706706   Between 25 and 26 rix dollars. Twenty shekels = 120 denarii, and one denarius was at that time the ordinary wages for a day’s labour (Matt., xx., 2); so that the whole sum amounted to about four months’ wages of a day-labourer. (Cf. Paulus on Matt., xxvi., 16.) Thirty shekels, it is to be noticed, was the value set upon a single slave, according to Exod., xxi., 32. could have satisfied the traitor.707707   It is questioned, with some plausibility, by Strauss and De Wette, whether the precise sum, thirty shekels, is correctly given. Their arguments are that Matthew alone mentions it (xxvi., 15), while in Mark and Luke only the general term ἀργύριον is given; and that the tendency of Matthew to find types of Christ’s history in the Old Testament induced him to fix this precise sum, in view of Zech., xi., 12 (cf. Matt., xxvii., 9).
   Without making any positive assertion, we must observe on this (1) that, although Mark and Luke do not expressly mention the small sum, they would not have used the indefinite term ἀργύριον, if the sum had been known to be large; (2) although there is a discrepancy between Matt., xxvii., 7, and Acts, i., 18, yet this discrepancy seems to presuppose that the money was just sufficient to purchase a field, which certainly could not have required a large sum; (3) the passage in the Old Testament alone would not have been enough to induce the assignment of so small a sum, in the face of the probability, on the other side, that the Sanhedrim would give a large amount to secure so important an end; (4) it could not have been invented to blacken the character of Judas still further: his deed must have been black enough at any price; (5) there is no great improbability in the Sanhedrim’s offering so small a reward: people of this stamp would give Judas no more than the lowest possible price for which he would do the deed; and their fanatical hatred of Christ may have led them to offer exactly the price of a slave, in order to degrade the character of Jesus.
Would not the Sanhedrim, in view of the importance of getting hold of Jesus quietly, before the feast began, freely have given Judas more if he had asked it? True, that body may have relied upon the surety of seizing him in some way, and upon the impression, gathered from his character, that he would cause no rescue to be attempted; and, therefore, so far as their offer is concerned, thirty pieces is likely enough.

On the whole, then, we conclude that to gain so small a sum of money could not have been Judas’s chief motive. And, even had the sum been a large one, it remains almost impossible to conceive that avarice alone could lead him to deliver Jesus over to his foes, if he really were impressed with a sense of his Divinity and Messiahship. It must be presupposed that he had stood for some time in a spiritual relation to Christ different from that of the other Apostles; and when this is once admitted, avarice is a superfluous motive.


Was Judas impelled by Jewish views of Christ’s Messiahship?

Did Judas foresee and intend to bring about the result which followed Christ’s arrest? The answer to this question will obviously go a great way fixing our opinion of his character and motives. It is connected with another, viz., in what way did the traitor himself die? If, according to Matthew’s account, he committed suicide immediately after Christ’s condemnation, we might infer that he did not intend this result, and was thrown into despair by it.

This inference has led some to the opinion708708   See, especially, Schollmeyer’s Treatise, above cited. that Judas expected Christ’s arrest only to bring about the triumph of his cause by compelling him to establish his visible Messianic kingdom. If this were the case, the traitor must have expected either (1) that the enthusiastic multitude would rescue Christ by force and make him king; or (2) that Christ himself, by an exertion of his miraculous power, would overthrow his foes and establish his kingdom. But the first is utterly untenable; little as Judas may have known of Christ’s spirit, he must have known that He would not make use of worldly power to accomplish his purposes; nor could he himself have supposed such power to be needed, if (according to the hypothesis) he acknowledged Jesus as Messiah.

The second view may be more fully stated thus: Holding the same Messianic expectations as the other Apostles, he only gave way more entirely to a wilful impatience; Christ delayed too long for him; he planned the arrest to hasten his decision, surely expecting a display of his miraculous power, and the establishment of his visible kingdom. Terrible was his consternation when he saw the Saviour, whom he loved, condemned to death! Not, however, that his act is in the slightest degree justified. It was sinful wilfulness to seek to control the actions of Him whose wise guidance, as Lord and Master, he ought to have followed in all things. He sacrificed all other considerations to his own arbitrarily-conceived idea, and acted upon that vile principle which has given birth to the most destructive deeds recorded in history—that the end sanctifies the means. Still his decision of character and energy of will, if sacrificed in obedience to Christ’s spirit, would have made him a most efficient agent in propagating the Gospel, and prove that Christ had good reasons for receiving him into the number of the Apostles.

Such is the second hypothesis. But if Judas acted on such principles, would Jesus have abandoned him to his delusion, and allowed him to rush blindly on destruction? The authority of Christ as Prophet and Messiah (and, according to the hypothesis, Judas recognized him as such) could easily have removed the scales from the eyes of the deluded Apostle. Could the Saviour possibly have uttered a word at the Last Supper (John, xiii., 27) that might be interpreted into an approval of his undertaking?

The hypothesis, then, must at least be modified into the view that Judas’s faith wavered because Christ was making no preparations for a visible kingdom; the result alone could solve his doubts; and there fore he brought about the arrest, reasoning on this wise: “If Jesus is really Messiah, no power of the world can harm him, and all opposition will only serve to glorify him; if, on the other hand, he succumbs, it must be taken as a judgment of God against him.” His subsequent repentance is not inconsistent with this view: his conclusions after the result, when, perhaps, the full power of Christ’s image stood before him, may have been very different from what he had expected. As a general thing, the impressions made upon a man by the results of his actions testify but little as to the character of his motives; none can tell how an evil deed, even when deliberately planned and perpetrated, will react upon the conscience.


Was Judas impelled by a gradually developed hostility?

The mode of Judas’s death,709709   Matthew’s account of the death of Judas stands in (at least) partial contradiction to Acts, i., 18, which states that Judas bought a field with the money, and met his death by falling from a height. This may, indeed, possibly mean suicide; but it is doubtful. The wild and fabulous narrative of Papias (first published by Cramer, Catena in Acta S. Apost., Oxon., 1838, p. 12) presupposes that Judas did not die by his own hand. Μέγα δὲ ἀσεβείας ὑπόδειγμα ἐν τούτῳ τῳ κόσμῳ περιεπάτησεν δ Ἰρησθεὶς ἐπιτοσοῦτον τὴν σάρκα, ὥστε μηδὲ ὁπόθεν ἅμαξα διέρχεται ῥαδίως ἐκεῖνον δυνσθαι διελθεῖν· ἀλλὰ μηδὲ αὐτὸν τὸν τῆς κεφαλῆς ὄγκον αὐτοῦ· τὰ μὲν γὰρ βλέφαρα τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτοῦ φασὶ τοσοῦτον ἐξοιδῆσαι, ὡς αὐτὸν μὲν καθόλου τὸ φῶς μὴ βλέπειν· τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς δὲ αὐτοῦ μηδὲ ὑπὸ ἰατροῦ διόπτρας ὀφθῆναι δύνασθαι· τοσοῦτον βάθος εἶχον ἀπὸ τὴς ἔξωθεν ἐπιφανείας· τὸ δὲ αἰδοῖον αὐτοῦ πάσης μεν ἀσχημοσύνης ἀηδέστερον καὶ μεῖζον φαίνεςθαι· φέρεσθαι δὲ δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐκ παντὸς τοῦ σώματος συρρέοντας ἰχώρας τε καὶ σκώληκας εἰς ὕβριν δι᾽ αὐτῶν μόνον τῶν ἀναγκαίων· μετὰ πολλὰς δὲ βασάνους καὶ τιμωρίας, ἐν ἰδίω φασὶ χωρίῳ τελευτήσαντα· καὶ τοῦτο ἀπὸ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἔρημον καὶ ἀοίκητον τὸ χωρίον μέχρι τῆς νῦν γενέσθαι· ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲ μέχρι τῆσ σήμερον δύνασθαί τινα ἐκεῖνον τὸν τό[πμ ᾶρείεῖν, ἐὰν μὴ τὰς ῥῖνας ταῖς χερσὶν ἐπιφράξῃ· τοσάυτη διὰ τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ επὶ γῆς κρίσις ἐχώρησεν.” It is easy to see how the expressions in Acts could give rise to this extravagant legend. as we have seen, is not sufficient to prove that his purpose in delivering Christ to the Sanhedrim was not a decidedly hostile one.

The final view before mentioned may be stated thus: The first feelings of Judas, in attaching himself to Christ, were the same as those of the other Apostles. He had a practical and administrative talent, which caused him to be made treasurer; and which may have been usefully employed in organizing the first Christian congregations. But the element of carnal selfishness, although it affected the other Apostles more or less, was in him deeply rooted; the Spirit and love of Christ could not gain the same power over him as over the other more spiritually-minded disciples. As he gradually found that his expectations were to be disappointed, his attachment turned more and more into aversion. When the manifestation of Christ ceased to be attractive, it became repulsive; and more and more so every day. The miracles alone could not revive his faith, so long as he lacked the disposition to perceive Divinity in them. If Christ showed striking proofs of Divine power, so, also, he gave evident signs of human weakness; and the sight of the latter could easily cause an estranged heart to doubt and hesitate in regard to the former. A man’s view even of facts depends upon the tendencies of his mind and heart; these necessarily give their own hue to his interpretations even of what his eyes behold.710710   The following profound thought of Pascal, abundantly verified in history, may be applied to the scientific treatment of the Life of Christ, and to those who boast a cold impartiality in regard to it: “La volonté est un des principaux organes de la créance, non qu’elle forme la créance, mais parce que les choses paraissent vrayes on fausses, selon la face, par où on les regarde. La volonté, qui se plaist à l’une plus qu’a l’autre, détourne l’esprit. de considérer les qualitéz de celle, qu’elle n’aime pas, et ainsi l’esprit marchant d’une pièce avec ]a volonté, s’arreste à regarder la face qu’elle aime, et en jugeant parce qu’il y voit, il régle insensîblement sà créance suivant l’inclination de la volonté. Nor do we know how far the crafty Pharisees understood Judas and tampered with him. It was just at the time of the sifting, before alluded to,711711   P. 268, 269. among the masses that had followed Christ, that the spirit of enmity seems to have germinated in the heart of Judas, and Christ noticed and intimated it (John, vi., 70); although it could not, all at once, have become predominant in him: there were, doubtless, inward struggles before the fatal tendency acquired full sway.712712   We do not wish to be understood as attempting a full explanation of the conduct of Judas, so enigmatical in itself, and so little explained by the accounts that are left to us. We have only sought to present the theory which seems to us most probable from the data before us.

The life of man furnishes many analogies that may help to clear up the enigmatical conduct of Judas. He who does not follow the impulses of good which he receives from within and without, but rather gives himself up to the selfish propensities which those impulses are meant to counteract, becomes finally and irrecoverably enslaved to them; all things that ought to work together for his good serve for his harm; the healing balm becomes for him a poison. This is the severe judgment upon which our free agency is conditioned; and to it may we apply the saying of our Lord: “From him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

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