Judas

Based on Matthew 26:17-28; 27:1-5; John 18:1-8; 18:28-19:30

Jesus meets with his disciples for the Last Supper then goes to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane. He is betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, tried and crucified.

Copyright Gavin Owen 2007



Judas stepped out of the cool evening air and into the warmth of the house. He followed the other disciples up the stairs and into the large room where they were going to meet with Jesus. It was the day of the Passover festival and Peter had arranged for them to share the Passover meal here. Judas took off his cloak and sat down at the table where the meal was already laid out for them. As he was making himself comfortable, Judas heard a clinking sound that made him jump. Tied to his belt was a small cloth bag and inside the bag were thirty silver coins, given to him by Caiaphas the high priest, the price he'd been paid to betray Jesus. Judas looked around the table to see if anyone else had heard the noise but nobody had noticed it and he breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon Jesus arrived and the special meal began. Everything they ate and drank was a way of remembering the time when God's people had been slaves in Egypt and a way of thanking God for saving them. While they were still eating, Jesus looked around the table and said to them, “I tell you the truth, one of you sitting here right now is going to betray me.” The disciples turned and stared at Jesus in amazement and Peter, who had a mouthful of wine, nearly choked. Then Jesus carried on eating. Peter leaned over to John who was sitting next to Jesus, “Ask him who it is!” he whispered. So John leaned over to Jesus and in a low voice said, “Master, who are you talking about?” Jesus took some bread and dipped it in one of the bowls, “The person I give this to is the one,” he told him. Then he gave the piece of bread to Judas.

Judas hadn't heard what they'd been saying but when he saw the look on John's face he knew something was wrong. “Teacher,” he asked Jesus, “the one who's going to betray you, is it me?”

“You said it,” Jesus replied quietly, then in a louder voice so that everyone could hear he told Judas, “Hurry now and do what you're going to do.”

Only John and Judas knew what Jesus meant, the others thought he was sending Judas to pay for the meal or to give some money to the poor. As Judas put on his cloak, Jesus picked up some more bread and tore it into pieces, then he took a cup and filled it with wine. Walking down the stairs Judas could hear Jesus saying to the others, “This bread is like my body which will be broken for you, this wine is like my blood which will be poured out for you.”

“What does he mean?” Judas wondered, “They're only going to arrest him.”

Judas hurried through the dark streets of Jerusalem until he came to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, he knocked on the door and a servant let him in. A few minutes later the door opened again and another servant left the house carrying a letter in his hand. When the door opened a third time, half-an-hour later, and Judas and Caiaphas stepped outside, they found a squad of Roman soldiers and a squad of the temple guard waiting for them. “We got your message, sir”, said the captain of the temple guard to Caiaphas, “what are your orders?” “Follow this man,” Caiaphas replied, “he's going to lead us to Jesus.”

Jesus hadn't told anyone, but Judas was sure he knew where he would be going after the meal – the Garden of Gethsemane; it was an orchard of olive trees that grew on a hillside just outside the city, Jesus had taken them there to pray many times.

As they headed towards the city walls a crowd began to gather behind them – some were religious leaders like Caiaphas, enemies of Jesus; others were just ordinary people who wanted to see what was going on. When they reached the walls the crowd poured out through one of the gates. “They're bound to hear us coming with all these people behind us,” thought Judas, but there was nothing he could do about it.

At the bottom of the hill that led up to the Garden of Gethsemane Judas called out to the captain of the temple guard, “There could be a few of them, I'll need to give you a signal so you know which one's Jesus. I'll go right up to him and I'll kiss him on the cheek, then you'll know he's the one you want.” The captain nodded. They were amongst the trees now and there in a clearing just ahead of them was Jesus. He was on his knees praying. After a few moments he opened his eyes and stood up. Then Judas heard him call out, “Peter, wake up” and he saw that Peter and James and John were with him, but they'd all fallen asleep. “Couldn't you keep watch with me for just one hour?” Jesus was asking them. “Get up now, the traitor is here.” Then Jesus turned and looked straight at Judas.

Judas walked up to Jesus and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.

“Judas!” said Jesus shaking his head, “Would you betray me with a kiss?”

At that moment the soldiers stepped out from the trees to arrest Jesus. “Who are you looking for?” Jesus asked them.

“Jesus from Nazareth,” the captain of the temple guard answered.

“That's me,” said Jesus and as he said it something strange happened – the soldiers all staggered backwards as if pushed by some invisible force and they fell to the ground.

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asked them again.

“Jesus from Nazareth,” said the captain as he got back to his feet.

“Well that's me,” Jesus told him, “and if it's me you want then let these others go” and he pointed to Peter and James and John. Then Jesus held out his arms and let the soldiers take him prisoner.

As they began to march back down the hill, Judas heard Caiaphas say to the captain of the temple guard, “We need witnesses, people who will say they saw him breaking the law, the Romans won't execute him for us unless they believe he's a criminal.”

That was the moment when Judas realised the awful truth, they weren't just going to arrest Jesus and lock him up, they were going to kill him. He'd made a terrible mistake.

For the next few hours there was nothing Judas could do, Caiaphas was locked away in his house with the other religious leaders questioning Jesus, trying to find enough evidence to persuade the Romans to execute him. Finally the door of the house opened and Jesus was led away by the soldiers to see Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Israel, the only man with the authority to sentence Jesus to death. When the soldiers had gone, Judas walked straight into the house and barged into the room where Caiaphas and the others were still meeting. He pulled the small cloth bag from his belt and hurled it to the ground in front of them. It burst open and the coins were scattered across the floor. “I have sinned,” he wailed, “I have betrayed an innocent man.” “That's your problem,” said Caiaphas, “close the door on your way out.”

Judas wandered back out onto the street. What could he do? Where could he go? Pilate's house! If he could get to the Roman governor perhaps he could convince him that Jesus was innocent! But by the time he got there he found the house was surrounded by a great crowd of people, he couldn't get anywhere near it. Pilate was leaning out of an upstairs window, telling the people that he was going to release Jesus because he hadn't done anything wrong. But the religious leaders stirred up the crowd and they shouted back, “No! Crucify him, nail him to a cross and leave him there to die!” Pilate tried to argue with them but they wouldn't listen, they just kept screaming “Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him!” In the end Pilate gave up and he ordered his soldiers to take Jesus away and crucify him.

Judas watched as the soldiers dragged Jesus out onto the street. His head and his back were covered in blood and there were bruises all over his body, he'd been beaten and whipped. They led him out of the city until they came to Skull Hill, the place where prisoners were crucified. Then they took a large wooden cross, taller than a man, and placed Jesus on it, hammering long, ugly nails through his hands and his feet so that he was pinned to the wood. The cross was pulled upright with ropes and the end was lowered into a hole in the ground so that it stood there with Jesus hanging off it, barely able to breathe. Everyone just watched and waited. Although it was midday the sky began to grow darker and darker and by three o'clock in the afternoon the light from the sun was gone. With one final effort Jesus looked up to heaven and cried out, “It is finished” and then he bowed his head and died.

With tears streaming down his face, Judas ran back to the city, he ran through the crowded streets, pushing aside anyone who got in his way, he ran without stopping for anything. He knew what he wanted to do and he knew that if he stopped to think about it he might not go through with it. When he reached the house where he'd been staying he flung open the door and charged inside. He dashed from one room to the next, rummaging through every cupboard, throwing out everything until he found what he wanted – rope, a long piece of good, strong rope.

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