THE FOURTH DAY IN PASSION-WEEK
JESUS IN HIS LAST SABBATICAL REST BEFORE HIS AGONY, AND THE SANHEDRISTS IN THEIR UNREST
JUDAS: HIS CHARACTER, APOSTASY, AND END
Matthew 26:1-5,14-16 ; Mark 14:1,2,10,11 ; Luke 22:1-6
FROM the record of Christ’s Sayings and Doings, furnished by St. Matthew, we turn once more to that of public events, as, from one or another aspect they are related by all the Evangelists. With the Discourses in the Temple the public Teaching of Christ had come to an end; with that spoken on the Mount of Olives, and its application in the Parables of the ‘Virgins’ and the ‘Talents,’ the instruction of the disciples had been concluded. What follows in His intercourse with His own is paragenetic, rather than teaching – exhortation, advice, and consolation: rather, perhaps, all these combined.
The three busy days of Passion-Week were past. The day before that on which the Paschal Lamb was to be slain, with all that was to follow, would be one of rest, a Sabbath to His Soul before its Great Agony. He would refresh Himself, gather Himself up for the terrible conflict before Him. And He did so as the Lamb of God – meekly submitting Himself to the Will and Hand of His Father, and so fulfilling all types, from that of Isaac’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah to the Paschal Lamb in the Temple; and bringing the reality of all prophecy, from that of the Woman’s Seed that would crush the Serpent’s head to that of the Kingdom of God in its fullness, when its golden gates would be flung open to all men, and Heaven’s own light flow out to them as they sought its way of peace. Only two days more, as the Jews reckoned them – that Wednesday and Thursday – and at its Even the Paschal supper! And Jesus knew it well, and He passed that day of rest and preparation in quiet retirement with His disciples – perhaps in some hollow of the Mount of Olives, near the home of Bethany – speaking to them of His Crucifixion on the near Passover. They sorely needed His words; they, rather than He, needed to be prepared for what was coming. But what Divine calm, what willing obedience, and also what outgoing of love to them, with full consciousness of what was before Him, to think and speak of this only on that day! So would not a Messiah of Jewish conception have acted; nay, He would not have been placed in such circumstances. So would not a Messiah of ambitious aims or of Jewish Nationalist aspirations have acted; He would have done what the Sanhedrin feared, and raised a ‘tumult of the people,’ prepared for it as the multitude was, which had so lately raised the Hosanna-cry in street and Temple. So would a disillusioned enthusiast not have acted; he would have withdrawn from the impending fate. But Jesus knew it all – far more the agony of shame and suffering, even the unfathomable agony of soul. And the while He thought only of them in it all. Such thinking and speaking is not that of Man – it is that of the Incarnate Son of God, the Christ of the Gospels.
He had, indeed, before that, sought gradually to prepare them for what was to happen on the morrow’s night. He had pointed to it in dim figure at the very opening of His Ministry, on the first occasion that he had taught in the Temple, as well as to Nicodemus. He had hinted it, when He spoke of the deep sorrow when the Bridegroom would be taken from them, of the need of taking up His cross, of the fulfilment in Him of the Jonah-type, of His Flesh which He would give for the life of the world, as well as in what might have seemed the Parabolic teaching about the Good Shepherd, Who laid down His life for the Sheep, and the Heir Whom the evil husbandmen cast out and killed. But He had also spoken of it quite directly – and this, let us specially notice, always when some highpoint in His History had been reached, and the disciples might have been carried away into Messianic expectations of an exaltation without humiliation, a triumph not a sacrifice. We remember, that the first occasion on which He spoke thus clearly was immediately after that confession of Peter, which laid the foundation of the Church, against which the gates of hell should not prevail; the next, after descending from the Mount of Transfiguration; the last, on preparing to make His triumphal Messianic Entry into Jerusalem. The darker hints and Parabolic sayings might have been misunderstood. Even as regarded the clear prediction of His Death, preconceived ideas could find no room for such a fact. Deep veneration, which could not associate it with His Person, and love which could not bear the thought of it, might, after the first shock of the words was past, and their immediate fulfilment did not follow, suggest some other possible explanation of the prediction. But on that Wednesday it was impossible to misunderstand; it could scarcely have been possible to doubt what Jesus said of His near Crucifixion. If illusions had still existed, the last two days must have rudely dispelled them. The triumphal Hosannas of His Entry into the City, and the acclamations in the Temple, had given place to the cavils of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, and with a ‘Woe’ upon it Jesus had taken His last departure from Israel’s sanctuary. And better far than those rulers, whom conscience made cowards, did the disciples know how little reliance could be placed on the adherence of the ‘multitude.’ And now the Master was telling it to them in plain words; was calmly contemplating it, and that not as in the dim future, but in the immediate present – at that very Passover, from which scarcely two days separated them. Much as we wonder at their brief scattering on His arrest and condemnation, those humble disciples must have loved Him much to sit around Him in mournful silence as He thus spake, and to follow Him unto His Dying.
But to one of them, in whose heart the darkness had long been gathering, this was the decisive moment. The prediction of Christ, which Judas as well as the others must have felt to be true, extinguished the last glimmering of such light of Christ as his soul had been capable of receiving. In its place flared up the lurid flame of hell. By the open door out of which he had thrust the dying Christ ‘Satan entered into Judas.’ Yet, even so, not permanently. It may, indeed, be doubted, whether, since God is in Christ, such can ever be the case in any human soul, at least on this side eternity. Since our world’s night has been lit up by the promise from Paradise, the rosy hue of its morning has lain on the edge of the horizon, deepening into gold, brightening into day, growing into midday-strength and evening-glory. Since God’s Voice wakened earth by its early Christmas-Hymn, it has never been quite night there, nor can it ever be quite night in any human soul.
But it is a terrible night-study, that of Judas. We seem to tread our way over loose stones of hot molten lava, as we climb to the edge of the crater, and shudderingly look down its depths. And yet there, near there, have stood not only St. Peter in the night of his denial, but mostly all of us, save they whose Angels have always looked up into the Face of our Father in heaven. And yet, in our weakness, we have even wept over them! There, near there, have we stood, not in the hours of our weakness, but in those of our sore temptation, when the blast of doubt had almost quenched the flickering light, or the storm of passion or self-will broken the bruised reed. But He prayed for us – and through the night came over desolate moor and stony height the Light of His Presence, and above the wild storm rose the Voice of Him, Who has come to seek and to save that which was lost. Yet near to us, close to us, was the dark abyss; and we can never more forget out last, almost sliding, foothold as we quitted its edge.
A terrible night-study this of Judas, and best to make it here, at once, from its beginning to its end. We shall indeed, catch sudden glimpse of him again, as the light of the torches flashes on the traitor-face in Gethsemane; and once more hear his voice in the assemblage of the haughty, sneering councillors of Israel, when his footfall on the marble pavement of the Temple-halls; and the clink of those thirty accursed pieces of silver shall waken the echoes, wake also the dirge of despair in his soul, and he shall flee from the night of his soul into the night that for ever closes around him. But all this as rapidly as we may pass from it, after this present brief study of his character and history.
We remember, that ‘Judas, the man of Kerioth,’ was, so far as we know, the only disciple of Jesus from the province of Judæa. This circumstance; that he carried the bag, i.e. was treasurer and administrator of the small common stock of Christ and His disciples; and that he was both a hypocrite and a thief – this is all that we know for certain of his history. From the circumstance that he was appointed to such office of trust in the Apostolic community, we infer that he must have been looked up to by the others as an able and prudent man, a good administrator. And there is probably no reason to doubt, that he possessed the natural gift of administration or of ‘government’. The question, why Jesus left him ‘the bag’ after he knew him to be a thief – which, as we believe, he was not at the beginning, and only became in the course of time and in the progress of disappointment – is best answered by this other: Why He originally allowed it to be entrusted to Judas? It was not only because he was best fitted – probably, absolutely fitted – for such work, but also in mercy to him, in view of his character. To engage in that for which a man is naturally fitted is the most likely means of keeping him from brooding, dissatisfaction, alienation, and eventual apostasy. On the other hand, it must be admitted that, as mostly all our life-temptations come to us from that for which we have most aptitude, when Judas was alienated and unfaithful in heart, this very thing became also his greatest temptation, and, indeed, hurried him to his ruin. But only after he had first failed inwardly. And so, as ever in like circumstances, the very things which might have been most of blessing become most of curse, and the judgment of hardening fulfils itself by that which in itself is good. Nor could ‘the bag’ have been afterwards taken from him without both exposing him to the others, and precipitating his moral destruction. And so he had to be left to the process of inward ripening, till all was ready for the sickle.
This very gift of ‘government’ in Judas may also help us to understand how he may have been first attracted to Jesus, and through what process, when alienated, he came to end in that terrible sin which had cast its snare about him. The ‘gift of government’ would, in its active aspect, imply the desire for it. From thence to ambition in its worst, or selfish, aspect, there is only a step – scarcely that: rather, only different moral premisses. 20 Judas was drawn to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and he believed in Him as such, possibly both earnestly and ardently; but he expected that His would be the success, the result, and the triumphs of the Jewish Messiah, and he also expected personally and fully to share in them. How deep-rooted were such feelings even in the best, purest, and most unselfish of Jesus’ disciples, we gather from the request of the mother of John and James for her sons, and from Peter’s question: ‘What shall we have?’ it must have been sorrow, the misery of moral loneliness, and humiliation, to Him Who was Unselfishness Incarnate, Who lived to die and was full to empty Himself, to be associated with such as even His most intimate disciples, who in this sense also could not watch with Him even one hour, and in whom, at the end of His Ministry, such heaviness was mentally and morally the outcrop, if not the outcome. And in Judas all this must have been an hundredfold more than in them who were in heart true to Christ.
He had, from such conviction as we have described, joined the movement at its very commencement. Then, multitudes in Galilee followed His Footsteps, and watched for His every appearance; they hung entranced on His lips in the Synagogue or on ‘the Mount;’ they flocked to Him from every town, village, and hamlet; they bore the sick and dying to His Feet, and witnessed, awestruck, how conquered devils gave their testimony to His Divine Power. It was the spring-time of the movement, and all was full of promise – land, people, and disciples. The Baptist, who had bowed before Him and testified to Him, was still lifting his voice to proclaim the near Kingdom. But the people had turned after Jesus, and He swayed them. And, oh! what power was there in His Face and Word, and His look and deed. And Judas, also, had been one of them who, on their early Mission, had temporarily had power given Him, so that the very devils had been subject to them. But, step by step, had come the disappointment. John was beheaded, and not avenged; on the contrary, Jesus withdrew Himself. This constant withdrawing, whether from enemies or from success – almost amounting to flight – even when they would have made Him a King; this refusal to show Himself openly, either at Jerusalem, as His own brethren had taunted Him, or, indeed, anywhere else; this uniform preaching of discouragement to them, when they came to Him elated and hopeful at some success; this gathering enmity of Israel’s leaders, and His marked avoidance of, or, as some might have put it, His failure in taking up the repeated public challenge of the Pharisees to show a sign from heaven; last, and chief of all, this constant and growing reference to shame, disaster, and death – what did it all mean, if not disappointment of all those hopes and expectations which had made Judas at the first a disciple of Jesus?
He that so knew Jesus, not only in His Words and Deeds, but in His inmost Thoughts, even to His night-long communing with God on the hill-side, could not have seriously believed in the coarse Pharisaic charge of Satanic agency as the explanation of all. Yet, from the then Jewish standpoint, he could scarcely have found it impossible to suggest some other explanation of His miraculous power. But, as increasingly the moral and spiritual aspect of Christ’s Kingdom must have become apparent to even the dullest intellect, the bitter disappointment of his Messianic thoughts and hopes must have gone on, increasing in proportion as, side by side with it, the process of moral alienation, unavoidably connected with his resistance to such spiritual manifestation, continued and increased. And so the mental and the moral alienation went on together, affected by and affecting each other. As if we were pressed to name a definite moment when the process of disintegration, at least sensibly, began, we would point to that Sabbath-morning at Capernaum, when Christ had preached about His Flesh as the Food of the World, and so many of His adherents ceased to follow after Him; nay, when the leaven so worked even in His disciples, that He turned to them with the searching question – intended to show them the full import of the crisis – whether they also would leave Him? Peter conquered by grasping the moral element, because it was germane to him and to the other true disciples: ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ But this moral element was the very cliff on which Judas made shipwreck. After this, all was wrong, and increasingly so. We see disappointment in his face when not climbing the Mount of Transfiguration, and disappointment in the failure to heal the lunatic child. In the disputes by the way, in the quarrels who was greatest among them, in all the pettiness of misunderstandings and realistic folly of their questions or answers, we seem to hear the echo of his voice, to see the result of his influence, the leaven of his presence. And in it all we mark the downward hastening of his course, even to the moment when, in contrast to the deep love of a Mary, he first stands before us unmasked, as heartless, hypocritical, full of hatred – disappointed ambition having broken down into selfishness, and selfishness slid into covetousness, even to the crime of stealing that which was destined for the poor.
For, when an ambition which rests only on selfishness gives way there lies close by it the coarse lust of covetousness, as the kindred passion and lower expression of that other form of selfishness. When the Messianic faith of Judas gave place to utter disappointment, the moral and spiritual character of Christ’s Teaching would affect him, not sympathetically but antipathetically. Thus, that which should have opened the door of his heart, only closed and double-barred it. His attachment to the Person of Jesus would give place to actual hatred, though only of a temporary character; and the wild intenseness of his Eastern nature would set it all in flame. Thus, when Judas had lost his slender foothold, or, rather, when it had slipped from under him, he fell down, down the eternal abyss. The only hold to which he could cling was the passion of his soul. As he laid hands on it, it gave way, and fell with him into fathomless depths. We, each of us, have also some master-passion; and if, which God forbid! we should lose our foothold, we also would grasp this master-passion, and it would give way, and carry us with it into the eternal dark and deep.
On that spring day, in the restfulness of Bethany, when the Master was taking His sad and solemn Farewell of sky and earth, of friends and disciples, and told them what was to happen only two days later at the Passover, it was all settled in the soul of Judas. ‘Satan entered’ it. Christ would be crucified; this was quite certain. In the general cataclysm let Judas have at least something. And so, on that sunny afternoon, he left them out there, to seek speech of them that were gathered, not in their ordinary meeting-place, but in the High-Priest’s Palace. Even this indicates that it was an informal meeting, consultative rather than judicial. For, it was one of the principles of Jewish Law that, in criminal cases, sentence must be spoken in the regular meeting-place of the Sanhedrin. The same inference is conveyed by the circumstance, that the captain of the Temple-guard and his immediate subordinates seem to have been taken into the council, no doubt to concert the measures for the actual arrest of Jesus. There had previously been a similar gathering and consultation, when the report of the raising of Lazarus reached the authorities of Jerusalem. The practical resolution adopted at that meeting had apparently been, that a strict watch should henceforth be kept on Christ’s movements, and that every one of them, as well as the names of His friends, and the places of His secret retirement, should be communicated to the authorities, with the view to His arrest at the proper moment.
It was probably in professed obedience to this direction, that the traitor presented himself that afternoon in the Palace of the High-Priest Caiaphas. Those assembled there were the ‘chiefs’ of the Priesthood – no doubt, the Temple-officials, heads of the course of Priests, and connections of the High-Priestly family, who constituted what both Josephus and the Talmud designate as the Priestly Council. 26 All connected with the Temple, its ritual, administration, order, and laws, would be in their hands. Moreover, it was but natural, that the High-Priest and his council should be the regular official medium between the Roman authorities and the people. In matters which concerned, not ordinary misdemeanours, but political crimes (such as it was wished to represent the movement of Jesus), or which affected the status of the established religion, the official chiefs of the Priest-hood would, of course, be the persons to appeal, in conjunction with the Sanhedrists, to the secular authorities. This, irrespective of the question – to which reference will be made in the sequel – what place the Chief Priests held in the Sanhedrin. But in that meeting in the Palace of Caiaphas, besides these Priestly Chiefs, the leading Sanhedrists (‘Scribes and Elders’) were also gathered. They were deliberating how Jesus might be taken by subtilty and killed. Probably they had not yet fixed on any definite plan. Only at this conclusion had they arrived – probably in consequence of the popular acclamations at His Entry into Jerusalem, and of what had since happened – that nothing must be done during the Feast, for fear of some popular tumult. They knew only too well the character of Pilate, and how in any such tumult all parties – the leaders as well as the led – might experience terrible vengeance.
It must have been intense relief when, in their perplexity, the traitor now presented himself before them with his proposals. Yet his reception was not such as he may have looked for. He probably expected to be hailed and treated as a most important ally. They were, indeed, ‘glad, and covenanted to give him money,’ even as he promised to dog His steps, and watch for the opportunity which they sought. In truth, the offer of the betrayer changed the whole aspect of matters. What formerly they dreaded to attempt seemed now both safe and easy. They could not allow such an opportunity to slip; it was one that might never occur again. Nay, might it not even seem, from the defection of Judas, as if dissatisfaction and disbelief had begun to spread in the innermost circle of Christ’s disciples?
Yet, withal, they treated Judas not as an honoured associate, but as a common informer, and a contemptible betrayer. This was not only natural but, in the circumstances, the wisest policy, alike in order to save their own dignity, and to keep most secure hold on the betrayer. And, after all, it might be said, so as to minimise his services, that Judas could really not do much for them – only show them how they might seize Him at unawares in the absence of the multitude, to avoid the possible tumult of an open arrest. So little did they understand Christ! And Judas had at last to speak it out barefacedly – so selling himself as well as the Master: ‘What will ye give me?’ It was in literal fulfilment of prophecy, that they ‘weighed out’ to him 28 from the very Temple-treasury those thirty pieces of silver (about 3l. 15s.). And here we mark, that there is always terrible literality about the prophecies of judgment, while those of blessing far exceed the words of prediction. And yet it was surely as much in contempt of the seller as of Him Whom he sold, that they paid the legal price of a slave. Or did they mean some kind of legal fiction, such as to buy the Person of Jesus at the legal price of a slave, so as to hand it afterwards over to the secular authorities? Such fictions, to save the conscience by a logical quibble, are not so uncommon – and the case of the Inquisitors handing over the condemned heretic to the secular authorities will recur to the mind. But, in truth, Judas could not now have escaped their toils. They might have offered him ten or five pieces of silver, and he must still have stuck to his bargain. Yet none the less do we mark the deep symbolic significance of it all, in that the Lord was, so to speak, paid for out of the Temple-money which was destined for the purchase of sacrifices, and that He, Who took on Him the form of a servant, 30 was sold and bought at the legal price of a slave.
And yet Satan must once more enter the heart of Judas at that Supper, before he can finally do the deed. But, even so, we believe it was only temporarily, not for always – for, he was still a human being, such as on this side eternity we all are – and he had still a conscience working in him. With this element he had not reckoned in his bargain in the High Priest’s Palace. On the morrow of His condemnation would it exact a terrible account. That night in Gethsemane never more passed from his soul. In the thickening and encircling gloom all around, he must have ever seen only the torch-light glare as it fell on the pallid Face of the Divine Sufferer. In the terrible stillness before the storm, he must have ever heard only these words: ‘Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?’ He did not hate Jesus then – he hated nothing; he hated everything. He was utterly desolate, as the storm of despair swept over his disenchanted soul, and swept him before it. No one in heaven or on earth to appeal to; no one, Angel or man, to stand by him. Not the priests, who had paid him the price of blood, would have aught of him, not even the thirty pieces of silver, the blood-money of his Master and of his own soul – even as the modern Synagogue, which approves of what has been done, but not of the deed, will have none of him! With their ‘See thou to it!’ they sent him reeling back into his darkness. Not so could conscience be stilled. And, louder than the ring of the thirty silver pieces as they fell on the marble pavement of the Temple, rang it ever in his soul, ‘I have betrayed innocent blood!’ Even if Judas possessed that which on earth cleaves closest and longest to us – a woman’s love – it could not have abode by him. It would have turned into madness and fled; or it would have withered, struck by the lightning-flash of that night of terrors.
Deeper – farther out into the night! to its farthest bounds – where rises and falls the dark flood of death. The wild howl of the storm has lashed the dark waters into fury: they toss and break in wild billows at his feet. One narrow rift in the cloud-curtain over-head, and, in the pale, deathlike light lies the Figure of the Christ, so calm and placid, untouched and unharmed, on the storm-tossed waters, as it had been that night lying on the Lake of Galilee, when Judas had seen Him come to them over the surging billows, and then bid them be peace. Peace! What peace to him now – in earth or heaven? It was the same Christ, but thorn-crowned, with nail-prints in His Hands and Feet. And this Judas had done to the Master! Only for one moment did it seem to lie there; then it was sucked up by the dark waters beneath. And again the cloud-curtain is drawn, only more closely; the darkness is thicker, and the storm wilder than before. Out into that darkness, with one wild plunge – there, where the Figure of the Dead Christ had lain on the waters! And the dark waters have closed around him in eternal silence.
In the lurid morn that broke on the other shore where the flood cast him up, did he meet those searching, loving Eyes of Jesus, Whose gaze he knew so well – when he came to answer for the deeds done in the flesh?
And – can there be a store in the Eternal Compassion for the Betrayer of Christ?