Picture yourself: a follower of Jesus during the first century. One called – audibly – by name to follow Him, one selected to be among His inner circle, one of the twelve. The most notable miracles? You saw them. The most memorable sermons? You heard them. You were sent out with another of the twelve to proclaim the Good News and performed miracles yourself in His name. For three years you lived and breathed right alongside Jesus soaking in everything He said and did.
I can only imagine what that experience would do to my faith. I’d like to hope it would be a life-defining experience, the sort that would leave any one of us unalterably changed. Which is always what makes the story of one of Jesus’ twelve, Judas, so troubling. He lived this… and he walked away. While we know very little about Judas Iscariot: his call, his betrayal of Christ, and his death (Matthew 27, Acts 1), we know with certainty that he was a traitor (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16, John 6:71), who apparently stole from the apostle’s common purse (John 12:4-6).
The Apostles were almost certainly stunned by Judas’ actions: the tone of their recollections of him in Gospels show great sadness or even bitterness at the mention of his name. Dean Jones performed a wonderful one-man play called St. John in Exile – Jones plays the title character, John, reflecting on the Gospel story while living out his days in exile on the prison island of Patmos. When he narrates Jesus’ betrayal, there is a moving mixture of anger and anguish in his voice as he recognizes Judas leading the mob to arrest Jesus (start watching at 34:05):