Study Guide

Judas Iscariot in Gospel of John

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Judas Iscariot

Things never quite work out for Judas. He gets a bad rap right from the beginning of the story—but does he deserve it?

Et tu, Judas?

Judas's big defining character trait is that he betrays Jesus. That might explain why you've met tons of guys named Peter but have never come across a Judas. No one wants to name their baby after a turncoat. (We bet you've never met a Benedict either.)

John's Gospel doesn't go easy on Judas, that's for sure. Not only are we told that he's "going to betray [Jesus]" (6:71) way back in Chapter 6, we're reminded of this little fact every time Judas's name pops up. Try to get a label like that off your Google search results.

Ah, the dramatic irony. We know all along that Judas is the bad guy, but it isn't until the last supper that Jesus finally reveals the juicy secret. He hands him a piece of bread—not exactly the most dramatic choice—and Judas runs out into the night to meet up with the religious authorities (13:30). Jesus even pins his death on Judas, telling Pilate "the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin" (19:11). No mercy for the wicked, indeed.

Bad to the Bone

As if betraying the son of God weren't bad enough, John's gospel ups the ante on Judas's evil ways. When Judas objects to Mary of Bethany wasting money on expensive perfumes to wash Jesus's feet, the authors don't let us believe he wants the money to go to poor instead. Nope, it's because "he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it" (12:6). That's right. He's a liar and a thief and he doesn't even care about the poor. Clearly, we're not supposed to feel sorry for this guy.

Just Doing His Job

What were Judas's motivations for turning in Jesus? Did he do it for the money? Was he jealous? Did he think Jesus was a fraud? The Gospel never really gives us a good reason.

No matter what the reason, Jesus needs Judas. If Judas had never turned him in, Jesus wouldn't have been able to carry out God's orders. Jesus knows from the beginning that Judas's actions are going to set off the chain of events that lead to his death.

So wait. Does that mean the salvation of the world is made possible because of Judas's devious actions?

Maybe Jesus should be thanking him instead of condemning him. What do you think?


Judas is right up there among the most talked about folks in the gospels. Authors and artists just love to write and talk about his role in Jesus's life and death. And no wonder—he's kind of at the center of all the drama.

Some of these chatters go the "ultimate betrayer" route. Like, say, Dante, who shows Judas in the ninth circle of hell being chewed on for all eternity by Satan himself. Thanks for the image, Dante.

Other people take a more sympathetic view. The musical Jesus Christ Superstar portrays Judas as a tragic figure who only turns Jesus in because he thought the whole "son of God" thing had gone a bit too far. Oh, and Lady Gaga even has a song called "Judas" about the way people are constantly pulled toward the bad guys.

And hey, when Lady Gaga has a song about you, you know you've arrived.

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