A Bible story of betrayal, God’s plan, and the importance of leaning into Jesus.
Recently, I was asked to write some commentary and thoughts around a specific Bible passage: John 13:21-30. First of all, the fact that I had an opportunity to address scripture is mind-blowing… a few years ago I would have laughed in your face had you told me I would be studying commentary on a Bible verse. I didn’t know this section of scripture, and was surprised where God led my heart while reading the passage.
In cliffnote fashion, here is what happened: Jesus announces he will be betrayed and then identifies his soon-to-be betrayer (Judas) by handing a piece of bread to him. Scripture tells us that, after this, Satan enters Judas and then Jesus instructs Judas to do what he will quickly. Judas then goes out into the night.
You may know how the next few chapters unravel because, basically, this leads to Jesus being arrested and then eventually executed on the cross. I imagine if you are like me, it is easy to look at this verse and have rage radiate toward Judas. It’s like watching a horror movie screaming at the young woman “Don’t go back into the house!”
With hindsight on my side, I want to scream…
“Don’t do it Judas! You have a choice, don’t leave!” It won’t end well for you!
Ever heard of a “hagiography”?
A hagiography is a biography of someone who is idealized. It’s similar to highlighting only the good of a situation or event instead of looking at both sides. For example, when the Israelites left Egypt, almost immediately they began to desire the pots of meat from the past [Exodus 16:3]. In their state of desperation for food, they could only recall the “good ole days” and overlooked important facts, ya know, like being enslaved and living through mandates to murder their newborn baby boys.
The Word of God gives us the blessing of sharing stories as they genuinely occurred, not beautiful narratives where we romanticize the heroes. Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, and multiple women in Jesus’s genealogy were poised as harlots. In lay(wo)man terms, the Bible shows us the good with the bad. Our God does not withhold the all-inclusive truth about the people He used to grow His kingdom, yet he does create beauty from the ashes.
I hate to admit I’m prone to do the opposite of hagiography – when I see someone like Gomer or Judas in the Bible, I rarely hold empathy for their situation. My judgemental eye goes right to their mistake.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder… what if pain is in the heart of the betrayer?
I am not proposing by any means that someone’s devastating decisions should be a get-out-of-jail-free card for sin, but I do find gratitude that God allows us to see all sides of humanity. I would also imagine therein is a purpose we should contemplate. This passage demonstrates the messy middle of Judas’ actions. I believe there is a lot we can learn from the steps described, but first, let’s explore Judas as a man.
Here are a few things we know:
- He was manipulated by Satan [John 13:2 and 13:27]
- He was an outlier [John 13:11 and John 13:18]
- He is always mentioned last of the 12 disciples [Matthew 10:4]
- He was a thief [John 12:6]
- Words were spoken over him many times proclaiming him what he turned out to be; a devil [John 6:70-71] and a betrayer [John 6:64]
We also know he was the treasurer, a role I would assume carries pressure and temptation. While we do not understand the complete layering of his childhood trauma, considering the other unlikely disciples (tax collectors and zealots), he most definitely has some.
And, he is the only disciple not from Galilee, hailing from a territory occupied by the Edomites (descendants of Esau who took wives from the line of Ishmael [Gen 28:9], who were the sons of the flesh and not the children of God [Rom 9:8]).
You know the saying: Walk a day in my shoes before you judge me. When I think about wearing Judas’ sandals that evening, I wonder if he was the last in line waiting for Jesus to wash his feet. Was he tired, hungry, sore, sad, lonely, and vulnerable? I am curious if the other disciples were chatting and sharing stories, as he waited in silence, feeling alone.
Did he feel like an outcast? Do you feel like an outcast?
Can you think of a time when you felt last, least, or left out and it exposed you to making a poor decision?
Here is a fun fact for you working, traveling mommas… some of my most inspiring, deep, quick conversations have happened on my work trips with the coolest Uber drivers!
I recently met a biracial German woman living in southern Tennessee. Noticing her unique background and almost perfect English, I complimented her. In doing that, I also touched a tender memory. In her own words she shared, “Because I articulate too properly, I didn’t fit in with the African Americans at school. Looking biracial, I never felt accepted among the Caucasians either.”
Losing her mom, and never meeting her dad, the feelings of not belonging left a gaping hole in her soul. This led her down a road of rage and mistakes she wished she could reverse. Fortunately, she started leaning into Jesus and His redemption patched that hole. Yep! We uncovered all that in about a 12-minute Uber ride. I guess that’s the coach in me.
Let’s bring this back to the verse.
Did you notice the disciple John’s posture in the scripture? John was close to Jesus (literally) [v.25]. He was leaning into Jesus. He was near so he could ask questions and learn.
Judas’ heart was already far away. Judas could have made decisions not to steal, betray, and walk out that door into the night [v.30].
The problem is, when we feel last, least, and far away from our God, we become open to small sins. The antidote to this is leaning into the light, not walking further away into the darkness [v.30].
Friends, the familiar saying “the devil is in the details” is true. The Devil is looking for small, slivers of open wounds (feeling least, alone, or having thoughts of shame) that he can penetrate. I would love to retell this passage in a hagiography where Judas shooed the Devil away and asked John to step aside so he could get closer and start leaning into Jesus, too… but he didn’t. And sometimes, I don’t either. I think there is a lot we can learn from these actions (or lack thereof) in our own lives. Just maybe, we can have a little more empathy for others and invite them to be seen as well!
Jesus understood the next step Judas would take [v.27] and the purpose his Father sent him to fulfill. He did not push back, he stepped right into that calling. That, my friend, is the blind bravery I am striving for.
In the coming chapters, God is going to work through Judas’ sin, which ultimately leads to Jesus dying on the cross for all of our sins (past, present, and future). Scripture is full of humans making missteps that never prevented God’s beautiful plan from coming to life.
One final thought, the Bible is also a picture of sinners repenting and transforming into leaders executing God’s purpose. Judas was not the only one to betray or deny God. I can’t help but wonder if he had, after his deep regret, decided to repent and then turn to Jesus, would Judas have given Peter and Paul a run for their money? Would Judas have been a trailblazer for the early church?
We will never know what his fate could have been, but we do have a say in our own lives.
Let’s learn from Judas: Stopping right in the middle of our pain or sin and leaning into Jesus.
Want to learn more Bible stories and welcome opportunities to lean into Jesus?! Well have no fear, we have you covered my friend!