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Who Was Judas Iscariot in the Bible?

Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible? Judas Iscariot is a name that many people know, even if they have never opened a Bible. The betrayal he represents is akin to men like Benedict Arnold, Brutus, and Aldrich Ames.

As with many figures in the Bible, the early life of Judas Iscariot is not well known. Reviewing the Greek of his name, Ioudas Iskariōth, we can deduce a couple things about this infamous traitor. The first is that he held a common name used in first-century Judaism. Ioudas is the Greek form of Judah, which means “praised.” However, his last name, Iskariōth, is a little more complicated to place. The most common explanation is that it refers to his origins, identifying him as a man from Kerioth. When we look at sites with that name in the Bible, this could put him as being from a town in Moab or a location known as Kerioth-Hezron. Another possible explanation for his last name is that it could have been added later to describe his actions, as the Greek word for assassin or bandit is sikarios.

Distinguishing Judases in the Bible

It should be noted that Judas was not an uncommon name for men of this time. In fact, Jesus had two Judases in His band of disciples. In Luke 6:16, we see the other Judas listed before Judas Iscariot with a clear distinction (“and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor”). The other Judas is “the son of James,” a distinctive title that appears in Acts 1:13-14 as well. We also see a clear attempt to distinguish them in John 14:22: “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (ESV).

Judas Iscariot: Disciple, Betrayer, and Thief

Though the origins of “Iscariot” may be disputed, Judas’ role as the disciple who betrayed Jesus is not. All four Gospels make clear that he is Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Christ (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, and John 12:4). John goes on to highlight another of Judas’s evil characteristics.

“He [Judas] said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6, ESV).

Judas’s greed played a part in the betrayal, as Judas would go on to hand Jesus over in exchange for silver. However, this verse also highlights Judas’s role as one of the disciples. He oversaw the group’s finances.


Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible? “Judas’s greed played a part in the betrayal, as Judas would go on to hand Jesus over in exchange for silver.”


From stealing money to betraying his friend for thirty silver coins, Judas shows that money drove many of his actions. It may also be that how Judas was perceived socially played a part in his actions. When we look at the John 12 passage in its entirety, we see Judas voicing his concern over expensive ointment being “wasted” on Jesus. Why, he asks, was the ointment not sold and the money then used for the poor? Yet, from verse 6, we see that his words are just for show. He did not care for the poor but for his own selfish gain.

The Prophecy and Betrayal

Judas Iscariot served a purpose that, for the longest time, only Christ knew about. Judas was the one who would betray Him to the religious leaders. The eeriness of this is in the fine detail we see in the coinciding prophetic verses.

“Then I said to them, ‘If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.” (Zechariah 11:12-13, ESV)

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16, ESV)

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9, ESV)

“Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” (John 13:26, ESV)

I have wondered if the biblically literate religious leaders ever had a moment of recollection as they counted out the thirty silver coins to Judas.


Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible? “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’”


Tragic End

Judas’s story ends tragically, as narrated in Matthew 27:3-10. Filled with the remorse of sending an innocent man to His death, Judas returns the money to the religious leaders and goes and hangs himself from a tree. We also see how the story concludes and what happens to him; putting together the Matthew account and the Luke account, it seems that his body decays as apparently no one ever removed him from the tree, and it falls, smashing onto rocks (Acts 1:18).

Two Types of Remorse

If I’m honest with you, reader, I feel a profound sorrow whenever I think about Judas. I like to dabble in “What if” situations, and I can’t help but think, What if Judas had repented and seen the risen Christ? There is no doubt in my mind that Christ would have forgiven even His betrayer. After all, He forgave and redeemed Peter, who denied Him three times.

As we contrast the two stories, we see the importance of turning to God in repentance. In the case of Judas, we see him feel bad about his betrayal of Christ. He tries to return the money and, still feeling bad, takes matters into his own hands, as he eventually goes and hangs himself. For me, there is a critical lesson in his actions: repentance devoid of Christ only leads to death. What do I mean by that? When we rely on our works to fix a situation, and we are not leaning into the work of Christ as our source, we are doomed to hopelessness and death.

With Judas, I think what makes part of his story hard to digest is that, if Peter’s story is any indicator, redemption could have been so close. After Peter’s denials, we see the same feeling of brokenness about his actions, in that he breaks down bitterly and starts crying. Both men betrayed Christ. Both recognized their sin. Both felt remorse for their actions. But only one received redemption; why?


“After Peter’s denials, we see the same feeling of brokenness about his actions, in that he breaks down bitterly and starts crying.”


It’s interesting to compare these stories and realize that the story of Peter’s remorse (Matthew 26:69-75) comes immediately before Judas’ remorse (Matthew 27:1-10). However, looking at these, a difference stuck out to me. It is the response of each man in their moment of remorse. Peter’s mind goes back to the words of Christ (Matthew 26:75), while Judas is left with the words of guilt from the religious leaders. At this moment, the physical proximity of each man to Jesus struck me. I believe what is critical to genuine repentance that leads to change is to focus on Christ.

God’s Sovereignty

Reviewing this parallel story of two men, we also learn about God’s sovereignty and redemption. Throughout all the events going on, we sometimes lose focus on who the key players are. We remember the story of Judas as Judas betraying Christ, but we sometimes overlook verses such as Luke 22:3-4 and John 13:27.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.” (Luke 22:3-5, ESV)

“Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.” (John 13:27-28, ESV)

In the story, we see a spiritual behind-the-scenes of what is occurring. Amid the spiritual war in which Satan tries to defeat and destroy God’s plan to redeem humans, Satan entered Judas and convinced him to take actions that would lead to the death of Jesus. Yet, in the end, we know God’s plan was still coming to fruition.


Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible? “Satan entered Judas and convinced him to take actions that would lead to the death of Jesus.”


Even with Satan scoring what felt like a major victory, everything was happening according to God’s plan, as foreshadowed in biblical prophecy and as predicted by Jesus beforehand. God’s sovereignty is on display; even in this moment, which looks like defeat, God remains sovereign and victorious.

Dangers of Idolatry

Judas’ story lays out before our eyes the dangers of idolatry. Judas was focused on his idol of money, and the enemy used it to manipulate him and draw him away from Christ. How real of a lesson is this for us today? Pick your motivator: power, money, or sex. Which one has the most sway over your fears and desires?

When tempted to idolatry, we need to recall the wisdom and protectiveness of the first two of the Ten Commandments. We shall not place any gods before Him and should not make any carved images for ourselves. Nothing should come before God. This is because that thing that we place before God will begin to draw our attention away from Him. The enemy’s goal for us is the same as his goal for Judas, unrepentant death leading to eternal damnation.

I will always wonder how Judas’ story may have been different if, instead of hanging himself from a tree, he had fallen at the base of a different tree, the cross of God’s mercy.

Twisting the Narrative

In 1970, the Codex Tchacos was found in Egypt. This papyrus codex which likely dates to the fourth century A.D. contained Gnostic teachings, including the Letter of Peter to Philip, the First Apocalypse of James, the Allogenes, and The Gospel of Judas.[1] The Gospel of Judas is an incomplete document that claims to bring to light a secret dialogue between Jesus and Judas. This dialogue flips the narrative, making it appear as if Judas betrayed Jesus as per Jesus’ own instructions.

It is important to note that this work of fiction was known by the early church fathers and never considered authoritative in the Church. This is because it taught a form of Gnosticism (likely of the Sethians, often called “classic Gnostics”). To provide background, Gnosticism is a heresy created in the early second century that teaches that individuals can only be saved through revealed knowledge. Gnostics hold a negative view of the physical and material world and drew a sharp distinction between true, pure divinity and the Creator God of the Old Testament, who was regarded as clumsy and even evil. According to what we know of the Gospel of Judas (again, what survives is fragmentary), Judas had secret knowledge which the other disciples didn’t; thus, he was able to carry out Jesus’ mission.


“The Gospel of Judas is an incomplete document that claims to bring to light a secret dialogue between Jesus and Judas.”


The early Church father Irenaeus had the following to say about the Gospel of Judas:

“Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”[2]

This opinion of the Gospel of Judas being a work of heretical fiction is also reinforced by Epiphanius, a church bishop in Salamis, in Panarion (Book 1, Section 38).[3]

This is not the first time, nor the last, that we will see people try to twist narratives for their pleasure or gain. We need to beware the allure of “secret knowledge,” just as surely as we need to guard against greed.


[1] Elliot Ritzema, “Codex Tchacos,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[2] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 1.31.1, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 358.

[3] Epiphanius of Salamis, “Book 1 (Sects 1-46)” ed. Elinar Thomassen et al., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (Leiden, NLD: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2009).

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