Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9)
Both would die on trees that day. One hung on a cross; the other swung from a branch. The friendship, by all appearances, spanned over three years. They ate together, laughed together, proclaimed the kingdom together, cast out demons together, battled with Pharisees together. Heaven’s King, stooping from his throne, invited the man into his inner twelve. Night and day, this man fellowshipped with his Creator.
And both died on trees that day. Both were cursed of God: “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). One, betrayed; the other, betrayer. The infamous scheme included a familiar face.
Devil Among Disciples
After the pattern of Delilah with Samson, and Ahithopel with David, the lyric of duplicity found in Psalm 41 had to be fulfilled: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (John 13:18; Psalm 41:9). The unruly animal would kick out against his Teacher, his Benefactor, his Lord — while still bearing crumbs from the King’s banquet in his beard.
Still embittered that Mary had lavished expensive oil upon Jesus’s feet (John 12:3–8) — instead of giving its price to him so he could steal some before passing the rest to the poor — he went to Jesus’s enemies and sold him for a slave’s price, thirty pieces of silver, as had been foretold (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:14–16). The next evening, as he knew the viper would finally strike, Jesus was troubled in his spirit as he told them one final time, “one of you will betray me” (John 13:21). The psalmist captures his angst,
It is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. (Psalm 55:12–13)
We may bear the roaring indignation of an enemy, but the quiet hatred of a false friend, who can stand? The companion’s dagger reaches the soul. And such flatterers know best where to strike — the relationship proves but reconnaissance. He knew where Jesus would be that night. “Follow me: I shall lead you to him.” Et tu, Judas?
We scrape the bottom of language to hurl appropriate names at his villainy. The Father calls the angels of heaven to be appalled, shocked, undone at the sight (Jeremiah 2:12). Jesus says, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). His is the name that became heaven’s curse: Judas Iscariot.
Clean Feet, Filthy Deed
The table was set for his last meal. The night of treachery had arrived. Jesus, having loved them with a perfect love, now “loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
He rose, knowing death would take him back to his Father, wrapped a towel around his waist, and bent low to wash his disciple’s feet (John 13:3–5). The filthy deed was performed with clean feet. Jesus was no hypocrite: “I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
Had he known all along? He did. Jesus knew whom he chose when he first saw Judas slithering in the grass: “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil” (John 6:70). That night he said that not all will be cleansed of sin, for, “I know whom I have chosen” (John 13:18).
His final prediction served a purpose: to affirm, even now — especially now — that he was the divine “I am” (John 13:19), the Son of him who authored even this, the darkest chapter. Jesus was not outmaneuvered by quivering Judas — a man whose frail resolve needed a prompt from his victim to finally hatch his evil (John 13:27). He came to be betrayed. The face of the invisible God gave his cheek to the serpent’s kiss.
In Sheep’s Clothing
After he gave voice to his troubled spirit about the betrayal, John gives us the unsettling response. “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke” (John 13:22).
They met each other’s eyes. How could the culprit sit among them? Instead of wondering who was the greatest, they finally reckoned with the fact that a devil had eaten, slept, and ministered among them. None scowled at Judas and whispered under his breath, I knew it. None grabbed for his sword to cut off his ear. Instead, they asked Jesus, one by one, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19). Each saw as much darkness in himself as he saw in Judas.
He seemed a devout, well-polished young man. He too left all to follow Jesus. He too performed signs and wonders. He too gained the trust of the other disciples. He too heard the preaching, saw the miracles, and did not depart when things got tough. He would have secured more respect when he feigned great care for the poor (John 12:5–6). Gifted in business, they entrusted him with the finances. This child of darkness shrouded himself in light.
Two Men on Trees
Did Judas know he was a devil? He knew he stole, but then again, what was a coin here and there? He wasn’t hurting anyone, he thought. Although unique in the punctuation that ended his life of sin, his, nonetheless, is a familiar path to perdition. The way of Judas was the way of compromise.
And we too show ourselves devils when we live in secret sin: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). Do you walk the path of Judas? Let his swaying body remind you where the great promises of sin and Satan lead.
But two men die on trees that day.
Behold the glory of this second man, who laid down his life for his friends. He conspired with his Father to undertake punishment as a Judas to save men of Judas’s stock. See him willingly betrayed, forsaken, oppressed; writhing under his God’s wrath to redeem a cursed people from eternal judgment. See him embrace the traitor’s heel to heal traitors.
What will we do with thirty — or thirty thousand — pieces of silver, if we lose him? Reject any and every such offer. Eternal life is to know the Father and his Son whose name has become the fragrance of heaven: Jesus Christ. Our treason was his agony so that his glory would become our treasure.