Why did Judas betray Jesus?

By Tom Quiner

Was it simply greed?

Judas betrays Jesus, in a scene from "Jesus of Nazareth"

Did Judas betray Jesus for the 30 pieces of silver?

Here’s what St. Matthew (26: 14-16) says about the betrayal:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

The Gospel of John (12: 4-6) fleshes out Judas’ personality a little bit more, lending a little more credence to the motive of greed:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Nonetheless, it seems that there has got to be more to the story of Judas than just greed. If it was about the money, Judas could have held out for a lot more than 30 pieces of silver to help the Jewish power structure rid themselves of their adversary, Jesus.

But he didn’t.

And if he was interested in money, why did he hook up with this penniless band of “drifters” in the first place? Not a good move for someone driven by greed.

The betrayal seems more complex. Scripture states that he was under the influence of the Devil. John 13: 1-2 says as much:

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

If the “Devil made him do it,” as the saying goes, does that kind of let Judas off the hook?

Not according to scripture:

For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ (Luke 22:22)

The St. Matthew amplifies the grievousness of the betrayal:

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ (Matthew 26:24)

Do you know who else betrayed Judas? Peter did.

Peter publicly denied his friend, Jesus, three times. But Peter didn’t give up. He asked for forgiveness.

Do you know who else betrayed Jesus?


And you.

With each sin, we betray Christ.

To me, here is the significance of Judas’ betrayal: he could have been saved. Jesus would have forgiven him if he asked right up to the last split second of his life.

All he had to do was ask.

After all, that is exactly what Jesus did to the thief hanging on the cross next to Him. The thief repented. Jesus forgave him and said He would see him in paradise.

It’s the most radical idea in the history of the human race, this forgiveness. It goes against our grain. And yet it is one of the greatest of lessons for us to learn from Jesus.

We’re called to identify our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.

And we’re called to forgive others who “trespass against us.”

Some attribute all kinds of other motives to Judas for his betrayal, some less toxic than others.

The lesson to each of us is that we are so valuable in the eyes of our God, that He gave us Good Friday. He sent His Son to pay the price for our sins.

This Friday, Good Friday as it is known in the Catholic Church, I won’t be thinking about Judas’ betrayal as much as I’ll be thinking of my own.

As I ask for His forgiveness, I know that Easter comes.





  1. eliezer40 on April 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    A very good post! I haven’t heard that explained in quite that way before. I love the discernment in this. It’s convicting.

  2. Embattled Farmers on April 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Excellent advice, not just for Good Friday, but for every day. We are very quick to obsess over others’ betrayals (even for years!), but we are very capable of brushing off and rationalizing our own, both to other people and to God.

  3. skyedog27 on April 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Tom, another great post! We are to be merciful because He has been merciful to us. We are to forgive as He has forgiven us.
    Ray Boltz’s song “Feel the Nails” convicts me every time I hear it.

    Feel The Nails
    Words by Ray Boltz, Music by Ray Boltz and Steve Millikan
    They tell me Jesus died
    For my transgressions
    And that He paid that price
    A long long time ago
    When He gave His life for me
    On a hill called Calvary
    But there’s something else
    I want to know
    Does He still feel the nails
    Every time I fail?
    Does He hear the crowd cry,
    Crucify, again?
    Am I causing Him pain?
    Then I know I’ve got to change
    I just can’t bear the thought
    Of hurting Him
    It seems that I’m so good
    At breaking promises
    And I treat His precious grace
    So carelessly
    But each time He forgives
    What if He relives
    The agony He felt on that tree?
    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
    Do you still feel the nails
    Every time I fail?
    Have I crucified you, Jesus With my sin?
    I’m tired of playing games
    I really want to change
    I never want to hurt You again
    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord

    More lyrics: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/r/ray_boltz/#share

  4. irishsignora on April 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks, Mr. Quiner. I’ve been posting about this frequently for the last couple of weeks. We all transgressed, and are all transgressed against, but He who died to obtain the forgiveness of our sins trespassed against no one. If He can forgive such a grievous wrong, who am I to hold a grudge?

    We’ve been working on teaching the concept of immediate forgiveness to our four children (our oldest will be 5 in May). Remarkably, they seem to “get it” better than most adults we know. The faith of a child, eh?

    • quinersdiner on April 3, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      I love the faith of a child! My first grandchild is on the way, and I can hardly wait to talk to him about this beautiful faith of ours. Always good to hear from you.

      • irishsignora on April 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

        Congratulations! According to my parents, you are in for the biggest thrill since your own children are born, and without the stinky diapers!

  5. maxinebechtel on April 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

    AMEN, TOM! I marvel each day as I meditate upon God’s marvelous Grace in forgiving me and redeeming me through His Precious Sacrifice on the cross! NONE of us deserve it, but praise His Name, all He expects from us is that we repent and determine in our hearts to be faithful to Him. DO KEEP ON KEEPING ON! 1 COR. 15:58