Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Did it have anything to do with him trying to overthrow the Roman government?


Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve disciples that were selected by Jesus Christ. He was known as Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. Judas carried the money bag, so he was like a church treasurer, and his desire for money was evident, and there is no scriptural evidence that Judas was ever saved. He never called Jesus “Lord,” like the other disciples did, but called Him “Rabbi,” so maybe Judas didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, or He did know and wanted the Messiah to rule immediately. Either way, Judas was only concerned about himself and his own agenda, and as the money bag holder, he didn’t really care about Jesus as much as he did the money. One example was when Mary anointed Jesus with a costly perfume. Judas was indignant, and asked, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He 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 12:5-6), so 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 12:7), so we see Judas’ true character, his motivation, and that he was truly never converted, so why did Judas betray Jesus?

Judas was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Judas’ Motives

Before we try to answer the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus, we might think about Judas and his background. The name Iscariot is said to have come from the Semitic root verb “sqr,” meaning “to lie,” so Judas’ very name insinuates that he is a liar, however, Judas’ name itself is said to have derived from Judas’s membership in the sicarii or “dagger wielders,” which was a band of religious terrorists of the time, so there is some speculation that Judas was aligned with the Zealots, a fanatical group that had included another apostle, Simon, and whose intent was to overthrow the Roman rule in Judea. As far as the other disciples knew, Judas was not suspected at all as a false convert. When Jesus said someone would betray Him that Passover night, all the other disciples wondered was if it would be them…not Judas, but Judas had a clever cover. He was basically like the church treasurer, holding all the funds that were given to support Jesus’ earthly ministry, and never cared for anyone but himself. So the question is, “Did Judas betray Jesus to see how He would respond when they tried to arrest Him?” Was it sort of like throwing Jesus into the deep end of the pool to see if He’d sink or swim? Maybe, but we can’t be sure about what Judas was thinking. Maybe Judas expected the Messiah to come and rule immediately, destroying the Roman armies, and placing Israel as the chief nation among the nations, so when Jesus failed to do that, and knowing Jesus mission was to die and be raised to life (which Judas likely didn’t believe), Judas lost faith and any hope in Jesus’ helping to restore the nation of Israel to prominence and power.

Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!

The Betrayal

Did Judas think that Jesus would use His power to destroy those who ruled over the Jews, and thus, allow the Zealots to overthrow both the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans? It’s a possibility because Judas had seen many miracles, and even the dead were raised to life, so he knew Jesus had supernatural powers, so maybe Jesus’ power enticed Judas into thinking that Jesus would use this power for Israel’s restoration. This would ensure that Judas would reign with Christ or at least be a leader of the nation after the Roman yoke of bondage was broken. Again, we can’t know what Judas was thinking, but it does appear that Judas regretted his decision after he realized that they would not only arrest Jesus, but try Him and have Him crucified. He didn’t expect that. That’s why he tried to return the 30 pieces of silver he’d been given to betray Jesus. Perhaps he gave the money back in an attempt to stop Jesus’ crucifixion. Maybe Judas had originally expected Jesus to defy the Roman authorities and begin His earthly reign with the twelve disciples, Judas included, but when Jesus made it clear He was going to suffer and die, Judas gave up hope and thus, he betrayed Him for a paltry 30 pieces of silver…about the price of a slave in that day. Even though Judas regretted his actions, not expecting them to kill Jesus, there is no indication he ever repented or prayed to God for forgiveness. By being overburdened by such an intense guilt, Judas went out hanged himself, committing suicide (Matt 27:5). The “son of perdition” or destruction took his place in the prophetic plan of God (John 17:12), but as always, God uses great evil for great good (Gen 50:20; John 3:16).


What a terrible tragedy for Judas, and even worse, where he is at today, being in eternal torment and regret. It was just as Jesus said, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). The word for “betray” is actually “to deliver,” so it would be more accurate to say that Judas conspired to have Jesus delivered to the Jewish leaders, and He was, but it was just as God had ordained. Sadly, there was still time for Judas to have repented, but there is no indication that he ever did. He showed great remorse for what he did, but the overwhelming guilt was just too much for him, ending his physical life.

Here is some related reading for you: Judas Iscariot – Bible Story and Profile

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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