Once it was evening time, he arrived with the twelve. As they were sitting at the table and eating, Jesus stated, “Truly I tell you that one of you will have me arrested – one who is eating with me. They were saddened and each said, one by one, to him, “Is it me?” Then he replied, saying, “One of the twelve – the one who dips with me into the bowl. Because the Servant of Humanity will depart just as it is written about him. But it will be dreadful for the person who will have the Servant of Humanity arrested. It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." (Mark 14:17-21)
Not as simple as it soundsMost interpreters assume that Jesus is speaking of Judas, one of the twelve close disciples of Jesus. However, there are other considerations here. Including the fact that Jesus allowed himself to be arrested.
Jesus is sitting down at the Passover meal with his close disciples. Note that these aren't all of his disciples. According to Luke 9:1, Jesus had at least 72 disciples:
After these events the Master commissioned seventy-two others and dispatched them in pairs in advance of his appearance within the villages and places he was going to go. (Luke 10:1)For this reason, his 12 disciples who traveled with him are often called his apostles.
What are the Apostles?The Greek word for apostles is ἀπόστολος (apostolos). This means, according to the lexicon, "a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders." This can refer to preaching, but it can also refer to practical matters.
In other words, Jesus was traveling and he had people around him who assisted him with many practical matters. This means they arranged for his sleeping and eating arrangements. They also set up places where he was going to preach. And they also helped him during his preaching. For example, they helped pass out bread and water to his followers who were hearing his lectures.
These close disciples were mostly people he knew well and trusted. Several, such as the sons of Zebedee, were among his first followers.
However, this doesn't mean that these disciples were necessarily his greatest or most dedicated followers. They did have the opportunity to hear many of his more confidential teachings - yes. But as we know from this verse and others, some of his closest disciples - or apostles - abandoned him.
Yes, we are speaking not only of Judas, but also Peter - who denied Jesus three times when he was on trial.
The bottom line is that physical proximity doesn't always translate to spiritual advancement. Sometimes, those who have lots of physical proximity to their spiritual teacher will see the teacher as an ordinary person - rather than God's representative. This can lead to questioning the teacher and sometimes even becoming envious of the teacher.
Sometimes those who come in close proximity to the teacher are there because they are looking for power. They want others to respect them and they think that by being close to the teacher they can also be respected. Still others will see themselves as the successor of the teacher.
This has led to many power struggles. This, in fact, did take place in the case of Jesus' apostles. We find in the Gospel of Mary, for example, that some of his apostles had some interesting feelings about the teachings of Jesus, as they responded to Mary's sharing of some of Jesus' teachings:
Peter also stated his concerns in this regard. He asked them this about the Savior: “Surely he didn’t speak to a woman secretly without revealing this to us, did he? Do we now turn and all listen to her? Did he choose her over us?” Then Mary wept. She said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? You think I have conceived all this myself within my mind? Or that I would lie about the Savior?” Levi replied to Peter, “Peter, you have always been angry. I see that you are now arguing with this woman like you are enemies. If the Savior has considered her deserving, who are you to dismiss her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. Because of this, he loved her more than us. “Instead, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and take it upon ourselves to perfect our humanity. And seek Him from within ourselves to do what he commanded us to do – to preach the gospel. We should not set up another rule or another law outside of what the Savior said.” (Gospel of Mary 31-34)
Did Jesus instruct Judas to have him arrested?There are a number of indications that Jesus actually instructed Judas to have him arrested. Many translations use the phrase, “betray me” here instead of "have me arrested." But the Greek word παραδίδωμι (paradidōmi) clearly means, “to give into the hands (of another)” and “to deliver up one to custody.” This indicates a practical event - one of having someone arrested.
And certainly, Judas did arrange to have Jesus arrested. He approached the priests and told him where he would be.
But there are a couple of odd things here to consider. If Jesus knew beforehand that he was going to be arrested, why didn't he evade arrest? Why did he stick around if he knew he'd be arrested and persecuted? Why didn't he silently leave Jerusalem and escape his coming persecution?
And if Jesus was awaiting his arrest, would Judas' actions really be a rebellion?
We find in other situations that Jesus indeed did evade arrest or persecution:
But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. (Matt. 12:14-15)
Why did Jesus not withdrew this time?The other question here is why would Jesus keep Judas around if he knew he would have him arrested? Judas was one of the apostles after all. One of the twelve. Judas was also, we find from John 12:6, the treasurer of the group. He 'kept the money bag' according to this verse.
So Jesus allowed Judas to stick around, but he also allowed him to handle the money. This is, despite the lack of trust from his fellow disciples such as John, a sign of trust. Just consider someone who handles your money. That is a person you would tend to trust, right?
Furthermore, if Jesus did not trust Judas - and knew he was going to do this - why didn't he kick Judas? Why did Jesus keep Judas around if he knew he would betray him?
This brings up the potential that Jesus instructed Judas to arrange his arrest. This would be consistent with most of the events that took place:
- The fact that Jesus allowed Judas to be his close disciple
- The fact that Jesus knew he would be arrested and persecuted
- The fact that Jesus didn't do anything to evade arrest even though he knew he'd be arrested
- The fact that Judas committed suicide after finding out that Jesus was persecuted
This last element - Judas' suicide - indicates that Judas either simply regretted having Jesus arrested, or he simply did not know when he did this, that Jesus was going to be persecuted following his arrest. Would Judas have done this if he had known what would happen to Jesus?
Part of the planThe reality that Jesus went to Jerusalem in the first place and turned over tables at the market in the Temple in Jerusalem, and then stuck around as he knew they were plotting to arrest him is an indication that this was part of the plan.
Jesus was heading into the hornet's nest. That was Jerusalem for Jesus because this is the headquarters for the chief priest and there were a lot of politics surrounding the Temple system. This is notable because the Romans were ruling Jerusalem at this time and there was a lot of tension.
On top of this, as Jesus' teachings indicate, there was a power struggle going on among the chief priest and his cronies, as they sought to retain authority among the people. Many of their followers throughout the region had become followers of Jesus, and this bothered them.
So Jesus' going into Jerusalem forced this all to come to a head. Jesus didn't need to go to Jerusalem at all. He could have stayed away. He could have remained in the countryside, teaching in small villages and towns.
What about the Gospel of Judas?All of these points to the possibility that what is portrayed in the Gospel of Judas may well be true. The Gospel of Judas portays that Jesus requested that Judas have him arrested. Jesus is said to have told him that his (Jesus') spirit needed to be released from his physical body. He told Judas, according to the text:
"You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."
After Jesus called out again with a loud voice, his spirit departed. (Matthew 27:50)The Gospel of Judas is indeed an ancient manuscript. It is not a forgery. This was determined in 2006 with a National Geographic team of scientists, who dated the manuscript to about 280 A.D. This of course doesn't mean that it is true. But it does mean that it circulated among the early Gospels.
Then when Jesus had received the vinegar he said, “It has been accomplished!” And he bowed his head and released his spirit. (John 19:30)
Furthermore, it does fit the narrative that Jesus knew he was going to be arrested, and that he didn't evade arrest. It also fits the narrative that Jesus kept Judas around in his inner circle, and continued to trust him with the money.
A convenient fall-guyWe must also point out that the handlers of the early church manuscripts were aligned with the Romans. The person who chose and assembled the Bible books was none other than Eusebius, who was hand-picked by the Roman Emperor Constantine for this purpose. Eusebius also oversaw the initial translations into Latin and during this process we know some of the texts were changed. (See the Lost Gospels of Jesus for an itemization of known textual changes - which included the addition of more than half of Chapter 16 in the Gospel of Mark.)
Certainly, Judas was a convenient fall-guy, in an attempt to distract from the respective responsibility of the Romans and the Jewish chief priest. The translation of these texts pushes the narrative of Judas being the betrayer. As if Judas was responsible for the whole thing.
Better that he had not been born?What about Jesus' statement about this person - seemingly Judas - was to be dreadful? That it would be better if he had not been born?
Yes, that is a fact, because Judas has been condemned for nearly two thousand years, by virtually all of humanity. Certainly what Judas ended up doing something that was indeed dreadful, with terrible consequences.
Whether he did this for a few silver coins or because Jesus asked him to or a combination of both, the act was condemned.
But this doesn't mean that Jesus didn't ask him to do it. Teachers may ask their students to do even dreadful things if there is an underlying spiritual purpose. If there is an ultimate purpose that supersedes the actual event.
The bottom line is that even if Jesus didn't ask Judas to have him arrested, Jesus still permitted himself to be arrested. He knew he was going to be arrested. Instead of avoiding it, he waited for it to happen.
So we would have to admit that even if Jesus didn't ask Judas to do it, Jesus was still complicit in his arrest. Since he not only didn't evade arrest - he also waited for his arrest as his students slept on the Mount:
"Watch out and pray that you will not be tempted – for the spirit may be willing but the physical body is weak. He left again a second time and prayed, saying “O my LORD, if this cup may not be taken from me unless I drink from it, may You be pleased.” And he returned and found them asleep again – for their eyes were heavy. And again he left them and went away to pray a third time – saying the same thing again. Then he returned again to the disciples, and said to them, “Go ahead and sleep now and take your rest – but look, the time has arrived for the Servant of Humanity to be arrested into the hands of the wicked. Wake up, let’s get going – the one who will have me arrested is getting close.” While he was speaking, Judas – one of the twelve – arrived. With him was a brigade of soldiers with swords and knives – from the chief priest and elders of the people. (Matthew 26:41-47)So Jesus not only knew he was going to be arrested. But he waited to be arrested. He knew they were coming to that very spot to arrest him. So he told his disciples, and they waited for the arrest. How did Jesus know they were going to arrest him there if he had not arranged this with Judas in advance?
Why Jesus accepted his persecutionWe can see in the above prayer from Jesus (Matt. 26:42) that his concern was not his body's survival. He knew the physical body (the "cup") was temporary. He knew that it would die at some point. But he also wanted to please the Supreme Being. He wanted to please God.
So why would God allow Jesus to be persecuted?
We must remember the reason Jesus came to the planet: To teach all of humanity to love and serve the Supreme Being. This was his purpose. Jesus is God's representative: Sent here to teach us to come to know and love God.
Remember that those teachings are still being echoed today by so many because Jesus was willing to sacrifice his physical body for those teachings. Because Jesus stood by his teachings and did not run away, today his teachings are still being taught throughout the world.
This is a practical situation. If Jesus did not sacrifice his physical body for his teachings, he would not have become so famous. He would not have become so revered. But because he was persecuted, and because he stood by his teachings during his persecution, his teachings are remembered.
This is why God allowed Jesus to be persecuted. Because Jesus wanted to please God. Jesus wanted people to understand how important loving God truly is. Jesus wanted the biggest bang for the buck so to speak. He wanted us to remember his most important instruction:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:29-30)
You see, the Supreme Being is not up there being a puppet master. He is not arranging all of the decisions we make when we are on earth. The physical world is designed to allow us some freedom to make decisions - along with their automatic consequences. We have the freedom to act out our desires. And our temporary physical bodies are designed to provide us with a temporary platform to play out this freedom.
After all, the chief priest and the Romans involved were given the freedom to persecute Jesus. If God didn't give them the freedom to do this, how would we have the freedom to love God or not love God?
In fact, we are all given this freedom to love God or not. And that freedom is exercised while we are in these temporary physical bodies.
So it is not as if God allowed Jesus to be persecuted - or that He even made sure it happened. Rather, He gave everyone concerned - even Judas and the chief priest - the freedom to do what they wanted.
And God gave Jesus the freedom to express his love for the Supreme Being. By making the ultimate sacrifice.
It is not that Jesus' sacrifice in itself that has the ability to save us. It is the understanding that Jesus did this because of his undying love for the Supreme Being that has the ability to save us - if indeed, we take that into our hearts.