The following story is more legend than historical fact, but it is a great story none-the-less.
Leonardo Da Vinci, a noted Italian artist, painted the Last Supper over a seven-year period. Each figure in the picture, including Jesus Christ, was painted from living persons. The life-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first. When it was decided that Da Vinci would paint this great picture, hundreds and hundreds of young men were carefully viewed, in an endeavor to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from the scars and signs of dissipation caused by sin.
Finally, after weeks of laborious searching, a young man nineteen years of age was selected as a model for the portrayal of Christ. The young man’s name was Pietro Bandinelli. For six months, Da Vinci worked on the reproduction of this leading character in his famous painting. Over the following six years, Da Vinci continued his labors on this sublime work of art. One by one, fitting persons were chosen to represent each of the eleven Apostles; space being left for the painting of the figure representing Judas Iscariot, as the final task of this masterpiece. For weeks, Da Vinci searched for a man with a hard callous face, with a countenance marked by scars of avarice, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime; a face that would delineate a character, who would betray his best friend. After many discouraging experiences, in searching for the type of person required to represent Judas, word came to Da Vinci that a man, whose appearance fully met his requirements, had been found in a dungeon in Rome, sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder.
Da Vinci made the trip to Rome at once, and this man was brought out from his imprisonment in the dungeon, and led out into the light of the sun. There Da Vinci saw before him a dark, swarthy man; his long, shaggy and unkempt hair sprawled over his face, which betrayed a character of viciousness and complete ruin. At last, the famous painter had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas Iscariot, the traitor.
By special permission from the king, this prisoner was carried to Milan where the picture was being painted; and for months he sat before Da Vinci at appointed hours each day, as the gifted artist diligently continued his task of transmitting to his painting this base character in the picture representing the betrayer of our Savior. As he finished his last stroke, he turned to the guards and said, “I have finished. You may take your prisoner away.”
As the guards were leading their prisoner away, he suddenly broke loose from their control and rushed up to Da Vinci, crying as he did so, “Oh, Da Vinci, look at me! Do you not know who I am?
Da Vinci, with the trained eyes of a great character student, carefully scrutinized the man, upon whose face he had constantly gazed for six months and replied, “No, I had never seen you in my life, until you were brought before me out of the dungeon in Rome.”
Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said, “Oh, God, have I fallen so low?” Then turning toward the painter he cried, “Leonardo Da Vinci! Look at me again. I am Pietro Bandinelli, the same man you painted seven years ago as the figure of Christ.”
The moral of the story is as follows: Within every individual is the potential to be like Jesus or to be like Judas.
The timing of the events in today’s text is unsure. Luke writes, “Now the Feast of Unleavended Bread, called the Passover, was approaching…” (Luke 22:1). But as we have already seen, Jesus is now in Jerusalem and the Passover week is already in full force (see Luke 19:28-48). It helps to remember that the Gospels, as a genre of literature, are not history. This doesn’t mean the Gospels are not true, because they are; and it doesn’t mean the events recorded did not actually happen, because they did. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus, and each Gospel writer told those stories from their own perspectives. However, the Gospel stories are not, necessarily, written in chronological order. Each writer placed Jesus’ stories where they did, based on the flow of the stories. Thus, Luke places Judas’ plan here, even though it probably happened before. Regardless of when it may have happened, at some point, Luke writes:
“Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (Luke 22:1-6).
What, and where, would be the best opportunity to betray Jesus?
“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple” (Luke 21:37-38).
While in Jerusalem, during His last week of life, Jesus stayed at a home in Bethany (about 2 miles outside of Jerusalem). Each day, He walked from Bethany to the Temple to teach. So, twice a day, as Jesus walked back and forth, He passed through the Garden of Gethsemane. This would be perfect place for an ambush. Especially at night! This becomes Judas’ plan.
What do we know about Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus?
Judas Iscariot was the only apostle not from Galilee. He was from southern Judea. More than likely, his parents were godly Jews, who lived in anticipation of the Messiah. His parents had great hopes for Judas to be led by God. None of the Gospel writers give any information as to the events leading up to Judas’ call to be a disciple. Nothing is known of his occupation before following Christ. It is probable that Judas had a lot in common with the other apostles. But because of his devious act, Church history says very little about him.
Judas’ surname, Iscariot, has two possible meanings. It could mean “man of Kerioth,” a city in southern Judea. However, it could also be derived from the Greek word, sicarios, meaning “dagger.” Some scholars speculate Judas came from a family of freedom fighters (the Romans would have considered them terrorists) who took as their surname the principal instrument of their trade.If this is the meaning, then Judas was a fanatical zealot “who was attracted to Jesus because he expected Him to lead a revolution. When Jesus did not meet Judas’ expectations…the daggerman had no compunctions about coldly destroying his Master.”
Before the events surrounding Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, one story does give us a glimpse into his character. On His way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover by offering Himself as the Passover Lamb, Jesus stops in Bethany for a dinner given in His honor by Mary and Martha and Lazarus (whom He had raised from the dead—John 12:1-11). During the dinner “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). Matthew and Mark record Mary pouring the perfume on Jesus’ head as well.
Judas Iscariot objected to this extravagance, protesting that the perfume was worth a year’s wages and could have been sold and the money given to the poor. The gospel writer John then records, “He (Judas) did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). In addition to being a traitor, Judas was greedy, selfish, hypocritical, and a lying thief.
No one knows why Judas decided to follow Jesus. Some speculate from the very beginning he had ulterior motives. I bet, at least on some level, he was sincere. He was anxiously waiting for the Messiah, and he believed Jesus to be that person. Upon meeting Jesus, Judas had hope that his dreams of overthrowing the oppressive Roman government would come true.
Like most the Jews of his day, Judas believed the Messiah to be a political savior who would overthrow the Roman government and reestablish the throne of David. Judas believed in a revolutionary, conquering Messiah, not One who would suffer and die. As a zealot, Judas was ready to fight, and as we have seen from his character, he was not above cheating. He followed Jesus because of what he thought Jesus was going to do for him.
When Jesus did not turn out to be the Messiah he wanted, Judas devised a plan to have Jesus arrested. But I don’t think He wanted Jesus to be killed. I don’t even think He wanted Jesus to be arrested. I think Judas loved Jesus. I think, he thought, having Jesus arrested would force Jesus’ hand and the revolution would begin. Judas was given thirty pieces of silver, which in today’s economy would be the equivalent of $16. His motives, while selfish, were more political than financial. The sign Judas gave to the arresting soldiers was a kiss—a kiss of death.
Judas was as surprised as anyone when, instead of fighting, Jesus freely went with the authorities. Judas, realizing what he had done, was overcome with grief and tried to return the money. He had betrayed the one he loved. His life, once filled with hope, was now hopeless. Overcome with grief, he committed suicide (Matthew 27:5).
From Hope to Hopelessness
Nothing is worse than living life without hope. In Jesus Christ we have hope, but if we are not careful our hope can turn to hopelessness. From the brief scan of Judas’ life we learn three steps, which if followed, will lead you down the road to hopelessness.
- Learning about Jesus without letting Jesus transform your life.
For more than three years Judas had the privilege of being with Jesus. He heard all Jesus’ teachings and saw all His miracles. He had first hand knowledge about who Jesus was. In his head he knew Jesus was the Son of God, but that knowledge never translated to his heart. He knew a lot about Jesus but he never allowed Jesus to transform his life. As a result, Judas became disillusioned. Religion, without relationship, always leads to disillusionment.
It is not enough to know about Jesus. You must allow Him to transform your life! The purpose of Christianity is not to teach you a new religion. The purpose of Christianity is to transform you into the image of Christ.
Judas spent three years learning about Jesus. How long have you spent? Are you allowing Jesus to change your life?
- Looking for the wrong type of Savior.
Judas believed Jesus was the Messiah, but he mistakenly thought he knew what kind of Savior he needed. Jesus is not always the Savior we want Him to be. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not make us feel better about our shortcomings. Jesus came to give us new life, not to place a “stamp of approval” on the lives we are already living.
Specifically, Judas looked for two types of Saviors. First, he looked for a political instead of spiritual Savior. Judas wanted Jesus to make everything better here on earth. But Jesus understood that Judas’ problem was sin, not society. Second, Judas expected material gain to sooth his soul. But no amount of money could ease his conscience.
What are you looking to for salvation? Where does your hope lie? There is a savior we want and a Savior we need, and they are not the same Savior.
- Striving to do God’s will your own way.
If Judas did betray Jesus in an attempt to get the revolution started he was sadly mistaken on the outcome. The only way to guarantee a successful life is to do God’s will His way. When we try to do His will our way we get in trouble and dig ourselves into holes with virtually no way out. Any situation that seems hopeless seems that way because it seems God is not there. Doing God’s will His way requires trust, courage, and patience.
The end result of Judas’ life was a betrayal of Jesus Christ. Likewise, when we turn our backs on Christ, not letting Him transform our lives, looking for another kind of savior, striving to do God’s will our own way, we are betraying Jesus all over again.
Few have suffered a sadder story than the German philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche. Nietzsche grew up in a Christian home. Both his grandfathers had been Christian ministers, and his father was a Lutheran pastor. But Nietzsche rejected Christianity, and formulated his famous “Death of God” philosophy. A philosophy he illustrated in a parable called the Madman.
A madman appeared in the marketplace one morning, holding a lighted lantern in the bright daylight. He startled everyone by crying, “I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!” The people made fun of him, saying, “Do you think God is lost? Is he hiding?” The madman leaped among the people, his eyes wild with alarm, crying, “Where is God? I’ll tell you where he is. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. We have cut ourselves off from God as though we had unchained the earth from the sun, and we are wobbling out of control, plunging backward, sideward, forward, in all directions. We’re becoming cold and dark and empty. Don’t you feel it?”
Then Nietzsche asked a profound question: “How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?”
The philosopher understood the implication of what he was advocating. In removing God from our lives, we were removing our source of comfort and stripping ourselves of hope and peace. We were crossing the line of despair.
Nietzsche thought that after an initial time of chaos and despair, his God-is-dead philosophy would pave the way for a great superman to come and take charge of the human race, someone who could lead humanity to its zenith. But the insanity he predicted for the world came upon himself. Apparently unable to live with his own beliefs, Nietzsche became increasingly irrational. One day he collapsed on a street in Turin and was taken to an asylum. For the last twelve years of his life he was insane, becoming himself a madman, being cared for by his mother, a devoted Christian. Furthermore, the superman he predicted for the world was personified in the person of one of his greatest disciples—Adolf Hitler.
When you lose hope you lose everything. How, then, do we keep from losing hope when everything seems to be against us? Three suggestions: First, realize that hope begins with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Apart from Him there is no hope. Second, realize that hope continues through seeking God’s will for your life. Meaning and purpose in life—what hope is all about—is found by fulfilling your God given destiny. Third, realize that hope perseveres through all eternity. The hope we have in Christ is not only for this life, but for the life to come. It is a hope that will endure forever.
The old hymn summarizes it best:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Jesus Christ, the Solid Rock, gives my life hope. He will do the same for you.
 What I mean is that there is no historical evidence that this story actually happened, but it has been told as true for a very long time. It should be read, and understood, much like a parable.
 A “dagger” was a long knife, or a short sword that could easily be concealed beneath clothing.
 C. Bernard Ruffin. 1984. The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, p. 160.
 Jesus’ being anointed by Mary is also recorded in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9.
 Parenthesis added for explanation.
 Robert Morgan. Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes.