LCN Article
The Death of Judas

March / April 2015

Dexter B. Wakefield

bag of silverPerhaps one of the most sinister and evil human figures in the Bible is Judas Iscariot. He was one of Jesus’ closest disciples—even an apostle—yet he chose to betray the One who is the hope of the world. And he did it for money!

The Son of Destruction

Judas had a number of character flaws, but the one mentioned most prominently in the Scriptures is his love of money. Judas often fell into temptation because of money. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:4–6). Judas clearly did not believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, and it appeared to him that the authorities were going to stop Jesus one way or another. It was time to cash in, if possible, and an offer of 30 pieces of silver would be sufficient for Judas to make his deal.

Judas’ lust for money led him down a path to his destruction. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).

The word “perdition” comes from the Greek word apoleia (Strong’s 684), which refers to complete destruction. This term is applied to Judas at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, when Jesus referred to Judas as “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). When Jesus and the disciples took their last Passover together, Satan entered Judas, and he left the supper. “When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke… Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.’ But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, ‘Buy those things we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night” (John 13:21–30).

Judas went out to earn his wages by a brief but dreadful labor… a kiss of betrayal. The night that he went out into may have been dark, but it could not compare with the darkness that was in Judas’ heart as he went—that of the Prince of Darkness!

When Jesus prayed before His crucifixion, he mentioned Judas. “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

The term “son of perdition” or “son of destruction” is applied to only one other person besides Judas in the scriptures—the end-time “man of sin.” He will also be controlled or possessed by Satan as Judas was. “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, RSV).

What emotions would Judas have felt when he was in the grip of the “power of darkness”? He surely felt hate and resentment. Perhaps power and exultation? Nevertheless, with Christ’s sinless death, the end of Satan’s reign was assured. Ultimately, Satan left Judas with emptiness, hopelessness and crushing depression. Judas only wanted… to die.

Ultimately, Judas’ greed, and the grievous sin that resulted from it, led to his complete destruction—in a horrific way!

The Death of Judas

Judas spelled out in offset typeExactly how Judas died is a bit controversial. Matthew gives an account that some say conflicts with Luke’s account in the Book of Acts. Notice how Matthew described Judas’ pathetic end. “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’ And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’” (Matthew 27:3–10).

But in the book of Acts, Judas’ death seems to have another description. “‘Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.’ (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong [Greek: prenes; leaning forward, prone], he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the Book of Psalms: “Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it”; and, “Let another take his office”’” (Acts 1:16–20).

So, did Judas die of hanging—or of a fall?

Some critics even cite these two descriptions as proof that there are contradictions in the Bible. But actually, the account of Judas’ falling does not contradict the account of his hanging; rather, it adds information. That is the case with many so-called biblical contradictions. Matthew 27:5 states that Judas died of hanging, and that was the actual cause of death. Notice that the statement in Acts 1:18 does not say that Judas died of a fall. It only says that his body fell and broke open.

When a man dies by hanging, when does his body fall? When he is cut down, of course. This is the most likely explanation in the case of Judas’ death.

Judas hanged himself during the Days of Unleavened Bread, which was a very important festival to the Jews of his day—and remains so today. But if a Jew were to touch a dead body, he would be unclean for a period of time and would not be able to participate in the festivities. Notice the law regarding this.

“He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him” (Numbers 19:11–13).

In order to ease the body of a hanged person to the ground, it is necessary to touch it. But a devout Jew would be very reluctant to touch the dead body of a suicide by hanging, especially during the Passover season. As the Law of Moses says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23).

Even if Judas’ body stayed on the rope of his hanging all that day, it would have fallen when it was cut down. But when someone commits suicide by hanging, they usually do it in a very private place. It could have been days before Judas’ body was discovered and the bloated body cut down. The scriptures give no information on how long Judas’ body was on the rope. In either case, we have the ghastly scene of Judas’ body falling headlong and his bowels bursting open upon impact with the ground.

A Study in Extremes

But why would Luke add such a gruesome detail in his Church history in the Book of Acts? One interesting reason may be that Judas and Jesus are a study in polar opposites. Here are some examples:

When Jesus died, He poured out His blood that cleanses the whole world.

When Judas died, all manner of uncleanness came out of him.

Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Judas was possessed by Satan.

Jesus is the Son of the Creator God, and He created all things.

Judas became the “son of destruction” because Satan entered him. Satan is called Apollyon—which is Greek for “Destroyer.”

When Jesus was taken to the chief priests, He was severely beaten. “Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” (Matthew 26:67–68).

When Judas went to the chief priests, he was well-received and paid. “And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money” (Mark 14:11).

Jesus’ every word was truth.

Judas was the epitome of insincerity and deception when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (Luke 22:48).

Jesus was sinless, and He removes the guilt of our sins.

Judas’ sin was grievous, and he betrayed an innocent man. He died in his sins having said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4).

Jesus is King of kings!

Judas lost his office. “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office’” (Acts 1:20).

Jesus inherited all things!

Judas threw away the price he was given for betraying Jesus, and the money was used to buy him a place to be buried. The man who loved money died with nothing.

Jesus’ burial place was the unused chamber of a rich man. “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41).

When Judas died, he was pushed into a grave in a pauper’s field for those who were considered unworthy to be buried with decent people. “Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it” (Acts 1:20).

Jesus’ body was treated with respect and dignity and received a proper burial in accordance with Jewish custom. “Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:40).

Judas had an ignominious death and could not be buried properly in accordance with the manner of the Jews.

Jesus loved His friends to the end. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Judas betrayed his friends.

Jesus was resurrected to eternal life.

Judas died in ignominy and came to nothing. He is dead to this day.

Jesus will live in glory forever!

For Judas, “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

There is no contradiction in the accounts of Judas’ death. Rather, when the accounts are taken together, they add information and give us a more complete picture of the events. By giving us the grisly extra details of Judas’ death, Luke was pointing out the extreme opposite to Jesus that Judas represented. That great contrast should give us an increased appreciation for the glorious and exalted role of our Savior as we prepare for the Passover and meditate on the magnitude of His sacrifice—and our indebtedness to Him.