Judas Iscariot Biography

The life of Judas Iscariot is one shrouded in deep mystery.  Scripture offers little light to cut through the mist.  In fact, in any honest treatment of him, the questions should probably outnumber the answers.

Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus with a kiss

Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus with a kiss

Even Judas’ surname is unclear.  Iscariot could mean ‘Kerioth’, making him a Judean; or, perhaps, ‘man from Sychar,’ making him a Samaritan.  Or it could be a Jewish term for the Latin ‘sicarius’, which means ‘dagger man’ or ‘assassin.’  If so, it may identify him with the Zealots, who believed that Israel should gain back her freedom through violent means.

Some may picture Judas as a dark, slinking rascal from the beginning.  This does not appear to be true.  After all, Jesus selected him as one of the twelve disciples of the inner circle.  Judas sat willingly and listened to Christ’s teachings day after day, and the fact that he was treasurer for the group implies some level of prominence.  When the twelve were sent out to heal and preach in the townships, he apparently did his part along with the rest. The only word of recorded dissent we hear was his objection that the expensive perfume poured on Jesus’ feet should have been sold for the benefit of the poor.  The Scripture clarifies that Judas said this because, as treasurer, he sometimes pilfered money from the disciples’ account. This is our first inkling of Judas’ emerging character.

Judas Iscariot plots to kill Jesus with the Sanhedrin

Judas Iscariot plots to kill Jesus with the Sanhedrin

The simple truth, however, that Judas was dishonest does not necessarily explain why he betrayed Christ to death.  This issue has been debated for centuries, and there are a number of viable possibilities.  The motive could well have been simple greed.  As a dishonest treasurer, it is obvious Judas was attracted to money and what it could procure.  However, the thirty pieces of silver Judas was given for the betrayal would only be worth one or two hundred dollars today.  Would this be enough money to significantly interest Judas?  Second, Judas may have been a convenient dupe of Satan and, after realizing too late his horrible mistake, he destroyed himself.   Third, especially if he was a ‘dagger man’ Zealot, Judas may have been increasingly disillusioned with a Messiah who gave less and less indication of intending to overthrow the Roman government.  As Judas’ dream of a lucrative position in a victorious Jewish government began slipping away, he may have become bitter enough to betray Jesus.  A last possibility is that Judas thought that, if he forced Christ’s hand, the Messiah he knew as supernaturally powerful may finally erupt in judgment, wreaking vengeance on those daring to arrest Him.  In the end we are left to ourselves to decide what dark motives may have prompted this horrific betrayal.

Judas’ only legacy is his notoriety, preserved even today in idioms that symbolize deception and betrayal.  To call someone a ‘Judas’ is to accuse him or her of insidious backstabbing.  And to say someone got ‘sold for thirty pieces of silver’ means they were fleeced or betrayed by a smooth swindler.  It is sadly surprising and painful to us that a man who walked side by side with Jesus for three years could turn traitor.  God grant that we avoid Judas’ long line of slippery descendants.

What can we learn from Judas Iscariot?

Perhaps the story of Judas’ leaves us with more questions than answers.  Yet it also leaves us with a vital question to ask ourselves:  “Do we betray Christ ourselves when we express staunch loyalty to Him, yet live as if we never heard of Him?”  Loyalty to Jesus, like a well-built bridge, must hold up in even the nastiest of storms and must always stand—staunch, unsagging and faithful.

Bible Verses about Judas Iscariot

Mat. 10:4; 26:14, 25, 47; 26:14, 25, 47; 27:3;  Mark 3:19; 14:10, 43;  Luke 6:16, 22:3, 47, 48; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 26, 29; 14:22; 18:2-3, 5; Acts 1:25

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who was Judas Iscariot in the Bible?
  • Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot?
  • Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot?
  • In what way was Judas Iscariot chosen?
  • Was Judas Iscariot evil?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis