14 May 2014

Acts 1:15-26

“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (vv. 16-17)


It's difficult to imagine the emotions that lie behind these words. Peter often seems to be the closest of the disciples to Jesus - it's Peter who first declares him to be the Messiah, and whom Jesus chooses as the rock on which he plans to build his Church (Matthew 16:13-20). Peter knows that Jesus' death was all part of God's plan (Acts 2:23) and that by his resurrection, we are saved. And yet it's nearly impossible to imagine his feelings towards Judas, who "was numbered among us and allotted his share in this ministry", who spent three years walking and talking with Jesus, Peter and the other disciples, but who betrayed Jesus to the authorities who wanted him dead.

There have been many fascinating explorations of Judas' motives over the years (Jesus Christ Superstar, for one). Those people wishing to exonerate him have suggested that he could have been acting in accordance with Jesus' instructions, or acting to save the disciples, as he feared that Jesus' increasingly controversial statements were becoming too dangerous for them all. We cannot know his motives, but it is clear from this passage and Matthew 27:3-10 that Judas was filled with regret after his actions - that he returned the 30 pieces of silver (the amount paid in the Old Testament as a fine by the owner of a bull who gored a slave to death) and hung himself in a field. The religious leaders felt the money couldn't be added back to the treasury, as it was blood money, and so bought the field in which Judas had died as a place to bury foreigners.

Matthew's Gospel and this passage from Acts both suggest that Judas hung himself rather than face up to what he had done, and that although he was filled with regret ("metamelomai", in Greek) this does not add up to repentance ("metanoia", in Greek).

The disciples pray and cast lots between two men, Barsabbas and Matthias, to find a replacement for Judas, in accordance with prophesy. Never again in the early Church do we hear an account of a leader being chosen by casting lots; however, the other apostles (including Judas) were chosen directly by Jesus, and so to replace one of them was a unique situation, demanding an unusual response.

To Ponder

  • Do you think Judas betrayed Jesus because it was prophesied? Or was it prophesied because that's what he would choose to do of his own free will? Why?
  • Judas was clearly filled with remorse about what he had done. How do you feel (and how do you think Peter would have felt) about the notion that Judas would have been forgiven if he had indeed repented?
  • How much truth can be attributed to accounts of Judas' feelings by the writers of Matthew's Gospel and Acts?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.