Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Jesus was betrayed by one of His followers, a disciple named Judas. Judas was one of the Twelve who sat with Him during the Passover meal.
"And as they were at the table eating, Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.' They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, 'Is it I?' He said to them, 'It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me'" (Mark 14:18-21).
Judas likely spent every waking hour listening to and interacting with Jesus. He saw the attempts of the scribes and chief priests to catch Jesus in His words. He understood that he could play a key role in helping the chief priests with their "problem" and make a little money along the way. Though Judas may not have immediately known the depth of betrayal, sin has a way of extending much further than the immediate greed and intentions of our heart. The betrayal of Judas stands in stark contrast with the teachings he learned. He allowed selfishness to overcome his love for the Messiah, his friend, and master.
After the Passover meal, Jesus went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives (Luke 22: 31-34). As it was Passover in Jerusalem, the city swelled two to three times its normal size. For lack of room in the city, pilgrims would have camped on the Mount of Olives, granting a magnificent view of the temple. The Mount of Olives would have been dotted with campfires and animals accompanied by their noise, smell, and the sounds of sleep. Jesus, who had been staying in Bethany, did not travel back to Bethany on this night. It is commanded that Passover is taken within the boundaries of Jerusalem, so Jesus abided by the travel regulations.
On the night of Passover, Jesus, His disciples, and many pilgrims slept on the Mount of Olives. Because so many pilgrims enveloped the Mount, and due to the darkness, the chief priests needed Judas to lead them to Jesus. It would have proved very difficult and suspicious if they were to seek Him on their own. They required the direct route, the route of least resistance, to take Jesus away secretly.
As these developments were taking place, Jesus addresses Peter, a disciple very close to His heart. "Simon, Simon (Peter), behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." And he said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.' "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me" (Luke 22:31-34).
To summarize, Jesus knew Simon Peter would be tempted to deny Him. Jesus, understanding this, prayed for Peter to have the strength to endure. Peter could not conceive that he would deny the Lord. Jesus tells Peter, "when you have turned again" (when you have recovered from this denial and realized your failing), "strengthen your brethren.” Jesus knew they would need strength and encouragement to stand alone without Jesus with them daily. Their leader was headed toward death.
Judas' betrayal began in the form of greed, and grew to the ultimate betrayal, death. This type of sin is all too common. What may seem to be a "small sin" has potential to set in motion devastating consequences. Jesus’ actions in the face of Peter's denial was one of prayer for strength for Peter to overcome and comfort and lead the disciples well. The actions of others, even those who loved Him, did not deter Him from doing the will of God set out before Him.
The agony Jesus endured through these betrayals must have been immense in the face of His advancing death. The very time that He needed His closest team around Him is the very time of His betrayal and denial. Jesus remained steadfast in His desire to save humanity from eternal death. He asked His disciples to pray with Him; they fell into the temptation of sleep. Jesus was alone and had a choice. He was at the crossroad of decision and prayed fervently to His Father.
At His place of suffering, Jesus was betrayed by those close to Him and knew His death was soon coming. The biblical text allows insight into the weight on His shoulders:
"He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39).
Jesus prayed this prayer three times. Three times He asked God to remove the cup from Him and three times He gave His will over to the will of God. Jesus was at a crossroad of decision — one He could have escaped if He chose to.
The landscape of the Mount of Olives lends even greater insight into the depth of Jesus' decision to face the cross. The Mount of Olives faces the Temple Mount area while the backside faces the wilderness. Jesus had every opportunity to walk the 20 minutes up the Mount of Olives and escape into the wilderness. He had means and opportunity. Had He turned to leave Jerusalem, He would have disappeared into the wilderness where none would find Him.
Had Jesus not spent a lifetime of pulling away and communing with God, building a relationship of confiding, trust, and strength, He may not have had the wherewithal to face the Cross for us. Pending doom and betrayal can be paralyzing, yet Jesus had the internal spiritual and physical means to decide not to run. At His crossroad, He chose to love and care for people, rather than saving himself from suffering.
We are often at crossroads, where we have a choice to decide for self-protection and preservation, or an outward show of trust in our Father in heaven. Making the right decisions during these difficult times takes strength. Jesus often removed himself from the crowds to spend time with His Father. He gained strength in these times. He built a loving and trusting relationship, so much so, that it enabled Him to make the most difficult decision of His life — to face the Cross.
We would do well to follow the example of Jesus. A daily walk with God and time spent with our Father allows for strengthened faith when crossroads arrive.
"Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45,46).
Written by Amy Flattery, Director for the Center for Holy Lands Studies.
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