Judas Iscariot awoke on an early spring morning in a chill of fear. He lived alone, but he sensed that there was someone else in the room. Still groggy from inadequate sleep, he tried to listen for any telltale sounds of movement, but he heard none. He rolled over in a vain attempt to return to sleep; then he felt the presence again. He got up and looked around but saw no one.
The presence spoke, but only to his mind. “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, and I bring tidings of imminent victory.”
“Who are you?”
Judas did not feel quite at ease, but his interest and curiosity were aroused. He felt a growing sense of personal importance, and even strange kind of euphoria, while he was in this presence.
“Of what hour do you speak, and of what work? And how shall I win glory?”
“First things first. Your master, the Nazarene: why is he wasting his time among the derelicts and cripples of this wretched land? His band of illiterate followers is calling him the messiah, and even you seem to go along with it. If he is the messiah, why does he not rise up against the oppressors, the unclean gentiles?”
“I have wondered the same thing myself, yet I lack the courage to confront him directly. Perhaps I would have left him by now, had I not seen him work wonders with my own eyes. Why, he has healed paralytics and opened the eyes of the blind!”
“Hmph. And what has his sorcery accomplished for the liberation of Israel? So he has dazzled the crowds of simpletons. Life under the yoke of the Romans goes on pretty much as usual, doesn’t it? How do you like being their slave?”
“Actually, I hate it. Before I became a follower of Jesus I was working with the Zealots to plan a bloody coup. But Simon convinced me that if we were to follow the messiah, we would surely have divine aid for our righteous cause.”
“And has Simon, the former Zealot, recently shown any signs of his righteous zeal, now that he has thrown in his lot with the humble Nazarene?”
“Well, now that you mention it, he does not speak of violent revolt any more. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, and Simon and the others seem content to wait for God to restore Israel in his own way and time.”
“God’s way and time!” spat the voice, losing some of its previous composure. “Here is God’s way: Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and now Romans. When has his ‘chosen people’ not been under the yoke of foreigners? If the Jews were chosen for anything, it was to be cursed and enslaved. Don’t speak to me of God unless you speak of the power of justice that is placed in the hands of resourceful men like yourself, whose destiny is to overcome oppression at any price!”
Judas was taken somewhat aback but began to reflect a little. “You seem to be bringing to light things that have been present but rather obscure in my own thinking, and now they are becoming clearer.”
“That is because I am the light-bearer” (the voice was soothing now), “and you would do well to follow the light.”
“But I thought I was. Jesus said he was ‘the light of the world.’ And his words are powerful and appealing. I feel drawn to him, even though I disagree with some of his methods, and even though I don’t understand why he is not organizing us against the Romans.”
“Sure, his talk is smooth and he speaks of a kingdom of peace and love. But where is this kingdom—in the sky? He can’t rid the earth of poverty, so he says, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ He can’t prevent your sorrows, so he says, ‘Blessed are you who mourn.’ And since he hasn’t delivered you from the Romans, he says, ‘Blessed are the persecuted.’ Very convenient ways to cloak his failures with pious and false hopes! Can’t you see through this? Don’t you want him to take some definite action? If you blind bumpkins go on as you are, you will be just another failed band of disciples of a would-be messiah, who came to a bad end just like all the others. This is your only chance to make a real difference. You have to force his hand.”
“I fear to do anything against him. In a way I actually love him, but I don’t understand him and I’m always frustrated. Yet he has put his trust in me. He even trusted me with the purse for the disciples, yet to my shame I’ve used much of our resources to fund the Zealots and to make life a little easier for myself.”
“Why be ashamed for supporting a righteous cause? You did exactly what you should have done. And if a bit of personal benefit came your way, what of it? Didn’t the Nazarene say that a worker is worth his wages?”
“I’m confused and torn. I’m angry at the Romans, and to tell the truth I’m even a little angry at Jesus. If he has power to heal and raise the dead and even to calm storms at sea, why won’t he free God’s people from these evil oppressors? Why does he ‘turn the other cheek’, and why does he forgive? Where is our God of retribution?”
“My point exactly. Your messiah is not doing his job, if he really is the messiah. Maybe he’s afraid, lost his nerve. Maybe his magic tricks have run out, and he has nothing left but his ineffectual piety. I tell you, there is only one way to see if he is for real, if he is really the messiah, if he will really take his place in history as a man whose actions speak louder than words, who is willing to confront oppression and overthrow it.”
“And what is that way?”
“What I said before: force his hand. Put him in a position in which he has to take a stand, has to show his power, if he really has any.”
“How could I do that? I don’t have much influence with him. He might not listen to me.”
“It is you who are not listening, you fool! You don’t put him into such a position by asking him to go there. You manipulate events, you plan it out, you set the stage so he has no choice but to act, to rise up and save his people—if he is the Son of God!”
“I don’t know what to think anymore. Would he really take charge and use his power if I forced his hand? And just how would I do that?”
“Of course he would! He would have no choice. If you turned him over to the authorities, he couldn’t wriggle out of his predicament with parables or magic tricks. He would be backed into a corner, and he would realize that his hour had finally come, that this was why he came into the world. He would sound the call to battle, and your cause would be victorious. The power you say he used for calming storms he would use to crush all Roman might. And you, Judas, would get all the credit, all the glory, for being the one man who could pull this off, who had the foresight and the guts to set the stage for this moment of destiny and triumph. Tell the chief priests where they can find him, and they’ll arrest him. Then you’ll make history.”
Judas felt a kind of strange energy begin to flow through him. It seemed as if his eyes were opening, as if he really were the pivotal player in these crucial events. What all the Zealots could not accomplish with all their resources and cunning and strength, he, Judas Iscariot, would accomplish with a simple decision, a fateful decision to bring things to a head, to push the reluctant messiah into action.
But a final qualm of conscience emerged from his soul. “I embrace the goal. But I wish it didn’t mean I would have to actually betray Jesus.”
“Betray?” cooed the voice. “Let us not use such a harsh word. You are a catalyst for glorious events. Prepare now your plan.”
“But what purpose would it serve to hand him over to the priests? It’s not them we wish to overthrow, but the Romans.”
“You are trying my patience. Those fools won’t know what to do with him. His words run rings around them and they always walk away befuddled. They will simply hand him over to the governor, and then the uprising will begin. All his followers can be cued for the coup. You can’t turn him over to the Romans yourself; only the Jewish leaders have the official capacity to do so. But the first step is yours. Take it, now!”
Judas thought for a few moments longer. The voice was right; it made sense. It really could work. The people could be set free, and he, Judas, could be a hero. He forced himself to erase the image of the face of Jesus that kept coming to his mind’s eye, a face that seemed to have tear-stained cheeks. He had to be focused. Jesus would understand and would even thank him in the end. Now was not the time for sentimentality; it was time for decisive action. “I’ll do it,” he thought, and he sensed supreme approval from the presence. “I’ll win renown for myself and make history.” And make history he would.
“Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was of the number of the Twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and captains how he might betray Jesus to them” (Luke 22:3-4).