Last Supper, Arrest of Jesus and Events Beforehand

Home | Category: Life of Jesus / Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus


Over time, the activities of Jesus and his followers attracted the attention of the authorities. Although the area of Palestine where Jesus lived was nominally under Roman control, traditional Jewish leaders retained a great deal of authority. The governing body at the time was a group of seventy-one Jewish elders called the Sanhedron. The Sanhedron felt threatened by Jesus' teachings and the popular belief that he might be the Messiah. They did not have the authority to eliminate Jesus, but they knew that the Romans did. The Romans did not want any mass movements in Palestine that might challenge their authority. When Jesus visited Jerusalem for the Jewish holy days of Passover, he had a final meal with his followers.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his followers, and arrested by the Sanhedron. When Jesus refused to defend himself, the Sanhedron took him to the Romans, charging him with sedition — encouraging people to rebel against the government. Again, refusing to make any defense at his trial, he was sentenced to death by the Roman governor of the region, Pontius Pilate.

According to the BBC: “No trial or execution in history has had such a momentous outcome as that of Jesus in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. But was it an execution or a judicial murder; and who was responsible? The story begins when the Galilean rebel Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately fulfilling a prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of the Messiah. He's mobbed by an adoring crowd. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Accusations Against Jesus

Over time Jesus became regarded as a threatening political leader. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish tribunal and ruling body) was angry with him because he taught without being approved by Temple authorities. The radical nature of Jesus's teachings angered the Pharisees, an intolerant and influential Jewish sect with around 6,000 members that strictly followed Jewish laws. They accused Jesus of blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God and said he broke Sabbath rules by healing sick during the Jewish day of rest and defied the laws of Moses by claiming that a covenant with God could be established with a faith alone.

From what can be best ascertained by historians Jesus had a fairy large, or at least very vocal, following. It is not quite clear whether they saw him as the Messiah or an apocalyptic prophet declaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. In any case, Jewish authorities wanted to get rid of him both because they viewed him as a threat and because they feared a crackdown by the Romans. Before Jesus’s visit to Jerusalem they worried he might stir up the large crowds that had gathered for the Passover holiday there.

The priests at the Temple had an agreements with the Romans: they would try their best to keep the peace and if they didn’t Romans would take matters into their hands. Under these pressures the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees came up with a plan to arrest Jesus for breaking religious laws. Aware of his fate, Jesus told his disciplines not to make any claims that could be used as evidence of blasphemy.

Jesus Enters Jerusalem

Aware that bad things were in store for him, Jesus decided to face his problems directly rather than run away from them. He entered Jerusalem to take part in Passover feasts around in A.D. 30 and was welcomed by huge crowds. On a stony track down the Mount of Olives Jesus approached Jerusalem amid a palm-waving multitude that cried: "Blessed he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna is the highest." This event is remembered with Palm Sunday.

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus had a population of around 80,000 people. Jesus spent several days teaching and performing healing acts at the Temple of Jerusalem. Jewish and Roman leaders had hopped to arrest Jesus after he entered Jerusalem but the crowds welcoming him were so large that they backed off arresting for a week out of fear of provoking a riot.

According to the BBC: “The story begins when the Galilean rebel Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately fulfilling a prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of the Messiah. He's mobbed by an adoring crowd. The next day Jesus raids the Temple, the heart of the Jewish religion, and attacks money-changers for defiling a holy place. The leaders of the Jewish establishment realise that he threatens their power, and so do the Romans, who fear that Jesus has the charisma to lead a guerrilla uprising against Imperial Rome. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: At this particular moment, the disciples had been waiting for something dramatic to happen. Like most first-century Jews living in Roman-occupied Judea and Galilee, they were awaiting the arrival of a messiah to overthrow the shackles of the oppressive Roman government and establish a new regime. While some first-century Jews thought the messiah would be a priestly figure, the assumption that the messiah would help liberate the people was extremely widespread. The disciples had similar expectations. At one point two of the other disciples — James and John, the sons of Zebedee — ask Jesus for positions of authority when that happens. At another moment Peter declares that he will not allow Jesus to die. None of the disciples have an accurate sense of what kind of messiah Jesus actually is; they all misunderstand his message. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, April 13, 2019]

The week before Jesus is crucified, on Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph on the back of a donkey. The whole scene — with crowds assembled waving branches, a leader riding into the city, and the shouts of the people that Jesus comes in the name of the Lord — is reminiscent of a Roman Triumph, the celebratory ritual in which a great military leader was welcomed into the city in a procession. Everything about this moment suggests that Jesus is a political figure. Then Jesus proceeds to the Jewish Temple, where he overturns tables and throws out the money changers. To many people, but arguably especially the disciples, it seems as if things are about to happen. The revolution is beginning. But nothing like that actually happens; there’s no rebellion. Jesus does not raise an army, organize troops, or even try to evangelize the pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem for Passover.

Jesus entering Jerusalem

Meaning of Jesus Entrance in Jerusalem

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “Jesus apparently at some point makes the decision to leave his home territory and move to Jerusalem. Precisely why he did that is not clear. It would appear that he had some sense of mission and that's clearly what the gospels suggest. That he felt compelled to go to Jerusalem. More than that is not entirely clear from the historical perspective but it seems that Jerusalem, where the temple was located, perhaps on one of the Holy Days, one of the festivals was the attraction for him to go and participate.... [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“The traditional story has Jesus going to Jerusalem at the time of the festival of Passover. Passover is one of the two most important Jewish Holy Days or festivals in the entire year. On the one hand, coming in the spring it celebrates harvest. On the other hand, it commemorates one of the most important historical events in the Jewish tradition. Namely the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the story of Moses and the Exodus. So it is a celebration of Jewish identity centered in the Temple itself.

“Now to go to Jerusalem at one of these pilgrim feasts, as they're sometimes called, where everyone is expected to show up at some point during their life, means to join a big crowd. This is one of the really important holidays of all Jewish life. Especially in the ancient times when the Temple was standing and the Temple was the centerpiece of the whole event. If you were a pilgrim coming to Jerusalem in these days you would walk through the streets of this magnificent city, many of which are crowded. Very much like a Roman city in certain places. Very much like an older city, a Greek or even Near Eastern city in other places. But as you approach the Temple mound you come up to this massive, monumental complex that we call the Temple and there are grand staircases up which one can go and get up to the top. From the southern end they're also tunnels much like the way one goes into a football stadium today, where you proceed with all the others up through the tunnel and you come out up on top of the platform in the outer precincts of the temple complex. Now here we could imagine all kinds of people milling about. It's Passover after all. It's a holy time and so they would have come for various reasons. Some just to see, some curiosity seekers, and some there for their own religious devotion, but the temple is going to be where almost everyone would go at some point in time.

Heavy Roman Presence in Jerusalem During Passover

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “It may be the case that the Roman authorities became particularly antsy at times of these festivals when there was the potential for increased political insurrection and agitation. It may be just a function of the number of people there. The size of the crowds that made them nervous, but the authorities, going even back into Herod's day and certainly under the Roman governors, tended to keep a close eye on things like that. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“It is alleged by Josephus in fact that Herod and then the governors after him actually locked up the garments of the high priest and only gave them out on these holy days so that there was not the occasion for religious activities prompt popular unrest. And yet at Passover they clearly are going to be in all their regalia, and this is going to be a lot of pomp and circumstance. So it's probably the case that [on] any of these holy day celebrations, that the authorities are at least going to be on careful watch and the civic magistrates of Jerusalem themselves are certainly going to be concerned with this...If the Romans were convinced that the mob scene might break out into open rebellion they might shut the whole thing down. They had done so in the past, and closing the Temple or keeping the people away certainly would not have been out of the question for them. Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “It's probably the case that the soldiers that were garrisoned in Jerusalem were kept close to the Temple. If not in the Temple proper. Now there is an outer court in the Temple called the Court of gentiles where anyone could go including Roman soldiers and it's very possible that there were the local police officials or the odd Roman soldier standing around. But in all probability most of the Roman soldiers would have been stationed in the nearby fortress called the Antonia which literally stands adjacent to the Temple complex and kind of looks over it. They could keep an eye on things there and of course everyone in the Temple knew they were there too. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Jesus Cleanses of the Temple and Kicks the Moneychangers

The Temple of Jerusalem was still under construction when Jesus visited it. Armed with a whip and protected by a holiday gathering of pilgrims, Jesus lead his disciples in an assault on the Temple. A moneychanger was attacked and his table was overturned by the disciples — two of whom carried swords — and just before his arrest Jesus said, "he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment to buy one." By doing this Jesus directly challenged the authority of Temple leaders. Many feel this was the offense that led to his crucifixion.

According to John 2:15, "And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple...and poured out the changer's money and overthrew the tables." The overturning of the moneychanger’s tables was also described in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. The incident if it happened most likely took place in the Jewish Temple rather than outside its walls. The moneychangers exchanged the foreign currency of pilgrims for local silver shekels. Jesus is believed to have been outraged that moneychangers were allowed inside the Temple grounds.

20120507-moneychangers Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_024.jpg
Jesus and the Moneychangers
by Rembrandt
Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “According to the traditional story, Jesus came to the Temple during the Passover season, and going up into this mob scene that you can imagine up there, proceeded to do something quite odd. He started to take the tables of the money changers in the Temple. People who would have been selling animals for sacrifice, or doing money changing, as it were, in order for people to buy their proper contributions for the Temple... Jesus is portrayed as taking these money tables, turning them over, kicking the people about, driving them out, even in one case with a whip, and claiming that to buy and sell in the house of the Lord is a transgression against God. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

What are the problems with the traditional account? “The difficulty with the story of Jesus and the money changers in the Temple is that the story is told in slightly different ways in different gospels. For example in Mark's gospel and in fact in Matthew, Mark and Luke, all three, this event occurs in the last week of Jesus' life and is clearly the event which brings him to the attention both of the Temple leadership and the Roman authorities. It is in effect what gets him killed. John's gospel, interestingly enough, though, puts the story of the cleansing of the Temple as the very first episode in Jesus' public career. More than two years earlier, and no mention is made of it near his death. So there are a few problems with the story itself, although it is one of the stories that appears in all the gospels, so something is going on there in terms of interest in what Jesus did at the Temple.

“But let's think for a moment what Jesus might have been doing if we take the story seriously as told in the gospels. To cleanse the Temple of these money changers is an act of protest against something apparently, but what? Now there's no reason to say from a perspective of the way the Temple was run that there's anything wrong with the money changers in the Temple, of buying and selling things that are part of the religious activities of the Temple. In fact it was an absolutely necessary activity within the way the Temple was run. So whatever the protest represents it must be a protest against some sort of idea of what the Temple should be, that they represent as having gone awry. It may be the case that Jesus represents the same kind of criticism that the Phariseesthemselves would have brought against the Temple, that in fact the kind of piety that happens only once a year at Passover is something that ought to happen every day and every week in your private lives. In that sense, Jesus' criticism of the Temple sounds very much like the Pharisees wanting to bring piety home. Wanting to make it much more personal. Another possibility though is that Jesus sounds more like the Essenes who were really criticizing the whole way the Temple is run as having become too worldly. Too caught up in the money of the day, or maybe just too Roman, and if that's the case then his actions look much more like an act of political subversion.

Jesus casts out the moneychangers

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “Passover in the occupied Jewish homeland was a tinderbox situation because they were celebrating freedom from imperial oppression in Egypt, while they were under imperial oppression from Rome. So, a large number of Jews in a concentrated area would be a very dangerous situation. And we would have to presume at Passover, that there would have to be certain standing orders, let's say, between the Roman Prefect who was in charge and probably came down to Jerusalem for the feasts and the High Priest, who had to collaborate with the Roman Governor, for what to do if anyone causes a riot or incites a riot, or does anything out of order during Passover, especially Passover.... [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“I would consider the incident in the Temple historical. But this is also very delicate because we're inclined to talk about the cleansing of the Temple and we often see it as Christianity judging Judaism. Try and imagine the Temple for what it was. It was both the House of God and the seat of collaboration. It was the High Priest, Caiaphas, who had to collaborate... with the Roman occupation. Now how would Jesus as a Galilean peasant, see the Temple? I think with ferocious ambiguity. On the one had, it was the seat of God and you would die to defend it from, say, a Roman Emperor like Caligula putting a statue in there. But what would you do if it was also the place where Caiaphas collaborated with the Romans? Was the Temple really the house of God anymore? What Jesus does is not cleanse the Temple. He symbolically destroys it....

Cleansing of the Temple, a Religious-Political Act

Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “The gospel stories about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the dramatic confrontation in the Temple, the celebration of Passover with his disciples and the rest, and crucifixion, of course, are very dramatic; we all know the ending when the story begins, and that sort of increases its melodramatic value or its drama or pathos. And no doubt for pious Christians the meaning or the significance ofthe story. For the historians this is one set of problems after another as we try to figure out exactly what happened or what might have happened and try to understand what happened. [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“And there are certainly no end to puzzles ... just to begin with a famous incident of Jesus confronting the money changers in the Temple, what does this mean? There have been two classic interpretations. One is that this is Jesus' symbolic overturning of the Temple itself, the rejection of the Temple, that is to say the rejection of Judaism... in favor of a new religion that he's about to introduce. Well, that's a wonderful Christian interpretation, of course, but it's entirely anachronistic and entirely inappropriate in the setting if we think about Jesus himself, as a Jew, as a Jewish teacher and a preacher and a man who lived and died in the social community of Judaism. It's much more likely, then, that he's not overturning in the sense of destroying the Temple, he is trying to purify the Temple. He is preparing the Temple for its new, improved, purified state that will come about shortly, in the end of days.... Passover, of course, is a festival of redemption. The time when God set the Israelites free from Egypt a millennia before, and a time when presumably God would yet set them free again. So this is all in anticipation of the great, great redemption of the end time. What we have then is Jesus making the Temple ready for its new role in the end time. He's purifying the Temple. It is then an act which is very much within the confines of Judaism, very much within the confines of the Jewish belief.

20120507-christ and emmaus Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_023.jpg
Christ and Emmaus by Rembrandt
“Was overturning the tables of the money changers a political act? Well, of course it's a political act. Everything is a political act. That is to say that somebody who is taking on the status quo, rejecting authority or rejecting the social norms, rejecting social values to some degree. Yes, of course, that's a political act. But by the same token it is a political act which needs to be understood in religious terms. Just to state the obvious, in antiquity, politics and religion cannot be distinguished. We think that these are separate categories because we are the products of the 18th century deistic philosophers who wrote our Constitution and who constructed our political society for us. But in antiquity nobody for a moment thought politics and religion were distinct. And of course, every political act is religious and every religious act is political.

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “I don't know what he was actually saying about the Kingdom of God, but if we can infer from the bits and pieces we have from the gospel stories, and also what we have in Josephus and other Jewish contemporary records of what other Jews are saying about the Kingdom of God, he might have been saying that it was on its way. That it was coming. That perhaps it was even coming that Passover. And we're seeing this now in American culture with certain kinds of fundamentalist forms of Christianity. If you really think the end of the world is at hand, that has a kind of liberating and frantic energy that goes along with it. It's not good for quiet crowds and social stability. And given the emotional and religious tenor of this holiday, anyway, to have somebody preaching that the Kingdom of God was really on its way, perhaps ... within that very holiday... [is]the equivalent of shouting, "Fire!" in a crowded theater. It would be enough to get somebody in trouble. Even if everybody knew perfectly well that he was not a revolutionary leader. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Last Supper

The Last Supper refers to the meal that Jesus had with his disciples shared together before his arrest, trial and death. Mount Zion in Jerusalem is believed to be the place where Christ had his Last Supper and David was buried. According to tradition the meal was taken in an "upper room" of unknown house in Jerusalem that tradition has placed at the Coenaculum. The Last Supper is remembered and re-enacted with Communion (the Eucharist), Mass and the Memorial Meal. This event is commemorated before Easter with the religious day Maundy Thursday.

Jesus and the disciples shared a last meal together either during Passover (Synoptic Gospels) or on the eve of Passover (John's Gospel). During the Last Supper Jesus and his disciples may have had a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. According to the Bible, Jesus and his disciples ate unleavened bread (matzo) and bitter herbs at The Last Supper. Other traditional Passover foods include roast lamb, a reddish sauce called “harosth” eaten with bitter herbs, chopped apples, dates, figs, almonds, wine and cinnamon.

During the meal Jesus told his disciples that his death was imminent and predicted that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples and disowned by another. He also said the things he taught them about God would remain with them after he was gone. He then broke some bread, blessed it and offered it them, saying "Take it and eat. This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” . After the meal Jesus blesses some wine and gives it to the disciples saying "Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me". Jesus later promised his disciples, “I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.” The sharing of bread and wine is recalled with Communion (the Eucharist). The cup wine was consumed from became known as the Holy Grail.

Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

According to the BBC: “This event is the foundation of the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, which includes services such as Holy Communion, Mass, The Lord's Supper. Although different Christian denominations have many different ways of celebrating the Eucharist, and understand it in different ways, they all developed from the Last Supper. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

The "Last Supper" later became a popular subject of religious painting. Originally it was featured in churches along with other episodes in his life. In the 15th century, the Last Supper became a popular subject on its own. Leonardo da Vinci's 15-foot-high and 28-foot-long mural of the “The Last Supper” was painted on to a wall at refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It captures the moment that Christ disrupts Passover dinner to tell his twelve disciples: "One of you shall betray me." The disciples are grouped in threes, which heightens the drama of the moment, and passionately discuss the matter. Only Judas, holding a bag of money, seems left out. All the lines of the room coverage on the figure of Jesus who is hallowed by an open window.

The Bible does not name the guests at the Last Supper or describe the seating arrangement. The guests as they were depicted in da Vinci painting are (from left to right): Bartholomew, James the Less, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, Jesus Christ, James the Elder, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, Thaddeus (Jude), Simon.

Jesus Prays and Sweats Blood in the Garden of Gethsemane

After the Last Supper, according to the Gospels, Jesus prayed in a garden called Gethsemane, probably from the Aramaic words for oil press. Today many pilgrims come to this grove of olive trees outside the walls of Jerusalem to remember the darkest night of Jesus’ life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, praying with his disciples, Jesus asks God if he can escape his fate..."Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." Despite this prayer he willingly submits to God's will and continues to prepare himself. God sends an angel to give Jesus strength for the ordeal. “Jesus continues to pray and his distress is such that 'his sweat was like drops of blood'. The disciples who Jesus asked to wait with him fell asleep; even his closest friends left him to suffer alone. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

According to the BBC: “The story of the night in Gethsemane contains powerful medical evidence to support the theory that Jesus knew what he was doing. It was there that Jesus was touched by dreadful doubt - was death really what God wanted for him? He begged God to release him from his fate. At that moment, St. Luke - himself a doctor - records that Jesus sweated drops of blood onto the path before him. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Doctors know that the sweat glands all over our body are supplied by small blood vessels. Under extreme stress these vessels can break and blood can leak into the sweat itself. The medical term is haematohydrosis - blood sweat. If Jesus knew the torture and agonising death that lay ahead, the stress would have been unbearable, quite enough to cause him to sweat blood. |::|

Arrest of Jesus

Arrest of Jesus

Jesus was arrested by group of armed men, sent by the Jewish authorities, who burst in on Jesus and his disciples as they were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The police were led to the garden by Judas, A violent struggle ensued in which Peter drew his sword and sliced off the ear of one of the arresting party. Peter thought he was trying to protect Jesus, but in doing this he abandons Jesus' teaching against violence. Jesus stops further violence and healed the injured man. When Jesus was grabbed, the fighting stopped and the disciples ran away. When the Romans asked Peter if he knew Jesus, Peter denied he did (three times) just as Jesus predicted. Peter “went outside and wept bitterly.” He later repented his denial.

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “What happened to Jesus after the Temple incident is a bit unclear. It appears he's actually arrested, perhaps by the Temple guard or perhaps by Roman soldiers themselves. He probably had a trial but whether it was an extensive courtroom hearing or just a quick and dirty justice before the tribunal of the governor is not clear as well. But I think we have to realize that the evidence that we have by the mode of execution, by virtue of the trial stories as told in the gospels and by virtue of what appears in the story of his actual death, suggest that it ultimately fell to Pilate and Pilate alone to make the decision on what would happen to this figure Jesus. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“What the role of the Jewish authority is in the actual arrest and execution of Jesus is difficult to say. Clearly from the traditional stories in the gospels they have a heavy role, and it might very well be that the Temple leadership were concerned with the kind of unrest that Jesus might cause. My own feeling is that there's very little role by the Jewish authorities. Maybe the Temple leadership at most but there's probably no direct historical evidence for an actual trial before the Sanhedrin and the Jewish leadership and clearly the decision to execute on a capital crime was a Roman decision. Certainly it is the case that the idea of the masses of the Jewish people gathered around the Temple had some voice in the death of Jesus is not part of history but a legacy of some later tradition.

Betrayal by Judas

After sharing bread and wine with his disciples, Christ made a shocking announcement. According to Matthew 26: 20-23, Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.' And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto Him. 'Lord, is it I?' And He answered and said, 'he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he same shall betray me." 20120507-Judas_Kiss.jpg
Judas Kiss
Judas Iscariot as everyone knows was the one who famously betrayed Jesus. He had been bribed by Roman officials to provide information on the best place and time to arrest Jesus. A deal was made for Judas to betray Jesus at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest of the Jews. Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. It is not explained why Judas did this.

Some scholars believe that Judas should be thanked rather than vilified. First his actions were predicted by Jesus who essentially ordered Judas to go forward and fulfill his prophecy (In John’s account of the Last Supper Jesus tells Judas: “That thou doest do quickly” and Judas “went immediately out”). Second, if Judas didn’t betray Jesus, the whole series of events that ended with Jesus’s resurrection ans the salvation of humanity would never have happened.

During the arrest Jesus Judas identified Jesus before the Roman authorities by kissing him on the cheek. Judas later tried to give back the 30 pieces of silver but was haughtily refused by the priest who paid him off. He later committed suicide by hanging himself and died just before Jesus. Judas now is a universal symbol of betrayal and was later seized by Christians as a symbol of the archetypal treacherous Jew. In Germany there is law against giving children the name Judas. In the livestock trade a Judas goat is a goat that leads the other to slaughter.

Papias, a 2nd-century priest from Asia Minor wrote: “Judas was a dreadful, walking example of impiety in the world., with his flesh bloated to such an extant that he could not walk through a space where ea wagon could easily pass...His eyelids were so swollen that it was absolutely impossible for him to see the light. And his eyes could not be seen by a physician, even with the help of a magnifying glass...His private parts were shamefully huge and loathsome to behold, and transported through them from all parts of his body, pus and worms, flooded out together as he shamefully relived himself.”

Why Did Judas Really Betray Jesus?

Judas was one of Jesus’ closest followers and friends. So why did he betray him? Candida Moss, wrote in the Daily Beast: For much of history, we have been led to think that Judas betrayed Jesus for a payout. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas received 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. But in modern terms, that’s the equivalent of about six weeks of work for a day laborer: not a huge amount, and certainly not enough money to compensate you for betraying someone you had spent years following. If you were already annoyed and planning on leaving the movement, then perhaps this sweetener could help push you further along the path to betrayal. But the general impression that Judas betrayed Jesus for the money doesn’t make a great deal of sense. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, April 13, 2019]

If it wasn’t about the money then, historically speaking, why did Judas do it? In truth, no one knows. But there are a number of historically and narratively responsible explanations. In the first place, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus takes place at the tail end of a difficult few days for Jesus’ followers. According to the Gospel of Mark, the first gospel to be written and thus the one closest to the actual events, Jesus and his followers spent an evening at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany two days before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. As the group is at dinner, a woman comes in with a jar of extremely expensive perfume and pours it out on Jesus’s head. Mark says that “some” of those who were present were angry at her actions and asked, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? [It] could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” Mark does not say exactly which of the disciples are indignant, but immediately afterwards, we are told, Judas leaves to betray Jesus to the chief priests.

If, as the Gospel of John writes, Judas was the group ‘treasurer,’ it would make sense that he was angered by this event. During his ministry Jesus and his followers lived close to what we could call the breadline. After years of struggling to make ends meet it might be frustrating to watch one’s leader do something so wasteful." Or "maybe Judas is tired and disappointed and just wants to go home and try to pick up the pieces of his life. Alternatively, perhaps he thinks he can force Jesus’ hand and propel him towards a rebellion. If Jesus is arrested, one might imagine, maybe God will intervene. Perhaps Judas genuinely thinks that his actions will expedite the arrival of the Kingdom of God and is horrified at how things unfold? In either case, almost immediately after having betrayed Jesus, Judas regrets his actions and tries to return the money he was paid. In one version of the story, he commits suicide.

Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas presents a view on Judas that sharply contrasts with the portrayal of him in the Gospels. Rather than being a traitor that betrayed Jesus for a handful of silver he is depicted as Jesus’s most loyal disciple who betrayed Jesus because Jesus asked him to, telling him to free his soul from his body. According to the text Jesus said to Judas, “You will exceed all of them [the other disciples] for you will sacrifice the man who clothes me.” [Source: Andrew Cockburn, National Geographic, May 2006]

20120508-Taking_of_Christ_-_Odessa Caravaggio_-_.jpg
Taking of Christ by Caravaggio
The Gospel of Judas were written in Coptic on both sides of 13 sheets of papyri with iron gall and soot by an unknown author between A.D. 220 and 340, and is probably a translation of a Greek text two or three hundred years older. The beliefs in it are consistent with those of the Gnostics. Jesus is portrayed as having more of mischievous side, at one point erupted into bursts of laughter over his apostles foolishness. In another passage he tells his disciples that most of them will pass into nothingness. Judas then asks him what’s the point of being born, a question Jesus evades.

The Judas Gospel was found in a cave near Minya in the Egyptian desert in the 1970s and was sold to an Egyptian antiquities dealer in 1978. It languished in a bank vault in New York for 17 years before conservationists got a hold of it and, with the help of National Geographic Society, conducted a number of thorough test to assure its authenticity.

The Gospel of Judas was part of the Codex Tchacos, an ancient Egyptian Coptic papyrus containing early Christian Gnostic texts from approximately A.D. 300. These texts were in good condition when the were found but have deteriorated after being subjected to abuse of at the hands of antiquities dealers and owners. At one stage it spent a lengthy period in an owner’s freezer which caused they ink to run when the manuscript was thawed. When it reached restorers in 2001 it consisted of more than 1,000 fragments.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860, IMDB

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.