The following is an adaptation from Pastor Colin’s book Heaven, So Near—So Far: The Story of Judas Iscariot (Christian Focus Publications), from the perspective of Judas. Learn more about this story and purchase the book and audiobook!
From my earliest days, I wanted people to know who I was. Thousands of people live and die without being celebrated or remembered. I hated that. I didn’t want to be one of them.
I was ambitious. I wanted to make a name for myself. Yet, apart from an aptitude for numbers and an uncanny ability to calculate loans, debts, interest, and repayments, I did not possess any extraordinary gifts or talents. Intuitively, I realized that I needed to attach myself to something or someone. I needed to find a cause that would propel me, a movement that would be the making of me.
I thought I had found it when, at the age of 29, I first heard rumors about an eccentric prophet who was preaching up a storm in the desert. I was curious about him, and so I decided to go and see for myself.
The man was dressed in camel’s hair, and he sustained himself for long stretches in the desert on a diet of locusts and honey. His message was simple: “Something that has never happened before in human history is about to take place: The Lord is coming!”
People who heard him realized that if they were going to meet with God, they had better do some confessing and repenting first, and John the Baptist had a way in which they could respond to his message: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
It was when I was with the crowds in the desert that I caught my first glimpse of Jesus. John was preaching as on any other day, when he saw someone coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
When John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, he was saying that Jesus would be the substitute who would die in the place of others, and that he would be the sacrifice whose blood would be shed for the protection of his people.
This I understood, but it was what John said next that really got my attention: “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” I knew something big was happening, and I wanted to be part of it.
John said that God’s reign and rule on earth was at hand. He had called people to prepare themselves by getting ready for the coming of the Lord. Now, he was pointing to Jesus and announcing that he had the ability to drench others in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If even a small part of this was true, the opportunity would be enormous. I felt sure that my moment had come.
In these early days, the first disciples were sometimes with Jesus, but at other times, they returned to their work on the boats. With the circle around Jesus still evolving, I wanted him to see me as the reliable one, the one on whom he could depend, so I made it my business to show up wherever Jesus went.
As Jesus moved from town to town, his pattern was to teach in the local synagogue. I would arrive early and sit where he would see me. And sure enough, it worked. When he looked at me, he gave me that knowing look that said, “So you are here again! I’m glad about that!”
One day after preaching Jesus performed a miracle so spectacular that his reputation began to spread far and wide.
As usual, I had arrived early and was sitting close to Jesus as he taught. By this time he knew me by name, and I could count on a knowing smile from him. That small gesture was huge for me. It made me feel that I might be someone on whom Jesus would choose to depend.
Teaching is never easy with the distraction of a large and restless crowd, but on this occasion, the chaos reached another level. While Jesus was speaking, I became aware of some noise above us, and guessed that some people had clambered up onto the roof. How many were there I wondered, and how long would the roof hold up?
Some dirt began to fall from the ceiling, and then more, until a hole opened, and, looking up, I could see four men who had dug through the roof with their hands. Then, to the astonishment of everyone in the room, they lowered a paralyzed man, lying on his bed, delivering him right in front of Jesus.
Now that’s ingenuity, I thought. Here are people who are committed, determined, and resolved: people who know what they want, and will do whatever it takes to overcome all that stands in their way.
The words Jesus spoke to the man on his bed were not what I had expected. “Son,” he said, “your sins are forgiven.”
Finding a Winner
Why did he say that? I wondered. Forgiveness of sins is important, but it did not seem to be the man’s most obvious need. It seemed as if, to Jesus, being forgiven by God mattered more than the ability to stand up and walk!
I don’t think I was the only one who questioned this. People all around the room became unsettled. They looked at Jesus as if to say, “Is that it? What about the fact that this man can’t walk?” Others were offended that Jesus had pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. Sins, by definition, are offenses committed against God, and God alone has the right and the authority to forgive them.
Jesus must have known this. He told the people that he wanted them to know that he had the authority to forgive sins, and for that reason, he said to the paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
When the man did what Jesus said, the whole crowd was amazed, and I remember thinking, Never in my entire life have I seen anything even close to this.
Whoever Jesus was, his ministry was taking off, and, knowing that John had attracted huge crowds in the desert with his plain call to repentance, I figured there was no limit to what Jesus could do, propelled by his miraculous power.
I was ambitious. I had no interest in attaching myself to an obscure cause destined to failure. But I felt that, in Jesus, I had found a winner, and I became more determined than ever to find my way into his inner circle.
With the crowds following Jesus growing by the day, and so much competition for his attention, it was clear to me that something would have to be done to establish a fixed circle of people who would give themselves full time to traveling with Jesus and supporting him in his ministry. With all my heart, I wanted to be one of them.
One day, we got word that after a whole night alone on a hillside praying to his Father, Jesus was ready to choose the disciples who would share most intimately in his life and ministry.
Word soon spread among his friends, and all of us made our way to join him on the mountain. He told us that he would appoint twelve, and that their calling would be first, to be with him; second, to preach; and third, to cast out demons. Knowing that a life-shaping moment had come, we were all silent as we waited to see who he had chosen.
Looking at the crowd in front of him, Jesus began calling out names:
“Simon Peter and Andrew,” he said, prompting the brothers who were first to follow Jesus to step forward from the crowd.
“James and John,” he continued, selecting the brothers he referred to as “Sons of Thunder.”
“Philip and Bartholomew.” So far, no surprises. Bartholomew I had first known as Nathaniel, and he, like the others, had been with Jesus from the beginning.
Six of the twelve had been chosen. Six more spots remained.
“Matthew!” Now that was a surprise. Matthew was a tax collector, which meant that he had sold out to the Romans, lining his pockets at the expense of his own people. Hardly a popular choice. Nor, as I saw it, a wise one. Why would Jesus trust himself to a man who had broken faith with his own people? Matthew was, to my mind, the kind of man who could easily turn out to be a traitor.
“Thomas!” Another strange choice, I thought. This man had followed Jesus faithfully, but he also asked a lot of questions. There was a certain hesitation about him, and I wondered if he would ever be able to overcome his many doubts.
“James, the son of Alpheus!” I had never heard of him, and frankly was never sure why he was chosen.
“Simon the Zealot!” Now that was a risky choice. Simon was known as the Zealot because of his involvement in radical politics. Seeing him stand with the other nine, I wondered how it would be possible for Simon and Matthew to get along, given their histories on opposite sides of the political divide.
Only two spots remained, and the tension of waiting was becoming unbearable. Then he called out my name: “Judas!” But he wasn’t looking at me. He was beckoning Thaddaeus, who brought all kinds of confusion because he was known by three names: Judas, Thaddaeus, and Lebbaeus.
One spot left: God, please let it be me!
Jesus paused, and then, looking directly at me with intensity and compassion in his eyes said, “Judas Iscariot!”
I was in!
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