Judas Iscariot is mentioned more than twenty times in our New Testament. Many times he is described as “Judas, which also betrayed Him,” and once he is referred to as “the traitor” (Luke 6:16). His name is synonymous with treachery, but his is not the first treachery to be associated with the Mount of Olives. There is a foreshadowing in 2 Samuel 15 and 16. Ahithophel was David’s counsellor, described by David as “mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted” (Psalm 41:9), and “a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance” (Psalm 55:12-13). David and Ahithophel had taken sweet counsel together; he had eaten at David’s table, and they had walked in company to the house of God. But now, a usurper was upon David’s throne. Absalom had stolen the hearts of the people and proclaimed himself king. Ahithophel joined him in his rebellion, treacherously turning his back upon David. David left Jerusalem, betrayed by his close friend, and crossed the Brook Kidron to the Mount of Olives where Judas, centuries later, would also betray the King.
Judas would appear to be the only one of the twelve who was not a Galilean. He was Judas Iscariot, Judas Ish Kerioth, the man from Kerioth, a Judean city or town believed to be situated some ten miles south of Hebron (Jos 15:25). For three years and more he companied with the Savior as one of the twelve, but it is interesting to note that he never, in the records, calls Jesus “Lord.” His avarice and greed made him a willing tool of Satan, who entered into him on that fatal evening (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). He had earlier decided to betray the Master and actually left the supper at Bethany to covenant with the chief priests and captains about the betrayal. What a contrast was his dastardly act with the sacrificial giving of Mary of Bethany! Of the priests he asked the infamous question, “What will ye give me?” (Matt 26:15). Doubtless, in the way of the East, they would barter, but finally agree on the price, “thirty pieces of silver.” It will be well-known that this was the price of a slave (Exod 21:32). Was this their estimate of the Son of God? How little value they placed upon Him, priests and Judas alike.
Judas later left another supper to finalize the awful transaction. The little company had been eating the Passover together in the Upper Room when Judas departed, energized by Satan himself (John 13:27). Was he arranging to guide them back to the Upper Room? We cannot tell, but it is possible that they did indeed return there only to find that the Savior and His disciples had now left. Judas knew where they would be. They crossed to the Mount of Olives, to the garden, Gethsemane.
Jesus was finished praying and the disciples were awake now as the band arrived. They came with lanterns and torches and weapons (John 18:3). How ironic this was! With lanterns and torches looking for the Light of the World on the night of a full Passover moon! Coming for the Prince of Peace with weapons! Did they imagine He would hide among the olive groves? Did they think He would resist? Judas should have known. With Judas at their head they approached. There was no need to search for Him. He took the initiative and went forth to meet them with, “Whom seek ye?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied, and He answered simply, “I am He.” And Judas stood with them. As soon as He said this they went backward and fell to the ground. Did they shrink backward and then fall, involuntarily, on their faces before Him? When they were composed He asked again, “Whom seek ye?” Again they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and He replied, “I have told you that I am He,” but then adding, in precious thoughtfulness for His own, “If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way.” Good Shepherd that He was, He would guard His sheep, even in those moments of sadness in the garden.
Judas of course had identified the Savior for them. He had guided the chief priests to the garden and he now directs them to the Lord Himself. In awful callousness he had betrayed the Savior with a kiss. Notice our Lord’s last form of address to Judas. He called Him “friend,” saying, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” (Matt 26:50). “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me,” David had said of Ahithophel (Psalm 41:9). Jesus had spoken similarly of Judas, saying, “He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me” (John 13:18). But He did not add, as David had, “in whom I trusted,” for He could say, “I know whom I have chosen.” How graciously He bore with Judas for those years, knowing the treachery that lay ahead!
Judas Iscariot must be one of the most wretched figures of history. After all the privileges and opportunities he had had, and the rich ministry he had heard from the lips of the Son of God, to become apostate for thirty pieces of silver! Then, at the last, to die a most ignominious suicidal death (Matt 27:3-4; Acts 1:16-19). When Judas left the upper room on that last evening, John records, “It was night” (John 13:30). It has been dark for Judas ever since.
In all the foul history of the traitor, perhaps the supreme tragedy is that the final moment and act of betrayal should be on the Mount of Olives. What precious moments of fellowship the Savior had enjoyed with His Father and with those who loved Him on this very mount. Olivet, saturated with memories and wet with His tears! But it was just here, in the garden on its slope, that Judas kissed Him, guiding His enemies to Him. How sad in the extreme that such treachery should be included in “Memories of Olivet.”