Snap Quiz: Who was Judas?
(A) A disciple who betrayed Jesus and subsequently killed himself.
(B) A disciple of Jesus who spread the gospel and died a martyr’s death.
(C) A sibling of Jesus who was initially skeptical of His ministry.
(D) A man who wrote one of the books of the New Testament.
Answer: All of the above! The “trick” part of this question is that three separate individuals with the same name are involved. That isn’t as much of a coincidence as it might seem, since “Judas” was a very common name at the time (there are actually six men with this name mentioned in the New Testament). You see, Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah (Yehudah: ‘Let God be Praised’). Judah was the older brother who saved Joseph’s life from his jealous siblings in the familiar story in the book of Genesis, and whose tribal name eventually represented the entire Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people. It is from this name that we get the terms Judaism, and its derivative: Jew. In other words, Judah was (and is) a very important name to the Jewish people, so it is no surprise that many Jewish parents gave a contemporary version of the name to their sons.
(A) Judas Iscariot is the infamous disciple who betrayed Jesus and subsequently hanged himself (Matthew 6:47-49, 7:3-10). (We don’t know for sure what that designation Iscariot refers to – it’s often assumed to refer to the place of origin of his father, Simon.) It’s because of this man that ‘Judas’ became synonymous with treachery. In recent years, some sensationalist authors have tried to recast Judas as a heroic friend of Jesus, based on the discovered writings of a heretical Gnostic sect – but that certainly doesn’t agree with what the Bible says about him.
(B) Judas, son of James was a lesser known one of the original 12 disciples. One would presume that it became a “drag” to constantly clarify that he wasn’t that other Judas (see John 14:22) and perhaps that’s why he is sometimes referred to by the Greek name of Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3). This Judas became a faithful missionary who, by tradition, was clubbed and hacked to death in what is now Beirut.
(C) Judas, the brother of Jesus is one of the siblings mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 13:55). It seems that Jesus’ family was initially concerned about His public ministry and tried to dissuade Him (Mark 3:20-21, 31-33). However, they are later described as part of the group of believers who gathered in Jerusalem after His ascension (Acts 1:12-14).
(D) The author of the New Testament book of Jude identifies himself as “Jude … a brother of James” (Jude 1:1). Since Jesus’ brother James was a prominent leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, this Judas (Jude) is typically assumed by Protestant scholars to be the one who was the brother of Jesus (C). In Catholic circles, this author is identified with the “good” disciple Judas (B) and known as “Saint Jude.”
There’s nothing special about knowing this bit of trivia, except perhaps for the surprising multiplicity of men who shared this now-infamous name. But it is worthwhile to reflect on why there was such a very different outcome for the two Judases (A & B) who were both hand-picked by Jesus to be part of His inner circle of twelve apostles (messengers/witnesses). Both had the same opportunity to hear and learn from the Lord, yet one grew into a faithful missionary, while the other betrayed Him. The difference in outcomes was certainly not one of opportunity and can presumably be attributed to the inner workings of their hearts. This should remind us that just being exposed to the message doesn’t by itself ensure a saving faith. That reality has been humorously expressed by the observation that: “Sitting in a pew hearing the Gospel doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a Buick!” Certainly, it didn’t work that way for Judas (Iscariot).