Judas the Scapegoat

In the English New Testament, “Judas” and “Judah” as personal and corporate names are a helpful differentiation. But when it comes to Judas Iscariot, his Hebrew name links him “liturgically” to the fate of the kingdom of Israel.

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Jesus’ command to His disciples concerning His imminent return in judgment upon Jerusalem is relevant, even though its pertinence is subtle.

When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)

This act of sending the disciples to every city of Israel, as sheep among wolves, was a prophetic “Passover.” The houses which received the testimony of the disciples (as sacrificial lambs, John 21:15-19) and welcomed them in would be “covered” by the blood of Jesus. Although some translations refer to these locations as towns, the Greek word is polis, city, and it refers to walled enclosures.

Judas, Man of the City

The first such enclosure was Cain’s city of refuge, and the word connotes not the glory of size but the purpose of defense. What Cain built was in fact history’s first fortress. This concept of protection from vengeance is later expanded upon in the six cities of the Levites (three on each side of the Jordan) which provided sanctuary to perpetrators of man slaughter until the death of the High Priest, after which their bloodguilt was purged (Joshua 20:1-9). Those cities served a merciful, priestly function within Israel, whereas the city of Cain was a seizing of kingdom before God’s time.

In Bible times, people dwelling outside the city walls was an indicator of peace. When the Israelites attacked and defeated Og the king of Bashan, they took every one of his sixty cities, “fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages,” and devoted them to destruction (Deuteronomy 3:5-6).

Most towns and cities had walls to keep out wild animals, thieves and marauders. Although Solomon and Manasseh built and strengthened the walls of Jerusalem, it seems that the walls of the first towns which truly served as fortresses in Judæa were built by Rehoboam as a defence against the kingdom of his rival Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 11:1-12), an enemy which Rehoboam himself had created (1 Kings 12). Like the walls of Jerusalem, these walls were broken down, and after the exile the Jews who returned lived in unwalled cities, a sign of their safety under Persian rule (Ezekiel 38:11; Esther 9:19).

The walls and gates of a city are not always a protection from justice. In God’s plan they serve as a means of maintaining justice. They are a sign of self government, of “bridal purity.” The New Jerusalem, picturing the task of the saints in church discipline, has elders sitting in the gates, ministering as judges who discern between good and evil with the wisdom of Moses and Solomon, expelling the unclean and the traitor (Revelation 21:12-13; 22:14-15). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a single goat would carry the sins of the entire nation outside the camp of the saints (Leviticus 16:10), outside the beloved city, into exile.

The possible significance of Judas as a type of all Judæa might explain the divine providence of his surname, whose most likely meaning is “man of the city.” In Hebrew, ish means “man” (with more regard to the masculine “office” or role than adam) and kirjath means “city; vocation/calling; meeting.” There were a number of towns named Kirjath in Israel, but since Judas’ home town is not specified, it is most likely that the Spirit’s intention is to use Judas to point to Jerusalem, “the great city” of the Apocalypse (Revelation 16:19; 17:18), a major crossroad for both trade and travel, a political centre for both Jews and Gentiles, and spiritually a corrupted spring which was poisoning all the nations of the world.

Based on the fact that Eve is “constructed” rather than “created” as the foundation for the “bridal” city of God (Genesis 2:22), Judas serves as a deliberate contrast to Jesus, the true bridegroom. Judas chose the seen and temporary over the unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18), the Jerusalem which was below, now in bondage with her children, over the city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Although Israel according to the flesh had many more “children” than Israel according to the Spirit, she would be rendered barren (Galatians 4:21-28). And what of her children? A division like that between the two goats:

But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:30)

Through the slaughter of the saints, the holy city itself, once a place of refuge and sanctuary, would become demonised and placed under the ban (Matthew 12:45). Under Moses and Joshua, “devoted” cities were set alight with coals from the altar, signifying the divine sanction for the destruction as a legal judgment. The Word decreed in the court of God would be “measured out” upon the Land. Just as Isaiah’s lips were purified and his sins atoned for with a coal from the heavenly altar for prophetic ministry against Jerusalem (Isaiah 6:6), so also “tongues of fire” appeared over the heads of the believers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3). At Jesus’ coming, all flesh in the city would be consumed by sword and by fire, as it was with Jericho at the hand of Joshua. After the trampling underfoot of the blood of Jesus, there was no more sacrifice for sin, only eye-for-eye retribution (Hebrews 10:26-31). The death of the Aaronic High Priesthood and the razing of its “Cainite” fortress would purge Israel of its bloodguilt for the murders of all the righteous since Abel (Matthew 23:35).

According to Josephus, there were three walls that surrounded Jerusalem, “90 towers stood in the first wall, 14 in the second, and 60 in the third.” The third wall was built by Herod Agrippa I, the king who executed James, was proclaimed a god and died at God’s hand (Acts 12). These walls were a sign that although they falsely prophesied “peace, peace” for Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; 28:9), the Jewish rulers knew that they were living by the sword (Matthew 26:52).

Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 13:15-16)

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:3-4)

The Devil Entered into Him

This brings us to a consideration of the events concerning Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Here, an understanding of Israel’s annual festal calendar as a process of purification for ministry to the nations is key. The supper serves as a divine liturgy, one which would be played out on a national scale within one generation. The fate of Judas was the fate of all Judæa in microcosm. First the one, then the many, just as it was with Jesus and His apostles.

This Judas was not the first to be contrasted with a brother whom he betrayed. Through a striking literary arrangement, the book of Genesis juxtaposes the unfaithfulness of Judah with the faithfulness of Joseph. The Covenant inheritance was stolen from Joseph, even though he valued the promises (which Jacob recognised), while Judah despised it and squandered them.

Moreover, these earlier texts also employ the “festal” thread of the Bible Matrix, even though the progression of annual feasts was not given to Israel until after the Exodus. In this structure, the betrayal of Joseph corresponds to the Day of Atonement. His robe is dipped in the blood of a goat as evidence of his death (as the first goat), while Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt (as the second goat), an attempt at purging his brothers of their sin. It is an ironic twist on the offering of Isaac by Abraham on Mount Moriah. And of course, Joseph was the one who finally inherited the kingdom, while Judah’s illegitimate offspring were not permitted to enter the congregation of the Lord for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:2).

As mentioned, the festal structure is found in the inspired accounts of the Last Supper, even though the various elements are distributed throughout the Gospels and must be assembled as one sequence. Once the shape of the event as a kind of “liturgical exorcism” – just like Israel’s annual festal progression – is understood, Jesus’ personal words to Judas become a terrifying prophecy with a national scope.

Creation – The disciples follow a man carrying a jar of water to an upper room. (Sabbath)

  • Symbolically, the disciples recline in the firmament, the Holy Place, dining with Jesus.
Division – Jesus reveals that one of them is unclean and will betray Him. The disciples mourn. (Passover)

  • Jesus identifies Himself with the Passover lamb, and His betrayer as a false brother like Cain and Esau.
ETHICS – Priesthood
Ascension – Judas is singled out by Jesus, who gives him a warning (Law). Jesus breaks bread and tells them it is His body. He gives them wine and tells them it is His blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Grace). His body and blood are divided, then reunited inside His people. As a holy warrior (Nazirite), He vows not to drink wine again until the fighting is over and He rests with His bride in the kingdom (Firstfruits)

  • Abstinence from drinking wine in the presence of God was a feature of the circumcision, since the Abrahamic divide separate priesthood from kingdom on a national scale. Jesus is reinstituting a Melchizedekian order, a Noahic priesthood of all nations, but He does so initially with sons of Abraham.
ETHICS – Kingdom
Testing – The disciples dispute about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus tells them they will be tested, but rule as kings (Pentecost)

  • True kingdom comes only after faithful priesthood, and the disciples would all suffer on behalf of the kingdom of God.
ETHICS – Prophecy
Maturity – Jesus tells them that they will now need swords (or daggers) and moneybags (Trumpets)

  • The Maturity/Trumpets steps concerns the hosts of God, plunder, and an offering on behalf of each soldier. This statement reverses Jesus’ requirement that the disciples visit the cities of Israel without swords or money (Matthew 10:8-10). Presumably this is because the twelve would now be ministering beyond the confines of the house of Israel, to the Samaritans and the Gentiles from whom they were previously prohibited. Dining with Jesus, enthroned as kings (sitting) would shift the focus of their ministry from “priestly” Temple service (standing) to “prophetic” itinerancy (walking).
Conquest – After the supper, Jesus washes their feet, sanctifying them as a new priesthood. Jesus hands Judas the dipped bread and Satan enters into him. (Atonement)

  • Here is the crux of the matter. Conquest corresponds to the Laver, the High Priest and the sacrifices. In primeval terms, these represented the land animals, Adam, and the Edenic spring. As High Priest, Jesus removes His robe in symbolic death and receives it again. The disciples are washed as living sacrifices, mediators for the nations. This also relates to them casting the dust off their feet at the cities of Israel which rejected them. Sinful Adam returns to the dust, and the serpent crawls in, and eats, the dust. Judas is also a sacrificial animal, but he is the second goat, the second death. It is at this point in the first cycle in Genesis 4 that Cain is cursed, marked, and flees the Adamic priesthood to construct his city.
Glorification – They sing a hymn and go to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus predicts His death, the scattering of His followers, and His resurrection. As Bridegroom, He gives them a new commandment, to love each other as He loves them. He tells them that He is going to prepare a home for them (Booths)

  • As a tree of righteousness, the good shepherd, Jesus is both food and shelter to those who follow Him. But they are sheep, and will be sacrificed that they might rule on twelve thrones.

The Last Supper, through its festal structure, is a microcosm of the ministry of Christ and His apostles in the first century, which shares the same structure. It is here that the connection between the expulsion of Judas and the excommunication of Israel-according-to-the-flesh becomes plain.

Creation – The birth, perfect life and ministry of the Word of God made flesh. (Sabbath)

Division – Jesus dies on the cross for the sins of the world and is resurrected (Passover)

ETHICS – Priesthood
Ascension – He ascends to the right hand of the Father as our High Priest. (Firstfruits)

ETHICS – Kingdom
Testing – The kingdom of God comes when He sends His Spirit to indwell His people. The new Israel is formed, tested and purified (Pentecost)

ETHICS – Prophecy
Maturity – Through the apostolic testimony, an army of believers, both Jews and Gentiles, is mustered and martyred as holy warriors. Warning judgment begin to fall upon the old Jerusalem, which responds to the Gospel with a legion of false prophets proclaiming peace (Trumpets)

Conquest – The firstfruits church is resurrected, and their blood is avenged by God. Old Jerusalem is destroyed in a “flood” of Roman troops, (Daniel 9:26) and a New Jerusalem replaces her (Atonement)

Glorification – Christ now rules the world with His enthroned saints. After a marriage feast in heaven, the ruling saints carry His sword-Word across the world (Booths)

Fool’s Gold

Of course, there is more to the story of Judas, and once again we must turn to the writings of Josephus to find the fulfillment of the signs given to us in the demise of this cursed man.

Jesus told His disciples not to give their bread to the dogs, because they would return to attack. This is exactly what Judas did. In Scripture, whereas pigs symbolise Gentile scavengers outside the city, dogs are false prophets who scavenge inside the city. Under the Law, scavenging animals, who eat death like the serpent, were considered to be unclean.1For more discussion, see “Dogs and Pigs” in Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.

Scavenging also relates to the mass starvation which occurred during the siege of Jerusalem, to the extent that cannibalism was reported once again in Israel. As Moses had warned:

“They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.” (Deuteronomy 28:52-55)

Although disputed by some, it seems most likely that Judas did partake of both the Passover meal and the bread and wine of the New Covenant. His consumption of the bread and wine (picturing the firstfruits of the Land) as the body and blood of Christ (picturing the firstborn of the womb) not only makes his betrayal of Jesus all the more contemptible (Hebrews 6:4-8), but also relate it to the murder of Abel.

The final seven years of Jerusalem, the “days of vengeance,” were a great Day of Atonement. For three-and-a-half years, the saints suffered at the hands of both Jewish and Roman rulers. This corresponds to the first goat, the “first death.” Then the city was besieged for three-and-a-half years, and the blood of those who had rejected Jesus atoned for their own sins. Like Judas, they were exiled into outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-14).

Judas discovered that he could only serve one master, and he unwisely chose mammon (Matthew 6:24). The woes of Jesus and James upon the rich (Luke 6:24; James 5:1) are not generic woes, but a condemnation of the rulers of Jerusalem. We are told in Acts 1:18 that with the payment he received, Judas purchased some land outside the city, where he hanged himself (self-exalted head), and it became known as the Field of Blood. Presumably he then fell headfirst, bursting his torso in the middle, allowing his bowels to gush out (unclean body). Like Esau, the rulers of Israel also sold their spiritual inheritance for earthly gain. But like Judas, their bowels would be torn open for buying the land with the rewards of iniquity. During the siege of Jerusalem, Jews—dead or alive—were cut open and searched by Syrian and Roman soldiers who were scavenging for the gold that many Jews had swallowed to smuggle out of the city in their attempt to escape. In contrast, the saints after Pentecost who sold their houses and lands in light of the coming holocaust (Acts 2:45).

Judas “sold” Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slaughtered slave (Exodus 21:32). Joseph was sold into slavery, but after he died, all Israel was subject to bondage. Related to these echoes of Exodus, the warnings of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy culminated in the Jewish War. Josephus tells us that at the end of the siege, Titus sold 100,000 of the survivors into slavery, and they were carried in ships to work in Egyptian mines, fulfilling Deuteronomy 28:68.

Many writers and commentators have questioned or even attempted to put a positive spin on the motivations of Judas. But the woes uttered over the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36) were related to those uttered over Judas (Matthew 26:24) and Jerusalem (Luke 21:23). As Judas betrayed Jesus, so the Jews would betray the Jewish Church (Matthew 24:10). The “liturgical” and structural correspondences between the fate of this man, and the fate of Jerusalem and all Judæa, are both enlightening and terrifying.

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References   [ + ]

1. For more discussion, see “Dogs and Pigs” in Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.

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