An opportunity

The unfolding of the plot to kill Jesus was similar to any situation in which one person decides to betray another. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve apostles selected by Jesus to be a part of his inner circle. These twelve men spent the majority of their time with Jesus during his three year ministry on Earth. The thing that set the apostles apart from the rest of Jesus’ followers was their intimate access to Jesus’ personal life. The apostles could ask Jesus any questions they wanted to and there were no secrets he kept from them. It was Judas’ intimate knowledge of Jesus’ pattern of behavior that enabled him to betray the man that had been his teacher from the winter of 28 A.D. when Jesus chose his twelve disciples to the spring of 30 A.D. when Jesus was crucified.

Luke’s gospel describes the situation this way:

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:1-6, ESV)

Luke’s account of what happened suggested that Judas disassociated himself from Jesus and joined in with the chief priests and officers that wanted to kill him. The Greek word that is translated consented or communed with, sullaleo (sool-lol-eh´-o) is derived from a combination of the two words sun (soon) and laleo (lal-eh´-o). The Greek word sun denotes union; with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, or process (G4862). The Greek word laleo means “to talk” (G2980). The combination of these two words suggests that Judas agreed with everything the chief priests and officers were saying and perhaps even mimicked their sentiments about having Jesus put to death.

It was possible for Judas to promise to provide the chief priests and officers with an opportunity to arrest Jesus when no one was around because he knew where Jesus went when he wanted to be alone. Although the specific location was probably not designated at the time of Judas agreement, it is likely a date and timeframe were specified at the time Judas entered into his covenant with the chief priests and officers (Luke 22:5). Luke’s final statement, “And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude” (Luke 22:6), may have meant that Judas was expected to go back to Jesus and find out where he planned to be at the appointed date and time. Satan’s involvement in the situation suggests that he was unaware of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Satan’s army

Jesus demonstrated his authority over demon spirits by casting them out of the bodies they chose to possess. On one occasion, Jesus took his disciples to an isolated burial ground avoided by most people in order to free a man that was possessed by as many as 2,000 devils. It says in Luke 8:27, “And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.” The demon possessed man’s unusual behavior suggests that he was unable to gain control of his own body. What seems clear from Luke’s account of the incident was that Jesus wasn’t able to speak to the man, but was forced to interact with a devil god named Legion that lived inside the man’s body (Luke 8:30). It says in Luke 8:28, “When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee torment me not.”

Legion’s reaction showed that he not only recognized Jesus, but was also subject to his authority. His plea that Jesus not torment him was most likely a reference to the place he would have to go if he was forced to vacate the man’s body. The Abyss, a place of confinement for evil spirits and for Satan, is described in Revelation 9:1 as “the bottomless pit” which is conceived as the subterranean abode of demonic hordes (note on Revelation 9:1). The Greek word translated devils, daimonion (dahee-mon’-ee-on) is derived from the word daimon which refers to a demon or super natural spirit (1142). The name Legion is a Greek term that refers to a Roman regiment (3003), which typically consists of 1,000 – 2,000 men. Apparently, Legion was the commander of a demonic force similar to an army that overtook the man and turned his body into a camp from which they could operate on earth. Rather than being sent to the Abyss, Legion requested that Jesus allow his regiment of devils to enter into a herd of about 2,000 swine that were feeding on a nearby mountain (Mark 5:13).

The reaction of the people that heard about what happened showed that they didn’t have any interested in following Jesus. It says in Luke 8:35-37, “Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid…Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gaderenes round about besought him to depart from them.” Most likely, the reason the people wanted Jesus to leave after delivering the man from his demon possession was because his action to free the man had a huge financial impact on their economy. As a result of Jesus’ decision to let the devils enter into the swine, “the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters” (Matthew 8:32). Although, what Jesus did dramatically changed a man’s life for the better, the people of the country of the Gaderenes couldn’t seem to reconcile the fact that the cost of his deliverance was the loss of a herd of 2,000 pigs.

A sign

The scribes and the Pharisees were notorious for their criticism of Jesus and went so far as to suggest that he was performing miracles by the power of Beelzebub the prince of the devils (Matthew 12:24). After Jesus told these hypocrites that they would be judged for their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it says in Matthew 12:38, “Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.” The fact that the scribes and Pharisees used the title Master to refer to Jesus and then asked him for a sign showed their disrespect for his authority. Essentially, what these men were doing was asking Jesus to show them his credentials. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus was their Messiah and wanted evidence that he was who he claimed to be. At a deeper level, these men expected Jesus to act like their version of what they thought God’s Messiah would be, a revolutionary that would overthrow the Roman government.

In spite of their disrespectful attitude, Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that he would give them a sign similar to the one that was given to Nineveh, the wicked city where Jonah the prophet was sent with a message of God’s judgment (Jonah 1:2). Jesus said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39). Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t tell the scribes and Pharisees that his resurrection would be the sign of his authenticity, but told these sceptics that the proof he would give them that he was their Messiah would be his death and burial. In other words, the proof that Jesus was the Jew’s Messiah was that he would be killed by the very same people he came to save. This was also a prophetic sign because it was foretold hundreds of years earlier that Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die for God’s chosen people (Isaiah 53).

Jesus depicted the spiritual state of God’s people as being susceptible to demonic influence (Matthew 12:45). This may have been the case because Satan had gained significant ground in God’s territory through Roman occupation. Jesus’ illustration showed that God’s people should expect things to get worse, rather than better, after the Roman government was out of the picture. He said, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).