The Nazarene Way of
Maybe the most vivid example of tragic misinterpretation of prophecy occurred in the life of Judas Iscariot. His misconception about the coming of the Messiah resulted in the betrayal and death of Jesus and his own death by suicide.
Scholars surmise that Judas may have been the only Judean among the twelve disciples of Jesus. This alone could have caused him to feel somewhat superior, as Judeans considered Galileans to be country dwellers or "bumpkins." When Jesus gave him charge of the money box, it may have additionally boosted his ego.
Judas is often identified as a Zealot, an attribute held by only one other disciple, Simon the Zealot. We know that Judas was probably a Zealot by his surname, Iscariot. Researchers believe this is a form of the title sicarii, meaning "dagger-men," a group of ultra-Zealots who carried a knife with them at all times to be prepared to assassinate traitors and capitulators. In English, we could call him Judas the Daggerman.
Though motivated primarily by socio-economic and political factors, the Zealots also had prophetic ideas driving them. They believed that if they turned Israel back to God and incited war against the Romans, the Messiah would arise to lead them and establish His Kingdom. This "understanding"resulted from misinterpreting many prophecies concerning Christ's teachings. In short, the Zealots ignored many of the prophecies regarding His first coming and completely mis-timed those about the second.
Initially, Christ's message probably aroused great excitement among the Zealots and their sympathizers. His early public teachings, in which He rarely mentions having to die for the sins of the world, seemed to fit their expectations of a Messiah who would turn the people back to God. The accompanying miracles, healings, and casting out of demons only added to their "proof." Here was a righteous Jew, a descendant of David, who could lead them to victory over the Romans and usher in God's Kingdom.
Judas must have been thrilled. Jesus the Messiah had chosen him to be one among His twelve — and had appointed him treasurer too. Surely, he would be a mighty king in the New World Order that they would establish. It was more than he had ever hoped or dreamed.
Yet at some point, Jesus' message began to change. He frequently told His disciples that He would die—by crucifixion, of all things—and that this was a main reason for His coming. Judas began to notice that Jesus' references to the Kingdom contradicted his own ideas of it. How could this be right? Daniel had prophesied of the Messiah's coming at this time to set up the Kingdom that "shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14, 27; 9:24-25). Jesus, Judas thought, must be a false Messiah.
He began to find fault with the things Jesus said and did. He began to steal from the money box, either for his own ends or maybe to fund some of the activities of the sicarii. Once, in Bethany, he even complained aloud of his displeasure to Jesus (John 12:3-6). When Jesus gently rebuked him for his comment (Mark 14:6-9), Judas was incensed! Luke 22:3-6 tells what happened next:
Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. Then he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.
Not even Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as King of Israel could dissuade him from his course. Judas had convinced himself that Jesus was a false Messiah and that He had to pay for His deception.
So Judas betrayed Jesus, who was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to die — just as He had foretold. With the prophecies fulfilled before his eyes, Judas Iscariot saw how He had misunderstood all along:
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5
It was too late. All the remorse in the world could not undo the damage he had caused—he had condemned the Savior of the world, the King of kings, to a cruel, shameful, painful death by crucifixion.
What terrible destruction we can cause when we proudly act on our own private interpretations of Jesus' teachings or scripture.
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