In Matthew 26:14-16, presumably on Wednesday evening, (which may be Thursday, since the day begins at sundown, when three stars become visible) Judas Iscariot goes to the leading priests, and asks, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?”
Why did the leading priests need a betrayer? Seems like they could have arrested Jesus in the Temple, in the streets, in Bethany — why was it so difficult to nab him? Matthew 26:4-5, tells us the leading priests and elders are plotting to capture Jesus secretly, but not during Passover, “lest the people riot.” So, according to Matthew, they need an insider who knows Jesus movements, his resting places, his habitual patterns, so that they can catch him away from the crowds. They, mistakenly, believe Jesus’ power comes from His popularity. If they can catch him away from the crowd, they will strip Him of His power and do with Him as they please. Ironically, Jesus’ popularity is what they fear and what they crave.
But why would Judas initiate such an arrangement? There are all kinds of theories: Judas was disillusioned by Jesus’ care for the poor instead of political power; he was trying to force Jesus’ hand thinking Israel would rally to Him once arrested; or that he was a thief and not to be trusted in the first place. All of these have some merit and any one or combination might be true.
But Matthew does not give any of these as a reason. In the very next few verses, Matthew 26:17-25, Matthew gives a subtle, but significant clue to the motivation of Judas’ betrayal. At the last supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples gathered with Him around the table would betray Him. Each of the disciples is distressed and asks, “Am I the one, Lord?” Each one, that is, but Judas. Judas asks, “Rabbi, am I the one?” (Matthew 26:25)
Did you catch it? To the eleven Jesus had become “Lord”. To Judas, Jesus remained “Rabbi”. There is a huge difference between Jesus being a Rabbi, a teacher, and Him being Lord. It makes all the difference. And to see Him as only a teacher, and not Lord, is to betray Him, deny Him, abuse Him, and ignore Him.
Who is He to you? Teacher? Or Lord?