Betrayal of Jesus
Hint: the Betrayal is not about Judas….
Jesus was a revolutionary. He was a Jew, a rabbi and, while he claimed in Matthew 5:18 that he would not make the slightest change in the Law of Moses, he taught a new perspective on the ancient Law that would transform it forever for those who understood the real depth and meaning of his message.
The teachings attributed to him were both simple and radical, and apart from what they may or may not offer in terms of salvation in a world hereafter, they do teach a manner of living that brings peace, happiness and “salvation” in this life that can only add to the quality of whatever additional dimensions lie ahead in our futures.
The life-transforming message that he brought is offered as a free gift. It is ours for the taking, if only we will recognize it and accept it. It is an offering of pure love and grace. And he gave it in a time when the manner of his teaching put him at great odds with the established religious orthodoxy — the conservative religious establishment — of his day. He taught at great risk and he was fully aware of that risk to his personal safety, which ultimately cost him his life. He knowingly risked his life to give us this free gift.
He gave his life for this gift, so the least we can do is recognize it and accept it as he meant it, not through the distorted interpretations of those who came later.
To understand this, we must turn to those accounts of Jesus’ own teachings, not those of his later followers.
The Early Ministry
To fully grasp the fullness of Jesus’ real gift and message, we must look at it in the total context of his ministry, from the first teachings to the last teachings and to his own statements about the priorities of values.
Near the beginning of his ministry, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus first pays homage to the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:18) but then goes on to expand on it in new and revolutionary ways. He preaches meekness, mercy and peace (Matt 5:5-9). He taught love not only of neighbor but also of enemies, and to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39-44). In many other ways he took the letter of the Old Testament Law of Moses and emphasized the spirit of the law. He also chastised the religious orthodoxy by asserting that true religion should be a purely private matter, not a public issue (Matt. 6:1-8) and gave us the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).
The Completion of the Ministry
At the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry, in his last recorded teaching prior to going to the upper room for the Last Supper and beginning the sequence of events that would culminate in his betrayal arrest, trial and crucifixion, Jesus wrapped up his message with the only time that he, himself, describes the final judgment. Note that many who call themselves Christians read Matthew chapter 24 in which Jesus describes the signs of the “last days” or “end times” and spend endless hours in fascinated discourse on what this means, but often fail to turn the page to Matthew 25 to read Jesus’ own account of the final judgment.
Near the end of chapter 25 (verses 31-46), Matthew reports Jesus’ teaching that the Son of Man shall come and divide the “sheep” from the “goats.” The righteous He will welcome to eternal life, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” At this, the righteous ones are astounded and puzzled. They look upon the great God Almighty, in all his splendor on the Throne of Eternity and can’t remember when they ever saw this all-powerful deity hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and in any case can’t imagine what they, in their puny condition of mortality, could possibly have done for him anyway.
The almighty tells the righteous, “…as you did it to one of the least one of my brothers, you did it to me.” His final general teaching, the closing words of his earthly ministry, define the standard of salvation. This passage identifies universal compassion, expressed actively through deeds, as the criterion for eternal judgment. And within a few hours he would be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified.
The ancient practice of crucifixion is one of the most cruel means of execution ever devised. It involves stringing the human body up in a position where the person’s full weight is supported only by the outstretched arms, and then leaving him to hang like that until the intense pain finally kills him through a slow process of internal suffocation. Even an expert gymnast in top physical condition has only enough strength to withstand the position of a suspended cross for a few moments. But when the body is fastened in place with ropes or nails (according to differing local customs), so that it can’t drop, it lingers in intense pain for two or three hours until it succumbs to an agonizing death.
That was the kind of cruelty that Jesus was forced to endure in his final moments of mortality. To be sure, his execution was a painful event.
He was a sensitive man who watched as one of his most trusted companions betrayed him with a kiss and another denied even knowing him. He was hurriedly tried by despotic officials of the contemporary religious orthodoxy, who made a travesty of justice. He was forced to carry his own heavy cross through a jeering mob so hostile that even his closest associate denied even knowing him. While other criminals with him were tied to their crosses with ropes, he was nailed to his cross with spikes driven through his hands and feet. He asked, in his agony, for water, and they gave him a sponge filled with vinegar. He hung on the cross for more than three hours in the painful process of death by crucifixion.
Under such conditions, we could certainly understand if the pressures of that agony caused him to erupt in anguish or fury. Yet he was able to reach selflessly to those nearby, and direct himself through compassion for them to overcome the self-directed compulsion of his agonizing pain, and pass on in peace.
Moments before his death, at the height of physical agony, he spoke with compassion for his tormentors: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The Greatest Teaching
Somewhere during the middle of his ministry, a lawyer challenged Jesus to identify the “great commandment in the law.” As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus answered from existing Old Testament law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40 and Luke 10:25-37; compare also Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 for the Old Testament origins.) In the Luke version, Jesus then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan, defining “neighbor” in the broadest possible terms, as the Samaritans were hated enemy; the non-believer; the most despised minority group. (Perhaps if Jesus were to return to Israel today, he would substitute “Palestinian” (and for many of the same reasons the Jews of Jesus’ era hated the Samaritans). The parable of “The Good Palestinian.” If Jesus were speaking to whites in South Africa [or America of the 1950’s], he might refer to those with different skin color. If speaking to Catholics in Northern Ireland, he might substitute Protestants, or Catholics if speaking to Protestants.) Jesus clearly states that these two commandments — love of God and our neighbor (broadly defined to include enemies) — are the foundation on which everything else is based.
The time may come when many self-professed Christians might stand before Jesus, but will not be awarded the gift of salvation. They will protest, “But I accepted You as my Savior!” And Jesus will answer, “You spoke words of acceptance, but you did not accept me. Many times I came to you and you turned me away. You saw me as a homeless beggar and turned away in revulsion. I was sick with AIDS and you refused to come near me. I was a stranger, from a different country, without proper papers, and you welcomed me not. I came to you as the ‘least of these,’ and you accepted me not.” Jesus closed out his first teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, with a warning that it is not enough to profess acceptance with lip service only (Matt. 7:21-27). True acceptance is demonstrated in action, not just empty words.
The salvation of unconditional love, called “agape” love in ancient Greek, began His ministry, ended His ministry, and the basis for everything else.
Many of those who claim to be followers of Jesus demonstrate their obedience to the first commandment, to love God, with endless choruses of Hallelujah or constant chants of “Praise the Lord,” as if God were some egomaniac who depends on the empty words of praise from mindless sycophants. Such “Christians” need to go back and read the New Testament again, and see how the pieces fit together in an overarching context. Jesus had a consistent theme.
There is nothing we puny mortals can do for the Almighty king and creator of the universe. He does not need our praise! To the Creator of the Universe, the best efforts of puny human mortals would be worthless! There is nothing we can possibly do for him! The best efforts of our own righteousness would be as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). But Jesus made it very clear exactly what he does want. The first commandment is fulfilled in the second: showing our love of God through kindness to the “least of these.”
When we show love to our fellow beings, we are expressing that love to God, not our way, but the way He requested in Matthew 25:31-46. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Note, this is the last gneral teaching Jesus gave in his ministry before going up for the Last Supper and the end of things; it is the only time Jesus himself ever describes the final judgment. This is an important passage.) Mother Teresa has interpreted this sentence very literally. It is the slogan for her Missionaries of Charity, and the first among her “Declaration of Basic Principles.” She grew up in comfortable conditions in Europe, as an Albanian. As she developed an understanding of the way in which this sentence summarizes the ministry and message of Jesus and links the first and second great commandments, she sought to identify the very least of these, not just in her own city or country or even in Europe, but in all the world. She found them in the streets of Calcutta, India. Giving up all she had, she went to live among them, serving them in compassionate joy, ultimately establishing centers in the most poverty-stricken centers of urban squalor in the world. She says, “It is Christ in His distressing disguise whom I love and serve.” In the face of each starving infant she pulls from the urban trash heaps of Calcutta, or each impoverished, dying elderly stranger she comforts, she sees the face of Jesus. Through our loving service to others we “do it unto” God.
Nothing we can do offers tangible benefit worthy of the Creator. The intangible radiance of heart-felt compassion is the gift he requested, and the praise offering he seeks.
Whether one believes Jesus was a prophet, shaman, Son of God or doubts his actual existence but admires the warm, loving message attributed to him (no matter who it came from), those who aspire to live by his standard of love for neighbors, strangers, the least among us or even enemies, often find it an incredible challenge trying to live up to those values in the hectic pace of day-to-day life.
How do you “love your enemies” or “turn the other cheek” when someone who cuts you off in traffic, cheats you at work or robs you at gunpoint? How do you feel compassion or concern for the difficult people in our lives (there is a reason they are called “difficult”) without getting taken advantage of?
The best non-theocentric resource (which can therefore be enjoyed by believers and non-believers alike) I have found for teaching HOW TO cultivate compassion, and incorporate it even under difficult conditions (and with difficult people), and integrate our most cherished values with our more practical needs for achieving goals and objectives in our everyday lives, is the book Extro•Dynamics — the empowerment of practical compassion in action — by Douglas Dunn. See the website at: http://www.wordwiz72.com/exdyn.html
More Betrayal and Denial
When seen through the perspective of the long view, with a comprehensive picture of Jesus’ overall ministry and teachings, from the first to the last and to what he personally identified as the first and greatest of the teachings, it could not be more clear what Jesus taught and what he gave to us.
Yet this is not the teaching of some modern Christian sects. Many of those who call themselves followers of Jesus hold beliefs that are completely opposite of what Jesus taught. Where Jesus taught universal love and compassion expressed in actions, many modern “Christians” hold narrow-minded, often hateful attitudes toward minorities and foreigners; where Jesus taught salvation through compassionate deeds, many modern “Christians” teach that salvation is not based at all on what one does, but only on one’s beliefs.
In calling themselves after the name of Jesus while teaching and practicing the opposite of Jesus’ actual message, these so-called “Christians” perpetuate the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. In their lip service affirmations of belief, acceptance and empty professions of “faith,” they reject Jesus’ real gift. They are those of whom Jesus foretold in Matt. 15:8 and Mark 7:6, when he warned of those who draw with their lips but their hearts are far from him.
So how did this complete rejection of Jesus by those who claim to be his followers become so widespread and prevalent throughout established Christianity?
The answer lies with the manner in which Christianity spread from being a tiny, provincial, local movement to a worldwide phenomenon. And for that it needed a leader who was educated, wealthy and had the papers and means to travel widely.
The greatest betrayal of all, more than that of Judas or Peter, would come from the “apostle” Paul.
The manner in which Paul directly, explicitly and repeatedly contradicts and undermines Jesus on numerous specific points of doctrine and message is examined in greater detail on my web page at:
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