by Pastor Ed Visser
“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?…
JESUS: “… the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
CAIAPHAS: “Are you then the Son of God?”
Luke 22:48, 69-70
As the group with whom I visited Israel sat in the Garden of Gethsemane, thinking back to the long evening Jesus spent there before his crucifixion, we focused on an aspect of his suffering that often goes over-looked: betrayal. Amidst ancient olive trees, some possibly old enough to have witnessed Jesus’ prayer, we pondered the Jewish view of betrayal in the first century. The most obvious betrayer was Judas Iscariot, who, for 30 pieces of silver, led the Temple Guard down through the Kidron Valley, and up to the Garden. There he targeted Jesus with a kiss, making an affectionate middle eastern greeting now a hideous symbol of betrayal (irony not lost on Jesus).
Neatly framed between the olive trees one can see the eastern gate of the Temple Mount. Under the cover of darkness, Jesus was escorted up to the Temple and into a room on the southern side called the “Sanhedrin,” after the court that usually met there. This, however, was not an official or even legal meeting of the court. Rather, it appears a hastily called session of some of its members, mostly priestly leaders, headed by Caiaphas.
What follows is a fascinating exchange between the High Priest and Jesus. Jesus answers the question of Caiaphas (are you Messiah?) in a very Jewish way. Jesus alludes to Psalm 110:1, historically linked by the sages with Psalm 2:7 (God: You are my Son), both referring to the coming Messiah. Caiaphas picks up Jesus’ cue, alluding to Psalm 2:7: are you then the Son of God? With Jesus’ affirmation, the “council” brings Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, with three political charges showing Jesus to be a revolutionary against Rome.
What the high priests do, turning Jesus over to the Romans, would not have received approval by the populace. To be a moser, one who betrays a fellow Jew, and especially handing him over to pagans, was considered by the Jews an unforgivable sin! Judas, the first moser, realizes this and responds with suicide. The crime of the priests was even worse; yet they show no remorse, likely believing they saved the nation from Roman intervention. Acts 4 shows their later attempt to keep their actions (guilt?) quiet.