What’s the Biblical Background of Judas Iscariot’s Name?

Why was Judas called ‘Iscariot’?

Scholars don’t know for sure, but the name “Iscariot” may imply that Judas was part of the Jewish resistance against the Roman Empire. Almost all of the Jews in Palestine in Jesus’ time despised the Romans.

They wanted to get rid of them, to be out from under their feet. They wanted to be free as a nation. But the Romans set up ways to discourage insurrection. The chief way was to crucify anyone who created riots who tried insurrection, and their followers. This is why the disciples fled from the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested.

Maine public roads were lined with crosses to dissuade the general population. Every time there was an attempted insurrection thwarted by the Roman soldiers, they would hang all of the insurrectionist’s for the Jews to see as they walked the roads.

Crucifixion was a good deterrent. It was brutal, perhaps the most brutal way to kill a person. Seeing this kind of violence for those who tried insurrection or any other form of dissidents discouraged most people from trying.

The name “Iscariot” is quite similar to the word sicarii. This was a small dagger carried by the Zealots among the Jews whose goal was to create disorder in the Roman Empire. They wanted to cause just enough disorder to make the Romans go away.

This weapon was a curved dagger they hid in their clothing, usually one of their sleeves. They would walk up to anyone working with the Romans, Jew or not, called collaborators, in a crowd. Then they would pull the sword out and surgically kill the collaborator or Roman citizen.

Then they would walk away and nothing happened as the body dropped to the ground. If it’s true that Judas Iscariot was one of these Zealots, Jesus chose him and made him one of the twelve disciples.

One might ask why Jesus would put such a person in this place, putting him in charge of the treasury for the disciples (John 12:6). The best answer to this question is that Jesus accepted people from all walks of life from common fisherman like Simon Peter to tax collectors like Matthew (Levi).

The idea is that anyone, sinner or not, can follow Jesus. Of course, because Judas Iscariot may have been a Zealot, a rebel who wanted to see the Roman Empire leave those in Palestine alone, he was looking for Jesus to be the true Messiah.

What he didn’t understand, as many did not in the first century AD is that Jesus was not the military commander, the rebel king, they were looking for. Jesus was not interested in saving the Jewish nation of Israel from the Romans.

As he described to Pontius Pilate during his trials before his crucifixion, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (). The kingdom of God is beyond any physical nation of the earth. His kingdom works in the hearts of humankind. He changes each of us one at a time.

The subversion for the kingdom of God is about saving each person and making him or her more like Jesus. It is not about political or economic insurrection. This is why Judas turned against Jesus and betrayed him.

When he realized Jesus was not interested in saving the Jewish nation of Israel but in something much larger with a spiritual origin, he realized Jesus wasn’t going to be part of the Zealots or the rebellion.

Because Jesus cannot be held to any political or physical ideology and has an entirely different war to wage in the spiritual realm first, he did not fit the mold of the Zealots. Judas realized only later that he killed the true Messiah.

It was probably his intention to remove Jesus and look for another Messiah. When Jesus was arrested, Judas began to see that he was about to be murdered on a cross instead of just placed in a prison cell. He most likely realized he was the reason the Son of God would be crucified, and he committed suicide because of his guilt.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Laura

    Thanks for this interesting post! I am not sure if I’ve ever thought much about “Iscariot” and appreciate this explanation.

    1. Jonathan Srock

      No problem. I first heard about this type of sword and what the resistance in Israel was doing when I was in Bible College in a history class. My history teacher was amazing at telling stories instead of dates.

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