The Kiss of Judas

Judas Conscience by Nikolaj Ge

Judas’ Conscience, Nikolaj Ge 1891

The Kiss of Judas.
(Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky)
If you want to analyze the most significant events of the terrestrial life of the Savior and understand the surrounding Him people, and in particular, the events, connected with the law court and taking someone as a prisoner, then you should by all means get acquainted with the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy. From it you will learn the rules, concerning the arrest or punitive punishment of the guilty of those times. The rules are the following: the execution can be processed on the testimony of two or three witnesses (17:67 comp. Numb. 35:30):”The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people” (v. 7). The rule saying that a witness must be the first executor is surely introduced in order to keep people away from slander, for if a slanderer would be an executor, then he will dispose himself to direct vengeance of relatives and friends of the executed. The witnesses, who were proceeding with the accusation, had to put a hand upon the head of the accused; this way the unjust elders were acting with innocent Susanna. “In the midst of the people the two elders rose up and laid their hands on her head” and began to read out their accusation, full of slander, concluding it with the words: “We testify to this” (13:34-41). This way they fulfilled the commandment of God, given to Moses, about blasphemy: “Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him” (Lev. 24:14).
As it seems, one could not be judged without this court ritual, i.e. laying the hands of an accuser on the head of an accused. That is why the words of the Gospel: “And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him” (John 7:44) have such a meaning: they wanted to arrest the Savior, but no one dared to accuse Him and fulfill the necessary for that court rite, which was in laying of hands on His head. One might presume that beside this rite, the witness should never be involved in the sin, he was accusing the criminal of. Such a thought can be found in the same narration of Daniel about Susanna; look, with what an exclamation young at that time Daniel insisted on giving him the possibility to hold the court of arbitration in this case: “And he cried aloud: “I will have no part in the death of this woman” (Dan. 13:49). From this the demand of the Savior to the accusers of the woman, who had committed adultery, becomes clear: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). By the way, in this case, alike at the interrogation by the high priest and Pilate, the Lord talked and acted in full concordance with the mentioned above decrees of the Old Testament law, because after the ashamed accusers of that woman went away, the Lord did not let her go at once, but asked: “Woman, where are those thine accusers?,” and concluded: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” After the mentioned points of the Law of Moses one can see, how far from truth are those interpreters, who find in this event the example of abolishment of the Old Testament law by Christ.
The same way, far from truth, are the majority of manuals on the holy history in the interpretation of the event, which served as the title of this article. According to that interpretation, the enemies of Christ needed Judas to find the Savior without people, and the kiss of Judas let the servants of the high priest recognize Him among the disciples.
Already in my childhood such interpretations seemed strange to me: could it be that without the help of the disciple-betrayer the guards could not find in the city the man, surrounded by twelve disciples and least of all caring about hiding Himself from anybody? Was it so that to point at one of the twelve, it was necessary to resort to hypocrite kissing, and was not it enough to point at Him from aside? No, all these actions of the enemies of Christ become absolutely understandable for us, when we learn, that without an official report, combined with decisiveness of someone to become an accuser of Christ before the people, the enemies of the Savior had no opportunity to hand Him to trial and execution, and that the process of handling Him to court had to be combined with the applying of the hands of an accuser on Him. Judas did not dare to fulfill this rite in its exactness, but “Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast… And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away” (Luke 22:47; Math. 26:46). The mentioned words of Judas clearly show that he warned his comrades about the change of the legal method, which he was to make because he felt uneasiness and let themselves do it, and they did it, laying their impudent hands on Christ. But, they, as it seems, did not decide to do that at once. I understand the double meaning of the question of the Savior in this case: “Whom seek ye? — I am he”. For the fulfillment of the arrest there was a necessity in the preliminary personal interrogation of the accused, which the enemies of Christ did not dare to perform; then the Lord Himself helped them in that, having shown to them his spiritual power. He underlined the nonentity of His enemies, making them fall to the ground in horror.
As far as the common significance of Judas as of the betrayer is concerned, we see that he was meant to be a necessary accuser and witness, from the Gospel of St. Luke: “And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money” (Luke 22:4-5; compare Mark 14:10-11). If the matter was only in finding Christ without people, was it then necessary to spend on that great sums of money (the set price of 600 rubles) and what was there to be happy about? This joy of the enemies of Christ shows, that the statement of Judas led them out of a great predicament, for there was no man, ready to accuse Christ of anything, lay hands on Him and testify against Him in court.
Though, Judas as well, having fulfilled the second part of his obligation not in its exactness, but having substituted the laying of hands on the head of the accused with kissing, did not fulfill the third part of his deal, did not appear in court as an accuser, but “he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” The unrighteous judges of Christ again found themselves in a predicament; they in vain “sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses” and further. (Math. 26:60). Then the high priest, without paying attention to the words of Christ about that they ask the accused, but not witnesses (John 18:21), and losing his temper because of the failure of the testimony, tried himself to catch Christ in words, making Him answer by adjuring Him: “Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” — and though the Lord replied to him, using the words of the book of prophet Daniel about the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13), the unrighteous judge pretended that he did not understand the utterance, and played the comedy of sacred indignation, tore the vestment, made the present people accuse Christ of blasphemy, which according to the law of Moses subjected the guilty to death (Lev. 24:16).
From all said above it is seen, how important it is to know the Old Testament in order to understand the Gospel. Equally important is this knowledge for the understanding of the book of Acts and the Epistles of Apostles. To make an example, let us mention only one event — the execution of Stephan.
“And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God” and further (Acts 7:53). The readers, who are not aware, think that Saul had to protect those vestments from thieves. In reality the witnesses, who were stoning Stephan themselves, according to the law of chap.17 of Deuteronomy, took the responsibility for that not only before the relatives of the executed, but before the Roman government, without the permission of which they had no right to fulfill the execution (John 18:31). Thus, they put their clothes by the feet of Saul as the material evidence of their murder, to confirm that they accept their act as willful. That is why Saul is referring to the fact that he was keeping an eye on the clothes of those stoning Stephan (i.e. not protecting it from thieves, but from the very owners), as the evidence of his active participation in this event (Acts 22:20).
I hope, that due to this comparison of the New Testament events and the Old Testament laws, and the court laws in particular it will become clear for the readers that “the kiss of Judas” was not the matter of mockery, as many think, but the fulfillment, though inexact, of the Jewish court rite. Besides, this comparison reveals to us, how human violence can commit even the most horrible crimes in the frames of law, even if the law is Divine.

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About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR and serve as Rector at St. Joseph of Optina Parish in Virginia Beach, VA
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