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The Old Testament Story of Judas Iscariot

In the NT, Judas is said three times to have somehow fulfilled the OT Scriptures.

First, John 13:18 quotes Psalm 41:9, in which Jesus says of Judas, “But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” (ESV). Along with this passage, 17:12 quotes no particular verse, in which Jesus says of the disciples and then Judas, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (ESV). As John gives no specific quotation in John 17:12, we are left to assume that the readers would have recalled the earlier quotation of Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18. Psalm 41:9 may have been a reference by David to Ahithophel. Though once a friend a trusted counselor, Ahithophel betrayed David by joining Absalom, had his advice to defeat David rejected by Absalom, and perhaps seeing his looming demise by David, hanged himself (2 Sam. 16:20–17:3). Just as Ahithophel ate David’s bread and lifted his heel against him, so also Judas at bread with Jesus in the Upper Room, betrayed Him to his enemies, and later hanged himself as well (Matt 27:5).

The second and third fulfillments are noted in one verse. Acts 1:20 records quotations from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8b in Peter’s description of Judas’s end and what the apostles were to do with the vacancy he had left among the apostles—“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office’” (ESV). As to Psalm 69:25, David is praying one of many curses in this psalm against his enemies. David prayed that their camp would become desolate and vacant. Peter modified the plural reference to become a singular reference to Judas. In the context of Acts, this curse in Acts 1:20 finds its fulfillment in the death of Judas as explained by the parenthetical comment in Acts 1:18–19. Judas acquired a field with the money given to him for betraying Jesus (i.e., perhaps the Jewish leaders bought a field in Judas’s name with the 30 pieces of silver he had returned to them; cf. Matt 27:3–10). Not only did he hang himself there, fall headlong and burst open on its grounds, but it was also used as a burial ground for strangers—certainly a desolate place where no one would dwell (cf. Matt 27:7).

As to Psalm 109:8b, David again prays many curses upon his enemies. That one would take the office of an enemy implied that the enemy had died by the judgment of God for opposing the Lord’s anointed king (cf. Ps 109:8a “May his days be few”). Judas became the enemy of Jesus, found his days to be few by having hanged himself, and was thus to have another take his office as one of the twelve apostles.

In each of the Psalms (41, 69, 109), what is the nature of their being “fulfilled” in the life of Judas? Did David knowledgeably speak of Judas’s betrayal 1,000 years before it happened? As David spoke of Ahithophel, did God intend with these words something David did not anticipate—a second meaning to be fulfilled by Judas?

In answering these questions, it is necessary to remember that each of these psalms is was written by King David and spoke of his enemies. Their context involved Israel’s king and those who opposed him. Many psalms have been applied to Jesus, and His experience was similar to David. As Jesus is the Messiah and greatest of Israel’s kings, one might say that as a psalm also described an experience of Jesus, the psalm thus found its greatest significance in being applied to Him. Whether or not David knew that his words about himself as Israel’s king would be applied to the Messiah is sometimes hard to discern. Certainly his words would have applied to whomever he intended, whether himself or the Messiah to come. And even if he meant for some psalms only to apply to himself, as seen by quotations in the NT, psalms could be “fulfilled” in that they could be applied to a situation involving Jesus as well.

This being said, the psalms quoted above that apply to Judas seem to follow the pattern of how psalms can apply to Jesus—the original meaning of the psalms meant what it did in its original context, and they now have a greater significance as some of them may be applied to events that involve our Lord. Psalm 69 is especially helpful along these lines. Many verses from this psalm find significance in the life of Jesus—just as David experienced the events written therein, so also did Jesus (see John 15:25 with Psalm 69:4, John 2:17 with Psalm 69:9, Romans 15:3 with Psalm 69:9, John 19: 28 with Psalm 69:21, and Acts 1:20 with Psalm 69:25). Other verses from this psalm find significance in the life of Jesus as they may be applied to His enemies as well. As seen above, Acts 1:20 applies Psalm 69:25 to Judas. Also, because “a partial hardening has come upon Israel” (Rom 11:25) and the nation has rejected the gospel, Israel can presently be described as God’s enemy and thus fits descriptions in Psalm 69 as well (see Rom 11:9–10 with Psalm 69:22–23).

So how does Judas fulfill the descriptions above from Psalms 41, 69, and 109? David prayed for curses upon those who opposed the king of Israel. As Judas and even Israel itself opposed King Jesus, so also they, too, would find themselves fulfilling these curses in God’s answer to David’s inspired prayers.

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.