Judas Iscariot in The Chosen (Adapting Biblical Characters)

Updated: Nov 22


Luke Dimyan as Judas in The Chosen Season 2 Episode 8
Luke Dimyan as Judas in The Chosen Season 2 Episode 8

Like most of you, I have been eager to see how The Chosen would portray Judas Iscariot, the last and most notorious of the twelve disciples. Finally, in Episode 8 of The Chosen Season 2, we got what we've been waiting for. While we still only have a little bit of data about Judas, I'm excited to reflect on what we can already learn about how The Chosen is adapting his character.


Judas in Episode 8 (Recap)

Episode 8 begins with two businessmen persuading an old man to sell them his land under the pretense that they will turn it into a burial site. Soon, however, we discover the real reason why the businessmen are buying the property: to access a valuable salt mine that they've secretly discovered under it. Initially, the younger businessman (later revealed to be Judas) has some remorse over deceitfully buying the property for far less than its actual value. With tragic irony, Judas expresses a longing to do something more meaningful than making money, something that will be remembered forever. Judas' mentor, the older businessman, dismisses Judas' concern over ethics, and points out that, with the profit they've made, they now have the leisure to focus on whatever they want, including more meaningful activities.


As Judas and his mentor are discussing these matters, a few of Jesus' disciples are nearby, fruitlessly attempting to persuade a property owner to let them use his hill for the Sermon on the Mount. Just when it seems like all is lost, Judas overhears their conversation and uses his persuasive skills to convince the owner to let them use the area - after all, Judas and his mentor point out, a religious gathering would be profitable for business in the long run. Later, Judas' mentor uses this event to show him how valuable their persuasive abilities can be and they decide to go see the big sermon that they've made possible. While there, Judas ends up finding his way back stage, where the disciples thank him profusely for his help and he watches with awe as Jesus heads out to preach his sermon.


Why did Judas betray Jesus? [What does the Bible say?]

While the Gospel accounts all agree that Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for money (30 pieces of silver to be exact), Bible Artists and interpreters have long puzzled over his deeper underlying motivation. And there are a several good reasons why we might wonder about what Judas was really after:

  • It's hard to believe that someone could know Jesus intimately and see all of his miracles and yet give him up for nothing more than petty cash.

  • Judas quickly regrets his decision. After attempting to return the money, he goes and hangs himself (Matthew 27:3-10). This seems to suggest that Judas had a complex interior life and wasn't just a superficial thief in search of easy money.

  • If you compare the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John, Judas' betrayal of Jesus seems to be prompted by how Jesus allows a woman to "waste" a lavish gift of ointment on his feet as a preparation for his burial (Matthew 26:6-16, John 12:1-8)

  • Both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John suggest that Satan himself influenced Judas' decision (Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 27).

All of that being said, the Gospel writers are not shy about pointing to greed as a persistent flaw in Judas' character. John tells us that Judas regularly stole money from the proceeds of the disciples (John 12:6). Clearly money was a major reason why Judas betrayed Jesus - it just might not have been the only reason.


Why did Judas betray Jesus? [What does Bible Art say?]

While the Gospels tend to focus on Judas' greed, many adaptations of the Gospels will give less attention to greed and focus more on other, speculative motives that might have driven Judas to betray Jesus:

  • Frustrated Political Ambition: In some adaptations, like Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings, Judas is ambitious and initially expects Jesus to bring about a political kingdom that will benefit him. When it becomes apparent that Jesus isn't the Messiah he expected, Judas betrays Jesus out of frustration and/or to make the most he can out of his failed hope.

  • Fear: In some adaptations, like Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is afraid that Jesus is getting out of control and creating too much friction with Rome. He betrays Jesus to prevent him from causing greater problems for their people.

  • Spiritual Insight/Obedience: Some adaptations like The Last Temptation of Christ attempt to re-contextualize Judas' actions, not as a betrayal, but as an act of obedience designed to help Jesus fulfill his purpose. This interpretation of Judas has its origin in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Judas.

  • Possession: Some adaptations, like The Passion of the Christ, focus on Satan's role and portray Judas as spiritually tormented.


Why will Judas betray Jesus in The Chosen?

We've got a few more seasons of The Chosen ahead of us before we reach the passion narrative, and so there's a possibility that Judas' character will go in some unexpected directions before his fateful decision. That being said, I think there's reason to believe that Dallas Jenkins is playing the long game in how he sets up the primary characters (cf. the resonance between Mary Magdalene's introduction to Jesus in The Chosen Season 1 Episode 1 and their reunion at the resurrection). So, based on what we've seen, I anticipate Judas' betrayal of Jesus will play out according to one of the following scenarios:


1) Devil on the Shoulder: After the opening scene of Season 2 Episode 8, when we met Judas and his conniving mentor, my wife turned to me and asked, "Is that guy [the mentor] supposed to be the devil or something?" While I don't think she was right in a literal sense, in a metaphorical sense I think she might be on to something.


Books are able to explore the internal conflict of a character directly by giving us an inner monologue. In visual mediums, however, these internal conflicts need to be externalized into an interpersonal conflict. You see this all the time in Rom Coms. Internally a protagonist may be struggling between her desire for money and her desire for a simple life, but the movie will externalize her struggle into conflict between two potential lovers, her wealthy boyfriend and the folksy suitor in her hometown. In its most blatant form, the move to externalize internal conflict takes the form of a shoulder angel trying to persuade a character to do good and a shoulder devil trying to seduce him into evil.


My guess is that Judas' internal spiritual conflict will be externalized into a conflict between the influence of his shady mentor (representing pragmatism, greed, & comfort) and Jesus (representing Judas' desire for a greater purpose). Judas will move back and forth between the two, and at times it will look like he might even abandon his old mentor. Ultimately, however, the mentor will win out, convincing Judas that following a poor beggar like Jesus just isn't realistic (perhaps the anointing of Jesus' feet will play a role in that conflict). The mentor himself will then initiate and broker the deal with the priests to betray Jesus and pressure the impressionable Judas into accepting it. And who knows? Maybe my wife will actually end up being literally correct and we'll see Satan possessing the mentor before actually entering into Judas himself.


2) Blackmail: Even if Judas' mentor ultimately loses the battle for Judas' soul, I could still see him playing an important role in bringing about his downfall. Although the mentor presents himself as someone who cares for Judas, there's good reason to believe that his only true loyalty is to his own profit. I could imagine a situation where he begins extorting Judas, threatening to reveal some of his shady dealings or something like that. Initially Judas tries to pay him off by stealing money from the purse of the disciples (cf. John 12:6) - and this is why Judas gets so mad about the woman wasting the very expensive ointment on Jesus' feet. Eventually though, the purse is not enough, and so either the mentor brokers the betrayal of Jesus or Judas actively concocts the plan in order to secure enough money to make a "final" payment. Of course, Judas realizes too late that his mentor isn't done with him yet and no payment will ever be final - and that realization precipitates his grief over betraying Jesus and his suicide.

3) Saving a Friend: Maybe I've been over-demonizing the mentor. Perhaps, instead of directly instigating Jesus' betrayal, he will serve as an indirect cause. I could see a scenario where the mentor gets in hot water for all of the schemes that they've been performing. In that case, Judas might begin stealing in order to try to help his friend get out of trouble. Ultimately, the betrayal for 30 pieces of silver could be done in order to get enough to save his mentor for good and/or because the priests are aware of his mentor's trouble and are using him as leverage.


I'm sure there are other possible scenarios but it seems quite likely that we'll see some of the elements in the three scenarios above - or perhaps a combination of all three of them. Given the prominence of the mentor in our introduction to Judas' character, what seems most clear to me is that the mentor will play a significant role in Judas' story and ultimately in Judas' decision to betray Jesus. Of course, as my predictions about the last half of The Chosen Season 2 will attest, I don't have anything like a perfect record of predicting what Jenkins has up his sleeve.


Judas in The Chosen and in Scripture

Is Judas in The Chosen? When does Judas appear in The Chosen?

Judas is the last of the twelve disciples to be introduced in The Chosen. He makes his first appearance in Season 2, Episode 8.


How did Jesus meet Judas Iscariot?

In the Bible, we are not told how Jesus met Judas Iscariot. By the time we first encounter Judas, he is already a member of Jesus' twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1-4).


In The Chosen, during Season 2, Episode 8, Judas befriends the disciples by helping them broker a deal to use land for Jesus' teaching. He decides to go see the teaching himself and is invited "backstage" by the disciples to meet Jesus.


Why did Jesus choose Judas? Why was Judas chosen?

The Bible does not fully explain why Jesus chose Judas. Jesus apparently knew that Judas would betray him from the beginning (John 6:70-71). Jesus does draw a distinction between those whom he truly chose (the other disciples) and Judas, explaining that someone had to betray him in order to fulfill Scripture (John 13:18-27). Still, we aren't told why Jesus chose Judas specifically.


In The Chosen, Jesus chooses Judas as a disciple in Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2. Judas tells Jesus he wants to leave everything to follow him and spread his message. He appears to be completely sincere.


Did Judas have a sister? Who is Judas' sister in the Bible?

In the Bible, there is no indication that Judas had a sister or any siblings. However, it's entirely plausible that he did. The Bible does not give us an exhaustive list of the family members of each disciple. It focuses on the characters that are significant in the story it is telling.


In The Chosen, during Season 3 Episode 1, we are introduced to Judas' sister Devorah, who appears to work as a dyer. We learn that their parents are dead but they have a close bond. Devorah is an invented character created to give Judas more depth and complexity.


Why did Judas betray Jesus?

In the Bible, Judas is portrayed as betraying Jesus for money (Matthew 26:14-16). Judas is portrayed more generally as avaricious and willing to lie and steal to get more money (John 12:6). John also tells us that Satan put the plan into Judas' heart (John 13:2). In context John doesn't seem to be suggesting that Judas' will was overridden like a victim of possession; instead the idea seems to be that Satan tempted Judas in the direction he was already motivated to go in and Judas willingly made himself Satan's vessel. Nevertheless, Judas had severe regrets almost immediately after Jesus was taken and ultimately died by suicide (Matthew 27:3-10).


Previous adaptations of the Gospels have attempted to provide more complex motivations for Judas' actions (he was really doing Jesus' bidding, he was trying to goad Jesus into taking a more aggressive approach to kingship, etc.). It's still too early to know exactly what Judas' motivations will be in The Chosen.


How did Judas betray Jesus? What did Judas do?

Judas betrayed Jesus by revealing his location to the soldiers of the Sanhedrin. This allowed the Jewish leaders to capture Jesus in an isolated location at night, instead of confronting him during the day when it might have created an uproar (Matthew 26:1-4, 14-16). Judas identified Jesus to the guards by giving him a kiss of greeting (Luke 22:47-48).


What happened to Judas? How did Judas Iscariot die?

After betraying Jesus, Judas died by suicide (Matthew 27:3-10). The Book of Acts records a slightly different account that involves Judas falling and being split open (Acts 1:18-19), but many interpreters and adaptations have found ways to harmonize the two accounts.


Who plays Judas in The Chosen?

In The Chosen, Judas is played by Luke Dimyan.


 

Further Reading

An adaptation like The Chosen isn't meant to replace the Bible; it's meant to drive us deeper into the Bible and spiritual reflection. The creators of The Chosen have produced an interactive Bible study that explores some of the biblical themes and Scripture that inspired Season 2.

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Contributing to The Bible Artist

Have my posts about Bible adaptation helped you learn more about the Bible and explore it with your ministry or family? I offer my work for free and rely on the generous support of readers like you. Your contributions mean so much. Thank you!

 

If you liked this post, I've done several posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation that you might want to check out, including articles on how The Chosen adapts key biblical characters and discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Season 1 and Season 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.


The Chosen Season 3

Adapting Biblical Characters Series

Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]


Season 3

Season 2