One particular vice or virtue may play such a predominant part in some individuals that henceforth their name enters the vernacular as the personification of that characteristic. The name Judas invariably brings to mind the most infamous type of traitor ever to walk the face of the earth. Through the ages Christianity has looked upon him as the man who, for an insignificant reward, sold the Savior of the human race to those who sought to kill him. If his deed was appalling, no less so the fate that followed it. Overcome by remorse and knowing he was doomed for all eternity because he had destroyed the very one who could have forgiven him, he found no way out but to destroy himself likewise.
The Gospels give us no clue as to Judas' character. Though he is introduced with the remark that "he also betrayed him," there is no further indication that he was in any way less trustworthy than the other disciples. St. John briefly states he was a thief, but if he had been, it is hard to believe that Christ would not have recognized him as such. A common thief could hardly have belonged to the inner circle to whom Jesus gave the key to his teachings, concealed in parables for the multitudes. Moreover, Judas shared in equal measure in the work when the twelve were sent forth among the people to preach, heal the sick and cast out the unclean spirits.
Often the theory is advanced that he may have been motivated by personal disenchantment. During that period, while Israel was chafing under the yoke of the Roman empire, expectations ran high among the Jews that the fulfillment of the prophecies of old was at hand. Nothing would have been more welcome than for the Messiah to come and liberate them from their enemy. If Judas did cherish the hope that the Master, utilizing both his supernatural powers and his popularity with the crowds, might proclaim himself King of the Jews, we find no evidence in the scriptures to substantiate this supposition. Any illusions he might have had in that direction surely would have been short-lived since Jesus' own words made it abundantly clear his was the dominion of the spirit. Nor does it seem likely that Judas was prompted by greed alone. The thirty silver pieces did not represent untold riches; when he had returned his blood money to the priests, it purchased a piece of land no bigger than the size of a graveyard, scarcely a worthwhile incentive to betray his Master.
Interspersed within the narrative of Christ's wondrous activities, the repeated announcement of his suffering is like the occasional distant flash of lightning that precedes the storm. With the decision to go to Jerusalem, his predictions begin to assume the shape of approaching reality. Jesus entered the city on a high note of triumph and public acclaim. The multitudes spread their garments and tree branches on the road, blessing him and hailing him as a prophet and the Son of David. But his overwhelming charisma greatly disturbed the priests and scribes, and they secretly deliberated how they might do away with him with the least chance of upsetting the common people. Several attempts were made to lay hands on him, but Jesus escaped unharmed as if miraculously shielded. Though fully aware of the constant threat, he continued to teach in the temple, knowing "his hour had not yet come." Yet the coming events were never far from his thoughts, and one senses an intense watchfulness on his part as to the timing when certain outer activities, the importance of which only he could fathom, would have been finalized, concurrently with a process taking place in his own consciousness.
Before Passover, Christ knew the time was near and he arranged to celebrate the feast in the company of his immediate followers. As the sun set behind the Judean hills and its last rays, lending a golden glow to the ancient city, had yielded to the encroaching darkness, the climax was there in all its finality. Then the traitor could do his work. Although he had made his bargain with the priests and scribes earlier, it is as if he too was waiting for a signal. When Jesus himself, by giving him the sop, designated him as the one who would betray him, Satan entered into Judas and he withdrew with his Master's injunction ringing in his ears: to do what he wanted to and do it quickly. After his departure, Jesus spoke: "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him" — a strange statement indeed had it been just a matter of hastening an ordinary execution.
When we study the whole episode closely, these two characters lose their black and white contrast, and we become aware of the subtle undertones that play through their complicated relationship. If Jesus knew so well the measure of depravity his disciple was capable of, and the evil intentions he harbored, why had he not dismissed him earlier as being an unworthy follower? The fact that he did not but, on the contrary, seems to have set the time for Judas to perpetrate his wicked deed, leads one to believe that Judas held a trump card which, unintentionally, he played straight into the Master's hand. "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed"— yet what he did was essential so the Son of man could be glorified. Unwillingly he was an indispensable instrument in a drama of cosmic dimension and significance.
Within the narrative as we find it in the Christian scriptures, the Easter story is a symbolic representation of the neophyte preparing to face the mystic death of initiation. Many myths and allegories deal with this same theme of the descent into the underworld. If the initiant passes the trials there successfully, he will ascend to higher realms where he comes face to face with his true Self and returns to the world of men, shining with glory. Knowledge pertaining to the rites of initiation was also taught in the Mystery schools of that area at the time the Gospels were written, and the authors, undoubtedly familiar with these teachings, wove them into the fabric of their writings. A Syrian sage who lived approximately 100 years B.C. seems to have served as a model for their description of the life and works of Jesus.
The account of the suffering and death of Christ can also be seen as a prototype of that periodic descent of spirit into the world of man, which the Oriental philosophies refer to as the birth of an avatara. Thus, where Jesus, in the literal story, entered the city of Jerusalem and was crucified, allegorically, divinity entered the realms of earth and was impaled on the cross of matter, there to fulfill its mission and reascend to its source. Again it is in the sacred scriptures, as well as in myths and legends, that the memory is preserved of such exalted beings living among men at cyclic intervals when the conduct of the human race has become an abomination to the gods. At such crucial times a divine embodiment takes place in an attempt to restore the balance, for a lack of spirituality on one level of consciousness calls forth a replenishment from those planes where it abounds, like air streaming to a low-pressure area. Though mankind may seem a mere passive recipient in such a case, in reality the benefit is mutual because our earth truly is a Hades and a testing ground for the divine personage, where he may prove himself and triumph. Nature's laws being based on harmony, all her processes have the symmetry of an exchange.
By the same universal urge for equilibrium, the spiritual impulse resulting from this avataric descent evokes an equally potent reaction among those forces that would oppose any and every attempt to evolution, which therefore cause a counterpart to be born simultaneously. These two poles, the one intent on the furtherance of spirituality and the other bent on thwarting those efforts, are inseparable during their lifetime. It is said that every Jesus has his Judas, because sages and seers and all who have endeavored from time immemorial to lead mankind to higher understanding, have attracted this kind of twin figure. Dogging their very footsteps, this individual seemingly hinders them in all their activities, but actually they could not accomplish their mission without him — no progress can be made if there is no obstacle to be overcome. Though the Judas seemingly serves the powers of darkness, from a broader point of view be serves the Jesus — the two are of the same essence, though of different polarity. Since he is instrumental to the success and also, in a sense, the product of the activities of the Jesus, the latter is responsible for his shadow and in duty bound in the end to convert his negative into positive energy, so he will even become his staunch supporter.
While the opponent of the great benefactors of the human race is an actual human being, the rest of us have those two elements right within ourselves. Man at his core is a Christos, a flame of the divine fire, gaining experience on this material plane which is one of the stations on its evolutionary peregrination. In the course of our involvement into matter, the memory of our lofty origin gradually sank into oblivion, and our consciousness went through the vales of materiality where the choking weeds of selfish desires grew so densely they almost obscured the light of our inner Sun. It is the remnants of this overgrowth, or its latent seeds, which make up the Judas side in man's nature at this later stage of our pilgrimage, when a new awareness of our true values is already beginning to break through.
All action, as we know, is instigated by thought; and when we went through the grossest phases of our existence, the thoughts that motivated us were themselves gross, low and often evil. Although thoughts do not originate in our minds, but are separate entities, treading the path of their own evolution, they have a definite affinity with us. Like old friends or foes, we meet them again and again, as they periodically pass through us. They can hold an immense sway over us for better or worse. Negative thoughts nurtured for a long time exert a strong hold, particularly once we decide to move in the opposite direction, as anyone trying to break a bad habit can testify.
Thus every individual has a host of such entities affiliated with him that represent both his nobler aspirations and his lower desires. But it is his choice whether or not, and in what way, these pass through his consciousness. He is free both to follow what inspires him to deeds of compassion, or to send on its way what would tempt him to evil, thereby strengthening or weakening these energies in the process. The more strongly man's inner Christ is active in him, urging him to reunite with his spiritual heritage, in that measure also the opposite pole becomes activated and attracts those thoughts that would resist his endeavors. We all know of instances of truly noble people who, nevertheless, are possessed of an irascible temper or constantly torn by inner conflicts. Though an apparent contradiction, it merely indicates how brightly the flame burns within them to produce such fierce antagonism.
As the ancient traditions tell us, during the great initiations the neophyte must face his lower self and overcome or perish. Every individual striving to become a better human being, must, in the course of his daily life, descend into the underworld of his own making, there to meet the shadows of his former selves and slay them. As much as Judas was indispensable to Jesus, the dark side of our nature is to our advancement, because only by rising above it can we prove our strength. In the process we will have furthered the evolution of the thought elements that belong to us and for which we are as equally responsible as the seers and sages are for their shadows. Each such victory, however insignificant it may appear to us, will bring us a little closer to the day when our inner Christos, crucified on the cross of matter for so many aeons, will be resurrected.
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1972; copyright © 1972 Theosophical University Press)