My secret small group started a new Bible study the other night. We’re going through the Parables of Jesus, one of the Deeper Connections studies available from Zondervan.
During the first session, we looked at three parables about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the first, Jesus tells a story about the farmer who planted good seed and his enemy who sowed bad seed and how the farmer lets them grow up together, waiting to destroy the weeds until after the harvest has happened. The second story tells about the tiny mustard seed growing into a big bush. The third about how a bit of hidden yeast makes the whole batch of bread rise.
The point of these three parables, said the DVD, was to reveal surprising aspects of the Kingdom. The Jews were looking for an instantaneous, powerful, and obvious Messiah to deliver them from Rome’s oppression, but through the parables he told, Jesus told them that the destruction of the work of the enemy would be delayed, that the deliverance would seem insignificant at first, and that the results would be hidden until the end of days.
And so, many of the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He didn’t fit the historical bill. They wanted another warrior like Joshua, King David, or more recently, Judas Maccabeus.
Judas Maccabeus led the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire to become one of Israels most celebrated warriors. He lived just a bit before Jesus’ time and his victories are still celebrated at Hanukkah. So when Jesus came along, people wanted him to overthrow the Romans in the same way that Judas overthrew the Seleucids.
Growing up as a Protestant, I’ve missed the significance of Judas Maccabeus. You see, the Protestant Bible doesn’t include the books of Maccabees that tell of Judas’ achievements. Hearing the historical basis for the Jewish messianic hopes and expectations gave me a new perspective on the betrayal of Jesus by his apostle, Judas Iscariot.
Given the fact that baby names are often tied to trends in pop culture, I have to wonder if Judas Iscariot was named for Judas Maccabeus. If he was, then his betrayal of the actual Messiah is all the more surprising and meaningful for Jesus’ refusal to meet Jewish expectations. Iscariot’s actions are nothing less than the response of all who were disappointed by Jesus’ spiritual revolution as opposed to a political revolution. After all, if Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow Roman rule, he needed to be removed as just another failed Messiah.
And so he was. Of course, the beauty of his removal was that it fulfilled the remaining prophecies about the Messiah that Israel sought.
Anyway, as I think about the two Judases, one a hero and the other a villain, I think about the power of a name. How will my name be remembered, if at all? And what can I do to be the hero?