Why does Judas Kiss Jesus? Matthew 26:47-50

One of the most famous scenes in the Gospels is Judas kissing Jesus when the Temple guard comes to arrest Jesus. This “Judas Kiss” becomes proverbial for betrayal. Why does Judas kiss Jesus?

Judas Kiss

Judas slipped out at some point during the Passover meal to bring a crowd to where Jesus was praying with his disciples (Matthew 26:47). The “large crowd” is Jewish. Luke 22:52 mentions “officers of the temple”; John 18:3 adds the “officers from the chief priests.”  It is possible that some Roman guards were sent along to ensure peace. The Romans usually increased police activities during Passover since there were large crowds in Jerusalem. If this is the case, Pilate may have had some information about the arrest of Jesus prior to the trial and may have discussed the issue with his wife. She dreams of Jesus according to Matthew 27:19.

This is a “delegation of temple police” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 507), but the high priest sometimes used some rough types to enforce tithes. The High priest Ananias (48-59) used “thugs” to enforce tithes, and Josephus says some of his servants were “wicked men” (Antiq., 20.181; 206-207). They are well-armed with swords and clubs. A sword (μάχαιρα) is the same word the disciple will use to attack the servant of the high priest. Jesus will point out that he is not a rebel, so there is no need for a show of force!

Judas kisses Jesus to confirm his identity (26:48). Why was a signal important? Even though Jesus had been publicly teaching in the Temple, it is unlikely that anyone would know him by sight in the relative darkness of the torchlight. There were no photographs, and the people making the actual arrest may never have seen Jesus in the temple.

The signal was something more than a “normal” greeting. He greets Jesus and kisses him. This kiss is an elaborate show of affection; the same terms are used to describe the father’s kiss at the prodigal son’s return and of the prostitute that washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. In the book of Acts, it is the same word used for the Ephesians church leaders after Paul’s farewell speech to them. It was not normal for a student to approach and kiss his master without permission. This is a bold insulting move.

Judas again refers to Jesus as rabbi while making this insulting signal to the arresting Jews. In Matthew, only Judas calls Jesus “rabbi” as opposed to Lord. R. T. France sees this act as a public repudiation of Jesus and his teaching. Old Testament allusions are thin for Judas kiss. When Joab assassinates Amasa, he made like he was going to kiss the general and then stabs him in the stomach (2 Sam 20:9-10). Proverbs 27:6 says, “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Whether this is an insult or not, Jesus’ response is controlled: “Friend, do what you came for” (26:49). The “friend” is unusual, maybe something like “buddy” in American slang. There is no hint of sarcasm (and the older translation “comrade” does not work in contemporary English). The word is often used for an actual friend or companion, even a “drinking buddy” (BrillDAG). Jesus may want to remind Judas of the Passover meal they shared a few hours earlier and Jesus’s prediction that Judas would betray him.

Only Matthew uses this word to refer to Judas. Significantly, the king in the wedding banquet parable used the same word when addressing the unprepared guest (25:12). In the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The master addresses the complaining servant as a “friend.”

“Do what you came for” (ἐφʼ ὃ πάρει) is ambiguous. This could be understood as a question, can be translated as a question (as in the KJV, “wherefore art thou come?”), or as a statement, maybe roughly equivalent to “let’s get this over with.” As a question, it could have the sense of “you kiss me and call me rabbi? “Is that what you came here to do?”  John 13:27 has, “whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.” The Good News Bible has “Be quick about it!” This might sound testy, but it captures the moment well. Jesus has prepared himself through the prayers in the garden, now the moment is there, and he wants to move along toward the ultimate conclusion n the cross.

The arrest happens because Jesus allows it to happen (Nolland, Mathew, 1110). A central theme in this passage, and in the whole trial and crucifixion story, is that Jesus goes to his death as a humble and submissive servant, giving himself over to the death of the cross. Jesus knows why Judas is there, so his greeting is for the disciples and the arresting crowd to hear. Jesus is surrendering and not resisting arrest at all. Like John 12:27, this is the very thing he came into the world to do, so why would Jesus resist arrest? But at least one of the disciples does not “stand down” and allow Jesus to be arrested without a fight.

2 thoughts on “Why does Judas Kiss Jesus? Matthew 26:47-50

  1. “It was not normal for a student to approach and kiss his master without permission. This is a bold insulting move.”

    What is your ancient source for this information?

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