Kiss of a “Friend”?

Matthew adds a detail to the betrayal of Jesus that are not mentioned in any of the other Gospel accounts. Notice how he describes the scene,

“And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him” (Mt 26:49-50).

Judas had previously arranged with the authorities that he would give Jesus a kiss to identify the person they should arrest. This was necessary because it was dark. Constable quotes E.F.F. Bishop as saying that “Disciples of rabbis often greeted their teachers with a kiss on the hand.”

The tragic irony of this act is summarized by Lenski, who says,

“The kiss, the great and universal sign of friendship and love, is used here for the basest and most damnable act, the betrayal of no less a one than ‘the Son of man,’ he who is man and yet more than man.”

Barclay proposes an interesting possibility when he suggests, “It is much more likely that Judas kissed Jesus as a disciple kissed a master and meant it; and that then he stood back with expectant pride waiting on Jesus at last to act.”

Here then is the scene; Judas has ulterior motives to identify Jesus with a kiss and yet expecting an appropriate greeting from Jesus. The Master he had been following for years now responds with the words, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

For me it was helpful to see that the word Jesus chose which is translated as “friend” is not what we think when we use the word today. Lenski is helpful when he makes this clarifying comment, “It is anything but our mild, gentle ‘friend,’ the Greek φίλε. In all three places in which it occurs it is like our ‘fellow,’ and this word thrusts a man away. No other disciple of his did Jesus ever address as ἑταῖρε.”

Judas executes his plan and appears to expect Jesus to welcome him as a friend! Instead Jesus uses a much less affectionate term that would push him away. Judas could not hide his motive from Jesus. Jesus saw through him and this confrontation made it clear to all.

What must have that confrontation been like for Judas? What an amazing tragedy! Did he finally realize what he just did? We do not hear from him again until he is determined to commit suicide. Some have proposed he ran from the Garden because he finally understood the significance of his betrayal. The text does not make it clear, but certainly makes us wonder.

Father, I cannot imagine what Jesus must have felt when he was betrayed by one of his disciples. What disappointment and yet, Jesus knew all along that was part of your plan. Thank you for allowing your son to be betrayed and suffer for me.

Following Jesus with you,


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