When is a kiss not a sign of affection? When it is given in betrayal. Such was the case for Judas Iscariot’s final contact with Jesus—a “goodbye” of sorts—the night he betrayed our Savior.
Judas intended the kiss to be the sign to the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees present that this was Jesus—the One whom they were looking for to railroad toward an appointment on a cross on Golgotha’s cruel hill.
To Judas, and those who came with him to arrest Jesus, it was intended to be a kiss of death. It’s a bitter iRony that Judas’s final contact with Jesus was a kiss—but an even more poignant tragedy is that the kiss of death turned out to be, not for Jesus, but sadly for Judas, himself.
Kisses between men were socially acceptable in the culture of Jesus’ time. Slaves kissed the feet of their masters as a sign of submission.
Still others kissed the hem of a superior’s garment as a signal of great reverence.
But a kiss on one’s cheek was an expression reserved only for only close affection, intimacy, and love. Such a kiss was reserved only for the closest of friends.
Thus did Judas’ kiss of death on Jesus’ cheek become the most despicable of all acts. Why couldn’t Judas give Him a kiss of lesser significance? Judas could have kissed His feet, or the hem of His garment, or even His hand. But no, he wanted this kiss to be an unmistakable sign to his co-conspirators—a kiss that would be the most repugnant sign of all.
Jesus, realizing the full gravity of what was happening, gave Judas an extremely stinging rebuke which is often overlooked in Scripture: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). In today’s parlance, it was as if Jesus was saying” “Seriously? You’re kissing My cheek like a close friend, when in reality you are trying to thwart God’s plan? Whatever!”
Consider what Jesus says to him next: “Friend, do what you have come to do!” (Matthew 26:50). The word Jesus used for “friend” here is hetairos (fellow; man—i.e. “Man, do what you have to do!”).
Contrast that with the word Jesus used for “friend” in John 15:14-15, philous—“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends” (belovéd; brothers).
So when Judas betrayed Jesus with, of all things, a kiss of death on His cheek, the traitor was no longer “a belovéd brother.” Surely Jesus’ chilling response, “Man, do what you have to do,” must still ring in the betrayer’s ears, as it will for all eternity!
So with the dastardly deed done, off Judas went into the night. This marked the beginning of an eternal night in his soul as well. Within hours, he hanged himself.
Pity. For three years, Judas walked alongside of Jesus and was privy to the greatest spiritual advantages afforded to only 11 others in history. But he squandered that sacred blessing to fulfill his illicit passion. Why? Because his faith was never genuine in the first place.
Judas lived in the unclouded light of Jesus’ presence—but his life ended in a night of despair.
A kiss of death—intended for Jesus—was instead a bitter portent for Judas. That’s an iRony for the ages!
— Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications