When Did Judas Hang Himself?
Of course, Church Tradition teaches us that shortly after betraying Yeshua [Jesus], Judas went out and hanged himself. But then, the question which begs for an answer is, Why was not his replacement appointed for over a month? Why was it that Peter was moved to replace Judas after Yeshua's ascension as recorded in ACTS 1? Why did not Yeshua Himself, after His resurrection appoint a replacement for one of His own apostles, if Judas was indeed already dead? I think that Scripture answers all these questions when read free from the tether of Church Traditions.
The account of Judas' death is found in two records, Matthew's Gospel and Luke's ACTS. Let us first consider what Matthew wrote.
MATTHEW 27:3-7 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
We can understand how Church Tradition got the impression that Judas immediately went out and hung himself, if we rely solely upon this account. But, when we consider the whole record, we discover an entirely different scenario.
Matthew here records a string of incidents which could possibly have happened in immediate succession, but not likely. For instance, after Judas threw down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple, did the chief priests and elders right then and there take counsel and buy the potter's field? Very doubtful as they were in the middle of plotting and planning Yeshua's capture and demise. Rather, Matthew is simply relating that which had occurred over an indefinite period of time concerning the thirty pieces of silver, the price of blood. Judas' self extermination is only mentioned in passing.
Luke, in his ACTS of the Apostles, preserves for us a few more details of Judas' demise.
ACTS 1:15-19 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
It is here, almost fifty days after the betrayal, that Judas' successor is being chosen. Surely they would not have waited that long. We are put on the right scent concerning when Judas hanged himself, when we read and compare two other Gospel accounts, Luke's and John's.
LUKE 24:33-40 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
Our quest here is to discover who were these eleven Luke referred to. Most assume that they were the twelve apostles without Judas, thinking that he had already went out and killed himself. But when we read John's account of the same incident, we learn that Judas himself must also have been with them, behind those closed doors.
JOHN 20:19-24 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord....But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
So it was Thomas and not Judas who was missing at that first appearance, behind closed doors. This is quite astounding. The eleven must therefore have included Judas. The fact that the other apostles would allow the betrayer of their Lord and Master to share their hiding place is utterly perplexing, unless of course they did not realize that Judas had been the betrayer. In that case they would have had no reason to exclude him.
I think that the primary reason we have all supposed that the other disciples knew that Judas was the betrayer, is because we have assumed that Judas had led the band of soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane when Yeshua was taken. Yet the record doesn't really say that.
LUKE 22:47-48 And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? (see also MATTHEW 26:47-50 MARK 14:43-46 JOHN 18:3)
The method Judas chose in identifying Yeshua to the soldiers is I think the key hear. Remember, Judas was crafty. He was always intent upon being perceived as a faithful follower of the Lord, but in truth he had his own agenda. Thus, he did not show his hand by audaciously pointing out Yeshua to the band of soldiers but rather chose to betray his Master with a kiss.
The record states that Judas went before them. This does not necessarily mean that he led them, but more likely that at some point Judas overtook them and went out in front of them.
He no doubt followed behind or perhaps amongst the troop until they arrived at the Garden. Then he would rush forward as if coming to Yeshua's aid and kiss Him as a friend and brother. Yet Yeshua was not fooled, saying, "Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" Of course in all the commotion no other disciples could hear what was actually being said and no doubt they supposed exactly what Judas and planned they would. Thus, when they all regrouped, there would have been no reason to exclude Judas and he was welcomed into the fold as the Gospel record indicates.
We have every confidence therefore that Judas did not immediately, after Yeshua's capture, go out and kill himself. He was around at least long enough to see the risen Lord. But how long did he put on this charade before the other disciples? Evidently for some time, for he was most likely still around on the day Yeshua ascended into heaven. Note the record.
ACTS 1:1-4 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
Luke tells us that it was the apostles whom He had chosen to which Yeshua was seen for forty days after His resurrection. These were the Twelve. No mention is made of any of them being deceased. Luke does not say, as he easily could, that it was to the Eleven, but he specifically tells us that it was to the apostles whom Yeshua had chosen.
Howbeit, not many days after the Ascension, Peter is moved to have Judas replaced because he was indeed then dead. Undoubtedly, Judas hanged himself shortly after the Ascension. Scripture even points us to this conclusion.
ACTS 1:9-11 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
After Yeshua's ascension, as the disciples stood there gazing into the clouds wondering all the thoughts we can imagine they wrestled with, Judas must have slipped away to do his deed. Then, the two in white apparel, probably angels, addressed them as men of Galilee. Yet not all Twelve were from Galilee. To quote W. Graham Scroggie;
JUDAS is called Iscariot, which probably means 'man of Kerioth,' a place ten miles from Hebron, in the southern border of Judah. If this is the meaning of Iscariot, Judas was the only non-Galilean among the Apostles. A Guide To The Gospels, page 118.
Now it makes perfect sense why Peter would at this time initiate proceedings to replace Judas, because he had just died. Not as Church Tradition claims, more than a month before, but perhaps just a day or two previous.
Though the Church's Traditions are usually well intentioned, they seem to always contradict the testimony of Scripture. This is solid evidence that these traditions have their source, not from the original disciples, but from others of a later age. (See Whatever Happen to Timothy?).