A photo capturing Jesus with a sorrowful expression while surrounded by twelve disciples, as Judas, the betrayer, stands awkwardly apart, casting a shadow on the scene.

How Many Disciples Betrayed Jesus?

The betrayal of Jesus Christ by one of his own disciples is one of the most infamous acts of disloyalty in history. The identity of the betrayer and the exact number of disciples who turned against Jesus has been debated for centuries.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Only one disciple, Judas Iscariot, directly betrayed Jesus. But the actions (or inaction) of Jesus’ other followers raise interesting questions about loyalty versus betrayal.

In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the biblical accounts surrounding Jesus’ betrayal, explore traditions about the number of betraying disciples, analyze the actions of Jesus’ followers, and untangle the history behind Christianity’s most famous betrayal.

The Gospel Accounts of Judas’ Betrayal

Judas Accepts Payment to Betray Jesus

The Gospel of Matthew states that Judas went to the chief priests and asked “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:14-16). They offered him 30 pieces of silver, which Judas accepted as payment for betraying Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark and Luke also state that Judas received payment for his betrayal (Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6). This shows Judas’ greed and willingness to betray Jesus for money.

Judas Leads the Authorities to Arrest Jesus

After the Last Supper, Judas led a crowd armed with swords and clubs to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had gone to pray (Mark 14:43-46). Judas identified Jesus to the crowd by kissing him on the cheek (Matthew 26:47-49). This act of betrayal allowed the authorities to arrest Jesus.

John’s Gospel highlights that Jesus knew Judas would betray him (John 13:21-30). Despite this foreknowledge, Jesus did not stop Judas, showing Jesus’ willingness to accept his Father’s will.

The Gospels Identify Judas as the Sole Betrayer

The four Gospels clearly identify Judas as the one who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50; Mark 14:10-11, 43-46; Luke 22:3-6, 47-48; John 13:2, 18:2-5). Mark and Matthew even call Judas “one of the Twelve” emphasizing his role as a disciple who betrayed his teacher (Mark 14:43; Matthew 26:47).

The Gospel writers unanimously pinpoint Judas as the betrayer, ruling out any of the other disciples. Judas fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah’s betrayal (Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12-13). His greed led him to ultimate betrayal, and he later hanged himself in remorse (Matthew 27:5).

The Legend of Multiple Betrayers

The story of Jesus’ betrayal has evolved significantly over the centuries. Early Christian writings pointed to more than one disciple being involved in betraying Jesus, while later traditions narrowed the story down to focus on Judas Iscariot as the lone betrayer.

Early Tellings Implicated More than One Disciple

In the Gospel of Mark, written around 70 CE, Jesus predicts at the Last Supper that one of the twelve disciples would betray him. He does not name Judas specifically, leaving open the possibility that other disciples could have been involved as well.

The Gospel of John, written around 90-100 CE, first singles out Judas as the one who would betray Jesus. However, even in John’s account, Jesus indicates that multiple disciples would turn against him.

References in early Gnostic Christian writings from the 2nd century hint at a legend of widespread betrayal among the disciples. The Apocalypse of Peter describes some disciples demanding an explanation from Jesus about why he allowed himself to be captured and crucified.

This suggests they were angry with Jesus and may have turned on him.

Later Christian Writings Expanded the Story of Mass Betrayal

By the 4th century, Christian theologians tried to make sense of divergent accounts of Jesus’ betrayal. Sources like the writings of Church Father John Chrysostom provided expanded stories attempting to reconcile the discrepancies.

Chrysostom claimed that at least three disciples “conspired in the act of treachery,” specifically naming Judas, Peter and John as parties to the betrayal.

In medieval legends, the number of betraying disciples grew even more. Golden legend stories told in Europe in the 13th century described up to 11 disciples involved in delivering Jesus to the Romans. While these legends embellished the betrayal narratives, they reflected an early tradition that more than one disciple was ready to abandon Jesus when he was arrested.

Examining the Actions of Other Disciples

Peter Denies Knowing Jesus After His Arrest

After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed at a distance to see where Jesus was being taken. While Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest, Peter sat with the guards warming himself by the fire. There he was accused by others of being one of Jesus’ disciples.

Three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted during the Last Supper (Matthew 26:33-35).

Peter’s denial shows the weakness and fear he felt after Jesus’ arrest. Despite his bold claims that he would never abandon Jesus, Peter crumbled under pressure and lied about his relationship to Jesus.

This epitomizes the disciples’ general response – though they claimed steadfast loyalty, they all fled and abandoned Jesus in his darkest hour.

The Disciples Fled After Jesus’ Arrest

After Judas identified Jesus with a kiss in Gethsemane, the temple guards stepped forward to arrest Jesus. At this point, Matthew 26:56 records that all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled. Despite their earlier claims of loyalty, the fear of also being arrested led them to abandon their master.

John’s account even mentions Peter striking the high priest’s servant with a sword when they tried to arrest Jesus, but after Jesus rebuked him, Peter and the other disciples quickly scattered (John 18:1-11).

Their hasty flight contrasts sharply with Jesus’ calm surrender, showing his disciples’ weakness.

Silence, Inaction and Doubt as Forms of Betrayal?

In addition to Peter’s denials and the disciples fleeing, the wider circle of Jesus’ followers is also depicted as silent, inactive, or doubtful after his arrest:

  • No disciples speak up in Jesus’ defense when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin or Pilate.
  • No disciples try and prevent his crucifixion, or comfort him on the cross.
  • Some disciples like Thomas doubted the news of his resurrection (John 20:24-25).

Their silence, inaction, and disbelief could be seen as forms of betrayal or failure. Despite their earlier faith in Jesus, his unexpected arrest and crucifixion caused most of his disciples to falter. Only John is mentioned as being present at the crucifixion.

On the other hand, the disciples had good reason to fear also being arrested or killed by the authorities. Their actions after Jesus’ arrest highlights the difference between Jesus and his followers – while the disciples acted out of human weakness and self-preservation, Jesus willingly surrendered his life out of obedience to the Father.

Judas’ Motivations and the Meaning of His Betrayal

Theories on Why Judas Betrayed Jesus

There are several theories that aim to explain why Judas betrayed Jesus, including:

  • He was greedy for money – Some believe he betrayed Jesus for the 30 pieces of silver he was paid by the chief priests (Matthew 26:14-16).
  • He was forcing Jesus’ hand – Others theorize Judas was trying to force Jesus to act against the Roman occupiers and establish his kingdom on earth by betraying him to the authorities.
  • He lost faith in Jesus – Another idea is that Judas lost faith in Jesus as the Messiah when he realized Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow Roman rule.

Ultimately, the Bible gives little insight into Judas’ motivations, so his reasons are still debated by scholars today.

Christian Interpretations of Judas’ Role

Throughout history, Christians have had varying interpretations of Judas’ betrayal and what role it played in salvation:

  • Betrayal was necessary – Some believe Judas’ betrayal was foreordained by God and necessary to facilitate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection for humankind’s salvation.
  • Judas is the embodiment of evil – Others depict Judas as the quintessential personification of evil, greed, and deception.
  • Judas regretted his actions – Some scripts suggest Judas regretted his betrayal, attempted to return the silver, and committed suicide out of remorse.

While Judas is almost universally reviled for his betrayal, there is no consensus within Christianity on the implications of his actions with regards to free will, predestination, damnation, and redemption.

Judas’ Enduring Legacy as History’s Most Infamous Betrayer

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus led to his enduring legacy as one of history’s most infamous traitors. Some key reasons why Judas’ name has become synonymous with ideas of deceit and treachery include:

Betrayal of an innocent man Judas helped arrange Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion despite his innocence. This injustice amplifies Judas’ villainous deception in the eyes of history.
Close relationship with victim As one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and trusted followers for three years, Judas’ betrayal contradicts expectations of loyalty among close associates.
Central role in pivotal moment By initiating the chain of events leading to Jesus’ death, Judas played an instrumental part in a crucial moment that shapes biblical history.
Enrichment from victim’s demise By profiting from his betrayal with 30 silver coins, Judas gained financially from Jesus’ arrest, adding a layer of greedy self-interest.

The fame of Jesus himself also compounds attention on Judas’ infamous deed. Overall, these factors explain why Judas remains fixed in history as the ultimate betrayer.


While Judas Iscariot is the only disciple clearly identified in the Bible as betraying Jesus directly, the messier reality is that Jesus’ closest followers responded to his arrest with fear, doubt, and even denial of their affiliation to him.

Judas played the lead role in handing Jesus over to the authorities, yet the other disciples inadvertently contributed through their actions. The debate continues today over why Judas betrayed his teacher, as Christians struggle to make sense of this heartbreaking story of disloyalty at the very heart of the Passion narrative.

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