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To consider the consequences of betrayal in literature and in the life of Jesus.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To consider the consequences of betrayal in literature and in the life of Jesus.

Preparation and materials

  • A simple flow diagram showing betrayal, leading to suffering, leading to anger, leading to revenge (see section 4).
  • A second flow diagram showing betrayal, leading to suffering, leading to acceptance, leading to forgiveness (see section 8).


  1.  Betrayal is a frequent theme in literature. Many stories of betrayal have been made into gripping films.

    When a film starts with a betrayal, the theme is usually one of revenge. The good guy just has to win.

    When a film ends with a plot twist where a loved one betrays the main character, the storyline is elevated into something dramatic and has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats.
  2. The children’s movie The Lion King is about betrayal. Mufasa is betrayed and murdered by his own brother Scar. Scar then makes young Simba believe that he is responsible for the death of his father. Scar takes over the kingdom when Simba runs away.

    (Ask students for suggestions of other films they have seen where the plot is about betrayal and revenge.)
  3. The Count of Monte Cristo is probably one of the best films on the theme of betrayal. It is based on the book by Alexandre Dumas and is about a young sailor called Dantès, who is falsely accused of treason by his jealous best friend. The jealousy is over a woman, Mercédès.

    Dantès is imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d’If for 13 years. While there, he is obsessed with the desire for revenge, and plots vengeance on those who were involved in his betrayal.

    Escaping from prison, he transforms himself into the wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo and sets about seeking out his betrayers. His plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty.
  4. If we were to draw out a storyline based on betrayal it would probably look like this: betrayal to suffering to anger to revenge. (Show first flow diagram.)

    If we were to consider our own personal experience of betrayal, we might be able to detect a similar pattern of events. Who among us, if betrayed by a friend, would not initially feel shocked, hurt and rejected? Then might come anger that someone we trusted could do such a thing to us. And then the desire for revenge, with dark plans of payback, if not in action, then by words or slanderous comments.

    But the question begs to be asked: Does revenge help you feel better?
  5. For Christians, the story of Easter is about betrayal. Jesus had spent three years with a small group of twelve disciples in whom he had invested his life, his teachings and his love.

    These twelve had come to recognize who he really was. They had seen him love and care for the lost, the lonely and the suffering. He had laughed with them, cried with them, walked and talked with them, and shared his life with them, holding nothing back, and all this knowing that one of them, Judas, would betray him.

    At the Last Supper, a meal enjoyed with one’s family at the Jewish festival of the Passover, when Jesus is eating with these twelve friends, he says that one will betray him. Shocked, the disciples look at one another, while Judas slinks away to inform on Jesus. Judas tells Jesus’ enemies that he will lead them to Jesus. He receives a bag of silver coins in payment for this betrayal.
  6. But the Bible tells us that Judas was not the only one to betray Jesus. The very people whom Jesus had walked among for three years, those whom he had healed and fed and taught and whose children he had blessed, now start screaming that he be crucified.

    ‘Let the murderer Barabbas go free instead!’ they yelled.
  7. And then there was Jesus’ dear friend and disciple Simon Peter. This friend had been convinced that he would follow Jesus to the end of the earth, and yet, a few hours after Jesus’ arrest, three times he denied ever having known Jesus, and cursed and swore he was telling the truth.
  8. So Jesus was betrayed, and he suffered, not only in his heart as he recognized that even those he loved most had betrayed and deserted him, but also physically as his enemies unleashed their fury on him, and the Romans crucified him.

    But this is where the storyline differs from other betrayal stories. (Show first part of second flow diagram: betrayal leading to suffering.)

    Jesus’ betrayal and suffering did not lead to anger and revenge. Instead, he accepted beatings and crucifixion, even though, as Christians believe, he could have called down the aid of a host of angels. (Continue flow diagram, showing suffering leading to acceptance, leading to forgiveness.)
  9. The joy of the resurrection three days later, and Jesus’ forgiveness of those who had betrayed and crucified him, show God’s way for our life. It is not that God looks on betrayal as acceptable, but that he knows that holding on to the pain and seeking revenge can damage those who are betrayed.

Time for reflection

Reflect for a few minutes on any personal experience you have had of betrayal.

How did you feel?

What revenge did you consider taking? Did this help?

Almighty God,
your ways are different from our ways.
Your message tells us to forgive others.
That is often very difficult for us to do.
This Easter, please help us to grasp
that forgiveness is the way, the truth and the life as shown in Jesus.


‘Now the green blade rises’ (Come and Praise, 131)

Publication date: March 2013   (Vol.15 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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