BETRAYAL OF JESUS PROVES TO BE A BAD DEAL FOR JUDAS
Leon Morris: Before moving on to the treatment of Jesus at the hands of the Romans Matthew finishes the story of Judas. He tells of that man’s remorse and suicide and of the curious mental processes of the hierarchy who had not scrupled to use the money at their disposal to procure the arrest of Jesus so that he could be killed, but who did scruple to put this same money back into the temple treasury. Characteristically Matthew sees a fulfilment of prophecy in their ultimate use of the funds. The incident is found in this Gospel and in Acts 1 only. Stendahl thinks that Matthew’s placing of the death of Judas at this point “indicates that he understands the decision of the Sanhedrin as the crucial one” (in v. 3 Jesus is already spoken of as “condemned”).
Charles Swindoll: As Matthew’s camera zooms in on the traitor, we find him in a no-man’s-land. Having betrayed Jesus, he could never return to that familiar circle of disciples that had been his family for the past three years. And since he had fulfilled his usefulness to the Jewish leaders by leading the soldiers to Jesus, they wanted nothing more to do with him. Judas stood in the place of an outcast. To make matters worse, as the sun rose over Jerusalem, it suddenly dawned on him what he had done: He had betrayed the Messiah into the hands of sinners. One expositor envisions that the sight of Jesus being brutalized and hauled away “was devastating to Judas, more than even his money-hungry mind, his sordid soul, and his seared conscience could deal with. He felt remorse as he began to experience the intense, excruciating pain that is unique to profound guilt.”
Donald Hagner: Did it simply dawn upon Judas that he had been responsible for the great injustice of the condemnation of a truly righteous and good man? At the same time, the narrative has an unmistakable inevitability about it. We can pity Judas, but we cannot make a hero out of him, nor alas even a believer. As the Son of Man fulfills the prophecies, so too do Judas and the Jewish priests, as they act freely out of their own unfortunate motives, unwittingly acting as instruments for the accomplishment of God’s purposes and the fulfillment of scripture. In no sense are we allowed to take Judas or the Jewish authorities as representing Jews or Judaism in general, let alone “the essence of Jewishness.” In such thinking lies the evil root of anti-Semitism.
R. T. France: There are perhaps three main purposes in inserting this strange pericope here.
(a) It sets the treachery of Judas alongside the failure of Peter, and allows the reader to compare and contrast their faults and their different fates.
(b) It narrates the fulfillment of Jesus’ dire prediction about the fate of his betrayer (26:24), just as his prediction of Peter’s failure (26:34) has also been precisely fulfilled.
(c) It allows Matthew to introduce the most complex and creative of his formula-quotations, to show that even in the betrayal of the Messiah and in the fate of his betrayer Scripture continues to provide the pattern, even to the most incidental details.
I. (:3-5) FINAL DEMISE OF JUDAS
A. (:3-4a) Remorse of Judas
- (:3) Canceling the Contract
“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,”
Jeffrey Crabtree: That he “repented” means he regretted (Greek metamelomai, to feel regret as the result of what one had done; Louw and Nida I:318) his action of handing Jesus over to the leaders. He returned the money (v. 3; 26:15). This is not the usual word for repentance (Greek metanoeō), which adds credibility to the position that Judas stopped short of real repentance.
- (:4a) Confession of Personal Guilt and Innocence of Jesus
“saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’”
Leon Morris: Judas’ remorse leads him to try to undo his pact with the chief priests. It is a futile course, however, for the cynical authorities have no interest in either Judas’ guilt (cf. Deut. 27:25) or in Jesus’ innocence. And so, with no apparent way out, Judas succumbs to despair and hangs himself (cf. 2 Sam. 17:23 for an OT incident that parallels the story of Judas).
B. (:4b) Rebuff of Judas
“But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’”
D. A. Carson: But their own words condemn them, for it should have been something to them. Judas has betrayed innocent blood; they have condemned innocent blood.
C. (:5) Response of Judas in Anger and Despair
- Responding in Anger
“And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed;”
- Responding in Despair
“and he went away and hanged himself.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Peter further described Judas’ death (Acts 1:18-19) as being gruesome and stated that everyone in Jerusalem became aware of his death and the horrific details. Some interpreters assume the structure (a tree limb growing out over a precipice?) from which Judas hung himself gave way and he fell as described by Peter (Wilkins 879; Hendriksen 945).
Craig Blomberg: Judas responds in anger and despair. He hurls the money to the floor, probably in the temple treasury room (korbanas, v. 6), and goes out and kills himself. Was he inspired by the gruesome model of Ahithophel (2 Sam 17:23)? It is not possible to conclude from Judas’s actions that suicide automatically damns a person. There may be reasons why believers would take their lives when they are not fully in control of their senses (e.g., when there is a chemical imbalance in the body), but the Scriptures never commend suicide as do certain non-Christian religions. Suicide is always sinful, in violation of the Sixth Commandment (Exod 20:13), even if it can be forgiven. In Judas’s case, however, there is no scriptural warrant for the sentimental notion that he was actually saved. For the Jews, a hanging would have confirmed God’s curse (Deut 21:23). By emphasizing Judas’s fate, Matthew provides a dire warning to his community about the possible result of apostasy.
Charles Swindoll: In his fit of remorse, Judas cast the thirty pieces of silver onto the temple floor and then hanged himself in a remote field (27:3-8). There his body remained, dangling between tree limb and ground until it decayed, became bloated, and eventually fell from the noose. Having landed on the rocky ground, it burst open, and his organs spilled out onto the earth (Acts 1:18-19). Ancient people would have considered this gruesome event as the most shameful way to die and an unthinkable way for a body to decay. In the Jewish mind, a hanged man was “accursed of God,” and if the corpse was not buried the same day, the land was considered defiled (Deut. 21:22-23). Moreover, Jews avoided cadavers at all costs. This was cursed ground. . .
In a twist of irony, the money that had been paid to Judas became the money used to buy the land where he hanged himself. What a tragic legacy for a tragic life!
Daniel Doriani: Judas has blood guilt on his mind. The law said, “Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person” (Deut. 27:25). Judas believes he is under this curse. The priests will not help him. Therefore, another law applies: to remove such blood guilt, the guilty party must pay for his crime by his own death (Num. 35:33–34). Judas took his life “in an anguished attempt to atone for his guilt.”
II. (:6-10) FINAL DISPOSITION OF BLOOD MONEY
A. (:6) Tainted Money
“And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said,
‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’”
Jeffrey Crabtree: The chief priests concluded because the silver had been used to buy the death of a man (Jesus), it could not be placed into the temple treasury (v. 6). They thus confessed they had paid money for Jesus’ death and this was therefore tainted money (Keener, Matthew 661). The hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership is clear (v. 6). They would not break the law with improper use of blood money but they were more than willing to break the law to put Jesus to death (Keener, Background 125). The fact they spoke of its going into the treasury suggests that they might have used temple money to pay Judas.
Craig Blomberg: The chief priests remain preoccupied with the letter of the law while oblivious to its spirit. They prove totally insensitive to Judas’s desperate state of mind, while still concerned with the finer points of their oral traditions about the use of his money.
B. (:7-8) Transaction for the Potter’s Field
- (:7) Location Function
“And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field
as a burial place for strangers.”
Leon Morris: The result of their deliberations was that the money was used to buy some land that they call the potter’s field and that was thenceforth to be used as a cemetery for foreigners, perhaps people who were not numbered among the people of God and who made no attempt to live according to the law, more probably Jews from other lands who died while in Judea. We have no way of knowing which field was the potter’s field or why it was given this name, apart, of course, from the obvious connection of some kind with a particular potter.
D. A. Carson: The potter’s field, used for the burial of foreigners, probably did not belong to “the potter” (surely there was more than one potter in Jerusalem) but was a well-known place, perhaps the place where potters had long obtained their clay. If depleted, it might have been offered for sale. There are no reliable early traditions of its location, though Matthew’s “to this day” shows it was well-known when he wrote. The best assumption is that it lay in the valley of Hinnom near the juncture with the Kidron.
- (:8) Location Label
“For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.”
C. (:9-10) Tied to OT Prophecy
“Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; 10 and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.’”
Daniel Doriani: Once again, Matthew reminds us that no element of Jesus’ final hours was accidental. Even minor details such as the use of the blood money find their place in God’s plan to redeem his people. Matthew will never let us forget that all things happen according to the Lord’s plan of redemption.
Jeffrey Crabtree: Matthew again turned to the O.T. where he found some prophetic experiences that paralleled that of Judas and Jesus (vv. 9-10). Jeremiah visited a potter (Jer. 18:3), prophesied of a future burial site in the valley of Topheth, and purchased a potter’s flask (Jer. 19:1-13). Zechariah prophesied that he would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:11-13). The exegetical problems are that Matthew credits Jeremiah with the prophecy that is only in Zechariah and Zechariah does not mention purchasing property with the thirty pieces of silver. The solution appears to be that Matthew quoted Zechariah but merged subject matter from both Jeremiah and Zechariah (Keener, Background 125; Evans, Matthew 501), a common way of handling multiple Scripture texts in Matthew’s day (Blomberg 95). Though Matthew referred to two prophets, he only mentioned the most prominent of the two (Hendriksen 948). Mark does the same thing in his Gospel (Archer and Chirichingo 163). See Mark 1:2-3 where Mark credits Isaiah with both prophecies.
Matthew referenced Zechariah in order to parallel the corrupt leadership of Zechariah’s day with the corrupt leadership of Jesus’ day. In both instances, the good Shepherd was rejected by His own and sold for a pitifully cheap price; then the thirty pieces of silver were thrown back into the temple. While Jeremiah and Zechariah were neither one foretelling a future Messianic event, there were points of contact in their experiences that Matthew understood as paralleling the circumstances involving Judas, Jesus, and Jewish leadership.
Warren Wiersbe: But, why did Matthew relate this event to a prophecy in Jeremiah, when the prophecy is found in Zechariah 11:11-12? One possible solution is that his prophecy was spoken by Jeremiah (note Matt. 27:9) and became a part of the Jewish oral tradition. It was later written by Zechariah. The prophet Jeremiah definitely was involved in the purchase of a field (Jer. 32:6ff.), and also with a potter’s house (Jer. 18:1ff.), and a burial ground (Jer. 19:1-12). Matthew may have been referring to these general facts as background for the specific prophecy written by Zechariah.
Leon Morris: But for our present purpose the important thing is not the precise source from which Matthew derived the words, but the fact that for this Evangelist God was causing prophecy to be fulfilled even in such a detail as the disposal of the money the Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray his Master.
David Turner: Matthew sees correspondence between the shepherd doomed to slaughter (Zech. 11:7) and Jesus. The thirty silver coins thrown to the potter in the Lord’s house (Zech. 11:13) correspond to Judas’s coins thrown into the temple and used to buy the potter’s field. Matthew does not make up a story to fit Zechariah but reads Zechariah in light of his conviction that Jesus’s passion is anticipated in biblical pattern and prediction. This concept of typological fulfillment is based on a providential view of history.