In Matthew’s Gospel he interrupts the trial narrative to highlight a conversation between the religious leaders and Judas (Matt 27:3-10). This passage often provokes the question, “Did Judas really repent?” But, from the beginning, a reader should note, this paragraph is not about Judas. It’s about the religious leaders.
I cannot blame people for focusing on Judas. Even the publishers of the NASB Bible title this section, “Judas’s Remorse.” But read through the discourse taking note of who Matthew highlights. Judas is the instigator in this conversation, but Matthew wants us to note the religious leaders’ responses.
Here is a basic outline:
- Judas observes Jesus’s condemnation and returns the silver to the chief priest and elders. (27:3)
- Judas confesses to his sinful involvement (4a)
- Religious Leaders’ respond, “What is that to us? (4b)
- Judas throws the silver into the temple sanctuary (5)
- The chief priest acknowledges the guilt in this money (6)
- This is the price of blood.
- They buy the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers (7)
- They call the “Field of Blood.” (8)
- This fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy (9-10)
We can certainly sympathize with the discussion and focus on Judas here. His sin against Christ was vile and he responds with remorse. Every Christian should hope Judas can find salvation while also be comforted in the reality that our sovereign Lord acts justly and right towards Judas. We want every person to find forgiveness and yet, if a person does not, I trust and agree with our Lord’s decision. These realities serve each other as friends, not enemies. The great tragedy in this story is not so much Judas’s lack of repentance, rather his unbelief. Judas made a choice. He sinned. He knew it and confesses to it. But look where he goes to find reconciliation. He has a choice. He can go to Christ (whom he’s walked with for a few years) or he can go to the Temple and the Jewish leaders. Judas picks the Temple and its cultic response. Judas doesn’t believe Jesus is the answer to his sins.
The only thing worse than a tragic event in a story is when that tragedy is followed up with folly and more tragedy. For those who have seen Mystic River, this is worse. Judas’s unbelief leads him to godless leadership. Think about the scenario. It’s a common one. A man is confronted by his own guilt and goes to what should be godly men. If a person confesses his sin to a pastor, what do we expect the pastor to do? Point the person to reconciliation with God! Any qualified pastor would acknowledge the sinfulness of the act while also pointing to how he or she can be reconciled to God!
But the religious leaders choose a different response. Instead of, “Brother, you can be restored to God. You’re in the Temple — the place to offer your sacrifices!” Judas gets, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” Godless leadership. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38). What compels Christ to say something like this? He had seen enough of the religious leaders by this time to realize, Israel are a people without godly shepherds. Jesus describes their leadership as “you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt 23:13). Even with Judas’s culpability and unbelief, he should not have left the room without ministry. Yet he’s forced to throw the money, leave, and hangs himself.
What does this highlight? The religious leaders lack of true religion. But this isn’t the only truth Judas exposes. In this account he exposes one other main truth: The religious leaders confess to their crime. What is their crime? They create a false testimony and have put to death an innocent man.
The chief priest knows where this money came from. Judas went to the chief priest making a deal with them for betrayal. The reader should be familiar with this money and the amount, thirty pieces of silver — about a month’s extra wage (Matt 26:14-16). By acknowledging this as “blood money” they are confessing to its role in turning Jesus over to them. They confess the money is tainted and involved in a sinful transaction. If this money were pure, they would respond differently and have no issues with it. However, everyone involved in this transaction sees the money as unrighteous. In fact, they’ll use unclean money to buy a field to bury unclean people. Strangers (outsiders and non-Jews) were considered unclean by the chief priests (Matt 27:7) and this field allows them a proper burial but to be separate from Jewish people.
The money is impure and unrighteous because they used it to guarantee an innocent man would be captured, treated like a criminal, put on trial, and condemned to death. Matthew emphasizes the “Jesus is innocent” theme throughout the trial and crucifixion account.
Because of Matthew’s emphasis, it is safe to assert he places this interaction between the trials to emphasize to the reader, “Jesus, the innocent man, is being condemned by guilty men.” We are meant to see the irony and meant to even see the innocent dying for the guilty.