Thirty Pieces Of Silver
Matthew 26:14-16There are two things that perplex us about Judas. First, why did he do what he did? Second, after he had done it, why did he feel so guilty? He was so evil that he sold the Lord Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Yet afterwards, he felt such remorse that he committed suicide.
Over the centuries there have been many different reactions to his story. Many people hate Judas for what he did and put him in a class with Hitler. Others pity him, for by the time he came to his senses, it was too late to undo his evil deed. A few see him as a hero. Still others question God’s fairness in letting one man bear so much guilt for Jesus’ death.
Truly he is a mystery. No other apostle fascinates the mind like Judas. All the others we can understand—even Peter—but Judas remains a mystery wrapped inside a riddle. What made him tick? Was he crooked from the beginning? What did Jesus mean when he said that Judas was “doomed to destruction” that the Scripture might be fulfilled? And what do Luke and John mean when they say that Satan entered Judas? So many questions tantalize the mind.
The End Of The Story
Perhaps the place to begin is at the end of the story. It is now early Friday morning in Jerusalem—sometime between midnight and dawn—and the Jews are finished with Jesus. They have had their kangaroo court with their trumped-up charges and their false witnesses. Annas has had a round with Jesus and so has Caiaphas. Their verdict is clear—this man is a blasphemer who deserves to die. The assemblage of religious leaders set out to take Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor. He is the only one who can order Jesus put to death.
There is movement, noise, clatter as the group moves toward the Praetorium. In the shadows one man, now forgotten, watches, his face strained, his eyes puffy, his head slightly bowed. It has been a long night, the longest of his life. How many hours have passed since that meal in the Upper Room? Six, maybe seven, who knows? After he left, he went straight to the chief priests to make the final arrangements. Then there was the short walk in the darkness across the Kidron Valley and up the wooden slope of the Mount of Olives. The whole thing had not lasted five minutes. Just a blur, a few words, a kiss, some angry comments by Peter and the others, then Jesus was arrested and taken away.
In his hands Judas held the little bag that contained the thirty pieces of silver. He hadn’t even bothered to count it. No one noticed him now. It was like he was yesterday’s news. No one had any use for a traitor.
Through the long night he had waited, hanging around the edges of the crowd, listening for some word of how things were going. What exactly did he expect? No one knows for sure. But if at midnight he wanted to see Jesus die, by sunrise he had changed his mind.
Memories kept gripping his mind. Things Jesus had said, little jokes the apostles used to tell, stories Jesus had told over and over again. Little pictures painted themselves in the darkness—the smile on the face of Jairus’ daughter when Jesus raised her from the dead, the look on Peter’s face when he walked on the water and it actually held him up, the picture of those twelve baskets of food left over after Jesus fed the 5,000. He could see it all and hear it all and the memories were almost too much to bear.
Then the rumor spread that Jesus had been condemned to die. He shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. For a moment, there was a commotion in the courtyard and Judas saw Jesus as he was being led away to Pilate. He didn’t see him clearly, just a glimpse of his face from a distance, but he knew it was Jesus.
Overwhelmed. That’s the only word to use. Judas was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus was going to die. In that moment it came to him in a blinding flash: He had made a great mistake, the greatest mistake of his life, so great a mistake that he must somehow find a way to make things right.
With that thought filling his mind, he took the bag of money and tried to give it back. But the chief priests laughed at him. They had no more use for him or his money. They had what they wanted.
In desperation, Judas cried out, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Every word was true. He had done it; what he had done was the worst sin imaginable; he had betrayed the Lord Jesus who, though he was innocent, was about to pay with his blood for Judas’ crime.
With that, he threw the money back into the temple, the coins clinking and ringing as they hit the stone pavement. As Judas turned to go, the 30 pieces of silver stayed behind. Judas not only lost his Lord, he also lost his money. Very shortly he would lose his life.
About his suicide, very little needs to be said. The Bible tells us that “he went away and hanged himself.” It is the final act of a man who could not live with himself and the memory of what he had done. In the ultimate irony on this tragic day, Judas died before Jesus did.
Where Is Judas Today?
So, where is Judas today? Is he is in heaven or is he in hell? The Bible is very clear on that point: Judas is in hell. In Acts 1:25, Peter spoke of Judas who left his apostolic ministry “to go where he belongs.” Literally, the verse reads “to go to his own place.” “His own place” is hell. If that seems harsh, consider the words of Jesus in John 6:70-71 when he said,
“Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though he was one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
He did not literally mean that Judas was a demon, but that Judas was even then (about a year before the crucifixion) acting under Satan’s influence.
Finally, listen to Jesus as he prays in the Upper Room on Thursday night. Judas has left to make the final arrangements. Even now the soldiers are gathering for the march to the Mount of Olives. The final act is about to play itself out. Meanwhile, Jesus is praying for his disciples: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (John 17:12)
Judas is in hell today. He has been there for 2,000 years and he will be there forever. He has paid the ultimate price for the crime of betraying the Son of God.
If someone asks, “Did Judas lose his salvation?” the answer is No. He didn’t lose his salvation because he never had it. Whatever else you can say about him, he was never a follower of Jesus Christ in the same sense as the other apostles. He was not saved and then lost. He was lost because he was never saved in the first place.
But someone else may ask, “Did Judas go to hell because he committed suicide?” Good question, and the answer is once again No. Suicide is a sin, but it is not why Judas went to hell. Judas went to hell because he never truly committed himself to Jesus Christ. His betrayal proved that fact; his suicide merely sealed his fate.
One final question. “Does the Bible say that Judas ‘repented?’” The older translations do indeed use that word in Matthew 27:3. A more accurate rendering is “seized with remorse.” Although Judas was gripped with the wrongness of what he had done, he never asked for forgiveness. There is a world of difference between those two things. Many people who truly feel sorry for their sins never come to God and ask for forgiveness. Judas tried to undo his betrayal, but it was too late. I do not doubt that he wept bitter tears as he threw the money back into the temple. But his remorse (as sincere as it was) was not true repentance and it did not lead to forgiveness. It led instead to suicide, the ultimate proof that Judas died an unforgiven man.
The Way It Was
But it was not always that way. If we go to the beginning, we find a remarkable series of facts about Judas:
1. He was personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ.
2. He forsook all to follow the Lord.
3. He spent 3 1/2 years traveling the length and breadth of Israel with Christ.
4. He saw all the miracles of Christ in person.
5. He heard Christ give all his famous discourses.
6. He watched as Christ healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons.
7. He, along with the other apostles, was sent out to preach the gospel.
8. He was one of the leaders of the apostolic band.
9. No one ever suspected him of treason.
In terms of experience, whatever you can say about James, Peter and John, you can say also about Judas. Everywhere they went, he also went. He was right there, always by the side of Jesus. He heard it all, saw it all, experienced it all. However you explain his defection, you cannot say he was less experienced than the other apostles.
If anything, he was one of the leaders. After all, the other apostles chose him to handle the money. You don’t pick a man whose loyalty you suspect to handle your money. That’s crazy. You pick your best man, your most trustworthy man, the one man you know you can count on. That’s why they picked Judas.
“Judas Who Betrayed Him”
Mark it down. They never, ever dreamed that Judas had treason in his heart. Evidently, to the very end, they found his conduct to be above suspicion. You would think if a man were evil enough to betray the Lord, it would show in his face, that at some point the cesspool within would bubble to the surface. But it never happened.
It is now A.D. 65. Thirty years and more have passed since the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew sits down to write his gospel. When he comes to list the names of the apostles he begins “Peter, James, John” and then the others. Judas is last, always. But never just “Judas” but “Judas who betrayed him.” When Mark writes his gospel it is the same: “Judas who betrayed him.” When Luke writes his gospel, it is the same: “Judas who betrayed him.” Then 30 years after that, John—by now in his 80s or 90s—writes his gospel. He called him “Judas who was later to betray him.”
It is as if they never got over what happened. The passage of time did not dim the enormity of his crime. It was as heinous to them in their old age as it had been when they were young.
Sometimes they called him “Judas, who was one of the twelve,” stressing the intimate relationship he had with Christ. Sometimes it was “Judas who ate with him,” stressing how he breached the common bond of fellowship. To eat with a friend and then betray him—how could it possibly be?
He who knew so much, who saw so much, who experienced Jesus up close and personal, how could a man like that go over to the other side?
From Potential To Possible To Actual
Before we attempt to answer that question, let us ponder what Jesus knew and what Judas knew in the beginning. When Jesus called Judas to be an apostle, did he know what Judas would do? The answer must be Yes. Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray him. After all, He was the Son of God.
Turn the matter around. When Judas responded to Christ’s call, did he join the Master’s band with the intention of becoming a traitor? The answer must be No. All the evidence points in that direction. From everything we know, Judas must have been as sincere a follower as anyone else … in the beginning. In fact, we may suppose that Judas saw in Jesus the great hope for Israel. We know from John 6 that that’s how the common people saw Jesus—i.e., as a miracle-working king who would help them throw off the yoke of Rome. Would it be so unusual if some of the apostles shared the same expectation? In fact, wouldn’t it be unusual if they didn’t? It is easy to believe that Judas’ joining Jesus was a burst of enormous enthusiasm that at last he had found a man he could follow unreservedly. The great string of miracles, the profound sermons, the gripping personal interviews, the public confrontations with the religious professionals would only serve to buoy those feelings.
Exactly where or how or why the feelings of anger and despair began to take over in Judas’ heart we cannot say. Certainly they were becoming dominant (though unnoticed by the other apostles) a full year before the crucifixion. The seeds must have been there from the beginning. But to say that is not to say that he joined Jesus with the intent of betraying him. Why would he wait 3 1/2 years? A clever man would find (or manufacture) many opportunities to sell out his leader.
The most we can say is this. Judas was a potential traitor from the beginning. Circumstances eventually converted him into an actual traitor. That he never intended things to end like they did does not lessen his guilt. It only highlights the tragedy of his life.
A Personality Profile
If we were going to take a personality profile of Judas on the basis of the biblical record, it would probably look something like this:
A good organizer Shallow
A team player Greedy
Apparently trustworthy A big talker
The most interesting part of the whole profile is that the other apostles apparently saw only the positive side of Judas. It wasn’t until they looked back after the fact that they could see the negatives. Before his betrayal of Jesus, he looked as good as any of the rest, and in fact he probably looked better than most. In that light, let us note it for the record one more time: No one suspected Judas. No one.
The $64,000 Question
Finally, we come to the crucial question. Why did Judas do it? What forces conspired to make him betray his Lord? Over the centuries, great minds have pondered that question. If you want an interesting study, go to a good theological library, and read about Judas. You will discover a bewildering array of theories. The gospel writers offer us very few clues. It is likely that they never knew the answer either. Since Judas committed suicide within a few hours after his betrayal, we have no statement giving his side of the story. Therefore, we are left to speculate about his motivations.
Three theories seem most likely:
1. He betrayed Jesus for money. This theory suggests that since we know Judas was a thief (John 12:6), it is likely that greed played a part in his decision. The only problem with this theory is that 30 pieces of silver was not very much money. If greed was his motivation, he had very little to show for his trouble.
2. He betrayed Jesus because he was disillusioned. This is probably the most popular theory. It is based on the fact that many people looked to Jesus as a kind of political Messiah who would lead the nation in overthrowing the yoke of Rome. John 6:14-15 alludes to this when it mentions the crowds who “intended to come and make him king by force.”
This theory suggests that Judas shared at least some of this popular enthusiasm. In the beginning, as Jesus’ popularity grew, it no doubt seemed as if he would take the nation by acclamation. But as time passed, and opposition grew, it became apparent that Jesus would eventually be put to death. Jesus himself predicted his own death time and again—a fact the disciples could not comprehend. Even a casual reading of the gospels make clear that the tone of Jesus’ ministry changed as he approached his final trip to Jerusalem. Gone were all the cheering crowds of earlier days. They had been replaced by the gathering clouds of opposition and the distant thunder of violent death. Jesus knew what was coming and set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. Everything he did in those last few months was done under the spreading shadow of the Cross.
If it is true that Judas saw Jesus as a political Messiah, then this change in Jesus’ ministry must have been extremely disappointing. In that case, every mention of death would be seen as a sign of weakness and an admission of defeat. All that talk about “my kingdom is not of this world” would be nothing but a cop-out. Judas didn’t want a kingdom in the next world; he wanted a kingdom here and now.
So it is possible that Judas—motivated as he was by greed and ambition—and driven by rising anger at Jesus’ failure to accomplish his mission— betrayed him because he had become thoroughly disillusioned.
It is possible that Judas was a kind of “front-runner” who liked to back a winner. He was with Jesus when he looked good, but dumped him when things went sour. In that case, his betrayal was a way of going from the losing side to the winning side.
It is also possible that Judas stayed with Jesus as long as he thought it would be good for him personally. After all, we know that the disciples loved to argue among themselves about what positions they would have when Christ set up his kingdom. One can imagine Judas being very active in those debates.
Unfortunately, from a purely human point of view, crucifixion was not a good career move. Being crucified was no way to win friends and influence people. To Judas, Jesus must have seemed like a loser.
Seen in that light, Judas’ betrayal takes on a new light. Perhaps in his anger and disappointment, he was only doing what any of us would have done—looking out for Number One.
3. He betrayed Jesus because he was frightened. This theory suggests that once he saw the handwriting on the wall, he went to the high priests with his little scheme in order to save his own skin. And why not? By now it was clear that the the religious leaders were closing in on Jesus. His days were numbered. Jesus himself was talking about his own death more and more. But once they captured Jesus, what would happen to his key leaders? Several possibilities come to mind, none of them very pleasant. Judas and the others might themselves be arrested and tried along with Jesus. And the way things were going, they might all be put to death. So Judas might have betrayed Jesus simply to save himself.
All of those theories make sense, and all three of them might contribute to the answer. After all the discussion is over, we still don’t know for sure why Judas did what he did. But this much is sure: When Judas betrayed Jesus, he made the biggest mistake any man has ever made.
Guilty As Charged
In one sense, his motives don’t matter. Precisely why he did what he did will probably always be a mystery to us. But the record is perfectly clear about what he did:
1. He thought up the plan to betray Jesus.
2. He approached the chief priests with the idea.
3. He made the deal.
4. He took the money.
5. He left the Last Supper to meet the soldiers.
6. He led the soldiers to Jesus.
7. He kissed Jesus on the cheek.
In short, he thought it up, he planned the details and he carried out his plans to the letter. He meant to betray Jesus and that’s exactly what he did.
“What Thou Doest, Do Quickly”
Let’s roll the clock back a few hours. It is now 9:45 P.M. Jesus has just finished the Passover meal with his disciples. The mood is somber and reflective. A sense of impending trouble hangs in the air. One or two of the men are talking quietly. The rest are watching Jesus.
Suddenly he makes an announcement that jolts them to the core. “One of you will betray me.” Chaos, shock, pandemonium, disbelief, bewilderment. “That’s impossible. Who would do such a thing? What does he mean? We would never betray you, Master.”
But the look on Jesus’ face told them he meant every word. Slowly it sank in. Then the deeper question: “Lord, is it I?” Every man asked the question. No one was sure.
Then the cryptic comment: “The one to whom I give the sop, he is the one who will betray me.” Still they did not understand. Jesus took the bread, dipped it in the wine sauce and gave it to Judas with the words, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)
The commentators tell us that in the Passover symbolism, the wine sauce represented the fruit of the Promised Land. When Jesus gave Judas the bread, he was not merely identifying him as the betrayer, he was making one last appeal for Judas to change his mind.
“Judas, I know what is in your heart. The moment for decision has come. You can betray me or you can follow me. But you must decide now. Whatever you are going to do, do it now.” It was Jesus’ final offer of grace to Judas.
Judas took the bread and immediately left the room to go make his arrangements with the soldiers. John tells us that “as soon as he took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (13:27) Then he adds “and it was night.” (13:30) Judas left the Light of the World and vanished into the night, his steps guided by the Prince of Darkness.
The Kiss Of Death
Shortly thereafter Jesus left with his disciples and made his way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Meanwhile Judas met with the soldiers and arranged to lead them to the rendezvous. Since it was night and he didn’t want Jesus to slip away in the confusion, he would give him a kiss of greeting. That way there would be no possible confusion.
The gospel writers tell the story very simply. The soldiers came, Judas kissed Jesus, they arrested him and took him away. But John adds one sad note. When the soldiers first came up, Jesus evidently spoke to them before they could say anything. While Jesus was speaking to the soldiers, John adds this little detail: “And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.” (John 18:5)
There is a world of meaning in that little phrase. Judas had gone over to the other side. He was not just “with them” physically. He was now “with them” spiritually. His betrayal was thus visible, public, and undeniable.
Finally, the moment came for the kiss. Judas came forward and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The Greek word means to kiss fervently, affectionately. It is the warm kiss that a man gives only to his dearest friends. With such a kiss Judas betrayed the Son of God.
There is something about this act that is hideous and repulsive. To betray Jesus is bad, but to betray him with a kiss of affection is unspeakably evil. It is the kiss above everything else that has earned Judas the approbation of Christians throughout the centuries. It is “the foul deed that clings to his name like a dirty garment.”
Is Judas Alive Today?
When you get right down to it, Judas should have been a better man or a worse man. If he had been better, he would not have done such an evil thing. If he had been worse, he would not have felt such remorse. As it was, he was bad enough to do the deed and good enough to be unable to bear the guilt of it. We would be quite mistaken if we categorized Judas alongside someone like Adolph Hitler. If we think Judas is like Hitler, then we miss the lesson of his life.
What happened to him could happen to me. What he did, I could do. If I think otherwise, then I have missed the point of this story. Judas is a lot like us and we’re a lot like him. In fact, the more religious we are, the more like Judas we are. After all, you can’t get much more religious than being an apostle. He was as “in” as any person could ever be.
And yet he betrayed the Lord.
Is Judas alive today? No, but his spirit still lives. It lives in all those who play the religious game. It lives in those who come to church for what they can get out of it. It lives in all those who are pretending a commitment to Jesus Christ that isn’t real in their hearts. It lives in all those who just go through the Christian motions. It lives in those who come to church, give their money, follow the rules and yet don’t love the Lord Jesus.
Here’s the amazing part. Do you know who is most likely to be a Judas in this church? I am. As the Senior Pastor, I stand in the closest analogy to the place where Judas stood. Someone says, “Surely not you, Pastor.” That’s what they said about Judas. Remember, the shock of Judas’ betrayal was that he looked so good on the outside. If I as your pastor can tell you this story without searching my own heart, then I have missed the point.
The Price Of A Slave
One of the ironic parts of this story is that Judas didn’t get much for his money. In those days, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave. Think of it. He betrayed the Son of God for the price of a slave. To put it another way, Judas went to hell and the cost of his ticket was 30 pieces of silver.
Some Searching Questions
What would it take for you to sell out the Son of God?
Would you betray him for money?
Would you betray him for a better job?
Would you betray him to keep the job you have?
Would you betray him to save your own skin?
Would you betray him because he didn’t live up to your expectations?
Would you betray him because you thought he let you down?
Would you betray him if you thought you could win the favor of important people?
Judas does us a favor if his story causes us to rethink our basic commitment to Jesus Christ. You call yourself a Christian. But are you a true follower or are you just going through the motions? Are you a pretender or a true believer? Have you truly turned from your sins and trusted Jesus Christ as Savior? Are you a fair-weather friend of the Savior?
These are searching questions that may be easier to ask than to answer. I ask you not to take them lightly. The one main lesson from Judas’ life is lost unless we at least ask ourselves the questions.
After all, if one can be an apostle of Christ and still be lost, what about you and what about me? Perhaps we may conclude the matter this way. One apostle was lost, that none should presume. Eleven were saved, that none should despair. In the end, most of us who call ourselves Christians will search our hearts and conclude that Yes, although we fail him in many ways, still we love Jesus and claim him as our Savior. That is as it should be. The story of Judas is in the Bible for many reasons, not the least of which is that before we take anything for granted we at least ask the question the other apostles asked that fateful night:
“Lord, is it I?”
Still as of old,
Man by himself is priced.
For 30 pieces Judas sold
Himself, not Christ.
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