Having achieved their goal of effecting a condemnation by the council, the chief priests and elders connived together to seek best how to bring about their ultimate goal of slaying Jesus.  The Roman authorities did not permit the Jews to kill political prisoners; indeed, some say they were not allowed to execute the death penalty at all, though this remains a point of dispute.  Whichever side is correct, it is evident that even this powerful coalition of enemies did not think it safe for them to put Jesus to death.  Therefore, they bound Him, and led Him to Pontius Pilate in order to have the Roman governor pass the final sentence.  In this we see being fulfilled the words of the Psalmist, that the heathen Gentiles and the people of the Jews raged, and took counsel together against the Lord’s anointed.  It seemed that they gained a momentary triumph over the Son of God, but their delusion of victory would be shattered scant days later when the Lord rose triumphant from the grave.

Now Matthew describes for us the bitter end of the foul traitor Judas.  What a contrast between this wretched man and Peter!  Both of them sinned greatly against their Master, but Peter did so out of a temporary weakness when he was baffled by Christ’s lack of resistance to the crowd that came to arrest Him.  His affections were never detached from Christ, but he was merely an example of what the Lord told him in the garden, that only through watchfulness and prayer could one avoid temptation.  Judas, on the other hand, coldly and with calculation sought out an opportunity to betray the Lord Jesus, devised a plan, schemed together with Christ’s mortal enemies, and took thirty pieces of silver, blood money, to help them achieve their purpose.  It is thought by some that Judas never expected they could condemn Jesus to death, because the people would not allow it, and he only despaired when the council passed a sentence of death.  Be that as it may, his crime can in no way be palliated.  He coldly and cruelly betrayed the best Master that ever any man had, did it with malice aforethought, and never repented so as to seek forgiveness.  Surely Jesus spoke truth when He declared that it were better for Judas that he had never been born, than that he should live to commit such a horrifying deed.

The conscience of Judas was evidently smitten when he saw that Jesus was condemned, and he could no longer live with the burning guilt that gripped him.  The money he had so earnestly coveted but hours before he could no longer tolerate the sight of, and returned it to the murderous men who had paid him.  “I have sinned,” said the traitor, “in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.”  He knew that Jesus was the Christ of God, just as He had claimed, and in no way deserved the cruel treatment being meted out by His enemies.  But his confession is that of a despairing reprobate, for he neither sought nor found any place of repentance.  Truly, the fate of those who betray Christ and His Gospel for worldly gain is too horrible to be contemplated.

His cold, heartless collaborators offer no sympathy, nor do they attempt to reason that the man he had sold to them was in no wise innocent.  They effectively say to him, “What do we care about that?  Tend to your own knitting.”  Again, their hardness of heart shines through.  And so also shines through the hopeless despair of apostate Judas.  He knew that Jesus was willing to forgive the chief of sinners, yet he had no thought of seeking restoration for himself.  Like Ahithophel, the traitor against David’s throne in days of old, he went out and hanged himself in despair, plunging himself into an eternity of darkest woe and misery.

Not only does the coldness of heart of the chief priests shine through in this narrative, so also does their vile, sanctimonious hypocrisy.  They thought nothing of conspiring with a traitor, of arresting, trying, buffeting, and even crucifying an innocent man, for no other reason than that they considered Him a threat to their own status in society.  But these hypocrites, who could strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel, refuse to put the silver Judas had returned into the treasury, because it had purchased the blood of a man.  As if murderers and deceivers should care about the fine points of canon law!  But such is the coldness and wickedness of religious hypocrites in every generation.  Is there any difference between these and the Popes who could sing their loudest praises to God and Mary when they had effected the butchery of thousands of helpless Protestants?  Religion is far too often but a mask for hearts of indefatigable wickedness.

This, as with all things connected with the suffering and death of Christ, was done to fulfill the prophecies of ancient Scripture.  Some have accused Matthew of erring by referencing Jeremiah here instead of Zechariah, to whom the quotation more accurately applies.   But it was common among the Jews to combine several books of the prophets under one name, and since one of their sections began with Jeremiah, and included Zechariah, it would not have been unusual for a Jewish writer to use the name “Jeremiah” here.  John Gill shrewdly pointed out, in explaining the difficulty, that even Jewish writings which attack the New Testament do not assault Matthew for saying “Jeremy” rather than “Zechariah.”  At any rate, what we see here is that the return of the money by Judas, and the purchasing of the potter’s field with it, was done in fulfillment of holy Scripture, though those who perpetrated the hateful crime were utterly oblivious that they were helping to achieve the purpose of God.

 

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