When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.[Matthew 27:1-2 ESV]
There was no Jewish court existing at that time which had the power to sentence anyone to death. This does not mean people were not condemned and stoned or killed in other ways. They, the Sanhedrin, the highest level Jewish religious and legal counsel, were used to taking the law into their own hands and delivering Jewish justice to those who violated their law. In the Law of Moses there were a number of reasons God allowed capital punishment. Blasphemy was one of those reasons.
Leviticus tells the story of a young man, the son of a Jewish woman and an Egyptian father, who cursed the Name of God. He was brought before Moses who talked with God and was told by God to stone the young man. “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” [Leviticus 24:16; see Leviticus 24:10-23 ESV]. God then tells the people “whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” [Leviticus 24:17 ESV]. For the High Priest and others to accuse Jesus falsely of blasphemy in order to have him murdered brings sentence upon themselves. God is no respecter of persons.
They, the Sanhedrin and the high priest, were afraid of the people. If they killed Jesus the Romans would probably not care. But if the people revolted because they killed him then the Romans would have to act. Jesus was loved by many. People loved to hear him talk and often his words were in direct opposition to those of the teachers of the law. Should they kill him they would find the people rioting. It was Passover and there were many people in Jerusalem who knew about Jesus. Any revolt, or even the hint of an uprising, would give the Romans an excuse to come down hard on the people and the Sanhedrin would lose control. Their intent was to keep control and be rid of Jesus. The best way to do this would be to have the Romans execute Jesus. So, after their hidden by the night court session they took Jesus to Pilate.
Here Matthew tells us something the other documents do not. We discover what happened to Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus. John tells us Judas was the group treasurer. He was part of a small, intimate group of men who followed Jesus and was taught by him. None could hide anything from another. It was known Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” [John 12:6 ESV]. Money had no hold on Jesus. Money did have a hold on Judas. He conspired to betray Jesus for money, was paid for his act before it was accomplished then fulfilled his obligation by leading the mob to Jesus in the middle of the night. It is not hard to imagine someone selling another for personal gain. We have seen it ourselves or know those who have seen it from others.
Perhaps Judas, having seen Jesus escape the clutches of those who wanted him dead in the past thought Jesus would again walk away unscathed. Judas would be richer, the religious leaders who hated Jesus would be poorer, and Jesus would not be hurt. He was not thinking about the ultimate consequences of his actions when he betrayed Jesus. He had not been listening to Jesus and all of the predictions of his death and how he would die. He was self absorbed which was not uncommon among the followers of Jesus. None of them were examples of the perfect follower.
Matthew gives us the evidence for this thought, that Judas thought Jesus would simply walk away from those who arrested him. “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind” [Matthew27:3 ESV]. He “changed his mind.” This is not the word for “repent” which means to think differently or reconsider but the word for “remorse” which means to regret, or to care about after the fact. Judas was caught in his deception. Had Jesus done what Judas thought he would do, walking away unhurt, Judas would never have blinked. Judas confronted by the unthinkable was forced to face his complicity in the condemnation of Jesus. He tried to play the murderous hearts of the religious leaders who hated Jesus against Jesus’ power to escape those murderous intentions. His greed, and the actions which translated greed into treason, overwhelmed him. He was simply greedy. He was not a murderer. With Jesus’ condemnation he became a murderer and it was too much for him.
Judas goes to the elders, who had given him the money to betray Jesus, and tries to give the money back. Did he actually think if he gave the money back they would let Jesus go? Probably not. He did need to take care of his guilt. Listen to his anguished confession. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” [Matthew 27:4 ESV]. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He knows his actions were wrong, deadly and murderous. Even those elders knew the difference between right and wrong also.
They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. [Matthew 27:3-5 ESV]
Judas committed suicide. He could not go to Jesus and beg forgiveness. Jesus himself stood condemned. He could not bear to see the results of his treason knowing he was the one who ultimately forced an innocent man’s death. He did not know who Jesus was even after spending three years of intimacy with him. He was not a false witness. He was no witness. He just wanted some money. His hope was in the money. Now his hope completely disappeared. He could no longer fool himself, lie to himself about who he was or find value in anything. He was hopeless and faced with insanity, going mad by clinging to a counterfeit, false and empty existence. Refusing to accept the truth of his depravity he committed suicide and was then forced to accept the truth of his depravity. No one is created to cease to exist.
Judas was his own Judge and Jury and Executioner.
Even the priests operated under a standard which they knew could not be violated. They simply picked and chose which part of the standard they would keep and when, under which circumstances. Acknowledging their complicity in the sure death of Jesus they condemned themselves again by their own words knowing they could not put the money they had taken out of the treasury back into the treasury when Judas threw it at their feet. “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money” [Matthew 27:6 ESV].
Here is a prediction from almost 600 years before this time. We will eventually look at these predictions found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This one points directly to the incident of Judas betraying Jesus and the money he received, to the exact amount, and what they did with it when they received it back from the traitor.
So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” [Matthew 27:7-10 ESV]
There is nothing about this incident which suggests fantasy. These are the actions of a people, leaders of a people, who conspired to have an innocent man murdered. Every word, action, fulfilled prediction, happened. Judas followed the hopeless actions of countless people throughout history who have committed suicide. There is no reason or rationale to suggest anything presented here did not happen as recorded in the historical documents we have.