When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (verses 3-5)
This short passage contains two horrific cautionary tales.
The first, of course, concerns Judas Iscariot. Having come under the influence of Satan, he had chosen to betray Jesus for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver. Now, having seen that Jesus is condemned to die, he is engulfed in remorse. Realizing his own guilt, he clearly names it: “I have sinned … for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
Under the weight of that realization, he is desperate to undo what he has done. But he is unable. So he takes his own life. Matthew tells us he “hanged himself.” The Book of Acts adds the further detail that “he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out” (Acts 1:18), likely indicating what happened once his body was finally cut down from its noose. All of it is entirely gruesome. All of it is a horrific end to one of Jesus’ own disciples. Jesus himself called him “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12). The rest of the disciples would later say that he “left to go where he belongs” (Acts 1:25), confirming his doom.
It is a fearsome thing to betray the Son of God.
But equally cautionary is the reaction of the chief priests and elders to Judas’ remorse. When Judas names his guilt, they heartlessly respond, “What is that to us? … That’s your responsibility.” Although Judas had clearly (and horrifically) understood his culpability, these religious leaders are blind to their own – they cannot see the blame that rests weightily on their own shoulders. Before Judas had ever agreed to this betrayal, these leaders had already been eagerly plotting Jesus’ death. Gladly, they took thirty pieces of silver – presumably from the Temple treasury itself – and financed Judas’ actions. Ravenously, they sent an armed mob to arrest him in the Garden. Guiltily, they put Jesus on trial in the middle of the night, contravening their own regulations. Happily, they handed him over to Pilate for execution.
The betrayal of innocent blood was as much theirs as it was Judas’.
Further, they fully recognized the guilt attached to the silver coins which Judas had flung back into the temple courts. “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money,” they said. So, they used it to accomplish an act of charity, providing a burial ground for foreigners. What a conniving rationalization. What a pathetic attempt to alleviate blame.
Judas saw his guilt clearly. These leaders were blind to their own. But in both cases we see the blackness of sin. Oh, how insidious it is.
Oh, how we need a Saviour.
Lord Jesus, in the midst of your pain and suffering we see again the rampant infection of sin in all human experience. These are cautionary tales because we know that we, too, are infected. Oh, how we need a Saviour. Oh, how we need you.
Reflect: The blindness of these religious leaders is clear. Our own often is not. Pray David’s prayer for yourself this day: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).