1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 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, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” – Matthew 27:1-10 ESV
The rooster crowed and the sun came up, just as it always does. Yet, this would be anything but just another morning. Jesus, the Son of God, had been betrayed, denied, libeled, mocked, and falsely condemned. Now, He was being dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, because the Jews were going to demand His death. They were forbidden by Roman law from practicing capital punishment on their own. In John’s gospel, he records the Sanhedrin’s response when Pilate demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He saw this as nothing more than a petty religious squabble. But they made their true intentions known when they demanded, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31 ESV). They weren’t interested in a trial. They were intent on seeing Jesus put to death. These men had already pronounced their judgment against Jesus, when they stated, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And with the opening of this chapter, Matthew makes it clear that their plans were aimed at having Jesus crucified, the primary means of capital punishment practiced by the Romans.
…the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. – Matthew 27:1 ESV
But then, Matthew provides a brief detour from the journey of Jesus to the cross. He changes scenes and brings his readers up to speed on the whereabouts of Judas. His last appearance had been in Gethsemane, where he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Evidently, Judas had not gone far, having followed the guards who had arrested Jesus and taken Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There are some who speculate that Judas was the second disciple John refers to in his gospel.
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. – John 18:15-16 ESV
Judas would have been known by the high priest. And it might explain why this particular disciple had not received the same treatment as Peter.
But somehow, Judas received the news that Jesus had been condemned, and Matthew states that he had a change of mind. The Greek word is metamelomai, and it is similar to metanoeō, the Greek word for “repent.” Judas had a change of mind. He regretted his decision to betray Jesus. It would appear that the news of Jesus’ death sentence was far more than he had anticipated. It is likely that Judas never expected the Sanhedrin to take things that far. We will never know what was in the heart of Judas when he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus, but Matthew makes it clear that he lived to regret it. But he wouldn’t live long.
Judas, in a state of despair, returned to the high priest and the Sanhedrin, bringing his 30 pieces of silver with him. Attempting to return the blood money, Judas confessed his guilt before these religious leaders: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). But they showed no compassion and exhibited no remorse of their own. They simply replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). These so-called religious leaders could have cared less about the emotional or spiritual well-being of Judas. They had one thing on their minds: The death of Jesus. The only semblance of conscience they revealed was their refusal to return the money Judas had returned to the temple treasure.
“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – Matthew 27:6 ESV
So, when Judas cast the tainted money onto the temple floor, the Sanhedrin took the 30 pieces of silver and purchased “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). This would have been a field outside the city gates where the potters discarded their broken or marred products. It was a landfill for broken pottery. Matthew reveals that this decision by the religious leaders was in keeping with Old Testament prophecy. He references Jeremiah but then quotes from a passage found in the book of Zechariah.
And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV
But why did Matthew mention Jeremiah? It is probably because he was combining the two prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah into one composite prophecy, fulfilled in the actions of the Sanhedrin. In his book, Jeremiah records a message he received from God.
Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.” – Jeremiah 19:1-2 ESV
Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and then take it to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew, this place was called ge-hinnom. The Greek transliteration was gehenna. This valley south of Jerusalem had a sordid history, having been the location where the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3). Because of its reputation, it became a site dedicated to the disposal of waste. The smoke of the fires used to burn the city’s refuse could be seen rising into the sky, marking this area as unclean. Jesus would later speak of Gehenna when referring to the reality of hell.
This is where God told Jeremiah to take the pot he had purchased. And it was in Gehenna that he was to break the pot “in the sight of the men who go with you” (Jeremiah 19:10 ESV). This was to be a visual illustration of what God was going to do to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their rejection of Him. And God made the details of their guilt quite plain.
“…the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…” – Jeremiah 19:4 ESV
Matthew saw the parallel. And he describes the actions of the Jewish religious leaders of his day as having fulfilled these two ancient prophecies. The high priest and the members of the Jewish high council were as guilty as their ancestors had been. They had forsaken God, and they had done so by rejecting the Son of God. And they had profaned the temple of God by actually worshiping a god of their own choosing. While they claimed to be faithful to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Jesus accused them of having no relationship with God at all.
“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT
“…you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him.” – John 8:55 NLT
These men could not truly know God if they were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. The Messiah, the one they had longed to see, had shown up in their midst, but they had refused to accept Him. All because Jesus did not come as they expected or desired. They were blind to the reality of who He was, and Jesus pointed out their problem.
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT
Yet, these men had no regrets. They showed no remorse. And they displayed no repentance. Like their ancestors, they remained stubbornly defiant. And they would end up like broken pots, discarded, and of no use to God. And yet, consider these comforting words written by the apostle Paul. He would pick up the theme of the clay pot and give it a whole new perspective. Having in mind all those who place their faith and hope in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote:
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT
Faith in Christ can transform broken clay pots into vessels of honor. When the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ takes up residence in a sinner’s life, the power of God is revealed through the cracks and flaws. Rather than being discarded as useless and of no value, the sinner is redeemed and made acceptable to God by the presence of the righteousness of Christ.
But what about Judas? After three years with Jesus, he would end up a broken man. And, in his desperation, he would take his own life. His time with Jesus had not resulted in the great power of God shining through his life, but with his life snuffed out and his legacy of betrayal sealed for generations to come. Like the religious leaders, Judas had been blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He had spent three years of his life with Jesus but had failed to recognize Him and accept Him as His Messiah and Savior. He would die a broken and shattered man.
But all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will live eternally. Their brokenness is the key to their healing. Their recognition of their own unworthiness is the basis of their hope in Christ. It is through our brokenness and inherent uselessness that God chooses to reveal His great power. By placing our faith in Jesus, we become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.