Matthew 26:14-16 (my translation, compare NIV)
14 Then one of the twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the high priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me, and I’ll hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver coins. 16 From then, he was looking for the right moment to hand him over.
What did this mean for Jesus? And what did it mean for Judas? This doorway has two sides.
Jesus and Judas
We first meet Judas when Jesus chose him as one of the twelve, emissaries given regal authority to help his people in their struggles (Matthew 10:1). Jesus sent them out to announce the restoration of heaven’s reign, good news for a people scattered without God-given leadership for 600 years (10:6-7).
The king’s servants were completely dependent on community kindness. He insisted they take no coins of any denomination — no gold, silver, or even copper coins. In giving hospitality to the king’s emissaries, the community would be honouring its king (10:9). Given the dominance of evil, Jesus knew they would be as vulnerable as sheep among wolves (10:16).
We often perceive the world as us and them, victims and perpetrators, good and evil. That lets us rail against the evil other, vile people like Adolf Hitler, paedophile priests, or parliamentarians who prey on women. But we don’t perceive ourselves as evil: we’re the goodies! But that’s an illusion: Judas is one of us.
Judas lived with them, sharing their food, sleeping rough as they travelled, proclaiming Jesus as king, comforting the suffering, sharing with the poor what others gave them. Jesus even promised him a throne to help restore justice and renew all things (19:28). Matthew reminds us: Judas was one of the twelve (26:14).
We often hear the voice of the Davidic king lamenting his enemies, e.g.:
Psalm 55 (A maskil of David, NIV)
2 My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.
But external enemies are not the worst of it. The Psalm continues:
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. 13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.
That’s what Matthew just told us. This son of David is in danger from his own people. The leaders who should be in fellowship with him at God’s house are the very people plotting his assassination (26:3-4). But it’s even worse than that. There’s a mole, a traitor among his closest friends who will hand him over for personal gain.
Judas and Jesus
I’ve no idea what motivated Judas to hand Jesus over to those who wanted to kill him. Greed can’t be the whole story. Thirty coins was compensation for a slave, not a king (Exodus 21:32). Samson’s girlfriend was offered 1,100 silver coins to hand him over (Judges 16:5).
Judas traded Jesus for a month’s wage, enough to live for a few weeks. He didn’t last that long (27:5). A darkness was already overtaking him (Luke 22:3).
Judas must have been disillusioned with Jesus’ approach to solving the problem of evil in the world. He was probably shocked to see Jesus stirring up the ire of the Jerusalem authorities: riding into Jerusalem as the son of David (21:1-9), overturning the temple (21:12-13), publicly shaming the authorities as mere actors (23:1-39), announcing the fall of the city under their control (24:1-28) because God would give him the kingship (24:30ff).
Jesus’ actions put them all in danger. Maybe Judas wanted to save his life rather than lose it with Jesus (16:24-26). But you don’t save your life as an agent of Death.
Whatever his reasons, the tragedy is that someone who had walked with Jesus for years gave up on him, participating in Jesus’ crucifixion rather than his coronation.
What response do you think Judas might have received if he went to Jesus with his doubts instead of going to the fake rulers? He could have asked John’s question: Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (11:2) Jesus could have offered him the same empathy and consolation: Blessing is on anyone who does not trip up because of me (11:6).
But Judas could not get past whatever had disillusioned him so deeply about Jesus. Darkness enveloped and consumed Judas: he was no longer with the others on Sunday morning when the light broke through.
The darkness can be real to any of us. How might we ensure our dark experiences don’t turn us against the light of the world? How might we recognize when those around us are experiencing darkness and best shine light for them?
Open Matthew 26:14-16.
What others are saying
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 978:
For whatever reason (and it can only ever be guess-work), Judas had concluded that it was in his own best interest, and perhaps in the best interest of Israel, to dissociate himself from Jesus before it was too late. Few have been able to believe that so small a sum as 30 denarii would in itself have been sufficient to buy the loyalty of a man who had invested so much of his own life into the Jesus movement if he was not already disillusioned, and Matthew significantly describes the offer as preceding the agreement of the price.