Why did Pilate try so hard, grasping at no less than four stratagems, when he could not really have cared much about such matters and certainly did not have any natural instinct to act justly? One explanation is that he was probably impressed with Jesus. He seems to have marvelled at his calm self-possession and the fact that he did not try to defend himself against his accusers. Matthew reports this reaction saying, “Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor” (vv. 13,14).

Three chapters ago when we were beginning a study of Christ’s trials, I pointed out that they present a unique situation in that Jesus was tried, on the one hand, by an ecclesiastical court, seeking to apply the revealed law of God to Jesus’ case, and, on the other hand, by a civil court seeking to apply what is generally thought to be the most highly developed law known to man. Jewish law was the most humane of legal systems. It did everything possible to preserve life and avoid executions. Roman law was known for its comprehensiveness, systematization of statutes, specification of procedures and affixing penalties. It has been said of the ancient World that Judea gave religion, Greece gave letters, and Rome gave law.

One of the bad things about sin is that its course is always downhill. Judas had a bad end, but we should remember that it did not come about at once. He was an evil man, just like the rulers of the day. But Judas did not start out that way. At one time he must have been an innocent-looking baby smiling in his mother’s arms. We all begin like that. But somewhere Judas’ life took an evil downturn, and his eventual suicide was the result. What was Judas’ life story like? We do not have many details. There is no reason we should. But what we do know about him goes something like this.

Let’s get back to the story and look at a few more lessons from Judas’ actions. First, partners in evil are not friends. It is common to speak of honor among thieves or imagine sentimental bonds among those who do evil. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Those who share in evil actions are not friends, and the reason they are not is because each is evil. They do not live for one another or to help one another. Christians do. But evil persons live for themselves, and when a comrade gets in trouble they are the first to abandon him to save their own hides. This was the case with the callous response of the priests and elders to Judas’ confession. “What’s that to us” they replied. “That’s your responsibility” (v. 4), That is how evil friends will treat you if you link up with them.

How exactly did Judas die? And how should we understand Matthew’s strange reference to Jeremiah to explain the priests’ decision to use Judas’ blood money to buy the potters field? “Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “‘They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potters field, as the Lord commanded me’” (vv. 9, 10). It is a pity to break the application of Judas’ story to ourselves in order to deal with these problems. But they are well known. You may be wondering about them, and we need to get them out of the way before we wrap this study up.