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, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” 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.
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.
1. He was greedy. Judas was the one who kept the disciples’ money, complained when Mary broke her ointment on Jesus head, saying that it was a waste of a year’s wages, and stole from the money bag when he was able to do it (John 12:6). If getting wealth was his aim, he must have been profoundly disappointed and angry when it finally dawned on him that Jesus was not going to set up an earthly kingdom and appoint disciples like himself to positions of honor and economic privilege. I suggested in an earlier chapter that his anger over how the three years of ministry were turning out was probably the root cause of his betrayal. But even that was done for money! Thirty pieces of silver was not much money, the price of a mere slave. But Judas decided to cut his losses and get out, grabbing what he could.
2. He betrayed Jesus. Not every disappointment leads to betrayal, least of all a betrayal of someone as holy and unsurpassable as Jesus. But this was no ordinary disappointment. It was a fierce resentment of one who had not conformed to his plans to be important. He didn’t care about Jesus; he only cared about himself. So he betrayed his Lord and took the cash.
3. He despaired and died. When Judas was approaching the religious leaders to arrange for his betrayal of Jesus he must have been telling himself that he was right to do it because Jesus had betrayed him. Jesus was not going to become an earthly king, and Judas had wasted three years of his life on this pathetic loser of a rabbi. Jesus deserved what he would get. But reality has a way of creeping up even on the most hardened sinners, and in this case reality shouted that Jesus was an innocent man and Judas, not Jesus, was the sinner. Reality did not lead him to repentance. It led only to remorse. But it was still reality, and the truth about what he had done led him to commit suicide, Judas died without hope, as will all who harden their hearts and repudiate the Savior.
Let me end on a better note. I have shown how Judas confessed his sin without repentance. “I have sinned,” he said. The words did not save him, because they were uttered from an unrepentant heart. But this is not the only place those words are spoken in the Bible. According to my count, there are seven individuals who uttered these exact words: Pharaoh, Balaam, Achan, Saul, Shimei, David and Judas, plus the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable. In most of those cases the words do not denote a true repentance. But David repented; he confessed his sin openly, sought cleansing by the blood of the sacrifice, and pled for a restoration of God’s favor. So did the prodigal son did. He “came to his senses” and set out for home, crying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:17, 21). Let those two examples be your pattern. Turn to the Savior, and do not turn away in despair as Judas did.