When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.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. 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.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 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, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Matthew chapter 27 begins with the handing over of Jesus to the Gentiles in the person of Pilate, the Roman governor. This was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as well as of Jesus’ own predictions of his death. He had warned the disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matthew 20:18, 19). The Gentiles’ mocking, flogging, and crucifying of Jesus will now be described. But before Matthew recounts those events, he pauses to record the fate of Judas, the betrayer. Matthew is the only one of the four gospel writers to do this.1
Chapter 27 begins a new section of the narrative then. But it is still unfortunate that there is a break between chapters 26 and 27, because it obscures Matthew’s deliberate contrast between the account of Peter’s denial of Jesus, involving his temporary stumble, and the account of Judas’ terminal fall and consequent perdition. Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him that he might not fall away. But there is no prayer like this for Judas. On the contrary, even in that great prayer of John 17, Jesus seems deliberately to have excluded Judas from his petitions (v. 12).
As I have said several times before, Judas’ end is a warning to us that it is possible to spend much time in Jesus’ company, hearing the best of sermons, even witnessing an abundance of miracles, and still perish. It is an encouragement to do what Peter, aware of his own weakness, urged his hearers to do. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fail, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,he said (2 Peter 1:10, 11).
What did Judas experience as a result of his heinous betrayal of Jesus Christ? The answer is that he felt terrible remorse, even a profound self-loathing. But remorse, even accompanied by self-loathing, is not biblical repentance leading to true faith and salvation. Matthew may be indicating this by dropping the word usually employed for repentance, metanoeo, using metamelomai instead. But even without this change of words, it is clear that Judas’ repentance was utterly unlike Peter’s. Peter’s was a true repentance. Peter was crushed and wept shameful, bitter tears. Judas did not weep. He knew that he had done wrong and regretted his mistake. But his remorse did not drive him to repentance. Repentance would have turned him to Jesus. His sense of unatoned guilt only drove him further away.
Judas’ inadequate confession had two parts:
1. Judas confessed he was a sinner. “I have sinned,” he said plainly (v. 4). True enough. But many have confessed themselves sinners without its making the slightest difference in their lives. True repentance involves a full 180-degree turn, half of it away from sin and to Jesus. That is the only sure path to salvation. But a quarter turn of only ninety degrees saves no one.
I heard a particularly striking example of this not very long ago. Dr. Walter Kaiser, the president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was speaking, and he told of a man he had counseled years before. The man had been a distinguished surgeon, but he had made a wreck of his life. He had begun to drink heavily; he lost first his job, then his income, finally his home, family, and wife everything! He had turned to Kaiser for help, and Kaiser had told him to pray and ask God for forgiveness.
“I don’t know how to pray,” he said.“Just talk to God like you are talking to me now,” Kaiser answered.The man began: “Hello, God. Its me. I guess you know Ive made a mess of my life. Ive made a mess of everything.”
He went on to tell all the bad things he had done and all the terrible mistakes he had made. He prayed like that for about fifteen minutes. Kaiser was delighted. He had never heard a confession as full and forthright as that from anyone. But suddenly the man stopped.
“Go on” said Kaiser, “That’s good. What you need to do now is ask God for forgiveness and trust Jesus as your Savior.”
The man startled him by suddenly drawing himself upright, squaring his shoulders and literally shouting out, “No! That is one thing I will never do. I will never ask forgiveness for anything.”According to Kaiser, he had made a ninety-degree turn, but he would not turn to Jesus. He recognized his sin, but he would not turn from it enough to seek the Savior.
1 But see Peters reference to Judas’ fate in Acts 1:18.