Session 13 THE DEATH OF JUDAS
EVALUATING MATTHEW’S ARGUMENT
This is how we find the story of Judas in Matthew 27:3-10, ESV: “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.”
When we look at the text of Matthew, there are elements which catch our eye immediately: “innocent blood,” “potter’s field,” the “treasury,” “30 pieces of silver,” and finally “the field of blood.” Luke tells the story differently because he has a different purpose and a different audience, but there are some parallels which let us know that it is basically the same story.
Since the details are so different in Matthew and Luke, we find an occasional theologian who accuses Matthew of inventing the story. We have seen that this is not supported by the facts. Can we, however, accuse Matthew of inserting into the Old Testament something which is not there, allegorizing Jeremiah and Zechariah for the sake of the story? Even if Matthew’s motives are pure, has he not stretched the truth here by making the Old Testament say what he wants it to say? No response could be more accurate than that of James Smart:
Implicit in this viewpoint is the denial of the very truth it means to affirm, the unity of revelation in Old and New Testaments. Allegory is a means of fastening upon a text a meaning that is not actually present. Therefore, if the Christian gospel cannot be found in the Old Testament without allegory, this is tantamount to a confession that it is not there but has to be inserted from without. The conviction of Jesus, of Paul, and of the early church was the gospel is there, though as yet partially concealed and not fully present. The Spirit does not insert the gospel into the Old Testament, thereby validating all manner of eisegesis [inserting the meaning rather than extracting the meaning], but rather opens the blind eyes of men to see it is there and to respond to it in faith and obedience.1
In other words, the Holy Spirit is guiding Matthew to see the connection he makes with the Old Testament and the death of Judas. Through inspiration, it is God’s idea and not Matthew’s that these stories connect in this way.
Luke acknowledges this truth and the Old Testament as well; the ESV at Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου). The ESV doesn’t understand these verses properly and suggests they were “preaching” the word (verse 2). But the Greek uses technical terms to tell us the apostles were searching the Old Testament for the FULL meaning, just as Matthew had done with the story of Judas! Only the apostles could do this work—it was a full-time job. AND Matthew was one of this group who was involved in this “ministry/service of the word.”
Reflecting on this, it is reasonable to say that Matthew’s view of the Old Testament with regard to the death of Judas is in keeping with the conclusions drawn by the group of apostles as they studied the scriptures following their Pentecost awakening!
A SUMMARY OF MATTHEW’S THEOLOGY ABOUT JUDAS
Matthew 27:8 “Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” Matthew has been accused of making up a story, but careful attention must be paid to the fact that Luke ALSO calls this “The Field of Blood.” In fact, Luke in the book of Acts goes so far as to provide the Aramaic name for the field: Akeldama! This Field of Blood was known to both evangelists. Matthew didn’t invent this.
But where is this “Field of Blood” to be located? Only Matthew gives us enough details to provide the sector of the cityscape where we should look: it is in the same location as the evil child sacrifices to Molech so long ago. This “Potter’s Field” is to be found where the leaders of “God’s people” had watched the potter reject the lump of clay which wouldn’t behave. It was in the same place where they had rejected God in favor of a heathen god and where the ground had been stained with their own children’s blood and where they had buried their little corpses. And Judas’ “blood money” will purchase the plot where people are once again buried.
Judas had rejected God in favor of his god “Money!” But what is more, Matthew shows us that the Jewish leaders had once again turned their back on God, this time by sacrificing God’s only Son for the sake of their god “Political Power!” In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the rejection of God resulted in the symbolic destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Unseen and yet known to God, the rejection of God also resulted in the destruction of the leader’s souls!
God is never pleased when we reject Him for the sake of the meaningless gods of our own choosing. But what Matthew reminds us with the death of Judas is this: the consequences of rejecting God are overwhelmingly unpleasant!
1 Smart, James D., The Interpretation of Scripture. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961. pp. 132f. Smart was a conservative Presbyterian theologian, with a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. His respect for the authority of Holy Scripture comes from his life-long battle against the growing liberalism of the Presbyterian church.