Thirty pieces of silver
Matthew 26:14-16, 47-56
What would motivate Judas to betray the Son of God? Theories abound. Many reconstruct a supposed political radicalism. Perhaps he was disenchanted by Christ’s non-violence. Judas, we imagine, had been hoping for an uprising and was so disappointed by Christ’s way of peace that he sold Him out.
That’s a fascinating supposition. But it’s both groundless and redundant. The Bible tells us exactly why Judas betrayed Jesus:
“Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)
Judas loved money. John 12:6 puts it starkly, “he was a thief”.
If that doesn’t sound sensational enough as a motive, perhaps we have misunderstood Christ’s teaching on money:
According to Jesus, we either serve God or money, (i.e. mammon). We either look to the living God or we seek the resources of this world. Of course, with judgement coming we would be a fool to pursue an abundance of possessions. But such fools we are by nature. And our foolish hearts are revealed by our foolish investments in earthly treasure. (“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”). Therefore, as mad as it is to value the Son of God at 30 pieces of silver, this is precisely the motive we should expect from Judas.
But what is the meaning of this price?
Centuries earlier, the prophet Zechariah was given thirty pieces of silver – this was the price he was “prised at”. (Zechariah 11:13). Though he calls it a “goodly price” he is perhaps being ironic. All he does with this valuation is to throw the money into the house of the LORD where “the potter” would receive it. His feelings are understandable when we remember the legal significance of “thirty pieces of silver”.
In Exodus 21 there are rules concerning the keeping of dangerous animals. If you have been negligent and let out an ox who kills a servant then your own life is forfeit. You ought to die but you can ransom yourself from death by paying thirty pieces of silver. In so doing, you, the guilty one, are redeemed and the servant is valued.
Therefore 30 pieces of silver is the value placed on a servant’s life, it’s an offensively meagre price for a prophet and it provides redemption for the sinner. In all this we see how fitting it is that this was the amount of blood money paid to Judas. Jesus is the Servant of the LORD, slain at the hands of the beast. He is the Prophet, misunderstood and undervalued by His people, but prized by the Potter. And He is the ransom price offered for we the guilty. A ransom, infinitely more precious than silver or gold:
“Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation… But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
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