Written by Michael W. Pursley
How did it happen? A fit of passion? Some festering need for revenge? Some uncontrollable urge which, in the heat of the moment, overmastered the will? A Satanic impulse that took possession of the heart? Can there be some resident evil in the human psyche which completely explains this betrayal of Christ?
There are a number of interesting things about the story of Judas, but one of which that strikes us first is the unlikelihood that those thirty pieces of silver would be the underlying motivation for the betrayal of Christ. Think about this, the Jewish priests and leaders were being offered the chance of a lifetime; the one unassailable thorn in their side, was about to be handed to them. Their growing existential nightmare of loss of influence, power, money, position, prestige, and significance, was about to be handed them on a platter, so to speak. Here was a chance to play the game on their turf; here was a chance for them to use the home field advantage; here was a chance for them to play the game they new best, to push the levers of power, to use the great geopolitical and religious machine they set up in the name of God and Israel, and to quietly but efficiently neutralize their opposition. What would they not have paid for the opportunity? “…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative…” John 11:49-51.
This was a dream too good to be true! The Jewish leaders and priests were describing this deal in terms of saving “the whole nation.” –Thirty pieces of silver? Save the nation? What a deal! I am going to guess here, with just a little sanctified imagination perhaps, but I am going to guess that the leaders did not offer Judas that sum of money. You see, from their perspective, they had no idea what he was thinking, the Jewish leaders knew that Judas knew that they wanted Jesus, and they knew that Judas knew they wanted Jesus bad, real bad. This was not a secret. What was also not a secret, was that the priests had almost unlimited funds which they could commit to this project; they had and could use the treasury of the Nation. I would not be surprised if these leaders spilled that kind of money over lunch. No, I think that they asked Judas how much he wanted.
But why 30 pieces of Silver? The word used in Matthew 26:15 ἀργύρια simply means “silver coins.” There were several coins circulating in the system at that time which could have been used. But I think that most likely it was the Tyrian shekel. Interesting to note, that because Roman coinage was only 80% silver, the purer (94% or more) Tyrian shekels were required to pay the temple tax in Jerusalem. The money changers referenced in the New Testament Gospels (Matt. 21:12 and parallels) exchanged Tyrian shekels for common Roman currency. This would, I think be the more likely coin that they would have had in hand. Also, Matthew does indicate that prophecy was fulfilled in regards to this exact amount by “what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet.” (Jeremiah 32) Namely, “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me” (Matthew 27:9–10).
However, there may be an even deeper prophetic meaning attached here. In Exodus 21:32, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave. A number of scholars see the significance of this, and suggest that Matthew may also be saying that “Jesus’ death is a ransom, the price paid to secure a slave’s freedom.” Matthew 27:7 may even hint at the idea that “Jesus’ death makes salvation possible for all the peoples of the world, including the Gentiles.”
Once again, outside of the parameters of prophetic interpretation given by Matthew, we may never know precisely why the exact reason for 30 silver coins. But there maybe some other, additional considerations some from Judas’ perspective worth reflecting on. First, when Judas met with the Jewish officials, they most likely did not know his purpose for being there, so I am sure that they were hardly happy to see him. For Judas represented Jesus at that point, and did so until he finished stating his purpose for coming. With this in mind, Judas may have certainly felt himself on shaky footing during the discussion. He may have felt that this was the most dangerous part of the equation. He might have been afraid that he could have been put in jail at any moment. He might have even been a little “roughed up” on the way in or even during the interview. One thing for certain is that for Judas to have accepted 30 coins for the betrayal of Christ, does not bespeak the fact that he felt that he was entirely negotiating from a position of strength. And it is quite possible that even the Jewish leaders wondered as to whether Judas was as sharp as he thought he was. As such, there may have also been another possibility. The money may have only been a monetary “binder” into a larger agreement with the leaders. This could have certainly been the case if Judas had serious doubts about whether Jesus was truly the Messiah, sent from God.
From Judas’ perspective, this was a classic, if not the ultimate game of “playing each side against the middle.” On one side, Judas could be seen as putting Jesus into the position of rightfully assuming the Kingship of the nation, thereby Judas would be awarded for his sagacity, foresight and courage to precipitate the momentous and necessary event. And on the other hand, if Jesus was a fraud, then he, Judas would be rewarded by the Jewish leaders for his keen insight and remarkable courage to come forward. But whatever was in Judas’ mind at this point, one thing was for sure, the game was afoot, the betrayal was committed to, and purpose would soon be crystallized into action.
“Thirty pieces of silver”
Burns on the traitor’s brain;
“Thirty pieces of silver!
Oh! it is hellish gain!”