By Mike Willis
When a person mentions thirty pieces of silver, many immediately think of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, so familiar is his betrayal etched in our memories. The Bible recounts the weaknesses of character of various men, not merely to embarrass them, but to teach as lessons that we might not follow in their footsteps. We can learn from the weakness of King Saul which led to his disobedience when he thought that sacrifice was more important than obedience (1 Sam. 15) and from the rich young ruler who loved his money more than he loved Christ (Matt. 19:16-22). Similarly, we can learn from the apostasy of Judas – lessons which may help us not to stumble as he did.
The New Testament tells us that Judas betrayed Jesus by making a covenant with the Jews for thirty pieces of silver. His decision to go to the Jewish leaders follows hard upon the account of the woman anointing Jesus with very expensive, precious ointment in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. Judas resented the “waste” and protested to Jesus that the precious ointment might have been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas was not concerned for the poor but “because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (Jn. 12:6).
Having gone to the Jews, Judas asked the chief priests, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” They made an agreement for thirty pieces of silver, the sum legislated by the law of Moses as payment for a slave who had been gored by an ox (Exod. 21:32). The Amplified Bible in 1958 translated thirty pieces of silver as $21.62.
What Thirty Pieces of Silver Could Buy
There were some things that thirty pieces of silver could buy. The chief rulers found that thirty pieces of silver were sufficient money to buy the betrayal of Jesus into their hands. Thirty pieces of silver were not what Jesus was worth; rather they were what Judas was worth. Judas sold out his loyalty to his friend for a mere thirty pieces of silver. How many times do we find men willing to sell out their integrity for such a small sum of money. For less money than that some sell themselves to the Devil by shoplifting a small item at the mall, stealing a tool from work, or doing something else equally small. Such men value themselves at a very low price, although Jesus said a man’s soul is worth more than the whole world (Matt. 16:26).
Thirty pieces of silver were also sufficient to buy a field to bury strangers in. When Judas came to these same chief rulers on the morning after he betrayed Jesus, he threw the money at their feet and said, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Then he went and hanged himself. The Jewish leaders could not put blood money in the Temple treasury so they used the money to buy a potter’s field in which to bury strangers. (Note the parallel between Jesus’ blood money buying a place to bury the body of strangers [Gentile sojourners] and his blood making atonement for the sins of Gentiles.)
What Thirty Pieces of Silver Could Not Buy
While thirty pieces of silver could buy these things, there were several things which thirty pieces of silver could not buy. Consider these:
1. Thirty pieces of silver could not redeem Christ from death. We do not know for sure what thoughts passed through Judas’ mind as he witnessed the chain of events which followed his betrayal of Jesus. One thing is for sure: he never intended for his betrayal to lead to Jesus’ death. When he saw the series of events which followed, he regretted what he had done and came back to the chief rulers of the Jews and said, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Returning the thirty pieces of silver, however, was not enough to secure the release of Jesus and stop the ordeal of death which was in place.
Like Judas, many sinners give little thought to the consequences of their sins. They only look at sin’s pleasure and never stop to think about its consequences. If Magic Johnson had thought about his possibly contacting the HIV virus, how would he have changed his conduct? If fornicators thought about an unwanted pregnancy, disease, and getting caught, they would not commit fornication. If drinkers thought about the death they might cause by an automobile accident, their addiction to alcohol, drinking’s impact on their family, and such like things, they would never take the first drink. But thirty pieces of silver cannot undo the consequences of sin.
2. Thirty pieces of silver could not buy concern for Judas’ soul from the leaders of the Jews. When Judas returned with his money and said, “I have betrayed innocent blood,” the Jewish leaders said, “What is that to us? See thou to that” (Matt. 27:4). These Jewish leaders were leaders of religion – the high priest, chief priests, etc. They should have been concerned for the souls of those to whom they ministered, but they had no concern for Judas’ soul.
Judas learned that his accomplices in sin were willing to go much further then he was ready to go. His thirty pieces of silver were unable to stop them from going all the way. How many times does something very similar to this happen when men join hands with the wicked. When the scheme takes one deeper into sin than he is willing to go, he cannot stop them by his decision to bail out. When he decides to bail out, these same men who induced him to join them in their sin will care nothing for his soul, guilty conscience, or feelings of shame. They will say, “See thou to that.”
3. Thirty pieces of silver could not give Judas the pleasure he thought they would provide. I can picture Judas as he walked away from making an agreement with the chief rulers of the Jews. His pockets jingled with the sound of thirty pieces of silver! He must have thought about what thirty pieces of silver would buy. He may have had plans for how he was going to spend the money, thinking of the pleasure this would bring him.
But Judas found that blood money could not give him the happiness it promised. Whatever joy he thought this money would bring to him, he found that it could not give what it promised. Consequently, he thrust the money from himself (Matt. 27:5). How different thirty pieces of silver appeared to Judas before and after his sin.
Sin always promises more than it can deliver. It promises liberty but brings bondage (2 Pet. 2:19). It promises pleasure but brings pain. It promises satisfaction but creates want.
4. Thirty pieces of silver could not buy a clear conscience. When Judas threw the money at the feet of the chief priests and elders, he was trying to buy a clear conscience and peace of mind. He found that thirty pieces of silver could not give him peace. Only the gospel of peace could give one the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Judas’ remorse led him to commit suicide. In his remorse, he hanged himself. No, thirty pieces of silver could not bring him peace of mind and a clear conscience.
Two men committed sin on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied him. One showed remorse and hung himself; the other repented of his sin, confessed his sin to God and was forgiven by the blood shed on the cross. He became the first preacher of the gospel, delivering the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost. Thirty pieces of silver could not obtain for Judas what Jesus’ forgiveness gave to Peter.
5. Thirty pieces of silver could not redeem Judas from hell. Returning the blood money could not save Judas’ soul. Jesus foretold his damnation saying, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). Judas’ eternal state is perdition (Jn. 17:12). Thirty pieces of silver could not save his soul.
There are some things that thirty pieces of silver cannot buy. Neither could thirty thousand pieces of silver have bought what these thirty pieces of silver could not buy. May we learn the lessons from the sin of Judas that we not fall into similar condemnation. (Note: The idea for this lesson is not original with me, but I cannot remember the source from which it was taken.)
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, pp. 738, 752
December 19, 1991