Matthew 27 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

The Other Response to Betrayal

Like Peter, Judas is guilty of apostasy, but unlike that of Peter, Judas's was premeditated. Whereas Peter's remorse leads to repentance, Judas's leads to terminal despair.

This narrative further reveals the heartlessness of the religious leaders, who value laws of ritual purity more highly than their responsibility to human life. They are not unlike some Christians today, more concerned for petty church rules than for the life-and-death needs in the communities around them, except that the religious leaders of Jesus' day probably could have justified more of their rules from Scripture.

Finally, this narrative shows us that even to the smallest details, the events of the passion fulfilled God's purposes previously revealed in his Word.Consenting to Wrong Judgments, We Participate in Guilt (27:1-2) The Christian view of sin is not that only the individual or only the society is responsible: all guilty parties are responsible. By framing Judas's end with the account of Jesus' being brought before Pilate (27:1-2, 11), Matthew contrasts Judas not only with Peter but also with the courageous Lord he had betrayed. The theme of shedding innocent blood connects Judas, Pilate, the high-priestly authorities and the people (vv. 4-6, 24-25): like Pilate (v. 24), the priestly officials wish nothing further to do with the situation (v. 4) and likewise imply that the blood was innocent (v. 6).

Meanwhile, leading characters in the narrative who foreshadow oppressors of Matthew's community try to pass off responsibility (compare Jer 38:5); both aristocratic priests and Pilate declare, "See to that yourself," or "That's your responsibility" (Mt 27:4, 24, the "you" being emphatic). But contrary to their own interpretation, the whole generation that betrayed Jesus shared in Judas's guilt (27:25). Matthew knows nothing of the modern dichotomy between personal and societal responsibility for injustice. Religious and social leaders who make decisions, as well as the people to whose demands they give way, share in the guilt; thus, for example, television networks that incite moral depravity are guilty, but so are those who choose to watch their programming.

The Hypocrisy of the Chief Priests (27:3-8) These leaders were willing to pay out blood money for Jesus' capture, willing to allow Judas's suicide, but too pious to accept their own blood money into the temple treasury. Jewish law prescribed for false witnesses the penalty they had wished to inflict on others (Deut 19:16-21; 11QTemple 61.7-1); since the chief priests refuse to serve the cause of justice, Judas has to see to his own execution (Meier 1980:338-39). Although Roman society regarded suicide as an honorable and noble way to die, all readers would recognize Judas's act as one of despair, a dishonorable suicide (compare 2 Sam 17:23; Philo Mut. 61-62; see also Acts 1:18-19). Hanging oneself in a sanctuary (F. Grant 1953:12) would defile it, and while Judas left the temple to perform the deed, the leaders' blatant unconcern for justice or for his life contrasts starkly with their attention to purity in details. By sentencing Judas to take care of his own guilt, they have unconsciously sentenced themselves before God (Mt 12:34-37).Scripture Is Fulfilled (27:9-10) All the events of the passion story fulfill God's plan recorded in Scripture. Matthew therefore expects us to take Scripture very seriously (though he applies it in a way particularly suited to persuade his own late first-century audience).

Next commentary:
Politics Versus Justice

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