We left Christ in the hands of the chief priests and elders, condemned to die, but they could only show their teeth; about two years before this the Romans had taken from the Jews the power of capital punishment; they could put no man to death, and therefore early in the morning another council is held, to consider what is to be done. And here we are told what was done in that morning–council, after they had been for two or three hours consulting with their pillows.
I. Christ is delivered up to Pilate, that he might execute the sentence they had passed upon him. Judea having been almost one hundred years before this conquered by Pompey, had ever since been tributary to Rome, and was lately made part of the province of Syria, and subject to the government of the president of Syria, under whom there were several procurators, who chiefly attended the business of the revenues, but sometimes, as Pilate particularly, had the whole power of the president lodged in them. This was a plain evidence that the sceptre was departed from Judah, and that therefore now the Shiloh must come, according to Jacob’s prophecy, Gen. 49:10. Pilate is characterized by the Roman writers of that time, as a man of a rough and haughty spirit, wilful and implacable, and extremely covetous and oppressive; the Jews had a great enmity to his person, and were weary of his government, and yet they made use of him as the tool of their malice against Christ.
1. They bound Jesus. He was bound when he was first seized; but either they took off these bonds when he was before the council, or now they added to them. Having found him guilty, they tied his hands behind him, as they usually do with convicted criminals. He was already bound with the bonds of love to man, and of his own undertaking, else he had soon broken these bonds, as Samson did his. We were fettered with the bond of iniquity, held in the cords of our sins (Prov. 5:22); but God had bound the yoke of our transgressions upon the neck of the Lord Jesus (Lam. 1:14), that we might be loosed by his bonds, as we are healed by his stripes.
2. They led him away in a sort of triumph, led him as a lamb to the slaughter; so was he taken from prison and from judgment, Isa. 53:7, 8. It was nearly a mile from Caiaphas’s house to Pilate’s. All that way they led him through the streets of Jerusalem, when in the morning they began to fill, to make him a spectacle to the world.
3. They delivered him to Pontius Pilate; according to that which Christ had often said, that he should be delivered to the Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles were obnoxious to the judgment of God, and concluded under sin, and Christ was to be the Saviour both of Jews and Gentiles; and therefore Christ was brought into the judgment both of Jews and Gentiles, and both had a hand in his death. See how these corrupt church–rulers abused the civil magistrate, making use of him to execute their unrighteous decrees, and inflict the grievance which they had prescribed, Isa. 10:1. Thus have the kings of the earth been wretchedly imposed upon by the papal powers, and condemned to the drudgery of extirpating with the sword of war, as well as that of justice, those whom they have marked for heretics, right or wrong, to the great prejudice of their own interests.
II. The money which they had paid to Judas for betraying Christ, is by him delivered back to them, and Judas, in despair, hangs himself. The chief priests and elders supported themselves with this, in prosecuting Christ, that his own disciple betrayed him to them; but now, in the midst of the prosecution, that string failed them, and even he is made to them a witness of Christ’s innocency and a monument of God’s justice; which served, 1. For glory to Christ in the midst of his sufferings, and a specimen of his victory over Satan who had entered into Judas. 2. For warning to his persecutors, and to leave them the more inexcusable. If their heart had not been fully set in them to do this evil, what Judas said and did, one would think, should have stopped the prosecution.
(1.) See here how Judas repented: not like Peter, who repented, believed, and was pardoned: no, he repented, despaired, and was ruined. Now observe here,
[1.] What induced him to repent. It was when he saw that he was condemned. Judas, it is probable, expected that either Christ would have made his escape out of their hands, or would so have pleaded his own cause at their bar as to have come off, and then Christ would have had the honour, the Jews the shame, and he the money, and no harm done. This he had no reason to expect, because he had so often heard his Master say that he must be crucified; yet it is probable that he did expect it, and when the event did not answer his vain fancy, then he fell into this horror, when he saw the stream strong against Christ, and him yielding to it. Note, Those who measure actions by the consequences of them rather than by the divine law, will find themselves mistaken in their measures. The way of sin is down–hill; and if we cannot easily stop ourselves, much less can we stop others whom we have set a going in a sinful way. He repented himself; that is, he was filled with grief, anguish, and indignation, at himself, when reflecting upon what he had done. When he was tempted to betray his Master, the thirty pieces of silver looked very fine and glittering, like the wine, when it is red, and gives its colour in the cup. But when the thing was done, and the money paid, the silver was become dross, it bit like a serpent, and stung like an adder. Now his conscience flew in his face; “What have I done! What a fool, what a wretch, am I, to sell my Master, and all my comfort and happiness in him, for such a trifle! All these abuses and indignities done him are chargeable upon me; it is owing to me, that he is bound and condemned, spit upon and buffeted. I little thought it would have come to this, when I made that wicked bargain; so foolish was I, and ignorant, and so like a beast.” Now he curses the bag he carried, the money he coveted, the priests he dealt with, and the day that he was born. The remembrance of his Master’s goodness to him, which he had so basely requited, the bowels of mercy he had spurned at, and the fair warnings he had slighted, steeled his convictions, and made them the more piercing. Now he found his Master’s words true; It were better for that man, that he had never been born. Note, Sin will soon change its taste. Though it be rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, in the bowels it will be turned into the gall of asps (Job 20:12-14), like John’s book, Rev. 10:9.
[2.] What were the indications of his repentance.
First, He made restitution; He brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, when they were all together publicly. Now the money burned in his conscience, and he was as sick of it as ever he had been fond of it. Note, That which is ill gotten, will never do good to those that get it, Jer. 13:10; Job 20:15. If he had repented, and brought the money back before he had betrayed Christ, he might have done it with comfort, then he had agreed while yet in the way; but now it was too late, now he cannot do it without horror, wishing ten thousand times he had never meddled with it. See Jam. 5:3. He brought it again. Note, what is unjustly gotten, must not be kept; for that is a continuance in the sin by which it was got, and such an avowing of it as is not consistent with repentance. He brought it to those from whom he had it, to let them know that he repented his bargain. Note, Those who have served and hardened others in their sin, when God gives them repentance, should let them know it whose sins they have been partakers in, that it may be a means to bring them to repentance.
Secondly, He made confession (Matt. 27:4); I have sinner, in that I have betrayed innocent blood. 1. To the honour of Christ, he pronounces his blood innocent. If he had been guilty of any sinful practices, Judas, as his disciple, would certainly have know it, and, as his betrayer, would certainly have discovered it; but he, freely and without being urged to it, pronounces him innocent, to the face of those who had pronounced him guilty. 2. To his own shame, he confesses that he had sinned, in betraying this blood. He does not lay the blame on any one else; does not say, “You have sinned, in hiring me to do it;” but takes it all to himself; “I have sinned, in doing it.” Thus far Judas went toward his repentance, yet it was not to salvation. He confessed, but not to God, did not go to him, and say, I have sinned, Father, against heaven. He confessed the betraying of innocent blood, but did not confess that wicked love of money, which was the root of this evil. There are those who betray Christ, and yet justify themselves in it, and so come short of Judas.
(2.) See here how the chief priests and elders entertained Judas’s penitential confession; they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. He made them his confessors, and that was the absolution they gave him; more like the priests of devils than like the priests of the holy living God.
[1.] See here how carelessly they speak of the betraying of Christ. Judas had told them that the blood of Christ was innocent blood; and they said, What is that to us? Was it nothing to them that they had thirsted after this blood, and hired Judas to betray it, and had now condemned it to be shed unjustly? Is this nothing to them? Does it give no check to the violence of their prosecution, no warning to take need what they do to this just man? Thus do fools make a mock at sin, as if no harm were done, no hazard run, by the commission of the greatest wickedness. Thus light do many make of Christ crucified; what is it to them, that he suffered such things?
[2.] See here how carelessly they speak of the sin of Judas; he said, I have sinned, and they said, “What is that to us? What are we concerned in thy sin, that thou tellest us of it?” Note, It is folly for us to think that the sins of others are nothing to us, especially those sins that we are any way accessary to, or partakers in. Is it nothing to us, that God is dishonoured, souls wounded, Satan gratified and his interests served, and that we have aided and abetted it? If the elders of Jezreel, to please Jezebel, murder Naboth, is that nothing to Ahab? Yes, he has killed, for he has taken possession, 1 Kings 21:19. The guilt of sin is not so easily transferred as some people think it is. If there were guilt in the matter, they tell Judas that he must look to it, he must bear it. First, Because he had betrayed him to them. His was indeed the greater sin (John 19:11); but it did not therefore follow, that theirs was no sin. It is a common instance of the deceitfulness of our hearts, to extenuate our own sin by the aggravation of other people’s sins. But the judgment of God is according to truth, not according to comparison. Secondly, Because he knew and believed him to be innocent. “If he be innocent, see thou to it, that is more than we know; we have adjudged him guilty, and therefore may justly prosecute him as such,” Wicked practices are buoyed up by wicked principles, and particularly by this, That sin is sin only to those that think it to be so; that it is no harm to persecute a good man, if we take him to be a bad man; but those who thus think to mock God, will but deceive and destroy themselves.
[3.] See how carelessly they speak of the conviction, terror, and remorse, that Judas was under. They were glad to make use of him in the sin, and were then very fond of him; none more welcome to them than Judas, when he said, What will ye give me, and I will betray him to you? They did not say, What is that to us? But now that his sin had put him into a fright, now they slighted him, had nothing to say to him, but turned him over to his own terrors; why did he come to trouble them with his melancholy fancies? They had something else to do than to heed him. But why so shy? First, Perhaps they were in some fear lest the sparks of his conviction, brought too near, should kindle a fire in their own consciences, and lest his moans, listened to, should give an alarm to their own convictions. Note, Obstinate sinners stand upon their guard against convictions; and those that are resolvedly impenitent, look with disdain upon the penitent. Secondly, However, they were in no concern to succour Judas; when they had brought him into the snare, they not only left him, but laughed at him. Note, Sinners, under convictions, will find their old companions in sin but miserable comforters. It is usual for those that love the treason, to hate the traitor.
(3.) Here is the utter despair that Judas was hereby driven into. If the chief priests had promised him to stay the prosecution, it would have been some comfort to him; but, seeing no hopes of that, he grew desperate, Matt. 27:5.
[1.] He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple. The chief priests would not take the money, for fear of taking thereby the whole guilt to themselves, which they were willing that Judas should bear the load of; Judas would not keep it, it was too hot for him to hold, he therefore threw it down in the temple, that, whether they would or no, it might fall into the hands of the chief priests. See what a drug money was, when the guilt of sin was tacked to it, or was thought to be so.
[2.] He went, and hanged himself. First, He retired—anechorese; he withdrew into some solitary place, like the possessed man that was drawn by the devil into the wilderness, Luke 8:29. Woe to him that is in despair, and is alone. If Judas had gone to Christ, or to some of the disciples, perhaps he might have had relief, bad as the case was; but, missing of it with the chief priests, he abandoned himself to despair: and the same devil that with the help of the priests drew him to the sin, with their help drove him to despair. Secondly, He became his own executioner; He hanged himself; he was suffocated with grief, so Dr. Hammond: but Dr. Whitby is clear that our translation is right. Judas had a sight and sense of sin, but no apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, and so he pined away in his iniquity. His sin, we may suppose, was not in its own nature unpardonable: there were some of those saved, that had been Christ’s betrayers and murderers; but he concluded, as Cain, that his iniquity was greater than could be forgiven, and would rather throw himself on the devil’s mercy than God’s. And some have said, that Judas sinned more in despairing of the mercy of God, than in betraying his Master’s blood. Now the terrors of the Almighty set themselves in array against him. All the curses written in God’s book now came into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones, as was foretold concerning him (Ps. 109:18, 19), and drove him to this desperate shift, for the escaping of a hell within him, to leap into that before him, which was but the perfection and perpetuity of this horror and despair. He throws himself into the fire, to avoid the flame; but miserable is the case when a man must go to hell for ease.
Now, in this story, 1. We have an instance of the wretched end of those into whom Satan enters, and particularly those that are given up to the love of money. This is the destruction in which many are drowned by it, 1Tim. 6:9, 10. Remember what became of the swine into which, and of the traitor into whom, the devil enters; and give not place to the devil. 2. We have an instance of the wrath of God revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, Rom. 1:18. As in the story of Peter we behold the goodness of God, and the triumphs of Christ’s grace in the conversion of some sinners; so in the story of Judas we behold the severity of God, and the triumphs of Christ’s power and justice in the confusion of other sinners. When Judas, into whom Satan entered, was thus hung up, Christ made an open show of the principalities and powers he undertook the spoiling of, Col. 2:15. 3. We have an instance of the direful effects of despair; it often ends in self–murder. Sorrow, even that for sin, if not according to God, worketh death (2Cor. 7:10), the worst kind of death; for a wounded spirit, who can bear? Let us think as bad as we can of sin, provided we do not think it unpardonable; let us despair of help in ourselves, but not of help in God. He that thinks to ease his conscience by destroying his life, doth, in effect, dare God Almighty to do his worst. And self–murder, though prescribed by some of the heathen moralists, is certainly a remedy worse than the disease, how bad soever the disease may be. Let us watch against the beginnings of melancholy, and pray, Lord, lead us not into temptation.
(4.) The disposal of the money which Judas brought back, Matt. 27:6-10. It was laid out in the purchase of a field, called the potter’s field; because some potter had owned it, or occupied it, or lived near it, or because broken potters’ vessels were thrown into it. And this field was to be a burying–place for strangers, that is, proselytes to the Jewish religion, who were of other nations, and, coming to Jerusalem to worship, happened to die there. [1.] It looks like an instance of their humanity, that they took care for the burying of strangers; and it intimates that they themselves allowed (as St. Paul saith, Acts 22:15), that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust; for we therefore take care of the dead body, not only because it has been the habitation of a rational soul, but because it must be so again. But, [2.] It was no instance of their humility that they would bury strangers in a place by themselves, as if they were not worthy to be laid in their burying–places; strangers must keep their distance, alive and dead, and that principle must go down to the grace, Stand by thyself, come not near me, I am holier than thou, Isa. 65:5. The sons of Seth were better affected towards Abraham, though a stranger among them, when they offered him the choicest of their own sepulchres, Gen. 23:6. But the sons of the stranger, that have joined themselves to the Lord, though buried by themselves, shall rise with all that are dead in Christ.
This buying of the potter’s field did not take place on the day that Christ died (they were then too busy to mind any thing else but hunting him down); but it took place not long after; for Peter speaks of it soon after Christ’s ascension; yet it is here recorded.
First, To show the hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders. They were maliciously persecuting the blessed Jesus, and now,
1. They scruple to put that money into the treasury, or corban, of the temple, with which they had hired the traitor. Though perhaps they had taken it out of the treasury, pretending it was for the public good, and though they were great sticklers for the corban, and laboured to draw all the wealth of the nation into it, yet they would not put that money into it, which was the price of blood. The hire of a traitor they thought parallel to the hire of a whore, and the price of a malefactor (such a one they made Christ to be) equivalent to the price of a dog, neither of which was to be brought into the house of the Lord, Deut. 23:18. They would thus save their credit with the people, by possessing them with an opinion of their great reverence for the temple. Thus they that swallowed a camel, strained at a gnat.
2. They think to atone for what they had done, by this public good act of providing a burying–place for strangers, though not at their own charge. Thus in times of ignorance people were made to believe that building churches and endowing monasteries would make amends for immoralities.
Secondly, To signify the favour intended by the blood of Christ to strangers, and sinners of the Gentiles. Through the price of his blood, a resting place is provided for them after death. Thus many of the ancients apply this passage. The grave is the potter’s field, where the bodies are thrown as despised broken vessels; but Christ by his blood purchased it for those who by confessing themselves strangers on earth seek the better country; he has altered the property of it (as a purchaser doth), so that now death is ours, the grave is ours, a bed of rest for us. The Germans, in their language, call burying–places God’s fields; for in them God sows his people as a corn of wheat, John 12:24. See Hos. 2:23; Isa. 26:19.
Thirdly, To perpetuate the infamy of those that bought and sold the blood of Christ. This field was commonly called Aceldama—the field of blood; not by the chief priests, they hoped in this burying–place to bury the remembrance of their own crime; but by the people; who took notice of Judas’s acknowledgment that he had betrayed the innocent blood, though the chief priests made nothing of it. They fastened this name upon the field in perpetuam rei memoriam—for a perpetual memorial. Note, Divine Providence has many ways of entailing disgrace upon the wicked practices even of great men, who, though they seek to cover their shame, are put to a perpetual reproach.
Fourthly, That we may see how the scripture was fulfilled (Matt. 27:9, 10); Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet. The words quoted are found in the prophecy of Zechariah, Matt. 11:12. How they are here said to be spoken by Jeremy is a difficult question; but the credit of Christ’s doctrine does not depend upon it; for that proves itself perfectly divine, though there should appear something human as to small circumstances in the penmen of it. The Syriac version, which is ancient, reads only, It was spoken by the prophet, not naming any, whence some have thought that Jeremy was added by some scribe; some think that the whole volume of the prophets, being in one book, and the prophecy of Jeremiah put first, it might not be improper, currente calamo—for a transcriber to quote any passage out of that volume, under his name. The Jews used to say, The spirit of Jeremiah was in Zechariah, and so they were as one prophet. Some suggest that it was spoken by Jeremiah, but written by Zechariah; or that Jeremiah wrote the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of Zechariah. Now this passage in the prophet is a representation of the great contempt of God, that was found among the Jews, and the poor returns they made to him for rich receivings from him. But here that is really acted, which was there but figuratively expressed. The sum of money is the same—thirty pieces of silver; this they weighed for his price, at this rate they valued him; a goodly price; and this was cast to the potter in the house of the Lord; which was here literally accomplished. Note, We should better understand the events of Providence, if we were better acquainted even with the language and expressions of scripture; for even those also are sometimes written upon the dispensations of Providence so plainly, that he who runs may read them. What David spoke figuratively (Ps. 42:7), Jonah made a literal application of; All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me, Jonah 3:3.
The giving of the price of him that was valued, not for him, but for the potter’s field, bespeaks, 1. The high value that ought to be put upon Christ. The price was given, not for him; no, when it was given for him, it was soon brought back again with disdain, as infinitely below his worth; he cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, nor this unspeakable Gift brought with money. 2. The low value that was put upon him. They of the children of Israel did strangely undervalue him, when his price did but reach to buy a potter’s field, a pitiful sorry spot of ground, not worth looking upon. It added to the reproach of his being bought and sold, that it was at so low a rate. Cast it to the potter, so it is in Zechariah; a contemptible petty chapman, not the merchant that deals in things of value. And observe, They of the children of Israel thus undervalued him; they who were his own people, that should have known better what estimate to put upon him, they to whom he was first sent, whose glory he was, and whom he had valued so highly, and bought so dear. He gave kings’ ransoms for them, and the richest countries (so precious were they in his sight, Isa. 43:3, 4), Egypt, and Ethiopia, and Seba; but they gave a slave’s ransom for him (see Exod. 21:32), and valued him but at the rate of a potter’s field; so was that blood trodden under foot, which bought the kingdom of heaven for us. But all this was as the Lord appointed; so the prophetic vision was, which typified this event, and so the event itself, as the other instances of Christ’s sufferings, was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.