Hope or Despair; Life or Death
“Then, when Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he had second thoughts and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? Look to yourself.’”
In the flow of things, this is a little out of order (at least with Matthew’s chronology). The main thing to remember, in this case, is that this event is essentially taking place at the same time as some of the mob demands before Pilate — behind the scenes. Moving it down into this position in the harmonized account, allows for the full story around Pilate to be told and then the comments around Judas’ betrayal.
A contrast takes place here, though, that is very important to note. Here, Judas is called, “the betrayer,” a name that will stick with Judas through the rest of history. The term that is used is paradi/dwmi (paradidomi), which literally means “one who delivers.” In this case, context has clarified how the delivery takes place, for Judas has delivered Jesus into the hands of the wicked. The contrast that takes place, though, is that you have two deliverers at work in this passage — Judas the betrayer, the one who delivers Jesus into the hands of the wicked, and Jesus the deliverer of the elect of God. One a worker of unrighteousness the other the Lord of all righteousness. Indeed, what a sad contrast this is.
We are told that Judas had second thoughts. The term used here is metame/lomai (metamelomai) and it conveys the sense of being sorry for an action, regretting one’s decision, and wishing that it could be undone. We should not see this as repentance, though. Typically the word translated as “repent” is metanoe/w (metanoeo), and refers to a total change in one’s worldview or perspective. Judas felt bad because he realized his betrayal was that of condemning an innocent man to death, but his hard heart did not change (to be evidenced by his suicide to follow). Nevertheless, there is honest grief that is exhibited here.
Judas seeks to undo his actions rather than asking Christ for forgiveness, thinking that if he returns the blood money he won’t be as culpable. Again, this is a sign of a heart that is not regenerate, simply regrets his actions and fears his future condemnation. The priests are unable to accept blood money, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Notice, though, their response to Judas. “It’s your problem, not ours” is essentially what they tell him. They have what they want and nothing can undo the events that will soon transpire.
The final phrase is translated in a variety of ways, often implying that Judas is responsible for fixing his own mess — “don’t involve us” is implied. I would suggest that is partially true, but misses the force of this statement. They say, “look to yourself” or even “look on yourself” (the verb there is a “middle” form, implying an action that one is doing upon or to oneself). Here’s the thing. Judas is sorry for his actions and is going to the priests. It was the priests whose role was to be the intercessor between God and man for sins. They are basically saying to him that there is nothing they can do, he needs to make atonement by his own works — they demonstrate their own impotence as priests do do what they have been called to do. Judas will not run to Christ, he recognizes he stands condemned, what will be left to do but to take his own life — indeed he will look to himself.
Oh, beloved, the despair that comes from looking upon oneself for your own deliverance. It simply cannot be done. No matter how high and lofty the Christ-less ideals of the unbeliever may sound to our ears, they cannot hope to live them out and will end up in despair…like Judas. There is hope in one name for in only one name is there forgiveness for sins and a promise of deliverance from this body of death. And that name is the name of Jesus Christ! Run to him! Cling to him! And call the world to do the same! For in Him and in Him alone there is life and hope and peace and joy! Oh the sorrows we inflict upon ourselves when we seek to take matters into our own hands; what life there is in the hands of Christ. Choose this day, loved ones, whom you will serve — and do it! Live out your faith in everything you say and do, growing in faith and grace yourself and pointing others to the only hope for this life and for the next. Amen.