Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders?

Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders? Well, yes. Sort of. But it’s more a question of did the Jewish leaders accept the thirty pieces of silver? More so, what did they do with the silver Judas tried to return? And of course, why do these seemingly minor detailed questions even matter?

Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders? is article #3 in the series: Death of Judas. Click button to view titles for entire series
Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders?

Doesn’t everyone already know that Judas did go to the Jewish leaders and return the thirty pieces of silver? Yes, most probably do. But do you know what happened after Judas showed up to give it back?

Not only that, but do you know why it’s important to know not only what they did, but why they did it? There’s a message in there for all of us. Yes, actions matter. But so do motives – the reasons behind the actions.

Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders?

So let’s take a look at the relevant passage in full. And then go through it in detail. The passage we’ll examine is from Matthew’s gospel. He’s the only one that recorded the events below in their gospel. Having said that, it’s also in the book of Acts.

If you are familiar with it, the two passages don’t appear to say the same thing. However, it’s yet another example of differing points of view, different areas of emphasis, with the result that what’s actually one event comes out looking like two different ones. I won’t address that here. But it will be closely examined, and explained, in a future article where we look at how the field comes into play. A field that’s mentioned here in Matthew as being bought by the Jewish leaders, but bought by Judas in Acts. So please, just try to bear with me as we examine the evidence one piece at a time – and then tie it all together after the individual pieces are more fully explained.

With that in mind, here we go.

Judas Hangs Himself

Mt 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Mt 27:3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

Mt 27:5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Mt 27:6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

So, there it is. Now, let’s take it apart and go through a bit at a time to see what evidence is provided to see what really happened. And why.

Background – how did we get here?

Judas Hangs Himself

Mt 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

No surprise here. But for those who may not be very familiar with the events, here’s a bit more background. In part two of this series, Was Judas present for the Last Supper?, we looked at John’s recording of Jesus predicting his betrayal at the hands of Judas. But there’s one really important piece of evidence that was skipped over. Until now. So here’s the entire passage again, with one verse highlighted.

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal – John

Jn 13:18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

Jn 13:19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

Jn 13:21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

Jn 13:22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Jn 13:25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jn 13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

I’m not going to get into all the gory details of what Satan entered into him (Judas) means. Not yet. But it’s coming, in a future article in the series. I just want to point out here that something changed. Judas is now pretty much out of control. It’s Satan ruling him.

The thing is, once this happened, everything that took place from that moment – through to what we’re about to read in Matthew 27:3 – was guided and controlled by Satan. However, something’s about to change again.

Judas feels remorse?

Mt 27:3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

As I said, something changed. How can Judas possibly feel remorse if Satan was still “in him”? Not only does Judas realize that he’s sinned, he feels remorse because of that sin. Furthermore, he knows exactly why – because he’s going to be responsible for the death of someone innocent. Namely, Jesus.

Notice I wrote: because he’s going to be responsible. At this point, Jesus is still alive. We know that. Partly because Matthew uses a word that means “condemned” – not already dead.

Which brings us to the second reason. In a future installment in this series, we’ll look at this timing issue in more detail. That will show us exactly where Judas’ remorse came in the series of appearances and trials Jesus went through. For now, let’s just accept, pending further evidence, that Jesus was alive.

Not “our” problem say the Jewish leaders

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

Since we’re pulling this verse without displaying the context, let’s set it up. This is the Jewish leaders essentially telling Judas, “That’s your problem”.

Yes, these same leaders really wanted Jesus to be arrested and put to death. But when it came right to it, they, in modern terms, threw Judas under the bus. Not our fault. Not our problem. Don’t come to us with your sorry feelings.

Judas tries to return the thirty pieces of silver

So, did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders? He certainly tried. And yet, what he actually accomplished was this:

Mt 27:5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Technically speaking, the silver went to the temple. Not specifically to the Jewish leaders, since they didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

You may remember some of Jesus’ statements to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.

Seven Woes

23:1-7 pp — Mk 12:38, 39; Lk 20:45, 46
23:37-39 pp — Lk 13:34, 35

Mt 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Mt 23:5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

Mt 23:8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Mt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

[Mt 23:14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”]  Is not included in the NIV, but is in some other translations.  It would, of course, make eight woes.  [1]New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 23:14). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Mt 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Mt 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Mt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Mt 23:29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

Mt 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”

All of that especially comes together when we think about what these chief priests and elders are doing here. They just refused to accept the money. But when Judas tried to give the silver pieces in the temple, that wasn’t acceptable either. As we read:

Mt 27:6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.

Since they knew it wasn’t legal, per their own law, to put this money into the temple treasury, they likely also knew that it wasn’t legal to pay Judas in the first place. But in order to keep things “clean”, as in the whitewashed tombs, they did something else with it!

Now, as I already alluded, the details of what was done with this money and who did it are not obvious. Therefore, rather than go into detail here, once again I ask you to hold onto that thought. As often happened with investigations, we get things in pieces. And randomly. Information doesn’t come in an orderly fashion.

It’s the same with our five “depositions” here – four gospels and the book of Acts. They tell of one series of events. But they are written by four different people, with Luke being the author of one gospel and Acts. Each from a certain viewpoint. Each author with their own emphasis. So we need to merge them into one contiguous timeline. But at the same time, we also don’t want to make things too confusing. Nor do we want to get ahead of ourselves. And so, we’ll leave it here and return later.

Conclusion – Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders?

Did Judas return the thirty pieces of silver to Jewish leaders? Sort of. But not really.

  • The money went from the Jewish leaders to Judas.
  • Judas tried to return the money to the Jewish leaders.
  • The Jewish leaders refused to accept it.
  • Judas threw the money into the temple.
  • The Jewish leaders removed the money from the temple.
  • The money was used to buy a field.

So we can say the money passed through their hands. More than once! Even through the temple. And yet, technically, the Jewish leaders don’t think that Judas returned the pieces of silver. Al least, not to them. Instead, Judas “did something else”. More on that will be forthcoming. We’ll find out why they can convince themselves that something else happened with that blood money.


Image by Stanislav Velek from Pixabay


Footnotes

Footnotes
1 New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 23:14). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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