When Judas agreed to betray Jesus’ whereabouts to the chief priests and elders, he apparently didn’t anticipate that it would result in Jesus’ crucifixion. When he realized that he would be partly responsible for the death of a man he knew was innocent, he was filled with remorse. In a vain attempt to reverse what he’d done, Judas went back to the chief priests and elders with the money he’d received from them. He was planning to return it, perhaps hoping his act would spark some remorse in them so they might release Jesus. But Judas the betrayer soon realized that they had betrayed him. Although they previously treated him as an important partner, he had served their purpose, and they could now care less about him, his money or his guilty conscience. And they certainly didn’t want to hear anything that would tempt them to feel guilty for their part in Jesus’ death.
Realizing that he had been their pawn, Judas angrily threw the thirty pieces of silver onto the floor of the Temple. He knew he was guilty of a great sin, and to keep the money, profiting by his betrayal, would make his sin even greater. But getting rid of the money didn’t alleviate his guilt. Jesus was still going to die and Judas couldn’t reverse what he’d done. Utterly in despair, he committed suicide.
Why did Judas hang himself? He saw death as a solution to his problem. We don’t know, however, what problem Judas hoped to solve by killing himself. Did he think that death would end his guilt? Or did he think that by dying he could somehow atone for his sin? One thing we can be certain of is that Judas did not believe he could receive forgiveness from God for what he’d done, although the Bible leads us to believe that he could have. Had Judas believed that, he would have asked for and received it, and then acted like he was forgiven; thus he wouldn’t have killed himself.
Suicide is never a good solution to any problem. His taking his own life didn’t lessen Judas’ guilt. Nor did he atone for his sin by his act. What Judas needed was faith that Jesus was the Son of God. If he had possessed such faith, he would have never betrayed Jesus in the first place. Had he gained such a faith after betraying the Lord, he would have believed that Jesus could forgive him.
Judas went to hell when he died, not just because he betrayed Jesus, but for the same reason anyone else goes to hell: he was a sinner who didn’t believe in Jesus. Judas was set apart from everyone else in hell because he was guiltier than the average sinner, having lived with Jesus for three years and having seen His many miracles. His unbelief is almost unbelievable.
Matthew highlights the hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders who wouldn’t put the returned money in the Temple treasury because it was unlawful to accept donations earned by doing what they had just paid Judas to do! And after they’d condemned an innocent man, the very Son of God, they wanted to do the right thing before God with the returned betrayal money. So they purchased a field owned by a potter to be used as a place to bury people from other countries who died while in Jerusalem and naturally didn’t own a burial place of their own. In doing so, they helped prove to everyone since then that Jesus was the Messiah, unknowingly fulfilling one of Jeremiah’s prophecies that the thirty pieces of silver used to betray the Messiah would be used to purchase a potter’s field!
Q. Was Judas the only person responsible for Jesus’ death?
A. No, many others were responsible, including the chief priests and elders. The truth is, we’re all responsible for Jesus’ death, because Jesus died according to the preordained plan of God for our sins. If none of us had sinned, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. In that sense, we’re all like Judas. Thank God we’ve received the forgiveness offered to us.
Q. Is feeling sorry when you’ve done wrong the same as repenting?
A. No, a person can feel remorse without repenting. Repenting means at least attempting to change your actions from then on. Remorse is usually a temporary emotion. Many people feel sorry for what they’ve done only because they’ve been caught or suffered some consequence, and not because they know they’ve disobeyed God. Christians, on the other hand, feel remorse when they’ve done wrong because they know they’ve offended God and in many cases hurt another person. Their remorse leads them to repent.
Application: When people commit suicide, there is something wrong with their thinking. If they knew and believed the truth, they would solve their problems in a different way rather than by taking their own life. People think they are ending their problem by committing suicide, but, like Judas, they’re getting into a bigger problem from which they’ll never escape.