After He predicted the destruction of the Temple, Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven as a kingdom that the master had left in the charge of his servants during his absence. Jesus then began to prepare His disciples for His own absence and the establishment of His kingdom, which is at hand during Jesus’s bodily ministry in the First Century (cf. Matthew 4:17). Matthew progresses the story quickly now, telling us the events directly preceding and leading to Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion.
Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” ’ ” The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover (Matthew 26:14-19).
At this time, Iscariot did not mean “betrayer” like it does today. Like in “Jesus of Nazareth,” Iscariot signifies Judas’s origin–which is most likely Karioth in Southern Judea. Matthew records Judas as going to the chief priests and offering to betray Jesus without their initial instigation. They accept his offer, weighing out for him thirty pieces of silver. There are many people who try to make a necessary prophetic connection to the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas, but I’m not sure there is one. The closest explicit connection we have is not prophetic fulfillment but a simple statement in Zechariah 11:13, which states that people think God is only worth 30 shekels of silver. I am sure Matthew may be making that point on purpose. The Messiah came. The religious leaders only believed He was worth 30 pieces of silver.
Jesus came to establish a very real kingdom–a kingdom that persists into the modern day. 30 pieces of silver, worth between $91-$441 in the modern dollar, was the price of a slave (cf. Exodus 21:32), not a tribute to a king. I am concerned that so many people who claim to follow Christ today give so much less for Christ than his enemies did in the First Century. I’m not just talking about money. Jesus is king, yet instead of gathering together to honor Him, much of the church has become a cheap circus. People want cheap thrills, entertainment, and to get something from God; which is the attitude of the chief priests and Judas in this text. As soon as we don’t get what we want or see that Jesus isn’t doing what we expect, we are quick to betray Him in favor of cheap thrills, circus acts, sordid gain, and sensational music or entertainment. Please don’t misread me here. I am not demonizing illustrations or object lessons. I think they can, at times, be helpful. Jesus used parables, and Paul used illustrations to teach. The prophets acted out their prophecies before the people of Israel. I am not critiquing modern music or youth ministry. I want to get at our hearts. I am saying that if you were asked why you go to church, and your answer is about the music, programs, preacher, humor, or anything other than Christ the Lord, you may want to consider the worthiness of Christ and Christ alone. Please don’t cast your idols on Christ’s back. Judas and the chief priests were very religious and churchy, but they hated their Messiah. They were in it in order to gain from God–the same motivation that plagues nearly every world religion or worldview. In order to go after Christ, we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
While Judas is offering to betray Jesus, Jesus asks the other disciples to go and prepare a place for the Passover meal. Jesus has already ordained a person to host their observance. His disciples go and prepare the place.
Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” And He answered, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus *said to him, “You have said it yourself.”
Jesus already knows about Judas’s plan. As the disciples ask whether it was them, Jesus reveals that it will be Judas. Judas, who has already accepted his blood-money from the chief priests, pretends to be Jesus’s friend, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus already knows. His pretending will not help him. Jesus knows He must go, and uses the title, “Son of Man,” as He teaches concerning His own death. He also says that it would be better for Judas if he had not been born.
There may be many people trying to build their own kingdoms upon Christ’s back. Judas is the son of perdition; he will never repent (cf. John 17:12). Without repentance, it is the same for those who seek only for self; it would be better for them if they had never been born. Jesus’s statement alludes to very real consequences when we pursue our own glory rather than Christ’s. Like Judas, there must be stumbling blocks. Woe to those by whom the stumbling blocks come (Matthew 18:7). Every self-seeking person, pastor, religious person, antagonizer, murderer, elder, and so on serves the purpose of Christ. Yet, because of their hatred of their Messiah (albeit inexplicit) it would be better for them if they were never born. There is a fate worse than death. I pray we are repentant. I pray we surrender to Christ. I pray we stop seeking to bring attention to ourselves through the ministries of the church. I pray we forsake the sensationalism that has leeched itself to the modern church. I pray that our eyes are fixed upon the only savior and Lord, Jesus.
Judas was religious like the chief priests, but he was interested in sordid-gain. When Christ started talking about His own death, Judas was quick to offer to betray Him. The kingdom wasn’t what Judas thought. Judas’s expectations were not met. He wasn’t being promoted. It wasn’t working for him. He did not realize, though, that Jesus’s work was not about him. It was about something greater, the glory of God.
We often try to sensationalize Christ, casting our idols upon His back. Let us not forget, He is king; we are not.