Saturday, May 19, 2012

Judas Iscariot: Remorse too Late in Matthew 27:3-5

The distinction between remorse and true repentance—in both the Greek and the English—is illustrated by the actions of Judas Iscariot. It will be recalled that Judas, a disciple of Jesus and the treasurer of Jesus’ band of disciples, had come to be in the habit of embezzling from the ministry’s money bag. (John 12:6) When a woman came and anointed Jesus with a costly perfume, instead of selling it and giving the money to the disciples (thus allowing him to steal some of it), and Jesus commended her instead of rebuking her as Judas expected, Judas became disillusioned with Jesus, went to the Jewish authorities and arranged to betray Jesus to them for 30 pieces of silver. (Matt. 26:6-15) However, Judas appears to have done this under the unrealistic expectation that the authorities would punish Jesus, but let him live. Of course, as we now know, this was never the Jewish authorities’ plan. (See, John 11:45-53) They tried Jesus summarily, found him worthy of death, and hastily obtained the permission of the Roman governor to crucify him. (Matt. 26:57-67 & 27:11-26)

It is between the trial of Jesus before the Jewish Sanhedrin and his trial before the Roman governor that Judas’ remorse enters the record:

3 Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse [metamelÄ“theis], and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” 5 He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.

(Matthew 27:3-5 (WEB), bracketed Greek transliteration added)

Judas felt true remorse. The English says this, in every translation I know of, and so does the Greek, using the weaker verb for a change of mind or feelings, metamelomai, as explained in the previous post “Repentance: Definition of Terms.” Judas was truly sorry that his actions had bad consequences. He had obviously not intended his deal with the authorities to lead to Jesus’ death. So, when it appeared that Jesus was going to die, he went back to the authorities to try to reverse the bargain. He said he had betrayed innocent blood—which was true enough, but was confessed to the wrong person. He tried to give back the 30 pieces of silver. Of course, the authorities, who actually wanted Jesus dead, would have none of it. Judas’ remorse over getting caught came too late. Jesus had to die.

Judas’ remorse also had the wrong effect on Judas. He had been led by his greed to steal from the bag. He had then been angered when denied another opportunity to steal, and had been led by his greed and anger to sell Jesus. If he had felt remorse at any time before he betrayed Jesus, and had allowed that remorse to become true repentance, turning back to the Jesus he had rejected to serve his own greed, he could have been restored. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, restoration would likely have become possible again, had Judas waited for it. Instead, however, Judas first tried to fix the consequences of his sin—without returning to the Savior and obeying Him. When he saw that his own efforts to rectify the consequences of his sin had failed, he hanged himself.

“For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world works death.” (2 Cor. 7:10)