3. The Judas of Prophecy
In attempting to understand Judas in the Gospels, it becomes important to look at the underlying prophecies in which he had a part in fulfilling. There are no prophecies that relate specifically to the man Judas Iscariot. The prophecies of the Old Testament relate to the role of the betrayer of the Messiah. They still provide context for the role Judas was to fulfill and support for a predetermination viewpoint.
The prophecies can be broken down into three Psalms from David, a tale from Zechariah, and a proclamation from Jeremiah.
A. The Psalms
The provisions in the Psalms all appear as laments from David. Appearing in three specific Psalms, Psalm 41, Psalm 55, and Psalm 69. Psalm 41 and Psalm 69 are directly quoted in relation to Judas, while Psalm 55 contains descriptions of a close friend as a betrayer. This will be a common thread in the Psalms, the idea of a close friend as enemy, and is the important role Judas will play in the disciples.
1. Psalm 41
Psalm 41 was penned by David and acts as a liturgical end to the first book of Psalms. In it, David writes about his enemies and how even close friends are betraying him. Verse 9 writes "Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me." This would be quoted by Jesus when he identifies his betrayer at the Last Supper. Judas would be the one to share Jesus's bread with him.
It is believed that Psalm 41:9 was written to refer to Ahithophel, a counselor to King David, who is seen as anticipating Judas's betrayal of Jesus. Ahithophel has many similarities to Judas. A close friend and counselor to the King, who deserted and betrayed him, and then hanged himself upon seeing that his revolt would not succeed.
"I said, 'Have mercy on me, Lord;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.'
My enemies say of me in malice,
'When will he die and his name perish?'
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
'A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.'
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me."
2. Psalm 55
Psalm 55 was likewise penned by David and serves as a lament in which the author grieves because he is surrounded by enemies, including one of his closest friends who has betrayed him. This psalm is a maskil or instructional piece. Many believe that David penned this psalm following Absalom's rebellion, and that like Psalm 41, the enemy here refers to Ahithophel.
"If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers."
"My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords."
While Psalm 55 is not directly quoted, the picture of David's troubles as the type Christ will suffer and Ahithophel's treachery a figure of Judas's have led to it being seen as part of the overall Messianic prophecy.
3. Psalm 69
Psalm 69 contains the clearest Messianic prophecies of the three. In a strict reading, there is nothing that would directly connect to Judas. However, verse 25 is quoted by Luke in Acts to reference the Field of Blood where Judas Iscariot committed suicide. "May there place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents."
"You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and[b] a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous."
Psalm 69: 19-28
With the Psalms then, the clearest insight they give us into Judas is through the type of Ahithophel. Through Ahithophel and the language David uses around him, the betrayer of the Messiah would be a close friend and confidant, who would betray the Messiah and turn to his enemies, and who would end his own life. We see this pattern repeated in Judas, though this still does not address any motivation. With Ahithophel, his motivation to betray David seems to have been pride - pride in his counsel and wisdom, and retribution for the times David had overlooked it. This aspect does not directly parallel with Judas, from the indications we have in the Gospels.
Zechariah in Chapter 11 pens a parable comparing a good and bad shepherd. This chapter and tale is part of the first oracle from Zechariah outlining the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming Messiah and are an early version of apocalyptic literature.
The Bad Shepherd clearly has parallels to Judas, including the thirty pieces of silver paid to him for revoking his covenant, and then an instruction for the thirty pieces to be thrown to the potter, where they are thrown in the house of the Lord.
"This is what the Lord my God says: 'Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, "Praise the Lord, I am rich!" Their own shepherds do not spare them. For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,' declares the Lord. 'I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.'
So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock. In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.
The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, 'I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.'
Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.
I told them, 'If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.' So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel.
Then the Lord said to me, 'Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves.
'Woe to the worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
May his arm be completely withered,
his right eye totally blinded!'"
With these mentions, there is a question regarding whether this passage is what was intended to be referenced in Matthew in the account of Judas's death, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me." This passage does not correspond to any known version of the Book of Jeremiah, but does seem to relate to this story here in Zechariah.
Many explanations have been given for this apparent discrepancy. Early writers like Jerome and John Calvin concluded that the mention of Jeremiah is an error. Others attempt to explain it away as arising from a Jewish practice of citing the Major Prophet in a scroll group to refer to the whole scroll group, to the exclusion of other Minor Prophets in the same. Finally, more recently, scholars have attempted to point to a series of passages in Jeremiah, which are discussed below.
Either way, the parallel to the bad shepherd provides more specific prophecies that Judas fulfilled. We have clearly the payment and return of thirty pieces of silver. That they are thrown down in the house of the Lord. And the connection between the potter and potter's field.
In trying to connect the writings of Jeremiah to the quotation in Matthew, scholars look to three passages: Jeremiah 18:1-4, 19:1-13, and 32:24-25 and 43. Chapters 18 and 19 deal with the potter and the clay and a burial place. Chapter 32 focuses on the the burial place and an earthenware jar, as well as on the punishment that the land will bear. Tied together, they paint the same picture as that in Zechariah. Of a land purchased with silver and cursed from that time.
"The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, 'Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.' Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make."
"Thus says the Lord, 'Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, and say, "Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter. I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its disasters. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them."'
'Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,' declares the Lord, 'so as to make this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods.'"'"
I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, and called in witnesses, and weighed out the silver on the scales. Then I took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the sight of Hanamel my uncle’s son and in the sight of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, before all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. And I commanded Baruch in their presence, saying, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Take these deeds, this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.' For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'"'"
"'See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, "Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed."'"
"'This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, "It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians." Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.'"
From these passages, we see the purchase of the field with silver, the Valley of Hinnom discussed where the Field of Blood is traditionally located, the shedding of innocent blood, and the renaming of the place for burial. It is a longer read, but could be the overall blended passage referenced in Matthew to refer to Judas's death and the subsequent creation of the potter's field in prophecy.
Again, we see the consequences of Judas's betrayal fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament.
The prophecies of the Old Testament show us how Judas filled his role in the Gospels. He would be a friend to the Messiah as one of His close disciples. He would betray the Messiah, specifically for thirty pieces of silver. And those thirty pieces of silver would be used to by a cursed field. He would commit suicide and hang like Ahithophel and/or would spill out his guts on the ground like broken pottery.
While this shows his actions and life fitting into prophecy, it gives little guidance into character or motive. It does seem to lend credence to a foreordained life and betrayal, but raises questions as well. Was Judas the only one who could fulfill these prophecies and thus was he trapped, created as the sole betrayer? Or could any of the other disciples or any other person chosen filled the role? We see in the Gospels that the other disciples fled and Peter even denied Jesus, but could anyone else have betrayed him? Or was that Judas's role alone to fulfill, set from the foundation of time?
Were his actions set by prophecy or did his choices and actions fulfill them?
To get deeper into motivation, a look through the excluded text is advised. The books in the Apocrypha and other excluded texts provide more insight and often diverge in great ways. Through an exploration of them, we can add a historical and contextual color to the story of Judas found in the Gospels.