‘Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”’
This is a remarkable little incident where a band of conspirators unwittingly prophesy through their actions. As we’ve seen previously, Zechariah 11 speaks of the shepherd being paid a paltry sum for his work, shepherding an unfaithful flock. The passage continues:
‘Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter.’
In Zechariah’s context, the Potter was probably a temple functionary who dealt with the incoming donations of precious metal. The point of Zechariah’s prophetic action is to symbolise the rejection of the Temple system. The thirty pieces, given as wages, are thrown back into the Temple, in great disgust. So too, Judas, grieved by what he had done, tried to give the money back to the Priests. When they refused to accept it, he threw the money back into the Temple.
As if that were not already enough of an allusion to Zechariah 11 – thirty pieces, thrown back into the temple – the chief priests then decide to literally give them to the potter, by purchasing his field as a burial place for strangers.
This, they may have thought, was a meaningless action; or perhaps a charitable one. But Matthew sees the ironic symbolism. Neither Judas nor the Priests are a true Zechariah figure; Jesus is the good shepherd. But as Judas stole the Christ’s priestly wages, so now Judas is the one to throw them back to the Potter; albeit by a circuitous, divinely orchestrated route.
God’s plans cannot be scuppered or thwarted by rebellious disciples or conniving priests. Even in murderous plotting, Jesus’ enemies work out God’s prophetic plan with remarkable accuracy.