Zechariah’s Amazing Prophecy of the Betrayal of Christ
Zechariah was a prophet who lived in the 6th century before the birth of Christ. He was one of those captives in Babylon but, under the leadership of a political ruler whose name was Zerubbabel, Zechariah, together with some 50,000 of his Hebrew kinsmen, returned to their native Palestine (cir. 536 B.C.). The record of these events is found in the book of Ezra.
When the Israelite people eased into a state of lethargy, Zechariah, and his companion prophet, Haggai, sought to bring them back to an invigorated level of service. Haggai worked to encourage the completion of the temple project (which had been destroyed during the Babylonian invasion — 586 B.C.), and Zechariah would attempt to rekindle a spiritual fire in the hearts of the nation (cf. Ezra 5:1ff).
The book of Zechariah divides itself into two major portions. Chapters 1-8 deal principally with events contemporary with the prophet, while chapters 9-14 sweep across the centuries, and have a decidedly “messianic” thrust. With this brief word of explanation, we now focus on a most remarkable prophecy in chapter 11 of the prophet’s composition.
The chapter begins with an ominous prophecy of a coming destruction that would vanquish the nation of Israel. This devastation would be a judgment from God because of the Jewish people’s rejection of Jehovah’s royal King. The description previews the Roman invasion that would culminate in A.D. 70 (cf. Matthew 22:1-7).
Out of this background comes the following prophecy.
“And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver. And Jehovah said unto me, Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them unto the potter, in the house of Jehovah” (Zechariah 11:12-13).
This is a stunning text; indeed, it is a powerful example of the minute details that characterize the prophetic literature of the Bible. Zechariah, speaking on behalf of the promised Messiah, makes the following points.
Haggling Over Price
The prophecy suggests there would be a haggling of terms in connection with the betrayal of Jesus. “If you think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear.” Matthew records Judas’ words as follows. “What are you willing to give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matthew 26:15).
Luke says that the chief priests were glad and “covenanted” to give him the money, and the traitor “consented” to the deal (Luke 22:5-6). The term “covenanted” (suntithemi) signifies “to work out a mutually agreeable contract” (Danker, et al., p. 975).
Should it be asked why the negotiating jargon of Judas is represented as having been spoken by the Lord, the answer is simple. Though Judas was a willing instrument in the nefarious deed, the Son of God was totally in control ultimately. He was laying down his life willingly (John 10:17-18; cf. Galatians 1:4). Thus, he is represented figuratively as orchestrating the events.
The prophet specified the metallic composition of the coinage by which the transaction would be made. It was neither gold nor copper, but rather, “silver” (Matthew 26:15).
The precise number of coins was prophetically declared—“thirty pieces of silver.” The amount is not incidental. Thirty pieces of silver, under the Mosaic law, was the price to be paid to remedy the damage done to a slave that had been gored by a neighbor’s ox (Exodus 21:32).
Here’s the significance. Christ went to the cross as the “servant” of God (doulos—a slave, Philippians 2:7). The Lord, in fact, was a servant “wounded” by the nails of the crucifixion brutality (cf. Isaiah 53:5). To many of the Jews, he was expendable, mere “damaged goods” in the assessment of his enemies, “rejected indeed of men, but with God elect” (1 Peter 2:4).
The insulting rejection of Christ (as indicated by such a paltry amount) was a reflection of the Jews’ attitude toward Jehovah himself. As the Lord said through Zechariah, “Cast it to the potter, the goodly price [strong irony] that I was prized at by them.” These words find stark fulfillment in the Savior’s warning, “he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Blood Money Returned
Zechariah’s prophecy indicated that the money would be returned to the Jewish leaders, the custodians of “the house of God.” Matthew’s record reveals that Judas, in a swoon of regret, brought back the coinage to the chief priests and elders. But they would have none of it. Their superficial religiosity would not allow the temple treasury to be contaminated with blood money. How commendable was their devotion; bloody hands recoiled at “blood money”!
Cast Into God’s House
The ancient prophet indicated that in some way the silver coins were to be “cast” (thrown) into the “house of Jehovah.” Zechariah has perfectly depicted the act of the betrayer. Judas “cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary” (Matthew 27:5).
The term “sanctuary” (naos) denotes the sacred edifice containing the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, in contrast to the outer courts of the temple area (see Thayer, p. 422). Since Judas would not have been allowed in the priestly area, it is likely that he approached as close as he could and then flung the money into the sacred area—as if this “gift” could be a substitute for genuine repentance! Nonetheless, prophecy fulfilled.
The End Predicted
Finally, Zechariah suggests that the ultimate destination of the “goodly price” would be to “the potter.” Matthew explains this enigmatic expression. The chief priests took the money and purchased a “potter’s field,” which would serve as a burial place for strangers. This likely was an area where clay for pottery was extracted from the earth, or perhaps a dump where broken shards finally were discarded. It most assuredly was cheap land. At the time Matthew penned his Gospel record (some twenty to thirty years after Christ’s death), the place was still known as “the field of blood” (27:8; cf. Acts 1:18-19).
Zechariah’s prophecy thus is shown to be most remarkable. It constitutes a collection of amazing details presented more than five centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. It stands tall as an amazing example of the divine origin of the Scriptures.
[Note: For a study of the alleged “problem” of Matthew’s attribution of the prophecy to Jeremiah, instead of Zechariah, see the article, Did Matthew Blunder?.]
Scripture references: 1 Thessalonians 5; Ezra 5:1; Matthew 22:1-7; Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:15; Luke 22:5-6; John 10:17-18; Galatians 1:4; Exodus 21:32; Philippians 2:7; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:4; Luke 10:16; Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18-19
- Danker, F. W., et al. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.