NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Pontius Pilate was assigned to his office in 26 AD, some four years before Jesus started His ministry, and it would end in 36 AD, about three years after our Lord’s death. According to Dr. John Gill, there is an ancient tradition that says Pilate was banished to Vienne in Dauphiné,1 where he was reduced to such a low point that two years later he killed himself with his own sword.2 It should be noted, that the first name “Pontius” is only mentioned three times in the New Testament.3 But we can get a different glimpse of Pilate from other writings:
Pilate was one of the emperor’s lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judea. He, not more with the object of doing honor to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; which had no form nor any other forbidden thing represented on them except some necessary inscription, which mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there, and the person in whose honor they were so placed there. But when the multitude heard what had been done, and when the circumstance became notorious, then the people, putting forward the four sons of the king, who were in no respect inferior to the kings themselves, in fortune or in rank, and his other descendants, and those magistrates who were among them at the time, entreated him to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields; and not to make any alteration in their national customs, which had hitherto been preserved without any interruption, without being in the least degree changed by any king of emperor. “But when he steadfastly refused this petition (for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate), they cried out: ‘Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honor of the emperor is not identical with dishonor to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a presence for heaping insult on our nation. Tiberius is not desirous that any of our laws or customs shall be destroyed. And if you yourself say that he is, show us either some command from him, or some letter, or something of the kind, that we, who have been sent to you as ambassadors, may cease to trouble you, and may address our supplications to your master.’” But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity. Therefore, being exceedingly angry, and being at all times a man of most ferocious passions, he was in great perplexity, neither venturing to take down what he had once set up, nor wishing to do any thing which could be acceptable to his subjects, and at the same time being sufficiently acquainted with the firmness of Tiberius on these points. And those who were in power in our nation, seeing this, and perceiving that he was inclined to change his mind as to what he had done, but that he was not willing to be thought to do so, wrote a most supplicatory letter to Tiberius. And he, when he had read it, what did he say of Pilate, and what threats did he utter against him! But it is beside our purpose at present to relate to you how very angry he was, although he was not very liable to sudden anger; since the facts speak for themselves; for immediately, without putting any thing off until the next day, he wrote a letter, reproaching and reviling him in the most bitter manner for his act of unprecedented audacity and wickedness, and commanding him immediately to take down the shields and to convey them away from the metropolis of Judaea to Caesarea, on the sea which had been named Caesarea Augusta, after his grandfather, in order that they might be set up in the temple of Augustus. And accordingly, they were set up in that edifice. And in this way he provided for two matters: both for the honor due to the emperor, and for the preservation of the ancient customs of the city.4
You can read about this same event from a Jewish historian’s point of view, written at about the same time.5 And from a Christian perspective we read: “It is worthy of note that Pilate himself, who was governor during the time of our Savior, is reported to have fallen into such misfortunes under Caius, whose times we are recording, that he was forced to become his own murderer and executioner; and thus divine vengeance, as it seems, was not long in overtaking him. This is stated by those Greek historians who have recorded the Olympiads, together with the respective events which have taken place in each period.”6
Verses 3-5: Judas Iscariot saw that they had decided to kill Jesus. He was the one who had handed Him over. When he saw what happened, he was grief stricken over what he had done. So he took the 30 silver coins back to the priests and the older leaders. Judas said, “I sinned. I handed over to you an innocent man to be killed.” The Jewish leaders answered, “We don’t care! That’s your problem, not ours.” So Judas threw the money into the Temple. Then he went out and hanged himself.
The patriarch Job could have certainly given Judas Iscariot this advice, “You know that the joy of the wicked does not last long. That has been true a long time, ever since Adam was created here on earth. Those who don’t appreciate God are happy for only a short time.”7 Whatever he expected to happen as a result of his betraying the Messiah, did not come to fruition. Some speculate that he wanted to force Jesus into being the champion Messiah they all expected. The Anointed One who would free them from Roman rule and set up the kingdom of David once more. But his conscience got the best of him after his betrayal, and he realized what a terrible deed he had committed against a holy man who had been his best friend.
Usually, the one betrayed suffers the most humiliation, but in this case, the betrayer was devastated. He may have felt like Manasseh who killed many innocent people and filled Jerusalem with their blood, and the Lord would not forgive him of his sin.8 So he could not live with himself any longer. What Judas says here is quite interesting. First, he admits his act as a betrayal. This meaning: selling out a trusted leader to the enemy for a price. Second, he exclaims that it was innocent blood he betrayed. What was Judas thinking about Jesus before he got this revelation; didn’t he know that after following Jesus for three years it was obvious that He was innocent of the charges leveled against Him by these religious leaders?
As mentioned before, some say that Judas’ act was motivated by a desire on his part to force Jesus out into the open as the true Messiah; to push Him into seizing the reigns of power as king of the Jews. But this could hardly be a valid reason for him to betray his Lord, especially under the circumstances at the time. After all, if you sell out someone to the opposition it’s in order to ensure a victory for your benefit. However, under this premise, and his status as an acknowledged follower of Jesus, Judas had everything to lose and nothing to gain once Jesus was defeated. If Christ did, in fact, fulfill the Pharisee’s concept of the Messiah and did turn the tables on them and usurp power, Judas would have lost in what he was attempting to win because he would have been branded a traitor and exiled.
Some say that Judas Iscariot may have had misgivings over whether Jesus was just Messiah-like, instead of being the real thing because He established no center for learning and did little to build His kingdom filled with ardent followers and protected by a mighty army. Therefore, Judas was bent on proving either himself wrong or Jesus wrong. It was through unbelief Judas missed the reality of Jesus’ mission as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. He did not come to win the world through a demonstration of overwhelming power, but by the manifestation of irresistible love.
1 Located in SE France
2 Exposition of the Bible Commentary
3 See Luke 3:1; Acts 4:27, and 1 Timothy 6:13.
4 Philo of Alexandria, De Legatio ad Gaium (“On the Embassy to Gaius”), Ch. 38:299-305
5 Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Bk. 2, Ch. 9:2-3
6 Eusebius, History of the Church, Bk. 2, Ch. 7
7 Job 20:4-5; also see 20:12-16
8 II Kings 24:4