Bible Study Tools / Jesus Christ

Really? What Price Glory?

by George Carter
Photo by udit saptarshi on Unsplash

We are familiar with the story of the treachery of Judas Iscariot. He had been selected to be one of the 12 apostles and was entrusted with the money box holding all their funds. Yet Jesus knew that he was a devil, “diabolos” meaning “false accuser” in the Greek (John 6:64 and 70). Jesus was well aware the prophecy found in Psalm 41:9, “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

The trigger for Judas Iscariot’s ultimate treachery came at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper. There Mary anointed Jesus with very expensive oil worth more than 300 denarii, or the equivalent of a whole year’s wages for the average working man (Mark 14:3-5). Some disciples were indignant, protesting such waste, but Jesus praised her action knowing that it was in preparation for His death and burial (verses 6–9). The disciples still did not believe that He was to endure terrible torment and the crucifixion, although He had plainly told them (Matthew 16:21; 26:1, 2). They did comprehend that the jealous priests wanted to get rid of Him (John 11:57). Judas considered this an opportunity for personal profit and went to the chief priests to ask what they would give him to deliver Jesus into their hands.

They offered him 30 pieces of silver, in deliberate contempt for Jesus, this untutored carpenter who put them to shame with His inspired teaching of Scripture and miraculous works. Judas had been intimately connected with those wonderful things, yet from that moment on he sought a chance to put Jesus in their foul hands (Matthew 26:14–16).

Thirty pieces (shekels) of silver was the price of a gored slave (Exodus 21:32) and had been reflected in Zechariah’s experience when he had asked about his wages as a shepherd. The pompous priests of his day had insulted him with 30 shekels of silver. “A goodly price” Zechariah said sarcastically, and the Lord told him to cast it to the potter in the Temple (Zechariah 11:12, 13). It then became remarkably prophetic of what was to happen with Judas.

Judas gathered with the other apostles for what was to be Jesus Christ’s last supper, but he left before our Lord instituted the New Testament Passover. He hurried to the high priests, and then led a mob to take Him when He was in the garden. Meanwhile, Jesus knew what Judas had to do, and had sent him on his way to do it! Satan himself had entered into Judas before, and now came again to urge him on to the ultimate act of betrayal (Luke 22:3, John 13:27).

After Jesus was subjected to an illegal trial, Judas awoke to the cold reality of what he had done and then unwittingly fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy. He went to the priests and elders and told them that he had betrayed an innocent man. He threw their 30 pieces of silver down in the Temple before going away to hang himself (Matthew 27:3–5). The hypocritical priests, having used Temple money to bribe Judas into betraying his Master, now considered the money unfit to go back into the treasury. So they used it to buy the Potter’s field in which Judas had hung himself and died. His body subsequently swelled up and burst, spilling his bowels on the ground. The disgusted people of Jerusalem, knowing some of these things, thereafter called it “The Field of Blood” and it became a burial ground for strangers (Matthew 27:3-8, Acts 1:18,19).

All this fulfilled “that which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 27:9, 10). But it was Zechariah, not Jeremiah as most translations today have it. Pious men go to great lengths to explain the apparent contradiction, but the simple fact is that Matthew probably gave no name here. The name of Jeremiah is not found in early manuscripts like the Syriac, the Persic, two of the Itala, and some other Latin copies. It is most likely that the original simply read, “dia tou prophetes” – “by the prophet.” And it may be observed that Matthew often excludes the names of specific prophets, as for instance in 1:22, 2:5, 15; 13:35; 21: 4 (Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Mathew. 27:9). What is important is that the prophecy was fulfilled. The erroneous attribution to Jeremiah has caused unnecessary attempts to justify it, but we need not bend Scripture to do so.

The Lord Jesus Christ has returned to glory and resumed His place as God beside His Father in Heaven. He gave up everything, both as God and as man, to make it possible for us to enter eternity. It is unlikely that we, as mere men, will ever fully grasp the breathtaking majesty of God’s work. Hopefully, we may someday in the collective body of the Church made perfect. Meanwhile, let us hang on to the vision even if it is “through a glass, darkly” as Paul put it (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Thirty pieces of silver was the insolent sum paid for the life of the greatest servant of all. Jesus Christ’s true worth is beyond measure, but He gave His life a ransom for us all! Truly His life was fully worth that of every man, woman and child who ever lived, or will ever yet be born into the world, since He it was who made Adam and Eve in the first place, and breathed into them the life which passed on to us all (Colossians 1:16, Genesis 2:7). But now He has made everlasting life possible for each one of us, something which no man could ever earn for himself. Only by the grace of God, extended to us by faith in the fact of the ineffable sacrifice of Jesus Christ, may anyone ever pass on into the glorious eternity of God.

What a tremendous sigh of triumph and relief the Lord’s final word must have been as He took His last breath on the cross. Just one word in the Greek, it has been obscured in translation. Our English Bibles give us the phrase, “It is finished” and it can indeed include all that was prophesied of the suffering Messiah from the beginning in the Garden of Eden, but when we look at the actual Greek word something more marvellous comes into view.

That Greek word is found only in the Gospel of John, just the one wonderful word, “tetelestai.” A more important word was never spoken as it was uttered by our Saviour with His dying breath. The Lamb of God had hung in agony on that torture stake from 9:00 a.m. when He was first nailed to the wood at the time of the Morning Sacrifice until 3:00 p.m. when He died as they began to slay the paschal lambs at the time of the Afternoon Sacrifice on that crucial Passover day. It was the turning point of mankind’s history. For six extremely long hours the Lord of Life suffered agony, and He had power to stop it at any moment! But He had to give Himself thoroughly, wilfully, and completely right up to the end to become the Saviour of mankind and our extraordinarily well-qualified High Priest. Having ensured that every prophecy was completely fulfilled (Psalm 69:21), He said, “tetelastai”’ and bowed His head and gave up His spirit (John 19: 28-30).

That single Greek word, tetelestai, translated as “It is finished” in our English Bibles, is a perfect passive form of the verb teleo (Strong’s 5055/5056), which connotes finish, or completion, and is used elsewhere in the New Testament. It is applicable to all that Jesus fulfilled regarding prophecy and the Law, and as our Saviour. In order to save us, He had to pay the penalty for the sin of each and every one of us. He literally became sin for us, taking that tremendous burden with Him to the cross.

The debt was paid for every person in mankind’s history. Tetelestai was an accounting term familiar in Greek and Roman times. Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word telelestai written across them, meaning “paid in full.” This word on Jesus’ lips was significant. When He said, “It is finished” He meant His redemptive work was completed. He had been made sin for people (2 Corinthians 5:21) and had suffered the penalty of God’s justice, which sin deserved. Our great Father God sacrificed His Son for this purpose. Who can imagine His great pain or His enormous gratitude for all that Jesus did (Isaiah 53:10-11, Colossians 2:13-15).

Jesus Christ not only paid the debt of sin which no man can ever settle for himself, but also made possible our admission into the glory of eternal life in our Father’s realm. The richest of men, by any standard, would find it impossible to buy a ticket. A very perceptive anonymous writer wrote:

“He came to pay a debt He did not owe,
Because we owed a debt we could not pay.”

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