Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 05. Chapter 5: Christ Evaluated

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 05. Chapter 5: Christ Evaluated

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SUBJECT: 05. Chapter 5: Christ Evaluated

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Christ Evaluated

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.


And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them.


IN commenting on the words written at the head of this chapter, we shall not just at this time speak of Judas Iscariot. We shall give him our attention later.

First we want to point out the relationship between these passages and the episode upon which we centered our attention in the preceding treatise. We observed there, you recall, that Caiaphas and his Sanhedrin actually prophesied without being aware of the fact that they were doing so. We saw, moreover, that he and the other members of his solemn council refused to take the one way by which they might have returned to the road of sound prophecy: the way of believing, restrictive, and honest searching of the Scriptures.

The consequences of such spiritual indifference are never negligible. If we are not conscious, willing, wholly consecrated bearers of the prophetic word, we become its victims. If we refuse to become the subject of prophecy, we are compelled to become its object. If we are not vitally related to the content of the Word, our life becomes the pitiable victim of all of the forces and influences of the kingdom of heaven, which are expressed in that Word. When we are in enmity to these, they destroy us. We must live by prophecy, or we will most certainly die by it. And it never misses a victim.

The point is that the Spirit of prophecy cannot possibly leave anyone in a neutral position. God has sent His Word into the world: its effects are irrelevant to none.

This inescapable relevancy of the Word of God becomes especially obvious from a consideration of the present texts. Judas Iscariot has appeared before the Sanhedrin[1] and presented to them his proposal offering to deliver Jesus to them in exchange for a given sum of money. Asked how much they will give for such service, the chief priests reply that they will pay thirty pieces of silver. That amount, the exact value of which we do not know, but which becomes a considerable sum when we remember that it equaled the wages of a laborer for a period of 120 days,[2] apparently satisfied Judas.

This disgusting piece of business on the part of Judas and the chief priests naturally repulses us. But we must admit that to the feelings of anyone who thinks of Jesus as one of a number of heroes, thinkers, preachers, of anyone who gives Him a purely human status, far more shocking things have occurred than this betrayal by Judas and its confirmation by the gentlemen in toga. History tells many another tale of atrocity, of virtue, love, and truth sold into the hands of murderers for even less than thirty shekels.

[1] Really before the chief priests; but compare also Schurer, Gesch. d. Jud. Volkes, Vol. 2, p. 251.

[2] Dr. F. W. Grosheide, .Kommentaar op Mattheus, 311, note.

But this instance of treachery brooks no comparison with any other. We acknowledge this Christ Jesus as the very Christ of the Scriptures. He is unique and cannot be named in a breath with other world reformers. He simply is not one of countless disillusioned ones who, because of their devotion to this or that ideal, were trodden into the mire. Christ admits of no comparison: He stands at the center of history as the Son of God and as the Son of man. He is the foundation and the crown of every responsible office in Israel and in the whole world.

Hence it would be folly to try to measure the shameful commerce of Judas and the chief priests by some quantitative standard, and to compare it then with other instances of treachery and murder committed against faith, in the world. The only appropriate question is to ask where prophecy is being fulfilled, where the Spirit of prophecy, with greater impetus or less, courses through those murderer’s dens, temples though they be, temples in which the tables of the exchangers are a perpetual hindrance to the reformation of the sanctuary according to truth and right.

Considering the event in that way we know that nothing more ignominious ever occurred than happened here when Israel’s official leaders, who by reason of their office were shepherds of the people, appraised, bought, and paid for the blood of Jesus at the price of thirty pieces of silver. Even that is not putting it nicely enough. This is not a “happening,” is not an “instance.” It is the one knot of history. The ignominiousness of it does not arise from the assessment as such, or from the person of Judas, or from the machinations of the chief priests. The awful significance of this event arises from this fact: those thirty pieces of silver are bandied back and forth by the Spirit of Prophecy. They never rest. They roll on through the ages. And the cause of their restlessness is that they cringe under the glaring searchlight of a harsh prophecy already five hundred years old. It had foretold how every unfaithful disciple of the Israel of the flesh would once agree that thrice ten shekels were ample compensation for the services of the good shepherd.

Really five centuries? Yes, approximately that many years had passed since Zechariah had been compelled to make that pronouncement. That long ago he had declared that carnal Israel would sometime evaluate and sell the Chief Shepherd at the price the chief priests gave the betrayer.

Those priests have degenerated so far that they manage to live in an atmosphere of Messianic prophecy only in an unconscious, and as such in an antagonistic, way. How astonishing, how preposterous almost, that these who are learned in the Scriptures should now quite unwittingly prove the validity of that time-honored prophecy in such a strictly literal manner.

These leaders of Israel reenact the deed of Hiel, the architect of Bethel, who, at Ahab’s behest, had rebuilt the gates of Jericho. Almost five hundred years had elapsed then, too, since Joshua had threatened with a curse any who should dare to rebuild that city. Whoever ventures to do that, Joshua had said, shall give in return for his audacity the lives of his eldest and youngest sons. But Joshua had died and the winds of five centuries had blown the cadences of his voice out of hearing. Then Hiel came and, in as strictly literal a fashion, fulfilled the pronouncement of the prophet-judge.

Joshua uttered the curse at the time of Israel’s first immigration into Canaan. Five centuries later God sought it out and fulfilled it. Zechariah voiced his declaration at the time of Israel’s second immigration into Canaan, just after the captivity. Five centuries later God realized it in the session hall of the chief priests, those architects of the school of Ahab, graduate students of Hiel the Bethelite.

Do you see the meaningful parallelism? For why had God chosen to leave Jericho in ruins? Because over the debris of the gateway to Canaan, over the desolation of Jericho, spiritually discerning eyes might see this superscription written: Canaan is the inheritance of a people who live by faith, not by works. God had demolished those walls by the impetus of grace, not by that of the sword, of Israel’s own power. God loved those ruins. The very lifelessness of those stones was a living testimony to the Gospel which preached free grace and justification by faith without works. Therefore the Word, therefore the curse, took its effect. Therefore prophecy is inescapably relevant to all.

That same God is here at Jerusalem, and that same Word is here. The superscription over Jericho, “Not by works, but by grace alone,” continues to be an offense to every self-righteous Ahab. And since Christ—that Good Shepherd—is preaching precisely the same message, everywhere, continuously, day and night, that Christ must die. See how in Him God is taking vengeance on Ahab and Hiel. The message faintly preached by the dead stones of ancient Jericho is being perfectly taught by the living lips of Christ. His life is the resurrection from the dead of Jericho’s ruins. But Ahab is alive. Hence Christ must die.

Because Hiel still practises his profession, he will ever try to chisel the work of grace out of the entrance to Canaan. See how the chief priests and Judas are busy perfecting the work of Ahab.

Remember, however, that the curse still obtains and that it must take its effect. It comes now to confirm a prophecy five hundred years old. Tremble before God, whoever can, for the majesty of God is sure; such is the prophecy which no one can oust from the world.

Do not marvel at the fact that the Holy Spirit, who wrote the Scriptures, has in this way flung a bridge from Zechariah, the prophet, to Matthew, the evangelist. This is not the first time He has done this kind of thing. Such inter-ramification is, in fact, the dominant characteristic of the Scriptures. All the words of God constitute the One Word of God. Without interruption the story of redemption progresses from Zechariah to this turning point and high point of history, to Jesus’ being summoned to judgment. It is according to that rule of prophecy, according to that progressive law of the history of special revelation that Zechariah first revealed in principle the event which God makes actual in Matthew’s account of the Gospel.

Concerning that prophecy of Zechariah this must be said first of all. In Zechariah 11 he shows us — as we pointed out, in passing, in the preceding study — that there are two kinds of shepherds in Israel: the hirelings and the good shepherds. The hirelings are the false ones who prophesy selfishly for the sake of personal gain. The good shepherds are those who bring God to His people in His word, and who draw the people to the Lord by His word. But the true prophets are hindered in their work by the hirelings. Zechariah states that, and adds also that the unfaithful people prefer the charming, captivating lessons of the false shepherds, to the austere, strict discipline of the true prophets, even though it is an evangelical discipline. And Zechariah becomes so resentful at the thought that the people should reject every good counsel that he proposes a catch-question to these unfaithful ones. Whether he himself actually puts the question or simply sets it down as a symbol of what was to come does not affect its significance in this particular. He asks for his wages: “Give me my price,” he says.

The catch question is a unique rhetorical device. It can be utterly reprehensible. When used to take advantage of an ignorant or hesitant person in order to enmesh him in one’s own net, it is simply detestable. But the catch-question can also be most admirable in its effects. When employed in the spirit of love to force an issue which is constantly binding anyway, to precipitate a decision which can and must be made, it is a perfectly legitimate device. More positively — this kind of question is born of God. Such a question points to the high seriousness of each minute of the life God gives us. For we should be ready at any moment to give a clear-cut answer to the great issue of time and eternity as it affects us: What think you of the Christ?

Such was Zechariah’s question: Give me my price. It presented two alternatives. And, if any residue of spirituality had been left in the Israel of the flesh, if a modicum of the original theology of its psalms and prophets had still been active in them, the people would forthwith have given this reply to the question of the good shepherd: We refuse thee thy price.

They would have returned that answer for three reasons. First: We are unable to get along without your cares. Payment, you see, means dismissal, implies termination of service. And we cannot live without you; for our own sake, we cannot. Second: We cannot pay you a price because your work simply does not lend itself to such quantitative appraisal. The services of the good shepherd defy evaluation. They are of infinite worth, for God is active in them; by means of them evangelical grace is given us. Who, pray, can compensate for such boundless good? It is patent folly to reckon the value of the grace of God in terms of dollars and cents. Third: We may not give you your wages because such payment is no affair of ours. If you are a good shepherd, you are God’s true prophet. Your mission, then, comes from Him. You are not our hired man, but a servant of the Lord. God is responsible for your wages, for He appointed you and called you to this work. How foolish to suppose that the sheep should or could remunerate their own shepherd. Payment is no matter of theirs; it is the business of the owner. We cannot give you your price. God alone, the great Owner of Israel’s sheep, is in a position to reward His prophets.

Ah yes, if only Israel’s leaders had replied in that fashion. Then they would have remained the spiritual Israel. By that answer they would have affirmed their belief in that fundamental, threefold doctrine with which the spiritual had always gloried over the fleshly Israel, a doctrine corresponding exactly to the reply given above. Note that doctrine and the correspondence. First: God’s people are able to live only by the continuous grace of God (the shepherd is indispensable). Second: The gifts of grace are of infinite, not of limited, worth; consequently, these cannot be assessed or adequately paid for (the services defy compensation). Third: God alone sends and rewards His shepherds. His grace, therefore, can never accrue to His people except by way of the transcendent miracles of the Counsel of Peace (the relationship between the shepherd and the owner does not concern the sheep).

Whoever stops to think a moment will recognize at once that this threefold concept is the core of the Gospel of grace as contrasted to that other gospel of self-redemption. These three fundamental ideas constitute the formal pattern of the grace which has appeared in Christ Jesus as contrasted to the self-righteousness to which the Judaism of the flesh will succumb; they are the theme of the gospel of righteousness by faith as contrasted to that other righteousness which would build Israel upon a basis of good works.[1]

[1] The Letter to the Romans.

But Israel did not make that one, true reply. It turned a false answer to the “catch question” put by the prophets. That answer not only denied and did injustice to the element of grace and of justification by faith but also gave blatant expression to a pride which would redeem itself. Abraham’s children, having abandoned his faith, actually paid out the stipend. When they did so they sinned, for by that act they were virtually saying three things: first, that they can get on very well without the good Shepherd and the true prophets (They choose to be guided by their own light; they strike the element of grace from their gospel of redemption); secondly, that they do not tremble in awe before the wonder of God’s gifts of grace as men do before a thing of incalculable worth, but that they, instead, rank everything the prophets do in a class with general cultural benefits, which, like other cultural things, can be adequately evaluated and paid for (The element of grace has been completely abandoned; the notion of infinitude has been stricken from their gospel of redemption); thirdly, that they no longer want to play the role of sheep, but wish to do what is the prerogative only of the Owner of the flock (They lower the work of redemption to the plane of men, as if salvation were not God-sent in its coming to man. They were the sheep, but would be their own lords and masters. In other words, they strike the worship of God’s transcendence from their gospel of redemption).

But they mocked the prophet, and in mocking him, mocked God himself not only by the fact that they paid the stipend but also by the amount which they paid. For they hit upon the sum which they paid facilely enough. Thirty pieces of silver, that was the price. Now re-read what is written in Exo_21:32 and you will learn that thirty pieces was the price for which a slave could be bought. In short, the stipend represented the price of scorn, the price of disdain. God asks His people what value they place upon the services of the prophets, and they reply that they believe these to be worth no more than a slave, than a valet, who can be bought “for a song”.

It is therefore no wonder that God, in turn, mocked this disgraceful compensation. The prophet receives the burden of the Lord to take the thirty pieces and to “cast them to the potter.”[1]

[1] Some think that no reference to the potter should be made here. These maintain that, by a slight alteration, the text would read: “Cast them into the treasury” (of the temple). As we see it, however, this question must be determined in consideration of the references in Matthew 27 and Acts 1, and in these passages the potter is actually named. With respect to the question in general, compare Dr. F. W. Grosheide. Hermeneutiek, Amsterdam, 1929, pp. 231, 232, 237; and with respect to the context in question, p. 238, note 12.

Even if this casting of the stipend to the potter, probably a symbolical act, is not entirely clear to us, we can say this much about it: It is an expression of the disgust the prophet feels in his soul at the thought that the people are perfectly willing to pay him and to pay him so little. It may be that the correct explanation is this, that a potter just then happened to be busy in the temple and that he had the habit of sweeping all the refuse concomitant to his trade into a heap. By adding the thirty pieces to this pile of trash the prophet publicly demonstrated how worthless he regarded his reward. Be that as it may, for we cannot be sure, it is certain that only in an ironical vein could those thirty shekels be called “a goodly price.’’ We can also be sure, moreover, that God flung His resentment full in the face of His people for their disgraceful lack of appreciation of the sensitive cares tendered them by the prophets.

He who follows the course of the Scriptures closely will understand that Zechariah said these things in prophetic reference to the Christ of God. Yes, his prophecy, too, rooted in the circumstances of His day. But an element of theocratic, Messianic reference constantly inhered in it. Precisely because of that element, Zechariah could penetrate to the deeper meaning of Israel’s life, vacillating as it continually did between the pole of Messiah-expectation and that of Messiah-rejection. And it was that deeper significance of Zechariah’s prophecy which had to be fulfilled in Christ, the chief good shepherd.

Therefore Matthew had to come as a complement to Zechariah, in order to show that the words of the prophet of the Old Testament were actualized in Christ Jesus. Zechariah came at a turning point in time, almost at the close of the Old Testament prophetic day. So in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Christ appears at the turning point of history, in the fullness of time, at noontide of that one “day of the Lord” the rays of whose sun Zechariah had seen shimmering in the distance. Thus Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled in the council of the chief priests and scribes, and in Judas Iscariot.

There they are — on either side of the counter over which the best of blood is changing hands — greedy, money-grabbing Judas, and the leering, lecherous chief priests. Externally viewed, that is all of it; even to the purely natural eye it is repulsive. And that is all. But the spiritual vision discerns a third person in that place of ignominious bargaining, sees Christ Himself. See Him. Hear Him. Give me My price, He says. In Him all the prophets shout: Give us our price. Through Him that cry issues from every martyr killed at the altar, from Abel to Zechariah. God Himself rises in this place and shouts to His people, to the seed of Abraham: Give me My price.

And . . . they count out the change, thirty pieces, the price of a slave.

The roof did not crash down upon these merchandisers. That it did not is not due to any “semen religionis” still hidden in some corner of the arid souls of these traitors to God, to prophecy, and to Christ. That is because of the will of God which selects these dark ways to the redemption of His people. God deliberately lets the thirty pieces of silver roll through the ages over the marketplace of the world. He does that in order that men may choose between free grace and self-redemption.

That choice is still the liveliest option of men. The conflict between those two contenders is uncompromising. The way of a legalistic, “good works” salvation leaves that of the preaching of free grace: the way of the Judaistic, pharisaic “earning” of salvation is incompatible with the New Testament Pauline Gospel of redemption by faith. On this question Rome and the Reformation part company too. For Catholicism, though but in part, would buy salvation, and, though not intentionally so, would by its system of absolution again put thirty pieces of silver upon the table. Luther and Calvin, in bidding farewell to the Roman Tetzel, must protest: by faith alone; by faith, not by works, lest any should glory.

No, this is seeking out no false antithesis. The terms of that same ancient conflict still divide the true from the false. The Christ of God is very “particular”; the Gospel is very painstaking. There is nothing fantastic about those thirty pieces: they are the logical outcome of fleshly Judaism. Think again, in this connection, of those three elements:

1. Man can save himself.

2. Redemption is a limited thing.

3. Man does God’s work.

And place over against it this confession of the spiritual Israel, of true belief, of the Reformed faith:

1. Redemption is eternally beyond our own capacity. God must justify and sanctify us anew each day. We cannot live without the Shepherd of our soul one moment.

2. Redemption transcends the possibility of compensation. We cannot by drawing on the resources of the whole world amass money enough to pay God. His gifts are of inestimable worth. And the gift cannot be separated from the Giver, who is infinite.

3. We can never put ourselves in God’s position. We want to remain the sheep of His care, following, believing, and listening to the Shepherd’s voice.

The thirty pieces are the tangible embodiment of the spirit of self-redemption. Grace allows no glorying in the self. Redemption is from Thee, from Thee alone.

If God is so exacting as to keep the thirty pieces perpetually rolling across the world, right on through the centuries, life is very serious. Those restive pieces protest that at any given moment each and every human being may be called upon to consciously choose for righteousness by faith and against righteousness by works.

What can be more moving than to put Zechariah’s declaration next to the narrative of Matthew? Reading Matthew alone, I am disposed to say: What a giant in sin that man Judas was! Compared with him I am a dwarf, a Lilliputian, te Deum ... But when I hear Zechariah say that it is very natural for all unfaithful sheep to dismiss the Shepherd of Israel for thirty pieces, Judas becomes as small as I. And at second thought I become as great as he in transgression. Lord, as often as I do not believe, I dispatch the Good Shepherd, I grow to Judas’ size, I attain the stature of the scribes in sin. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Reading Matthew alone, I think of Judas as I ponder Lord’s Day 31 (the keys of the kingdom) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Reading Zechariah also, I think of myself, of the incriminating power of the Word, of the ultimatum of God’s shepherding.

It is a serious matter to have a God who asks catch-questions. And we are unembarrassed by these only if we live by the Word, if we are able each moment to completely apply to ourselves the key-concept of our confession: living by faith through grace. It is our duty to work out that concept consciously and unconsciously each day, in our theology, in our dogmatics, and in our mysticism.

Never did Israel so abuse the treasures which God allowed them to take from Egypt as when, by means of Judas, Israel used these to pay for Jesus’ blood. By that act Israel surrendered the office of stewardship. When it took the capital it had brought from Egypt and had amassed in Canaan and, for its own aggrandizement, used it to pay for Jesus’ cross, Jerusalem, to speak in the language of Revelation 12, became the city “which spiritually is called Egypt.”

As for ourselves? In fear and trembling we must admit God into our houses, our shops, our studios, and fields. Listening attentively, then, we shall hear Him ask: Give me My price. The question must come to all: what think you of the Christ? In that sense all must make an appraisal, all must return an answer. He is fortunate who can be quick to reply: Lord, I cannot appraise Thee. Thou only canst place a value upon me, O Lord, and include me with those for whom Thou hast given the inestimable price of Jesus’ precious blood, flowing through the infinite, eternal Spirit.