In Hebrew culture, thirty pieces of silver was not a lot of money. In fact, it was the exact price paid to the master of a slave if and when his slave was gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32). The slave’s death was compensated by the thirty pieces of silver. There are two other places in the Bible that specifically mention the amount of thirty pieces of silver, and they are directly linked. The first passage is in Zechariah, which contains a prophecy that is later fulfilled in the book of Matthew.
Leading up to the prophecy of the thirty pieces of silver is a description of a strange episode in Zechariah’s life. God had the prophet Zechariah play the part of a shepherd and care for a flock “doomed to slaughter” (Zechariah 11:4–14). God used this to illustrate a prophetic judgment against Israel for crucifying Christ, predicting the fall of Israel in AD 70 and the subsequent scattering of the nation. There are several elements in this passage that point to it as a prophecy about Jesus. First, Zechariah says he “got rid of the three shepherds” of the doomed flock (verse 8). The “three shepherds” are probably a reference to the three religious offices during Jesus’ day that worked to condemn Jesus: the elders, the scribes, and the chief priests (Matthew 16:21). Second, Zechariah breaks his two shepherding staffs. One is named Favor and is broken to symbolize the breaking of the Mosaic Covenant by the disobedient people and God’s setting aside His favor or providential care to allow judgment to come upon them (Zechariah 11:10). The second staff, named Union, is broken to represent the breaking up of the nation by the Romans.
Another prophetic reference is found in the thirty pieces of silver given to Zechariah after his work as a shepherd. He went to those he worked for and asked them to pay him what they thought he was worth. They gave him thirty pieces of silver, which he sarcastically calls a “handsome price” because it was such a small amount (Zechariah 11:13)—the price paid for a slave’s accidental death. The employers meant to insult Zechariah with this amount of money. Returning the insult, God tells Zechariah to “throw it to the potter,” and Zechariah tossed the money into the house of the Lord to be given to the potter.
These actions are a shockingly accurate and detailed prophecy, for when Judas Iscariot bargained with the leaders of Israel to betray the Lord Jesus, he asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” The murderous cabal then counted out for Judas “thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:15). That’s all they considered Jesus to be worth.
Later, Judas was overcome with guilt for betraying Jesus, and, fulfilling Zechariah’s vivid prophecy, he threw the thirty silver coins into the temple (Matthew 27:3–5). The Jewish leaders used the thirty pieces of silver to buy a field from a potter, again as Zechariah had predicted (Matthew 27:6–10). It was in that field that Judas hanged himself.