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 an 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 a reference to the three religious offices during Jesus’ day that worked to condemn Jesus: the elders, the scribes, and the chief priests.
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” 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.
“And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.” 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”
“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.” Matthew 26:15 That’s all they considered Jesus to be worth.
There were a few type of coins that may have been used to pay Judas. Tetradrachms of Tyre, usually referred to as Tyrian shekels (14 grams of 94% silver)
Staters from Antioch (15 grams of 75% silver), which bore the head of Augustus.
Ptolemaictetradrachms (13.5 ± 1 g of 25% silver).
There are 31.1035 grams per troy ounce. A spot valuation of $17.06/oz (The closing price on Monday, December 12, 2016), 30 "pieces of silver" would be worth between $185and $216 in present-day value (USD).
The Tyrian shekel weighed four Athenian drachmas, about 14 grams, more than earlier 11-gram Israeli shekels, but was regarded as the equivalent for religious duties at that time. Because Roman coinage was only 80% silver, the purer (94% or more) Tyrian shekels were required to pay the temple tax in Jerusalem. The money changers referenced in Matthew 21:12 exchanged Tyrian shekels for common Roman currency.
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.