Then Said Jesus, Father, Forgive Them; For They Know Not What They Do

Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the Sanhedrim (the judicial system of the Jews), the sentence of which was death. They had four forms of implementing capital punishment: by stoning; by burning; by beheading; and by strangling. However, the Roman judicial system took away their right of execution. So Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, who being the Roman governor over Judea, had the authority to sentence a criminal to death. There seemed to be an arrangement that was understood between the Sanhedrim and the Roman governor of Judea in that at each feast of the Jews if there were criminals that were being bound in jail under the governor, who were to be executed, the Sanhedrim was allowed to request the release of one of them.

Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. (Mark 15:6)                                                                                

     Pilate stands before a crowd of Jews and asks them who would they like to be freed? The chief priests persuaded them to condemn Christ, and free a murderer named Barabbas, who had killed people in an uprising against the government. Jesus was then apprehended and beaten with whips; spat upon; and was bowed to in mock homage by placing a reed in his hand, a scarlet robe on his back, and a crown of thorns on his head. He was then nailed to a cross between two other malefactors (evil doers). Above his head was placed a notice which indicated his crime, which was, “This is the King of the Jews”. These words were written in the three learned languages of: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Those that were in his periphery both the people, the rulers of the Jews, and the Roman soldiers verbally abused him by criticizing not only his teachings, but also the proclamation concerning him being the king of the Jews as being that of a pretended Messiah.

     At just about the time when the beginning of darkness came over all the earth Jesus uttered these words:

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34)                                                                       

     What did Jesus mean when he said to the Father “forgive them”? As I studied this word “forgive” I found out that it means to give up a debt. Is there anything else that it could mean?

     There is another story in the New Testament that talks about someone, who was falsely accused by the Sanhedrim and subsequently stoned to death. His words are very similar to Jesus words. Let’s take a look at his story and see if we can find out a little bit more about this word “forgive”.



Lord, Lay Not This Sin to Their Charge

This story is about a man named Stephen, who was chosen by the members of the church at Jerusalem along with six others, whose responsibility was to assist in the daily administration of food and money to the widowed Grecian Jews (Jewish immigrants to Palestine-those who spoke Greek) at Jerusalem. On a particular day as God enabled him to perform great wonders and miracles among the people, he became embroiled in an argument with certain members of a synagogue, known as the synagogue of the Libertines (free men), who were at one time slaves. Apparently, they were not able to respond to the wisdom (the knowledge of the scriptures) of which he spoke, the words of such as were given to him by the Holy Spirit. So they decided to bribe certain people in order to accuse him of speaking blasphemous (evil) words against Moses and God. This caused such a stir among those in attendance that he was apprehended and brought before the Sanhedrim (the judicial court of the Jews).

     He was asked by them if he had indeed blasphemed (spoken evil) against Moses and God. As Stephen spoke in response to these allegations they became so incensed with what he was saying that they grabbed him, took him outside of the city of Jerusalem, and stoned him to death. Before he died he knelt down and cried with a loud voice to Jesus saying, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. (Acts 7:60)

…your enemies, …pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

     This verse is not only similar in context and words as to what Jesus said on the cross it also mirrors the words of Christ in Matthew 5:44 concerning what our response should be to our enemies. Stephen’s words “lay not this sin to their charge” mean that he was asking Jesus to not exact punishment toward them or hold it against them in regards to their actions with the view toward their salvation.

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. (Acts 7:58)

     It is interesting to note that one of those who was present at Stephen’s stoning was a man named Saul, who later would become converted to the Christian faith, and be known as the apostle Paul.

     So we can conclude with some certainty that Jesus prayer to the Father to “forgive” and Stephen’s prayer to Jesus to “lay not this sin to their charge” means that in like manner when we are subjected to physical injury by unbelievers we should pray to Jesus that they not be punished along with holding to the mental attitude toward them of their salvation.

     Now we have a better idea as to what Jesus meant when he said to the Father “forgive them”. He was saying don’t let what they are doing to me bring about recompense (punishment) from you. Let me fulfill your plan so that those who have rejected me will have an opportunity for salvation. I agree wholeheartedly that we as believers should reflect upon this same mindset when we have been caused physical injury by unbelievers for our faith.

     However, should a believer have this same mindset toward another believer when they are injured by them in their character, person, or property? I’m sure that most of us would say yes. As Jesus prayed to the Father to not exact punishment, so should we pray to Jesus with the same request. In other words, pray to Jesus in this manner and leave the matter for him to judge.

     Is this how forgiveness is to be applied from one believer to another believer who has offended them?

   Hopefully as you continue reading you will find out as to whether forgiveness in regards to a believer toward an unbeliever is to be implemented in the same manner in regards to a believer toward another believer. With this in mind the next chapter will attempt to figure this out.

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When Jesus said to the Father on the cross to forgive them, what does the word forgive mean?