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Vol.  9  No. 7 July 2007  Page 12
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Jesus Forgiving on the Cross

By Paul R. Mobley

    Jesus said, while on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…” (Luke 23:34). This passage seems to confuse some, and others interpret it to include more people than it should. So let us take a look at it.

    First, one needs to understand that this event took place under the Old Law, and not under Christianity. The Christian Law came into effect forty days after Christ’s resurrection on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The renting (or tearing down the middle) of the veil in the Temple (Luke 23:45; Matthew 27:51) is understood to mean doing away with the Old Law and replacing it with Christ Law, or Christianity. Therefore, any actions of Jesus on the cross are not governed by Christian Law, even though such acts were good.

    Secondly, when Jesus said to one of the thieves beside him on a cross being crucified at the same time, that the thief would be with him that day in paradise (Luke 23:43), it does not mean that action is for any other person, or anytime since then. Today we are under the Law of Christ, or Christianity. Taking the thief to paradise took place under the Old Law.

    Third, it is not stated that Jesus forgave “them.” Even though it may be speculation, it should be reasonable to believe that he would not ask God to forgive anyone unless he had first forgiven them. The stated action is that he asked God, his Father, to forgive them. That we know for certain.

    Fourth, in Luke 23:34, “they” in part A and in Part B refer to the same persons. These are those who precipitated and were active in causing Jesus to be crucified, and it is these who make up the “they” and the “them.” Matthew Henry, in his commentary, Vol. 5, pages 666-667, suggests that these were the followers of the priests and scribes, who acted out of ignorance generated by these rulers who they were following. Thus it may be said that those who come by ignorance of God’s Word honestly are forgivable, while those who refuse to learn of God and his Word may not be as easily nor ever forgiven. The rulers referred to did not change continuing to refuse Jesus and his teachings. Church leaders, and rulers, today who alter God’s Word omit parts of God’s Word, or refuse his Word may find themselves in the same unforgiven state as these rulers under the Old Law, if they continue in those beliefs and practices, and teach those beliefs to members of the church where they rule.

    Fifth, when were these forgiven? Immediately, or later? When did God forgive them? We have the answer in Acts 2. In verse 23b, speaking to Jews, Peter said, (of Jesus) “ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” So there were at least some present who heard Peter that had been a part of the group who crucified Christ.

    Sixth, in Acts 2 Peter proceeded with his sermon, until in verse 37 these Jews asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They had become convinced that they needed help, they needed to be forgiven and that they needed to change. They had heard the Word, Peter’s sermon, believed it and now Peter tells them what to do.

    Seventh, Peter tells them in verse 38 what they asked, what they needed to do, indeed what they must do, saying, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” So it follows that “they” who had participated in crucifying Christ were not forgiven by God until they heard Peter’s sermon, and repented and were baptized.

    Eighth, all together that day about three thousand were baptized (verse 41), among them some who had participated in the crucifixion of Christ. Ninth, and in verse 47b we see, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”—that is those who had met all the requirements.

    We can draw some conclusions: (1) Jesus did not ask for all people to be forgiven. Rather, on the cross he was praying in particular for “they” or those who had crucified him. John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for his followers, Christians. (2) God did not immediately answer the prayer during the time that Jesus was on the cross, or in the grave. (3) Rather, God waited some forty days, until the day of Pentecost when Peter preached to them, and they had obeyed the requirements that the comforter, the Holy Spirit, had delivered to the apostles from Christ. People are forgiven today when they obey God’s Word in like manner.
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