Jesus did NOT Forgive People from the Cross
July 6, 2013 17 Comments
You may have heard about Jesus forgiving people while he was dying on the cross. This misconception comes from Luke 23:34 where Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” At first glance this looks like Jesus is forgiving the people who are crucifying him, but there’s one important difference. Jesus isn’t talking to those responsible for his death. Jesus is talking to God. Jesus is praying.
When Jesus forgives someone, he normally doesn’t pray. He simply tells them, “You are forgiven.” For example, Matthew 9:2 says, “Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.'” Jesus never prayed. He simply told the paralyzed man that he was forgiven. Likewise in Luke 7, Jesus goes to eat at a Pharisees’ house, and a sinful woman follows him. She starts to cry, and anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume. Then in Luke 7:48, Jesus tells her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Again Jesus does not pray. He simply says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
So why would Jesus pray for his executioners to be forgiven instead of simply telling them? I believe Jesus prayed because he couldn’t forgive them until they had repented of their sin. God does not forgive anyone before they repent. God only forgives after we repent (Acts 2:38 & 1 John 1:9). And Jesus is God. So for Jesus to forgive those responsible for his death before they repented would be a violation of God’s Character.
In other words, Jesus’ prayer for his executioners includes an implied prayer for their repentance. Jesus can’t forgive them until they repent, but Jesus wants to forgive them. So Jesus does the best thing he can for them. He prays. Jesus hopes that his prayer will bring his executioners to repentance, and then after they have repented, Jesus will forgive them.
Why didn’t Jesus make his prayer easier to understand? Well, I don’t know. But I can say that Jesus did have a lot going on at the time (he was dying and all). In addition, I imagine if Jesus were to expand his prayer to include “Father, make them repent!” the tone would no longer fit the situation. Jesus’ prayer is a public display of compassion. If Jesus alters his prayer to include his executioners’ need to repent, then the tone of the prayer would change from compassion to contempt. Jesus’ prayer would have ended up as a display of fury instead of compassion.
Furthermore, I doubt Jesus’ prayer was difficult for the people present at the cross to understand. I believe we only have trouble understanding Jesus’ prayer because preachers today wrongly teach that we need to forgive everyone of everything, even if they don’t repent. It is only because of this false doctrine of “unconditional forgiveness” that Jesus’ prayer is so misunderstood today. (If you would like to read more about “unconditional forgiveness,” then click the following link to read, “The Heresy of Unconditional Forgiveness”. https://paulbollinger.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-heresy-of-unconditional-forgiveness/ )
But why is this such a big deal? What’s the problem with teaching that Jesus forgave people from the cross? Well for starters, 1) it isn’t true. We should always teach the truth, even if we don’t like it.
Also if Jesus forgave people from the Cross, then Jesus forgave people before they repented. Not all of those responsible for Jesus’ death had repented from their sin yet. Otherwise they would have stopped the execution, but they didn’t. They executed Jesus. If Jesus forgave them from the cross, then he forgave them before they repented. This would have been a violation of God’s character, because God only forgives after we repent (Acts 2:38 & 1 John 1:9). 2) If Jesus forgave people from the cross, then he was sinning, and he is not God. Thankfully Jesus did no such thing.
In addition, teaching that Jesus forgave people from the cross 3) makes people believe that they do not need to repent for sins committed out of ignorance. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” If Jesus is forgiving his executioners with this statement, then Jesus is forgiving them because they didn’t fully understand what they were doing. Therefore someone might falsely reason that because Jesus forgave his executioners when they sinned out of ignorance, Jesus forgives all sins committed in ignorance. This in turn opens up a whole host of additional problems.
If Jesus forgives all sins committed in ignorance, then determining the proper definition of “ignorance” is essential. You could argue that no one can fully understand God’s law unless you read all of God’s law. Therefore unless you have read the entire Bible, all of your sins have been committed in ignorance. And since all of your sins have been committed in ignorance, all of your sins have been forgiven. 4) This means that everyone who hasn’t read the Bible goes to Heaven. And everyone should stop reading the Bible so that everyone can go to Heaven. So Jesus allegedly forgiving people from the cross actually makes his death on the cross pointless. Why do we need a savior from sin if we can go to Heaven by simply not reading the Bible? Now of course this is all a bunch of nonsense, but that is what happens when you teach false doctrine.
In conclusion, Jesus did not forgive those responsible for his death from the cross. He prayed for them to be forgiven. And while this does not change the fact that Jesus desired to reconcile with his executioners, it does mean that some of the people responsible for Jesus’ death were not ever forgiven (because they did not ever repent). If we teach that Jesus forgave people from the cross, then we negate the power of the very cross from which he spoke. We must teach the truth: Jesus prayed for his executioners’ forgiveness. Those who later repented were forgiven. Those who failed to repent went to Hell.
For those of you who are more educated, you will remember that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus says that the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed because the city sinned against him by refusing to accept him as the Messiah. By crucifying Jesus, Jerusalem condemned itself to destruction. But if Jesus forgave all of his executioners from the cross, then why did the city of Jerusalem still get destroyed? It seems that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem itself proves that Jesus did not forgive people from the cross. The destruction of the city also proves that at least some people responsible for Jesus’ death never did repent, even 40 years after the execution.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus forgiving his executioners in Luke 23:34 may not even be part of the original text of the Gospel of Luke. Luke 23:34 may have been added later by someone other than Luke who did not want Jesus to seem less pious than Stephen, who prays for his executioners in Acts 7:60. I am normally not one to try and take verses out of the Bible, but Jesus’ prayer in Luke 23:34 is among the least likely passages in the entire New Testament to be part of the original manuscript. But please remember, I am not an expert in textual criticism, so you should not take my word as authoritative.