Part 6: Christ’s Teachings on Forgiveness

Christ’s teachings spring from his Holy Spirit inspired Torah and the major and minor prophets.  That includes the teshuvah reconciliation formula.  For instance, the yearly Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, also known as Day of Atonement, was established by Christ in Leviticus 16:29.  It calls for a full day of fasting and atonement (to be forgiven or pardoned) to the Lord and other people and teshuvah repentance.  This was a yearly event ordered by Christ that was practiced hundreds of years prior to and during His earthly walk, and is still observed.  Any express call by Christ to end this observance like the teshuvah repentance practice would have been unthinkable.

Take for instance other examples:

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.” Matthew 6:9-13.

“Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts” Isn’t this a plea asking for forgiveness to be reconciled with the Lord and an example of teshuvah repentance?  An original Hebrew source indicates so:

12“and pardon us our debts, as we all so have pardoned those indebted to us.”  The Delitzsche Hebrew Gospels: A Hebrew/English Translation, ©2011 by Vine of David (vineofdavid.org), p. 21.

Look for other instances of teshuvah, or attempts to achieve it in the following commentaries:

Suppose you call on your creditor, and say to him, “I have nothing to pay with.” “Well,” says he, “I can issue a distress against you, and place you in prison and keep you there.” You still reply that you have nothing and he must do what he can [an act implying teshuvah; I throw myself to your sense of justice, punish me as you wish!]. Suppose he should then say, “I will forgive all.” You now stand amazed and say, “Can it be possible that you will give me that great debt of a thousand pounds?” He replies, “Yes, I will.” “But how am I to know it?” There is a bond: he takes it and crosses it all out and hands it back to you, and says, “There is a full discharge, I have blotted it all out.” So does the Lord deal with penitents.” Charles Hadden Spurgeon, Forgiveness, May 20, 1855.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, This is connected with the former; and forgive, intimating, that unless our sins be pardoned, we can have no comfort in life, or the supports of it. Our daily bread does but feed us as lambs for the slaughter, if our sins be not pardoned. It intimates, likewise, that we must pray for daily pardon, as duly as we pray for daily bread.  Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, courtesy of biblestudytools.com

Human Forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, receiving forgiveness from God is joined to forgiving others (Matt 6:12 ; Luke 11:4 ). Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant makes the point that human beings are obliged to forgive because God has forgiven them (Matt 18:23-35 ). God’s forgiveness is actually said to be conditional upon forgiving others (Matt 6:14 ; 18:35 ; Mark 11:25-26 ; Luke 6:37). Jesus says that there ought to be no limit on the number of times that one should forgive another so long as the offender repents and asks for forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22 ; Luke 17:3-4).  Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.  Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary.

Get Right With Your Neighbor First

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Matthew 5:23-25

This was a lesson that any Jew would recognize.  The Lord would not forgive a person of their sin against him if that same person had not been forgiven for sinning against another person.  This should dispose of any argument that Christ did not honor teshuvah based forgiveness, something his Jewish contemporaries recognized and held dear.

Traditional Judaism expresses this idea thusly in the Mishna: “Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] atones for a person’s transgressions against God, but it does not atone for his transgressions against his fellow-man until he appeases him” (Yoma 8:9). David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., © 1992, p.28.

“Jews were required to seek peace with their neighbors before reconciliation with God was possible.” Aaron M. Gale, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Oxford University Press, Inc., © 2011, p. 11.

Now, in geometry I learned that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. And that may be true in geometry but not necessarily true in your getting to God. Quite often in our approach of God, bringing to the altar our gift, the most direct approach to God is not a straight line but it is by an offended brother. Go first, be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.  Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, founder of Calvary Chapel worldwide fellowship, graduate of Life Bible College, author.

In John 8:1-11, He forgave the woman the Jewish elders claimed they caught in the act of adultery.  Since there is little written dialogue of anything she said we can safely assume that He (as only he could) sensed her shame and regret for whatever sin or sins she was guilty of, and with a heart that only Christ could read, sincerely wanted to be forgiven.  Then He performed his part of the reconciliation formula- He forgave her of her sin and told her to go and sin no more.

Luke 17:3, and Matthew 18:15, cite another instruction instance where Christ teaches reconciliation by way of an act of teshuvah.

“Take heed to yourselves.  If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  Luke 17:3.

If your brother sins, rebuke him: advice which goes against the grain of a self-centered and permissive society in which the standard is “I’m OK, you’re OK.”  David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., ©1992, p. 135.

No scholarly commentary fails to recognize that Christ wants us to always forgive when approached for it but the formula for forgiveness leading to reconciliation that He used always included the ingredient of teshuvah:

The Bible tells us that we should reprove, that we should rebuke. And if he repents forgive him. So your brother trespass against you, rebuke him, and say, “Hey, that isn’t right, you shouldn’t have done that.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Forgive me?” “Yes, I forgive you.” Should be just like that.  Now it doesn’t say anything if he doesn’t repent, does it?  Do you have to forgive him if he doesn’t repent? I don’t think so. You say, “Oop, oh wait a minute.” Oh, let me ask you a question. Does God forgive a man without repentance? I don’t know of a single instance where God forgave a person without repentance. In fact, Jesus said unless you repent you’re [going to] perish. So repentance is necessary for forgiveness. It’s an absolute necessary qualification for forgiveness. If I’m to be forgiven, I must repent. God will not forgive you if you don’t repent, therefore, God does not require that you forgive outside of repentance. But if they do repent, then you . . . it’s . . . the ball is in your park and you’ve got to forgive.  Chuck Smith, courtesy of blueletterbible.org.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him. John Darby’s Synopsis.

Forgive him, the injury committed against a man’s self; and pray to God for him, for an application of his pardoning grace and mercy to him; and comfort him with the hope of forgiveness with God, by the gracious promises and declarations of pardon made to such persons; drop all resentment and anger, and behave towards him with all sweetness of temper, and affability, and respect: and this is to be done immediately, as soon as a man repents: and so say the Jews.  John Gill’s Exposition.

You are commanded, upon his repentance, to forgive him, and to be perfectly reconciled to him: If he repent, forgive him; forget the injury, never think of it again, much less upbraid him with it. Though he do not repent, you must not therefore bear malice to him, nor meditate revenge; but, if he do[es] not at least say that he repents, you are not bound to be so free and familiar with him as you have been. If he [is] guilty of gross sin, to the offense of the Christian community he is a member of, let him be gravely and mildly reproved for his sin, and, upon his repentance, received into friendship and communion again. This the apostle calls forgiveness, 2 Co. 2:7 .3. You are to repeat this every time he repeats his trespass, v. 4. “If he could be supposed to be either so negligent, or so impudent, as to trespass against thee seven times in a day, and as often profess himself sorry for his fault, and promise not again to offend in like manner, continue to forgive him.’’  Matthew Henry’s Commentary.

In Luke 23:34, Christ calls on God the Father to forgive those who crucified him.  Now, a few passages later (in Luke 23:43) Christ assures one of the criminals executed with him that he would be in paradise that very day.  He read this man’s sincerity in wanting to reconcile himself to Christ (an act of teshuvah) and forgave him, and allowed him into paradise with him.

Then one of the criminals (who was crucified beside Him) “.. said to Jesus, “Lord remember me when You come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”   Luke 23: 42-43

How did he know that Jesus was a King? Because above the cross there was written the word, “The King of the Jews.” But this shows us that for salvation, faith has to come from God. For somehow his faith transcended even that of the disciples. And somehow, by God, he knew that though this Man was dying, He was yet to come into His kingdom. He had a faith greater than the disciples, because at this point the disciples had been wiped out; they had forsaken Him and they had fled, they had given up hope. “We had trusted in Him for the salvation of Israel, but He now is crucified. It’s all over.” But somehow, God planted faith in the heart of this man.   Chuck Smith, courtesy of blueletterbible.org.

Even on the cross, while unable to walk around to heal the lame, blind and the lepers Christ did not cry out something like: “Oh Pilate, Caiphas, King Herod, Temple and imperial soldiers, and all the ordinary people who betrayed, heckled or turned your backs on me, I forgive all of you!”  Instead, he cried out: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Luke 23:34 (NKJV).  But, as pointed out above he forgave the criminal who sincerely asked for it didn’t he?  But did God answer Christ’s prayer on the cross?

The answer is “Yes,” but we must understand that he forgave specifics sins, not all their sins.  On the ground of their unawareness of what they were actually doing, God forgave them the sin of judging [Christ] a criminal worthy of death and possibly even the sin of complicity in having him executed (this is arguable).  But he did not grant them salvation, forgiveness for all their sins and entrance into the Kingdom – unless they repented of all sins and came to genuine faith, as [Luke] urged at Acts 2:38, 3:19-20.  Support for this understanding comes from [Luke’s] speech at Acts 3:13-20, where he accuses his Jewish audience [to repent].  Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Jewish New Testament Publications © 1992) pp. 148-149.

Could it be that Christ knew such a declaration toward his killers would only fall on deaf ears?  I think it’s safe to assume so.  Then how will God the Father forgive Pilate, the high priests and every single person who called for our savior’s crucifixion?  Well, wouldn’t it be logical they had to ask for it, (exhibiting teshuvah) the same way he forgave you and me?  Didn’t we exhibit teshuvah prostrating ourselves, admitting we were sinners unworthy of forgiveness but accepting Him as our eternal father?  Don’t we ask for admission into his paradise after our physical death, then proceed to live totally different lives?  Why would it be different for Christ’s accusers and killers?

In Matthew Chapter 10, Christ commands his disciples to go out into the countryside to preach the good news, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons.  He also instructs them that “…whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.”  Matthew 10:14 (NKJV). No sign of something like:  “Oh, just forgive them then go on your way!”

In Matthew 23:2-3, Christ told the multitudes: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”  Take note that he didn’t tell them: “… for they say, and do not do, but I forgive them and you should too.”

In Luke 7:40-50, while visiting the home of Simon, a Pharisee, a woman’s sin was forgiven by the demonstration of her prostrating herself in an act of reconciliation by kissing his feet and using her hair to wash them with oil.  “Then he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you.’  Go in peace.”  Wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude the Christ knew every sin this woman committed to the point she was an outcast of the entire community (which included Simon)?  Yet she was redeemed because Christ sensed (by her conduct and her heart) her sincerity in wanting forgiveness.  In fact, her conduct of washing His feet was something that Simon didn’t even do himself.  There’s no indication that Christ told Simon, “Simon, you’re a lousy house guest!  You didn’t wash my feet when I arrived but I forgive you for it.”

All of Christ’s teaching about forgiveness has an origin in the first five books of the Old Testament, commonly referred to as the Torah, and the major and minor prophets.  All of these are known as the Tanakh.  He couldn’t throw out the teshuvah reconciliation formula without violating his own teachings.  Frankly, he wouldn’t have had the huge popular following of the common people either if he advocated what they had learned and observed for generations going all the way back to the time of Abraham.


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