A Brick in the Valley

Didn’t Jesus pray, “Forgive them, Father. . .”?
June 9, 2007, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Forgiveness

Whenever it is suggested that forgiveness is conditional, some respond, “Well isn’t it true that Jesus forgave those who crucified Him?”  The reference is to Luke 23:34.

 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.  35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 

The short answer to that question is, “no,” Jesus did not forgive them.  If you think carefully about this passage, you will see that it is the case.  Jesus prayed that those who crucified him would be forgiven in the future, He did not thank God that they were already forgiven. If they were already forgiven, such a prayer would have been unnecessary. 

You may accuse me of splitting hairs.  But, before you do, notice that in exactly this same context, Jesus does grant forgiveness, and he grants it to the one who is repentant. 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43).

There were two criminal and one repented.  Jesus forgave him immediately, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He did not say, “I pray that you will be forgiven.”  He forgave him.

Stephen’s prayer for those who stoned him closely parallels the prayer of Jesus. 

And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60).”

I am not the first to observe that the Apostle Paul’s conversion was an answer to Stephen’s prayer.  Paul who stood nearby holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen, was later saved.  But, again, it could be pointed out that Stephen did not say to those stoning him, “I forgive you.”  Paul was not forgiven until he repented on the road to Damascus.  If Paul had lost his life in a chariot accident between Stephen’s death and his own conversion, he would not have gone to Heaven.


4 Comments so far
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I am not the first to observe that the Apostle Paul’s conversion was an answer to Stephen’s prayer.

Except that it seems to me that this interpretation goes much better with the attitude that forgiveness elicits repentance.

You’re suggesting that Stephen prayed this prayer with an unforgiving heart toward the men who stoned him? Why would an unforgiving person do such a thing?

Comment by PamBG

Biblical forgiveness is something that happens between people. For lack of a better picture, a relational handshake. I am saying that Stephen’s hand was outstretched but that there was no handshake until it was received.

Stephen had an “attitude of forgiveness” but forgiveness had not yet happened.

Comment by cdbrauns

So in fact Stephen never forgave, before he died? He was received into heaven, his own sins forgiven, despite having not forgiven those who sinned against him?

Comment by Peter Kirk

Good morning.

Ouch. I don’t like where this is going. Let me do my best.. . .

I believe that Stephen’s disposition towards them was one of love and grace. I believe that it was his hearts desire that they would be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. I do not believe that they were forgiven by their Heavenly Father unless they repented and believed.

Again, the principle of Matthew 6 is that we would be forgiven of our trespasses in the same manner that we extend forgiveness.

Comment by cdbrauns

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