The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus- Father, forgive them

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The last words of a dying person can be very revealing, and during this Passover season, many ministers seek to give a biblical insight on the seven last sayings of Jesus.

Today, we look at the first of these statements which can be found in Luke 23:33-34

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

In Matt 18 Peter asked Jesus a very profound question. He asked Jesus, how often he should forgive my brother who sinned against him. Peter thought he was being generous when he asked “Seven times”?

Jesus’ response was not what Peter expected to hear. Jesus’ answer of seventy times seven meant there should be no limit to the number of times we forgive. Then, in Matthew 5:44 Jesus taught, “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”.

As He hung nailed to the cross that fateful day over 2000 years ago, Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, with blood flowing from the wound caused by the crown of thorns he wore on his head, looked down at the scene below Him.  He would have seen the soldiers gambling for His garment, He would have heard the mocking voices of the religious community and the people jeering him, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God”. These words echoed the words of the Devil at the start of Jesus’ ministry, “If thou be the son of God…”

Nailed to that Roman cross, there was no doubt in Jesus’ mind regarding His identity and the reason He had to suffer.  Hanging from the cross, He looked to His Father in heaven, the One who was well pleased with Him.  Jesus turned to the Father to intercede for those who persecuted Him, seeking forgiveness for them, and not them only but for all mankind. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. I suppose one could say that Jesus was practicing what He preached.

The Greek text, we understand, implies that Jesus prayed these words several times.  They say that as the centurion tied his arms to the cross beam, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them”.  As they drove the nails through his palm, He prayed, “Father forgive them”, as they dropped the cross to which He was nailed into the ground, and as the soldiers parted His garment and cast lots, fulfilling Psalm 22:18, He prayed, “Father forgive them”.

The book of Hebrew refers to Jesus  as the High Priest, and in Hebrews 4:14 He is called the Great High Priest. According to the law, the Jewish High Priest entered the Most Holy Place once per year, on the Day of Atonement. There he burned incense and placed the blood of the sacrifice on the Ark of the Covenant.  This was an annual act of intercession on the part of the High Priest for himself and the people, see Hebrews 9:7.  As His blood ran down the wooden cross, Jesus the Great High Priest interceded for the people.

Unlike the Jewish High Priest however, Jesus did not need to say Father forgive me.  He did not need to atone for His sin, because He had no sin. (Hebrews 9:26-27). Jesus came to forgive sins and bring eternal reconciliation between the Father and His people.  To achieve this, He suffered a cruel, humiliating death on a Roman cross.

“Father, forgive them.” As Jesus interceded for the people, He was fulfilling the words of the prophet in Isaiah 53:12 KJV which stated that “…..He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors”.

“Your sins are forgiven you.” were words uttered by Jesus during His time of ministry.  However, here, nailed to a wooden cross, He whispers, “Father, forgive them!” 1 Timothy 2:5 confirms that there is only “one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Job in chapter 9:33 desired an arbitrator between himself and God. Jesus is that Arbitrator, fulfilling the desire of the Father who does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life. Jesus’ sacrifice stood as a testimony of God’s grace.

Interestingly, our legal system dictates, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Saying that you did not know, and broke the law out of ignorance is not a good enough defense in our earthly court of law.  Yet Jesus, in defending man, stated, “They know not what they do”. Although ignorance is no excuse, Jesus was still pleading with the Father to forgive them.  The Apostle Peter was to later repeat this on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 3:17 when he told the Jewish people that it was through ignorance that they killed the son of God.

Such a defense would cause an earthly judge to question the intelligence of the defense attorney.  However, God honored the prayer of man’s Arbitrator. For on that day, judgement did not fall on the people. As he died, a vile sinner, crucified with Jesus, entered paradise, and let us not forget the soldier standing at the foot of the cross who had to acknowledge that “truly this was the Son of God”. Later 3000 souls were added to the church.  What a testimony.  

The story of the cross is among other things, the story of forgiveness of sins.  Jesus could have prayed otherwise, but He did not.  The purpose of the cross was to bring salvation to a lost world, and Jesus paid the ultimate price.  As his hour approached Jesus the great high priest, our arbitrator, The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world interceded on behalf of all flesh, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

Prayer: Thank You for the cross Lord and for the price You paid. May our souls always stay connected to you as You are connected to the Father. May our hearts join in total love for You and the people Jesus died for. Amen

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