In this blog I would like to look at the last saying of Christ on the cross that is recorded in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.
There is a dynamic tension in these words. The “them” that Jesus is talking about must be guilty in some way even though they didn’t know what they were doing. I agree with the conclusion of many commentators who say that those responsible for Jesus’ death should have known what they were doing when they crucified God’s Messiah, the beloved of God. And they were guilty for not knowing what they were doing.
John Piper writes that “they have so much evidence of the truth that the only explanation for the ignorance is (that) they didn’t want to see it.” In other words, they were calloused and resistant. They have a guilty blindness or a willful ignorance. They were guilty of a deliberate blindness for which they needed to be forgiven.
In both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, Pontius Pilate declared 3 times that he found no basis of any charges against Jesus. He was convinced of Christ’s innocence, yet he turned him over to the wishes of the crowd. Pilate was one of those who needed to be forgiven. It was political expedience that moved Pilate to go against his conscience.
History tells us that Pilate already was in trouble with the Roman Emperor. And so when the Jewish leaders shouted: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12), Pilate does an about face. He surrenders Christ to the Roman soldiers and the crowd’s wishes. Pilate was in need of forgiveness.
The crowds and the religious leaders had seen many miracles wrought by Jesus and many marveled at the authority of His teaching. They saw the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, in the flesh. They saw the most innocent and loving human being that ever walked the face of the earth. But they were consciously unaware of whom they were killing. For this, they were guilty and in need of forgiveness.
Jesus Utters A Christian Prayer In The Most Holy Place
The wonder of all wonders is that Jesus prays for them, that His heavenly Father would open their eyes and help them to see their sin. He wants them to turn to Him in faith and repentance and not in vengeance. This is truly a Christian prayer. It declares guilt but also offers forgiveness at the same time.
Jesus, as both our High Priest and Sacrifice, pronounces and procures our forgiveness from the cross. In a very real way, Jesus is in the Holy of Holies in God’s Temple, as He hangs on the cross. Just as the High Priest would go into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and offer various animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Covenant, so Jesus entered the very presence of God with His sinless blood shed on the cross. He atoned for the guilt of our sins.
The “Them” Includes Us
Yes, the the “them” in need of forgiveness in Luke 23:34 includes you and I. In Isaiah 53 we have the greatest prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death on our behalf. In Isaiah 53:5 we read these words: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In a spiritual sense, we were at the foot of the cross on Golgatha Hill as Jesus was crucified.
We were there, along with the Roman soldiers and Pilate, along with the Jewish leaders and crowd. And Jesus pronounces us guilty, but He also pronounces us forgiven, as we turn to Him in faith. This is Gospel indeed.
I heard a preacher say that “We won’t perceive the power of the cross until we realize that we’re part of the “them” “. The forgiveness and the newness of life that comes through the cross of Jesus is available to us when we realize that Jesus’ words “Forgive them” also includes “Forgive us”.
The 7 Last Words of Christ are meant to be the 7 Lasting Words of Christ. They apply to us. Let us draw near to the crucified and risen Savior and to His cross-shaped words. Let us take them to heart and into our hearts. Let us dwell on them and put them into practise. Let them remake us into the image of Christ, the New Adam.
QOTD: Have you taken to heart and into your heart the 7 Last(ing) Words of Christ on the cross?