Peter came up to him and said, “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I will forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven!Matthew 18:21-22 (LEB)
Understanding forgiveness is the real key to successful Christianity – because it is by entrusting judgment to God that we free ourselves from all anxieties associated with injustice where justice is outside our own power.
In this verse, Peter comes up to Jesus with a question that we might feel too embarrassed to ask, but nonetheless, it shows how much times have changed that Peter had heard of Jesus’ message of forgiveness and had thought that it would be generous to limit his forgiveness.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer, but whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also.Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:38-39 (LEB)
Even today, after the doctrines of Christianity have been discussed, ratified, challenged and reformed, this is a difficult concept to grasp, almost as if it were unnatural – and even though it is part of the most famous of Jesus’ teachings! It is one of those questions that even an experienced Evangelist might find themselves asking.
We see there is an everlasting need to remain childlike, in humility acknowledging that despite our own status, whatever we have achieved, we have a High Priest who is holy and who always lives to intercede for the transgressors. In fact, I don’t know of a more beautiful reality than this one thing alone that Christianity offers: The Holy Spirit is always able to speak in our presence, whether it be to our comfort in our affliction or to humble us by conviction.
Consequently, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Who will bring charges against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ is the one who died, and more than that, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.St. Paul, Romans 8:1,33-34 (LEB)
Somebody mentioned to me a few days ago that he doesn’t believe any form of government can produce a righteous society – except if it is a theocracy with Jesus as the king. Such a statement is robust because the only way we can all trust in each other is if we are doing right to each other – and the Christian literature is meant to teach us those precepts (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But we also need sound judgment whenever disagreements are found, in order to prove where the one has deviated from the precepts of God’s ways (Matthew 22:16).
Jesus says in Matthew 12:25 that the strength of a house, turned against itself, will exert its power in a self-destructive way – and that is exactly what we see in the world’s way of politics (Mark 10:42).
Christians need to be different than that, because if Christianity does not operate within God’s expectations, He is unable to rule in their favour. That is precisely why Jesus laid down His life: in order to take up His position as High Priest and shepherd for as long as it takes to complete His Messianic duty (Hebrews 7:23-24).
Who is the one who condemns?St. Paul, Romans 8:1,34 (LEB)
If you forgive people their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people, neither will your Father forgive your sins.Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:14-15 (LEB)
.. so it is Our Heavenly Father who condemns, and if Jesus Christ is the one who intercedes for us at the right hand of God, then who exactly is the one bringing charges against the elect?
The thief comes only so that he can steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.Jesus Christ, John 10:10 (LEB)
Jesus says it is a thief, and although He has come that we may have life in abundance, there is a thief who has come to steal, to kill and to destroy.
St. John wrote of that thief coming in the Christian era, naming the spirit as the antichrist. He said “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3).
Now, the most heartbreaking thing about Christianity is the unwillingness of Christians to admit that their brother is right. That is the whole underlying reason why this theocracy that God has intended, just isn’t happening. They say they believe in Jesus, but when He speaks to them, they do not see Him. Who are they looking at?
Everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before people, I also will deny him before my Father who is in heaven.Jesus Christ, Matthew 10:32-33
We have to wonder how a person can even consider themselves Christian at all in light of such powerful words of conviction. Jesus has said plainly “wherever there are two or three gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them” – and we see Christians arguing with each other all the time! .. how can this be?
If we or an angel from heaven should proclaim a gospel to you contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let him be accursed!St. Paul, Galatians 1:8 (LEB)
That’s a very strong statement for a Christian to make, isn’t it? .. a man who no doubt understood what Jesus had said in Matthew 5:43-44. But look, he immediately repeats it in verse 9:
As we said before, and now I say again, if anyone is proclaiming a gospel to you contrary to what you have received, let him be accursed!St. Paul, Galatians 1:9 (LEB)
.. and what else? He says he has said it before. So this is a very grim warning for anybody who thinks they have a right to call themselves Christian, and yet they are not preaching the same gospel as St. Paul preached. It should not be surprising to see that if they are preaching a contrary gospel, they are preaching the message of the thief, the antichrist.
Why are they accursed, we have to ask. What would make a person, of all people in the world, a person who calls themself a Christian, liable to be cursed in the name of Jesus by a man of such stature as Paul?
I am astonished that you are turning away so quickly from the one who called you by the grace of ChristSt. Paul, Galatians 1:6 (LEB)
They were turning away from the one who called them by the grace of Christ. That’s a significant reason for the curse upon the one who is luring them with a false gospel: Paul says that the gospel they had received in the first place was the one and only gospel leading to salvation! .. who is the one that he says they were turning away from? His letter is riddled with hints:
you know that because of an illness of the flesh I proclaimed the gospel to youSt. Paul, Galatians 4:13-15 (LEB, adapted)
the first timepreviously. And you did not despise or disdain what was a trial for you in my flesh, but you welcomed me like an angel of God, like Christ Jesus. So where is your blessing? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me!
Here, he is clearly emphasising that the gospel he brought to them the first time he visited them, was the gospel they had received (although it seems they had first heard it from other missionaries).
So there is a common spirit in the authentic Christian gospel, and he identifies that specifically in saying that they had received him as though they were receiving Christ Jesus Himself.
Therefore does the one who gives you the Spirit and who works miracles among you do so by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?St. Paul, Galatians 3:5 (LEB)
Pay close attention to the words in this expression here. St. Paul is not speaking about any human being, but God Himself. Look at this:
Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing from himself except what he sees the Father doing. For whatever that one does, these things also the Son does likewise.John 5:19 (LEB)
Here is the truth found in the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ: “Christ lives in me, and that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20 (LEB)).
This is why the false teachers are so severely accursed. Not only do they deny the Word of God who speaks in our midst, but they bewitch our brethren to follow in the path to misrepresent the gospel of salvation.
If that seems only to be consequential and unfortunate in your reckoning, you have fine sense of justice, because it truly wouldn’t come upon them if it weren’t for the temptation of the deceiver. But because it has happened, we are forced to respect the judgment of the heavenly father in subjecting them to the deceiver (1 Timothy 1:20). Afterall, they did chose to follow him didn’t they?
[sic: The coming of the lawless one] is in accordance with the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with every unrighteous deception against those who are perishing, in place of which they did not accept the love of the truth, so that they would be saved. And because of this, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth, but delighted in unrighteousness. St. Paul, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Right there is the key to understanding the reason that they did not receive a pardon: they did not believe the truth, but delighted in unrighteousness.
Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. The one who speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of the law. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?St. James, James 4:11-12
A rhetorical question with a fairly simple answer: the one who judges his brother is one who is not content with the Lord’s judgment. He is one who puts his own wrath in place of purity, that his voice is heard in place of the voice of our Lord.
Let us read on from Matthew 18:24, where Jesus tells a parable to St. Peter about a man who was pardoned by the king for a debt he owed to the king and that he was unable to pay. When he was free, he began to choke a man who was indebted to him, and despite the man begging for mercy, he did not relent. This is given to explain to St. Peter the reason why He had said we must forgive our brethren seven times seventy times. There is a significance in that number, much more important than defining a limit. Jesus has directed Peter to consider a reference to a scripture in Genesis:
Lamech said to his wives,Genesis 4:23-24
“Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice;
O wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech will be avenged seventy and seven times.
This man, Lamech, was expecting greater vengeance from God for having killed a man for a reason he perceived as far more just than Cain’s.
A close look at the text shows us that Lamech had been set upon by a young man who had meant to do harm to him. In fact he was injured and the young man had intended to harm him. We are talking about premeditated assault.
Lamech had reasoned that because God had pledged protection for Cain after he had murdered his righteous brother Abel, that for his having killed a young man who had attacked him with malice, he should deserve more than multiples of the same protection.
Jesus tells Peter a parable to make him think about where his question is coming from. He essentially tells Peter that he has no protection from God for thinking that he has a right to condemn his brother, because the debt that his brother owed to him was ultimately owed to God.
This story is meant to help us appreciate the real quality of salvation through forgiveness, that only Christianity can give. When we realise that our debt has been canceled and our life is free by that fact alone, then we realise that we are no worse to have debtors who refuse to pay their dues, because ultimately, any debt that is owed to us, we owe to the king who pardoned us.
If you consider the situation if the king had not pardoned him, then he would have had valid cause to demand his debtor pay the 100 denarii, because he was being threatened by the king with jail on account of it. This is what infuriated the king, because the king had been so generous to him and he had been so greedy as a result.
There’s an extra dimension in Christianity too, whereby Matthew 25:31-46 shows us that the king himself is bringing charges against those who do sin against us. In that way we have the responsibility to let go of the grievance and let God do the talking. It is difficult for Jesus to be seen in us when we are letting the flesh control our person. If we truly let go of the resentment of our hurting, then we are able to give others the pure love and service they need, and He can do His work in that spirit, to bring them back to salvation (James 5:19-20).
If we truly do love our brethren who have sinned against us, we will realise that it is far more serious that we deny such service to them, because it is already evident that their soul is ensnared by the thief. Love does no harm to a neighbour, therefore our duty to them is to forgive that Jesus may preach His divine message through the opportunity He has, as king, and as being in a position to demand the debt they owe to Him.
Somewhere in the scriptures, St. Paul has said “do not be like Cain, who murdered his brother because his deeds were righteous”, and here we see that Jesus is saying “do not be like Lamech who thought God should have pardoned him seventy times more”.