How Often Shall I Forgive My Brother?

Peter, wishing to appear specially forgiving and benevolent, asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary, citing Amos 1:3-13 where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. By offering forgiveness more than double that of the Old Testament example, Peter perhaps expected extra commendation from the Lord. When Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered four hundred and ninety times, far beyond that which Peter was proposing, it must have stunned the disciples who were listening. Although they had been with Jesus for some time, they were still thinking in the limited terms of the law, rather than in the unlimited terms of grace.

By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven per day, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, a number that is, for all practical purposes, beyond counting. Christians with forgiving hearts not only do not limit the number of times they forgive; they continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as they do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiving spirit because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who provides the ability to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.

In Matthew 18:21-22, we read,

“Then came Peter to him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven [490 times].”

Read: Forgiveness Before Prayer (Part 1)

Jesus was reviling what we call the “law of blessed time”, which governs the patience, forgiveness, and Grace of God. Because of this law, God does not strike people dead immediately when they sin (even though we too often wish he would do so, particularly when we are the victims of injustice!).

Note the jubilee connection. The number 490 is a period of ten jubilees. This is the basic unit of measure in long-term bible prophecy. It surfaces only three times in the bible. Genesis 4:24, Matthew 18:22, and Daniel 9:24. Yet all of history is measured in jubilee and 490-year periods, because this is the basis of God’s prophetic calendar. The final creation jubilee is ultimately the goal of history and the subject of prophecy.

In terms of creation, it is the end of six days of a creation week-5880 years of chronology, but 6,000 years of “legal time”. In one sense, we have already entered into the first creation Sabbath millennium. The reason this jubilee is not yet full manifest will be discussed later as the Lord give us grace, but the scriptures speak plainly of this seeming discrepancy, telling how God will resolve it.

For now, however, let me just make the point that this is only the first Sabbath millennium of seven, leading to the great creation jubilee. All of creation presently groans in travail awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). The sons of God will manifest first, followed by the church, and finally all of creation will be freed into the glorious liberty of the children of God. But every man in his own order, as Paul says.

The creation itself, I believe, will be set free by the law of jubilee after 1000 jubilee have passed. This will be 50,000 years of legal time, but only 49,000 years of chronology (1000×49). This is the jubilee on the creation level, which is the highest and most far-reaching level it will affect all of creation.

Jesus’ parable of forgiveness 

When Jesus told Peter to forgive 490 times, he immediately told a parable to illustrate this principle (Matt. 18:21-35). This is a very important parable, since it provides the keys to how God has worked with whole nations and the church throughout history.

A certain king had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, a huge debt. When it came time to foreclose on the debt (after 490 days) the servant begged f0r mercy, and the king forgave the debt. However, that same servant then confronted his neighbour who owed him a small amount of money. The neighbour begged for mercy, but the man would not forgive the debt. Instead, he threw his neighbour into prison and sold his family into bondage to pay the debt.

When the king heard of this, he cancelled the mercy and Grace which he had previously extended to his servant. He threw him into prison until the full debt of 10,000 talents should be paid. The moral of the story is given in Matthew 18:35, “so likewise shall my heavenly father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses”.

Jesus was not really talking about monetary debt, but about “trespasses”, or sins. This is one of many New Testament passages where we see how sin is reckoned as debt. The servant with the huge debt represents a great sinner. Any time someone secures a loan, the debt note is dated, so that both parties know when it comes due. Since this parable is an illustration of the principle of “seventy times seven”, one might say that the debt had to be paid after 490 days.

A certain king was obligated to “forgive” the debt for that specified amount of time. We call it a “Grace period”. The grace period is the time allotted to repay the debt. It ends with the time of reckoning the accounts and possible foreclosure. But this is also a parable showing us how the principle of jubilee works in a very practical sense. In fact this teaches us a kingdom parable, showing us how God dealt with Israel and Jerusalem. I will explain this shortly in our next article as we proceed in our study. I hope you were blessed by what you read. Your kind comments motivate us, and please help to encourage someone by sharing. Shalom!


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