They know not what they do - If ignorance do not excuse a crime, it at least diminishes the atrocity of it. However, these persons well knew that they were crucifying an innocent man; but they did not know that, by this act of theirs, they were bringing down on themselves and on their country the heaviest judgments of God. In the prayer, Father, forgive them! that word of prophecy was fulfilled, He made intercession for the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12.
Father, forgive them - This is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12; “He made intercession for the transgressors.” The prayer was offered for those who were guilty of putting him to death. It is not quite certain whether he referred to the “Jews” or “to the Roman soldiers.” Perhaps he referred to both. The Romans knew not what they did, as they were really ignorant that he was the Son of God, and as they were merely obeying the command of their rulers. The Jews knew, indeed, that he was “innocent,” and they had evidence, if they would have looked at it, that he was the Messiah; but they did not know what would be the effect of their guilt; they did not know what judgments and calamities they were bringing down upon their country. It may be added, also, that, though they had abundant evidence, if they would look at it, that he was the Messiah, and enough to leave then without excuse, yet they did not, “in fact,” believe that he was the Saviour promised by the prophets, and had not, “in fact,” any proper sense of his rank and dignity as “the Lord of glory.” If they had had, they would not have crucified him, as we cannot suppose that they would knowingly put to death their own Messiah, the hope of the nation, and him who had been so long promised to the fathers. See the notes at 1 Corinthians 2:8. We may learn from this prayer:
1.The duty of praying for our enemies, even when they are endeavoring most to injure us.
2.The thing for which we should pray for them is that “God” would pardon them and give them better minds.
3.The power and excellence of the Christian religion. No other religion “teaches” people to pray for the forgiveness of enemies; no other “disposes” them to do it. Men of the world seek for “revenge;” the Christian bears reproaches and persecutions with patience, and prays that God would pardon those who injure them, and save them from their sins.
4.The greatest sinners, through the intercession of Jesus, may obtain pardon. God heard him, and still hears him “always,” and there is no reason to doubt that many of his enemies and murderers obtained forgiveness and life. Compare Acts 2:37, Acts 2:42-43; Acts 6:7; Acts 14:1.
They know not what they do - It was done through ignorance, Acts 3:17. Paul says that, “had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” 1 Corinthians 2:8. Ignorance does not excuse altogether a crime if the ignorance be willful, but it diminishes its guilt. They “had” evidence; they “might” have learned his character; they “might” have known what they were doing, and they “might” be held answerable for all this. But Jesus here shows the compassion of his heart, and as they were “really” ignorant, whatever might have been the cause of their ignorance, he implores God to pardon them. He even urges it as a “reason” why they should be pardoned, that they were ignorant of what they were doing; and though people are often guilty for their ignorance, yet God often in compassion overlooks it, averts his anger, and grants them the blessings of pardon and life. So he forgave Paul, for he “did it in ignorance, in unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13. So God “winked” at the ignorance of the Gentiles, Acts 17:30. Yet this is no excuse, and no evidence of safety, for those who in our day contemptuously put away from them and their children the means of instruction.
Heaven beheld the Victim betrayed into the hands of the murderous mob, and with mockery and violence hurried from one tribunal to another. It heard the sneers of His persecutors because of His lowly birth. It heard the denial with cursing and swearing by one of His best-loved disciples. It saw the frenzied work of Satan, and his power over the hearts of men. Oh, fearful scene! the Saviour seized at midnight in Gethsemane, dragged to and fro from palace to judgment hall, arraigned twice before the priests, twice before the Sanhedrin, twice before Pilate, and once before Herod, mocked, scourged, condemned, and led out to be crucified, bearing the heavy burden of the cross, amid the wailing of the daughters of Jerusalem and the jeering of the rabble. DA 760.1
Heaven viewed with grief and amazement Christ hanging upon the cross, blood flowing from His wounded temples, and sweat tinged with blood standing upon His brow. From His hands and feet the blood fell, drop by drop, upon the rock drilled for the foot of the cross. The wounds made by the nails gaped as the weight of His body dragged upon His hands. His labored breath grew quick and deep, as His soul panted under the burden of the sins of the world. All heaven was filled with wonder when the prayer of Christ was offered in the midst of His terrible suffering,—“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. Yet there stood men, formed in the image of God, joining to crush out the life of His only-begotten Son. What a sight for the heavenly universe! DA 760.2
The principalities and powers of darkness were assembled around the cross, casting the hellish shadow of unbelief into the hearts of men. When the Lord created these beings to stand before His throne, they were beautiful and glorious. Their loveliness and holiness were in accordance with their exalted station. They were enriched with the wisdom of God, and girded with the panoply of heaven. They were Jehovah's ministers. But who could recognize in the fallen angels the glorious seraphim that once ministered in the heavenly courts? DA 760.3Read in context »
His sorrowing disciples follow Him at a distance, behind the murderous throng. He is nailed to the cross, and hangs suspended between the heavens and the earth. Their hearts are bursting with anguish as their beloved Teacher is suffering as a criminal. Close to the cross are the blind, bigoted, faithless priests and elders, taunting, mocking, and jeering: “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God.” 2T 208.1
Not one word did Jesus answer to all this. While the nails were being driven through His hands, and the sweat drops of agony were forced from His pores, from the pale, quivering lips of the innocent Sufferer a prayer of pardoning love was breathed for His murderers: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” All heaven was gazing with profound interest upon the scene. The glorious Redeemer of a lost world was suffering the penalty of man's transgression of the Father's law. He was about to ransom His people with His own blood. He was paying the just claims of God's holy law. This was the means through which an end was to be finally made of sin and Satan, and his host to be vanquished. 2T 208.2
Oh, was there ever suffering and sorrow like that endured by the dying Saviour! It was the sense of His Father's displeasure which made His cup so bitter. It was not bodily suffering which so quickly ended the life of Christ upon the cross. It was the crushing weight of the sins of the world, and a sense of His Father's wrath. The Father's glory and sustaining presence had left Him, and despair pressed its crushing weight of darkness upon Him and forced from His pale and quivering lips the anguished cry: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” 2T 209.1Read in context »
Love for perishing souls inspired Abraham's prayer. While he loathed the sins of that corrupt city, he desired that the sinners might be saved. His deep interest for Sodom shows the anxiety that we should feel for the impenitent. We should cherish hatred of sin, but pity and love for the sinner. All around us are souls going down to ruin as hopeless, as terrible, as that which befell Sodom. Every day the probation of some is closing. Every hour some are passing beyond the reach of mercy. And where are the voices of warning and entreaty to bid the sinner flee from this fearful doom? Where are the hands stretched out to draw him back from death? Where are those who with humility and persevering faith are pleading with God for him? PP 140.1
The spirit of Abraham was the spirit of Christ. The Son of God is Himself the great Intercessor in the sinner's behalf. He who has paid the price for its redemption knows the worth of the human soul. With an antagonism to evil such as can exist only in a nature spotlessly pure, Christ manifested toward the sinner a love which infinite goodness alone could conceive. In the agonies of the crucifixion, Himself burdened with the awful weight of the sins of the whole world, He prayed for His revilers and murderers, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. PP 140.2
Of Abraham it is written that “he was called the friend of God,” “the father of all them that believe.” James 2:23; Romans 4:11. The testimony of God concerning this faithful patriarch is, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” And again, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” It was a high honor to which Abraham was called, that of being the father of the people who for centuries were the guardians and preservers of the truth of God for the world—of that people through whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed in the advent of the promised Messiah. But He who called the patriarch judged him worthy. It is God that speaks. He who understands the thoughts afar off, and places the right estimate upon men, says, “I know him.” There would be on the part of Abraham no betraying of the truth for selfish purposes. He would keep the law and deal justly and righteously. And he would not only fear the Lord himself, but would cultivate religion in his home. He would instruct his family in righteousness. The law of God would be the rule in his household. PP 140.3Read in context »
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh. 1 Peter 3:18. LHU 233.1
The cross of Calvary appeals to us in power, affording a reason why we should love our Saviour, and why we should make Him first and last and best in everything. We should take our fitting place in humble penitence at the foot of the cross. Here, as we see our Saviour in agony, the Son of God dying, the just for the unjust, we may learn lessons of meekness and lowliness of mind. Behold Him who with one word could summon legions of angels to His assistance, a subject of jest and merriment, of reviling and hatred. He gives Himself a sacrifice for sin. When reviled, He threatens not; when falsely accused, He opens not His mouth. He prays on the cross for His murderers. He is dying for them; He is paying an infinite price for every one of them. He bears the penalty of man's sins without a murmur. And this uncomplaining victim is the Son of God. His throne is from everlasting, and His kingdom shall have no end. LHU 233.2Read in context »