Did Jesus practice forgiveness?


Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 23:33

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Matthew 26:24

But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.


Critics allege that while Jesus taught that we should forgive others, he never actually forgave anyone who hurt him, but instead cursed his enemies.

Jesus forgave those who hurt him on numerous occasions. He explicitly forgave his crucifiers1 and implicitly forgave Peter for disowning him.2 Furthermore, if Jesus is in fact divine, he was forgiving those who had wronged him every time he forgave someone's sins, for sin is itself a wrong against God. He even stated that any sin against him (the Son of Man) would be forgiven.3

Jesus was not disobeying his own teaching when he rebuked the Pharisees and others who rejected him, but rather was following it: "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."4 Had the Pharisees and others truly repented and asked for forgiveness, Jesus would have forgiven them gladly. Since they persisted in refusing to listen to him, he rebuked them. While this may seem like harsh treatment at first, it was ultimately an act of love. If they were rebuked, they might reconsider their actions and be saved from punishment; but if Jesus were tolerant of their position and said nothing, he would have been harming them by seeing that they continued to err. (Incidentally, rebuking as an act of love is a concept found in Proverbs,5 so Jesus was following not only what he taught, but God's teaching to the Jews as well.)

What about Judas Iscariot? Was forgiveness not available to him? I believe that had Judas truly repented and asked Jesus for forgiveness rather than committing suicide, Jesus would have forgiven him. Judas was sorry, but his sorrow didn't move him to turn back to God.6 Jesus knew in advance that Judas wouldn't repent and would consequently face judgment, just as he knew Judas would betray him in the first place. Thus Jesus' statement about Judas referred to a terrible fate resulting from his own choices, not an inevitable fate that he couldn't avoid even if he had truly repented.


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Footnotes

1. Lk 23:34 (Back to article)
2. Jn 21:15-19 (Back to article)
3. Mt 12:31-32 (Back to article)
4. Lk 17:3 (Back to article)
5. Pr 3:11-12, 13:24, 25:12, 27:5 (Back to article)
6. Cf. 2 Cor 7:8-10 (Back to article)