Last Words: “Father, Forgive Them, Because They Do Not Know What They Are Doing.”
Editor’s Note: Today on the blog we begin a special Easter series: “Last Words.” Join us each weekday leading up to Resurrection Sunday as we reflect on one of Jesus’ statements from the cross in each post. We pray they’ll help you draw near to the One who paid so great a price to purchase your freedom. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
If you could control the moment you died, what would your last words be? As Jesus hung on the cross, He spoke seven times. The first of His final words was a prayer. But not for Himself.
“Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Really? They didn’t know what they were doing?
The Jewish leaders plotted Jesus’ death for months. They paid Judas to betray Him. They held a mock trial in the middle of the night.
The crowd cried out for His crucifixion. They even chose a murderer to be set free rather than Jesus, the One who had healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed thousands.
Governor Pilate knew Jesus was only guilty of making the Jewish leaders mad. He tried to set Jesus free, but in the end, he knowingly gave the order for Jesus’ death.
The Roman soldiers spit on Jesus, beat Him, jammed a crown of thorns onto His head, and mocked Him. As they led Him to Calvary, they watched Him stumble, battered and bleeding. When they drove the nails through His hands and feet, the soldiers knew exactly what they were doing. Christ’s agony was real.
Yet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Blind, Deaf, and Dead
Jesus’ executioners didn’t know what they were doing because sin and “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
The Jewish leaders who masterminded Jesus’ murder, the crowd who cried out for His crucifixion, Governor Pilate who gave the order for His death, and the Roman guards who carried out the vilest evil in history—sin blinded them all to the truth. None had spiritual eyes to see.
If they had truly understood who Jesus was and what they were doing to Him—God’s Son, their promised Messiah—they would have never done such evil. The horror of such actions would have overwhelmed them. Instead, they would have fallen down before Jesus and worshiped Him.
Apart from Christ, we are all spiritually blind—and spiritually deaf.
In the rebellion of our sin, we are no different than the people in the days of Ezekiel, Jesus, and Paul, who have ears but do not hear (Ezek. 12:2; Matt. 13:13; Acts 28:27). In our sinful state, we don’t hear, see, or respond to the truth.
Unless God opens our eyes to see Jesus and our sin, we will stay as blind and deaf as the dead, because that’s exactly what we are—dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).
What hope did those who crucified Jesus have to truly understand what they were doing when they were spiritually blind, deaf, and dead? What hope does anyone have? Dead people can’t do anything.
This is why Jesus came to earth. And why His first recorded words on the cross are so powerful and comforting. Christ is our Mediator.
Jesus’ first concern on the cross was to pray, not only for those who ordered His death and drove the nails through His hands and feet, but also for us. “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
Who Will Rescue Us?
Not long after Jesus died and rose again, a Pharisee named Saul sought to destroy Jesus’ followers—His church. Saul was zealous for God and would stop at nothing to destroy any who dared to follow that blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9).
On the road to Damascus to arrest more Christians, Saul met the Jesus he had heard so much about. And Jesus struck him blind.
For three days, Saul stumbled in the dark with his eyes wide open. Then Christ’s servant, Ananias, placed his hands on Saul and something like scales fell from his eyes. The Holy Spirit brought Saul out of spiritual death into life and gave him eyes to see and ears to hear the truth and believe. Christ transformed Saul into the apostle Paul.
Years later, Paul wrote these words about the terror of indwelling sin in Christians: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am serving the law of God, but with my flesh, the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24–25).
Sin’s Power is Broken
Through the cross, Christ broke sin’s power, but too often we still fail to hear, see, or respond to the truth we know. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we can overcome sin. We can see, hear, and walk in holiness, peace, and joy.
We can also walk in forgiveness for those who have sinned against us. In Christ, we have received both forgiveness for our sin and the power to forgive others. How can we not pray for those who sin against us as Jesus prayed for us?
If Christ can forgive those who tortured and crucified Him, how much more should we forgive those who hurt us or our loved ones?
Let us forgive like Christ forgave them.
If Christ can forgive us while we were still sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:8–10), how much more must we forgive those who sin against us or our loved ones?
Let us forgive like Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).
The Witness of the Centurion
When Jesus breathed His last and gave up His spirit, one of his executioners, a Roman centurion, watched in shock. He was no stranger to crucifixions. They were part of his job. He witnessed how death comes slowly on a cross. As the criminals’ arms and legs could no longer hold them, the weight of their bodies crushed the breath from their lungs until they suffocated.
But not Jesus.
Jesus spoke in a loud voice only seconds before He died. The Roman centurion heard Him. His crucifixion was unlike any other. As a citizen of a nation who worshiped many gods and goddesses, he could have imagined it was as if Jesus had the strength of the gods in Him. But not this centurion. He recognized a man with the strength of one God—the one true God.
When the centurion and the others with him saw the way Jesus died, he spoke the first recorded words after Jesus’ death. “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
I don’t know if God had caused the scales to fall from the centurion’s eyes and given him spiritual life to understand the truth. To see and hear the Lord as He hung, scorned on a cursed tree for his sins, crucified perhaps by his own hands. Whatever the centurion’s spiritual condition was, the man spoke truth.
I wonder if he also heard Jesus’ first words on the cross, his prayer for forgiveness of those who crucified Him. Christ’s prayer for him.
Did the prayer ring in his ears and drive him to repentance and worship? Did God’s forgiveness now comfort his tormented soul?
What about you? Does Christ’s prayer ring in your ears and comfort you? Does it compel you to forgive your enemies? Or does His prayer torment you because you’re holding onto unforgiveness?
What sins torment you today? Your own? Someone else’s against you? Or against your loved one? Know this: we have all stood where that centurion stood because it was our sins, too, that nailed Christ to that tree.
Will we let sin continue to rule us? Will we let our pride and unforgiveness destroy us? What wretched people we are! Who will rescue us from this body of death?
If we have trusted in Christ, we have resurrection power to forgive like He did. Sinners may not know what they’re doing, but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we know. And we know the One who has set us free from sin and its power. Truly, this Man is the Son of God!
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