“Then, Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive Him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to Him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
After giving His followers a process for dealing with sin in the church, Peter comes to Jesus and asks Him another question. This question is about how much forgiveness Jesus expects from His followers. Peter wants to know if there is a limit or a standard for how many times, we are supposed to forgive our brothers and sisters when they sin against us, even if it is the same sin over and over. In Jewish culture the standard for forgiveness was three times. Peter ups this standard a bit by going up to seven times. Surely this is much more generous than three.
But, how does Jesus respond to Peter’s question?
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy- seven times.”
Some translations say it “seven times seventy times.”
Now, an important question to ask here is does Jesus mean this number literally? Is the limit actually seventy-seven times instead of only seven?
Well, to help us understand what He means here, Jesus gives us another parable.
This parable can be broken up into two parts. The first part flows into the second part to help illustrate Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question about forgiveness. Jesus starts by comparing God to a king who wants to collect the debt of His servants. Because of our sins and sinful nature, we owe God our lives. God has the right to demand we pay Him back for our sins against Him. In Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Even that if they sinned against Him, it would cost them their lives. The same is true for us.
So, how badly do we owe God? Are we able to pay off our debt to Him?
No. We can’t.
Jesus teaches here that the debt we owe God is beyond what we could ever hope to pay. To understand this we’ll look at some of the terms in the parable. Jesus says the first servant owes the king 10,000 talents.
For most of us this measurement of money doesn’t mean much. 10,000 is a big number, but since we don’t know what a talent is what Jesus teaches here may not register with most of us like it did for His followers at the time. The amount that 10,000 talents would equal is several million dollars. According to some, a talent was worth about 20 years of work, and so 10,000 talents would be about 200,000 years of work.* Obviously, that’s more than this servant will even live. According to Jesus we owe God that much. No matter how much we work we can never pay God back for our sins. Our debt is so much, it is impossible for us to get out of it.
The servant in Jesus’ parable knows how deep his debt is. He knows he will never be able to pay. So, he pleads with the king. And what happens?
The king, “out of pity,” forgives him and releases him from the debt. And in the same way, Jesus shows us, God will forgive our debt. He will release us from our sins.
Understanding this first part of the parable is important for understanding the next part, and even more for understanding Jesus’ original answer to Peter. Remember Jesus tells this parable in response to Peter’s question: How many times do I have to forgive my brothers and sisters?
Take some time to think about Jesus’ answer in light of what He says in this parable. Take some time to pray and think about how much God has forgiven us. Think about the amount of debt you owe God. Think about how you owe Him 200,00 years of work. When we turn and repent of our sin and beg Him for mercy, what is His response?
How does all of this help you understand Jesus’ original answer of seventy-seven times?
Also take some time as you think about these things to write down any words or phrases that stand out to you and why. Pray about those things. Take some time to really let the message of the gospel sink into your heart. Also think about how this parable fits into the three points we talked about earlier in this study (or any of the points you found on your own).
God takes sin seriously. And He is just in demanding payment for our sins.
But He is also compassionate and merciful. The story says the king was moved out of pity to forgive his servant.
This is one of the parts of the parable that really stuck out to me personally. A lot of the time when I think about God forgiving me I tend to forget that He wants to, that He moves out of compassion to forgive me. Usually, I have the temptation to think God only forgives me because He has to. Like, because Jesus died God forgives me, not Jesus died because God wanted to forgive me. Instead, I want to think of God forgiving me with a bit of an eye roll thrown in. He’s frustrated, He’s irritated, He doesn’t want to but He will because He has to.
But look at how Jesus describes the king’s reaction when his servant begs him. He forgives out of pity. He has compassion on His servants, He cares for His servants. He wants to forgive His children. He wants to go find His sheep. Yes, He is a God of justice. Yes, He is holy. But, He is also a God who is merciful. He is great in holiness and great in forgiveness as well.