Jesus’ Right to Forgive
One of the more controversial questions today is who actually crucified Jesus. Some say the Romans did it, and others say that the Jewish leaders did it. John’s gospel answers this question, for we read in John 19:15-18,
15 They therefore cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he [Pilate] delivered Him to them [the chief priests] to be crucified. 17 THEY took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There THEY crucified Him and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.
It is clear from this wording that the chief priests crucified Jesus. Did they actually wield the hammer? Probably not, for it is not likely that they would soil their hands with such labor. However, it was done by soldiers who were acting under their authority. If any Roman soldiers were present, they were there to keep order, not to do the crucifying. Pilate had already washed his hands of the whole affair, so it is highly unlikely that he would have told his soldiers to have anything to do with this execution.
The crucifixion was the first act of persecution that would continue until the destruction of Jerusalem, as we see from the book of Acts. When they lost power and could no longer persecute Christians, the Roman government—for its own reasons—continued the persecution. In later centuries, after Rome became a Christian empire, the situation was reversed, and the Church then used John’s account to justify their persecution of the Jews.
The Blame Game
When men categorize others as “enemies,” all dialog is drowned out in the din of battle. We would expect such attitudes from carnal men and religions, but God holds the Church to a higher standard, simply because they claimed to believe and follow the words of Jesus and leading of the Spirit.
Paul says that God loved us and reconciled us “while we were enemies” (Rom. 5:10). Our message is not that God is the enemy of sinners, but that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). Paul recognized that men may believe that God views sinners as His enemies, but in actuality, men consider God to be their enemy.
Further, most men do not know or understand the love of God. Because they think God still treats unbelievers as enemies, they think men are justified in treating unbelievers in the same way. The obvious solution is for men to have a revelation of the love of God.
How, then, will we know when we have the love of Christ in our hearts? It is when we have no more enemies. Though we cannot escape other people treating us like enemies, we can certainly stop treating others as enemies—even if they started it.
The tragedy is that the Church manifested the spirit of King Saul, who was the Old Testament type of the Pentecostal Kingdom. Saul persecuted witches, not realizing that he himself was in witchcraft (1 Sam. 15:23; 28:7 KJV). He was also zealous in persecuting the Gibeonites, thinking that he was doing God’s work (2 Sam. 21:1, 2), when in fact he was in violation of the law of God.
The Saul-Church persecuted the Jews under the same mindset, thinking they were doing service to God, even as the Jews had persecuted the Christians at the first. If such conflict is to cease, one cannot expect carnally-minded religious people to stop first. He who stops first is the one who is pleasing to God. He who has the love of God is the one who pleases God. He who takes up the reconciliation message is the true ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:26).
The Law of Sacrifice
It is well known that under the Old Covenant the sons of Aaron were the ones called to offer the sacrifices to God (Lev. 1:8). Because the law is prophetic, it foretold who would be the ones who would offer up the ultimate Sacrifice to God. For this reason it is important to recognize that the priests in Jerusalem crucified Jesus. The Romans were not called to do this, nor did the law prophesy this of them.
Those who insist that the Romans crucified Jesus argue their case without an understanding of the divine law, and their motive is to shift blame from the Jews to the Romans. But our motive is to seek out the truth of Scripture, looking beyond the carnal motives of the chief priests so that we may see the divine plan as prophesied in the law.
A large part of the controversy is caused when men see Christ’s crucifixion as a simple case of murder, rather than as a Sacrifice for the sin of the world. Hence, some want to blame the Jews for murder, while others want to shift the blame to the Romans. In either case, it is a blame game.
Blaming the Romans may be politically correct at the present time, but it is never helpful to issue false accusations, even if the old Roman Empire is now safely dead and cannot defend itself.
The law of sacrifice is given in Lev. 17:3-5,
3 Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp [as a sacrifice], 4 and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they were sacrificing in the open field, that they may bring them in to the Lord, at the doorway of the tent of meeting to the priest, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord.
From this we see that any sacrifice had to be brought to the tabernacle (later, the temple) so that the blood of the sacrifice could be applied lawfully to the place where God had chosen to place His name. Lev. 17:6 gives these instructions,
6 And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the Lord at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and offer up the fat in smoke as a soothing aroma to the Lord.
When Jesus was “slaughtered” outside the city, the priests were merely following the lawful instructions for sacrifice. However, in order to complete the lawful process, His blood had to be brought to the temple and applied to the place where God had placed His name. In earlier times God’s name had been placed first in Shiloh and then in the temple in Jerusalem. But finally, as Rev. 22:4 says, “His name shall be on their foreheads.” So thereafter we see that Christ’s blood had to be applied to the temple which is our body (1 Cor. 3:16) and specifically upon the altars of our hearts (Heb. 10:22).
Apart from this proper application of the blood of the ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus’ crucifixion was reckoned as a mere murder, and “bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man.” The chief priests fulfilled all of the law’s prophecies, but they failed to recognize His death as a sacrifice for sin, and so they did not apply the blood of Christ by faith to the altar of their hearts.
For this reason, Christians ought not to blame anyone for crucifying Christ, but rather to admonish all men to apply His blood in the lawful manner, so that they might be justified by faith in His blood.
When Jesus was put on the cross, His first words are recorded in Luke 23:34,
34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among them.
Some have reversed this on the grounds that the word order in the Greek reads, “Father-forgive-them-not-for-they-know-what-they-are-doing.” Such an interpretation would make Jesus ask His Father NOT to forgive them, because they knew what they were doing. While some may think that such an interpretation fits the situation, no translator agrees with them. The order of words is often different in various languages, and we cannot interpret Greek according to the rules of grammar that apply to other languages.
The law upholds the rights of both lawbreakers and their victims. The law upholds the victim’s right to be compensated for his losses through double restitution, and it upholds the lawbreaker’s right not to be overcharged or overly punished for his sin.
Once the law has rendered its decision, its job is finished. The law itself cannot forgive sin without violating the victim’s rights, but at the same time the law upholds the right of the victim to forgive any portion of the debt that the lawbreaker owes him. Victims have rights that even the law itself does not possess.
So when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” He was exercising His right as the ultimate victim. Though He was innocent of sin, He had taken upon Himself the blame for the sin of the world. As a victim of all sin, He had the right to forgive the sin of the world. Those who teach that God has no power or lawful right to forgive sinners unless they express faith in Christ are mistaken. When Jesus spoke words of forgiveness on the cross, He was not engaging in wishful thinking. He was exercising His divine right. So 1 John 2:2 says,
2 and He Himself is the propitiation [expiation] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Yet because Jesus’ rights were discretionary and not mandatory, salvation does not come to all at once, but is applicable only when they fulfill the law of sacrifice and apply His blood to their temples. In other words, no man is saved apart from faith.
However, the promise of God through the New Covenant is to bring all men to that point of faith—if not in this life time, then certainly in the next. Once God made a vow or oath to save all men, He became responsible to fulfill that vow. In the end, all men will be saved (1 Tim. 4:10), because the promises of God cannot fail. Isaiah 45:23 says “that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance,” including the knees of the chief priests who crucified Jesus and the tongues of the mockers. Their confession of faith will not go unrewarded, for this confession, Paul says, will be “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).
This act of forgiveness was not without legal backing. Jesus’ words of forgiveness on the cross were spoken with power and backed by the full force of the law of God. Further, His right to forgive fell within the parameters of His Father’s will and plan, for it was consistent with God’s promises, vows, and oaths which He had made throughout history.
Looking at it from another legal perspective, the law of redemption in Lev. 25:48, 49 gave kinsmen redeemers the right of redemption. The slavemaster has no right to refuse a kinsman redeemer who has invoked his right of redemption. In fact, even the slave himself has no right to choose his own slavemaster, for he is a mere slave. When he is purchased by the kinsman redeemer, he is legally bound to serve his new master (Lev. 25:53).
The present age is the time when God has chosen to reveal Himself to a few. These are given the gift of faith in their life time. But in the age to come following the Great White Throne judgment, all sinners will come under the judgment of the law (called the “lake of fire”) and will have no choice but to learn righteousness through the example of those believers whose authority is backed by the full force of the law.
In this way, Christ’s forgiveness and redemption that was accomplished at the cross will be fully implemented and enforced until the law is written on every heart and all men do the will of God gladly. In this way Isaiah 26:9 will be fulfilled, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”