“Then came Peter . . .” (v. 21). Peter came to Jesus with a question concerning the relationship of individuals one to another in the kingdom of heaven. Peter asked how many times that he should forgive one who sinned against him and asked if seven would be a proper number. Peter’s question was very appropriate as Jesus had earlier informed Peter that he would be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (16:18-19).
Jesus answered not seven times but seventy times seven. The number speaks for itself. Peter was not to limit forgiveness. The Lord intends the holders of the keys to the kingdom of heaven to freely forgive those who sin against them.
In the verses that follow, Jesus elaborates upon forgiveness in the kingdom of heaven with a parable. In the parable, a king forgives a servant who is in debt to the tune of ten thousand talents. How much is ten thousand talents? It is 83 times more than the 120 talents which the queen of Sheba presented to King Solomon. It is a debt too great for anyone to repay.
The servant asked for more time to repay the debt. The king did not grant more time; instead, the king totally erased the entire debt. In spite of receiving forgiveness of his indebtedness, things did not go well for the servant. The servant revealed that he was not grateful in that he refused to forgive a fellow servant of a small debt. When informed of what the ungrateful servant did, the king delivered ungrateful servant to be tormented until he should pay all that was due.
All men, save Jesus, should relate to the ungrateful servant in that we have sinned against God and have amassed a debt which we cannot pay. While we can relate to the ungrateful servant in respect to his need, we most certainly are not to do as that servant did.
In verse 35, Jesus told His listeners that failure to forgive their brothers would result in God doing to them as the king did to the ungrateful servant.
The king required the ungrateful servant to be tormented until he paid the entire debt — a debt too great for any man to pay. The parable ends with the ungrateful servant being delivered to tormentors forever. What of the initial forgiveness which the servant received? How is it that his debt was forgiven yet not forgiven? The debt was conditional.
Likewise, the forgiveness of our sins is contingent upon our forgiving others. Jesus instructed us to pray, asking, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). The manner in which we are to pray requires us to ask for conditional forgiveness.
If conditional forgiveness does not take away the salvation of believers (and it does not), how can the loss of forgiveness of the ungrateful servant be explained? In five words: he was not a believer. The parable illustrates the ungrateful servant’s unbelief by his actions. In verse 26, the indebted servant fell down and worshipped the king and asked for more time to pay that which he owed. At no point, did the servant ask the king to forgive part or all of his debt. When the king forgave his debt, he refused to believe that he was forgiven. The ungrateful servant responded to his release from debt by demanding payment of a relatively small debt owed to him by a fellow servant. This is the act of one who believes that he has been given more time to pay, the act of one who is attempting to pay a personal debt. It is not the act of one who believes that his debt is forgiven.
The servant fell down and worshipped the king, but he did not know the king. He could not believe the generous forgiving nature of the king.
Believers know the king. Believers know that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Believers know that God is love. Believers know that we are to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Believers know both the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God. Believers know “That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (I Jn. 3:23). The ungrateful servant did not know the king. The ungrateful servant did not believe the king.
We know to do good, but often fail to do so. We also know that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (I Jn. 1:9). He is just and His justice requires us to forgive those who trespass against us. When we do not do as He has said, we deny Him and serve a different king, an unforgiving king. Let us serve the King of Kings who is faithful and just to forgive us when we repent of our evil ways.