Forgiveness During the Earthly Ministry of Jesus Christ
By: Scott Morton
There are many people who look at the time period of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as a unique time period compared to what was just looked at. The common teaching is when Jesus Christ came to earth, He instituted something different and the things of the law were done away with. We will see as we look at these books that Jesus Christ did not do away with the law and had some things to say about forgiveness that in fact intensified what had previously been recorded in Scripture.
Jesus Christ talked specifically about the law. In this passage, we see what His statement about the law is:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
He states He was not here to destroy the law. The purpose of the earthly ministry was to fulfill what was recorded in the law and the prophets. This information was given to Israel in order to meet the plan of God related to the reconciliation of the earth. The law and the prophets recorded the information for Israel to follow in order to be in the plan of God and to be following His Word.
The fulfillment of this will come about with the establishment of the kingdom on earth. This is the promise given to Israel and is what they have been looking for ever since the Abrahamic Covenant had been put in place. Israel knew they were the chosen people of God and this is what they were to follow.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus Christ goes on to discuss the teaching of the law. The law was a requirement for Israel. This was to be taught to every believer at this time. It was not optional and there was no picking and choosing of pieces of the law to follow. The entire law (all 600-900 pieces, depending on who is doing the breaking down of the commandments) were to be followed and taught.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:  But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Jesus Christ magnified what the law said. The law had taught and individual should not commit and act of adultery (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18). This means an individual should not perform the action. Jesus Christ takes it a step further and looks at what is inside the individual. The lust in the heart of the individual shows there is a mindset related to the temptation there. He says this person has already committed the action if they have the thought of it. This would make them just as guilty as if they had committed the action. How many people today would be guilty for the thoughts they have, even if they do not commit the actions? Thank God we live in the Age of Grace, where this is no longer an issue for us (see next issue for more details on this).
It is not just this one issue that Jesus Christ is stating this about. In this chapter He uses several examples to show how this applies. Each time the result is the same. The thoughts behind the action are condemned just as the actions are as well.
This is important to think about as you consider the discussions between Jesus Christ and the Pharisees. They considered themselves to be doing the right things in God's eyes. In fact, they have added some things to the law in order to prove they were more righteous, as they were following after these traditions as well. Jesus Christ condemns their actions, as He states the traditions they are following are making the Word of God null and void. This is because their traditions were starting to take place of the Word of God and they felt this was more important to follow (Mark 7:1-13). This is a sad testimony of individuals who thought they had an understanding of God's Word. This is something we can say about people in our day as well, as they start to think they can follow the traditions of their denomination and not follow the Word of God.
The Pharisees thought they were good because of their performance. Jesus Christ deals with this in this passage:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,  Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.  For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.  But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,  And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,  And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.  But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.  And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.  But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.  But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.  Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?  And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?  Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.  And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.  And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.  Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.  Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
The description of the Pharisees does not leave any room for doubt as to how Jesus Christ was viewing them. They thought they were righteous individuals. This was because they were "following the law",plus they were doing all of the things they had added to the law in order to appear to be more righteous than others (see Mark 7 for details). The problem was with what was going on inside of them. They did not have a proper heart attitude to be able to describe themselves as being followers of God, because they were not looking for the things of God. They were attempting to get the blessings of man, which led to them doing the things that are described of them. Since they did not have the proper attitude, Jesus Christ is stating they are making themselves like beautiful sepulchers or caskets. They are beautiful on the outside (appear to be righteous in the eyes of man), but are full of decay on the inside (the attitude they have towards God).
Jesus Christ speaks to His disciples and describes the Pharisees. This is being done as a warning both to the disciples and to the Pharisees. He is warning the disciples so they will not follow the Pharisees, who do not have an understanding of how they were to function or what God's Word says. He is also giving a warning to the Pharisees, as this would be one of the last times they would be warned about needing to get right with God by doing what He is asking them to do.
There is one other passage that deals with how forgiveness would have been viewed during the earthly ministry of Christ. This is shown through a passage we commonly refer to as the Lord�s Prayer:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Here is a teaching on forgiveness. This is given during the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus Christ is teaching some principles about living in the kingdom that would be coming. This same thought process is also discussed in Mark 11: 25-26. The issue of forgiveness is an important thing brought up and is often forgotten about in this passage.
The forgiveness being taught here is a conditional forgiveness. The only way an individual in this program would be able to receive forgiveness would be to forgive other people. The second a person is unable to do this, God the Father would not forgive them of their trespasses. Think for a second about all the times you feel someone has done something wrong to you. Have you really forgiven them for anything they have done? Chances are the answer to this is no. If that is the case, and you were living under this program, you would not have received the forgiveness of God, as this passage states you are not qualified to receive this forgiveness. It is a truly blessed thing to note we are living in the dispensation of grace and this passage does not apply to the members of the Body of Christ (forgiveness during this dispensation will be discussed in our next article).
The Apostle Peter knew how important this was. He asks a question about this issue and receives an answer:
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.  Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.  The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.  But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?  And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
The answer received would not be a pleasant one to hear for many people today. Most people would want to be able to state they can just say �I forgive you� and not really mean it. However, Jesus Christ is teaching here an attitude of continual forgiveness. There is no stop to the forgiveness a person should demonstrate, just as there is no stop to the forgiveness demonstrated by God for a person's transgressions if they are following the Word of God to them during their dispensation.
We have seen how Jesus Christ taught forgiveness during His earthly ministry. He taught an individual still had to keep the law, they had to forgive others in order to receive forgiveness, and there had to be an attitude of continual forgiveness present. These things run contrary to the doctrine for today, the teachings of the Apostle Paul for this dispensation.