“Forgive Them” and “Remember Me”

With Good Friday just a couple of days away, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Jesus said while He was on the cross. You may know that there were seven things recorded in Scripture that He said; in this post, I am focusing on the first two.

First of all, let’s look at the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Mark 15:25, we read, “It was the third hour when they crucified Him.” That means it was 9:00 A.M. when Jesus was nailed to the cross. (“Zero hour” was 6:00, the beginning of the Jewish day.) Later in the same chapter, verse 33, Mark writes, “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.” If you read verses 34-37, you can see why most scholars believe Jesus died shortly after the ninth hour began at 3:00, which means He was on the cross for about six hours.

Now let’s go back to very near the beginning of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Luke 23:34, we read: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Imagine: Jesus has just been nailed to the cross, and He asks His heavenly Father to forgive them! One question is: who is “them?” While I realize that there are those who believe that Jesus was forgiving all people for all time, I agree with those who say He was forgiving all those who confess their sins and believe in Him, for all time. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Psalm 32:5 says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” In other words, God’s forgiveness is conditional; people need to confess their sin and ask for His forgiveness. God does not forgive unrepentant sinners.

What about the second part of what Jesus said? “For they do not know what they are doing” means first of all, that those who directly participated in Jesus’ crucifixion didn’t understand or believe that they were crucifying the Messiah. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is very clear about this: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” There is also a very real sense in which no unrepentant sinner understands this; it isn’t until we come to Jesus in saving faith that we understand that our sin put Him on the cross.

Several years ago, I noticed something very striking in Matthew 27:44: “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” Notice the word “robbers,” not “robber!” In other words, early during Jesus’ crucifixion, both criminals who were crucified with Jesus mocked Him. However, sometime during the next two-three hours, one of them had a change of heart. Luke 23:39-43 tells us, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’

This criminal now understands that he is being punished justly, but that Jesus is the Perfect One, the Messiah; he even understands something of Jesus’ kingdom! He has acknowledged his sin and received Jesus’ forgiveness. I have often wondered if there are other things Jesus said on the cross which are not recorded for us in Scripture; regardless, this man had earlier heard Jesus ask His heavenly Father to forgive “them,” and here Jesus tells this man that he will join Him in paradise–on that very day!

If you read a few verses further in Luke, you will see that the Roman centurion also believed. Mark records it this way, in Chapter 15:39: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!'” I believe we will see this Roman centurion in heaven as well.

This week, for the first time, I see the direct connection between the first two things Jesus said from the cross. First, He asks His heavenly Father to forgive all those who believe, and then He forgives a criminal who acknowledges his sin and implicitly asks for forgiveness. If you have not yet confessed your sin and asked Jesus for forgiveness, I pray that this will be the day you do it; He will forgive you, and you will experience a peace and joy like you never have before.


Two years ago, I wrote a post about evidence for Jesus’ resurrection; you can read it here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/24/evidence-for-the-resurrection/ Last year, I wrote a post about the Jewish mob who asked Pilate to release Barabbas, a criminal, rather than Jesus; you can read it here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2022/04/07/give-us-barabbas/ These are two of my most-viewed posts.

9 thoughts on ““Forgive Them” and “Remember Me”

  1. Good food for thought, Keith.
    When the film “The Passion of the Christ” came out, there was a lot of discussion regarding the accuracy of the script. Our pastor said that in the film Jesus said “Father, forgive them” more than once. When he later looked up the original Greek (Aramaic?), he noticed the tense of the verb meant, in fact, “Jesus kept praying … ” or “kept saying…” How beautiful, that forgiveness emanated from Him, even as He was suffering so much for all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ann, I’m afraid I don’t remember much about that movie except that it felt like two hours of torture–and that’s what it was for Jesus, except for several more hours. Anyway, the first thing He said on the cross was “Father, forgive them.” As the old hymn says, “Amazing love, how can it be…”

      Another detail I noticed this year was the phrase “heard his cry” in Mark 15:39. Someone said that it would have been very unusual for someone on the cross at that point to be able to utter anything, so it was very striking to the centurion. More specifically, Luke 23:46 says, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” My guess is that “the cry” in Mark 15:39 was the words Jesus said in a loud voice in Luke 23:46. It suggests that Jesus even controlled the timing of His death.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am truly blessed to read this, my brother. I had never noticed that about “robbers.” What an incredibly cool insight! Also the one in your comment, about it being unusual that He could cry out. All sorts of wonderful food for thought here.

    Liked by 1 person

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