It is widely accepted, and no doubt true, to some extent, that when Jesus uttered the words of this prayer, He prayed for the forgiveness of His captors & murderers, the ignorant though zealous Jews, and the Romans, who, though wicked & evil men, were simply being politically savvy!
In Jesus' model prayer, which He taught His disciples to pray; He instructed them to pray for forgiveness 'for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us' ( Luke 11:4 ) Jesus, like Paul, no doubt had concern for His kinsmen according to the flesh; He would see them all saved, and so He prayed for their forgiveness.
In the wider context too, of the History of Israel, we should be reminded as well of the atrocities that Israel had committed throughout; not only had She many times committed spiritual adultery against Her God, but now, to top it all off, She had denied Her Messiah! This was simply a natural progression!
There still exists some controversy today over whom Jesus prayed for forgiveness; 'was He asking His Father to forgive everybody, or was He simply asking forgiveness for a certain few?' Much disagreement, especially in certain circles, comes when questions like, 'if Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of everyone involved, why were they not all saved?' are posed. 'Did the Father heed His Son's final prayer?'
In an earthly context, though we may forgive any evil committed against us, there is usually a price that must be paid, nonetheless. Take the example of a drunk driver who aimlessly kills another driver; though he may be forgiven by the family of the other driver, the penalty for the crime of murder, however more or less severe, is exacted by Law!
Though forgiven, Israel still bore the penalty, through the Christ, for Her sins! Though the Thief on the Cross was forgiven, he was still crucified, and paid the extreme penalty for his sins!
When Jesus prayed, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do', the immediate context demands that the sin of rejection of their Messiah be forgiven His People, but in the wider context of the History of Israel, it should be clear that the sins of His People as a whole, throughout their history, were in view here as well, for the rejection of their Messiah was simply the latest show of their ignorance of the Nature of God!
Maybe Jesus' words to the disciples in Matthew's Gospel ( 19:29 ), 'And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[k] or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life'! Could this, as so many passages in Scripture, have been purposely linked to the Resurrection? Jesus, in the beginning of this short passage, promised that 'in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel'! Could Jesus, as a dutiful eldest Son, have merely been holding to tradition and making sure that His mother ( Joseph may have passed on by this point ) would be taken care?
We must remember too, that at the Voice of the Son of God ( Matthew 4:22, Mark 1:20 ), John and his brother James had left all to follow Him! ( their mother was not mentioned here, but we may safely assume that if they left their father, that they left their mother as well ) Was Jesus, in a metaphorical sense, replacing John's own mother? Mary, in this same metaphorical sense, was representative of a New & Reconstituted Israel, and in the greatest sense ( metaphorically as well- Revelation 12 ), the birth mother of the Church!
By telling John that Mary was now his mother, and His Mother that John was her now Son, I believe that Jesus was making reference to the New Age, the Age in which Son-ship would not be rendered by physical, or natural, lineage, but by spiritual descent! Remember what Jesus replied when He was told that His family sought His Presence? Pointing to His disciples all around, He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.' ( Matthew 12:49 & 50 )
This may seem the clearest saying of Jesus on the Cross! Thirst is the most natural and pressing need, more important, probably, than most think to our human biology. It would be very natural then, especially after all that Jesus had been through that Day, for Him to be thirsty, but as usual, there is more to this saying than might at first meet the eye!
Jesus told His audience, in His Sermon on the Mount, 'Blessed [ are ] those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled' ( Matthew 5:6 ). In John's own record of the Gospel, Jesus told the woman at the well 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst' ( John 4:13 &14a ) Was Jesus simply thirsty, or was this a reminder to His disciples of the thirst that He bore for them? He had taken upon Himself the sin of His People Israel, and bearing the penalty for their rebelliousness, experienced that 'thirst for righteousness'!
Just a note here; in the Gospel according to Matthew ( 27:34 ), we see some sort of drink being offered to Jesus, as we see Him being given in John's record. In Matthew's record, however, He refused, for whatever reason, to drink, and in John's, it is recorded that He 'received the sour wine'. Varying traditions have said that this 'sour wine', or 'gall' was some sort of numbing agent meant to alleviate some of the pain, and that Jesus refused it because He wished for His mind to remain clear, or even that John's record and Matthew's do not coincide on this event, but, whatever the case may be, this was not just some random saying that John decided to record; it, as all of Jesus' words, had a Deeper Impact!
Quoting the first line of David's Psalm 22, the Son of Man cried out in agony to a Father who had left Him to die one of the most painful deaths imaginable! This is what the casual reader might gather, and this might actually be true, but it is only a part of the Story. Did the Father Forsake His Son? Might we glean a clue from the fact that His persecutors thought He was calling for Elijah?
Whether or not those who crucified Him simply misunderstood His words ( unlikely ) because they did not understand Aramaic ( many of them were Syrians, after all ) or because He was speaking through His pain, it is clear that He spoke these exact words in fulfillment of David's prophetic verse! As in many of the sayings of Jesus, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' was uttered 'that the Scripture might be fulfilled'!
Just like 'I thirst' previously, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' was meant to convey a deeper spiritual truth, one which not just anyone would be able to grasp! Clearly, His captors, both Jewish & Roman ( Syrian ) did not grasp this truth; they thought He was calling for Elijah! An interesting note concerning Elijah; do you remember what Malachi prophesied about Him? 'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.' ( Malachi 4:5 ) They thought, if our English translators got it right, that Jesus was praying for that 'great and dreadful day of the Lord' right then! If He was truly the Son of God, so they must have reasoned at that point, then His Father would have appeared right then. Little did they know, the Time was at Hand ( Matthew 26:64 )!
What exactly Jesus meant by the finality of these words has been a matter of some controversy, as well! Was He saying that the purpose for which He had appeared on this earth was fulfilled? Was He saying that His Father's Plan of Salvation was complete, that the rest was up to individual men? Now that it was finished, did that mean that all men everywhere would taste His great Salvation?
Matthew recorded that Joseph & Mary were to name the Child Jesus, for 'He will save His people from their sins' ( Matthew 1:21 ). Clearly, from a covenantal stand-point, 'His people' was Israel! The Purpose for which Jesus died on the cross was that He might redeem Israel from the Sin & the Death that She had incurred from Her harlotries & idolatries!The Purpose of His Advent, from beginning to End, from start to finish, was to bring Heaven & Earth together in One Body, that Body of which He had before prophesied ( also through David ( Psalm 40:6 ), 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me'. There have been numerous theories offered as to why the two texts are at variance, but maybe the best I have seen is where Lightfoot wrote,
Whatever the case may be, a Body was most definitely prepared for the Son of God, first an individual biological Body to walk the Land in, and then a corporate Spiritual Body ( I Corinthians 12:27 ) to dwell in, a New Temple, 'the temple of the Holy Spirit' ( I Corinthians 6:19 )!
With the words 'It is finished', Jesus declared that He had done what was necessary to accomplish the salvation of His people, He had made 'an end of[b] sins' and 'reconciliation for iniquity' ( Daniel 9:24 )!
In this last recorded saying of Jesus on the Cross, we see Him in total concurrence with Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:7. This wisest of the kings of Israel wrote 'Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
and the spirit will return to God who gave it.' Many questions could be asked here of those who believe that Jesus still inhabits His individual, biological Body in some place 'up there', called 'Heaven'. Questions like
'If Jesus was God, why did His Spirit return to His Father ( God ) when His Body would be joining Him just over a month later?', and leading from this, 'why was it necessary for Jesus' Spirit to leave His Body?'
Here is where we might enter into the greatest matter of controversy! Was Jesus simply a 'Man of the Eschaton'? Is it possible that Jesus, as the Son of God, and God Himself, became the Son of Man in order to finalize the project He had begun in the Beginning ( Genesis )? Jesus said outright, at least once, that 'My Father is greater than I' ( John 14:28 ( 10:29 ). He prayed, in the Garden, 'O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was'. Paul wrote that 'He made Himself of no reputation', took 'the form of a bondservant', and came 'in the likeness of men'. Our Heavenly Father divested Himself of His Glory and became the Son of Man in order to orchestrate the Marriage of Heaven & Earth!
In all of this, we see a return to the Temple! Ezekiel 10:18, as well as other Scriptures, chronicles the departure of the Glory of the Lord. In a recent sermon it was pointed out that the Shekinah Glory, the Glory Cloud, is absent from the Temple from the time of Solomon onward, until the time of Christ and His New Temple, which we read about in Acts 2, with the 'divided tongues, as of fire'.
The apostle John recorded Jesus as saying, in what may be the most comforting statement in Scripture, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him'. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church at Colosse ( 3:4 ), wrote 'When Christ [ who is ] our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory'. Since He has appeared ( 1,934 years ago ), His People have become that Glory Cloud!
The Life & Ministry of Jesus may be summed up in these final words, for Jesus came to 'save His people from their sins' by forgiving there iniquity, He 'led captivity captive' ( Psalm 68:18 ( I Peter 3:18-20 ), He came that we might have Life, and that we may have it 'more abundantly' ( John 10:10 ( also refer to Psalm 68:5 & 6 & Matthew 12:49 & 50 ), He filled His People's 'thirst for righteousness' that they might 'never thirst' again, He tasted for His People very real separation from the Presence of God, 'And thus we shall always be with the Lord' ( I Thessalonians 4:17 ), He finished the Creation, or rather New Creation that He had begun in the Beginning ( Genesis ), and He became, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth ( I Corinthians 15:28 ) our 'all in all'!
Charles Haddon Shank