Matthew 18:21–35 (NKJV)
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
Jesus initially responds to a question of how many time one should forgive a brother of a trespass. The question is answered rhetorically with a perfectly typical Jewish response of “seven times.” However, in also perfectly typical fashion, Jesus turns this answer on its ear but saying that seven times is insufficient. Instead, forgive seventy times seven. In other words, forgive them every time.
In this passage, we see a story unfold of a servant who owed his master (king) an astronomical debt. It was equivalent to what would have been billions of dollars in today’s economy. Yet when the servant asked for forgiveness, the master granted it, and forgave the debt. This demonstrates the amazing grace of God toward sinners who ask for forgiveness. It is even more astounding than the servants debt, to think of the depths of man’s sin which God freely forgives when we ask.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
The forgiven servant, in turn, finds a fellow servant who owes him a small amount, and demands that he pay it in full. When he asks for forgiveness, the previously forgiven servant responds negatively and has his fellow servant thrown into prison until the debt could be paid. When the master heard of this travesty, he rescinded the original pardon and turned the ungrateful servant over to torturers until the debt could be paid. The common interpretation here is that God will forgive the sinner, but He then expects the redeemed person to forgive others. Without that attitude, the forgiven servant does not show true repentance. You cannot require the very thing of others that God did not require of you. If your debt (sin) is forgiven, then you must forgive others their debt (sin) as well.