The Lord's Prayer for the Jews
By Fred O. Blakely
The intercession of the Lord Jesus for His executioners, while in the throes of His excruciating agonies on the cross, has wide implications, indeed. Undoubtedly, the extent of its bearing has not been grasped by many. Hearty acknowledgment of the efficacy of the prayer in the fullness of its scope would be forthcoming from even less. Probably as the rough soldiers nailed Him to the tree, or when the heavy cross, with its suffering Victim fastened upon it, had been driven into the ground with "unpitying violence," the "most gracious petition" was offered to God. "Father, forgive them," He implored; "for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).
Some of Its Implications. Here, most obviously, was a demonstration of the responsibility which the Master had previously imposed upon His disciples. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you," He had enjoined (Mt. 5:43-48). Thus, He "never desired of us any virtue or grace which He did not possess and did not Himself adorn." The record which God has given us of His beloved Son is one of what He "began both to do and teach" (Acts 1:1). By this complete consistency, He has left us "an Example," that we "should follow His steps" (I Pet. 2:20-25).
In the Savior's petition for those who put Him to death, Scripture--which "cannot be broken" (Jn. 10:31-38), quite as evidently had its fulfillment. "He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many," anticipated Isaiah, "and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). This prayer is to be "added to His prayer recorded in John 17, to complete the specimen He gave of His intercession within the veil: that for saints, this for sinners." In the plea to God for those who were "ignorant" and "out of this way," the compassionate Lord thus exhibited the ministry which He now has for men "in the Presence of God," as He continually intercedes there for them (Heb. 5:2; 9:24).
"Now the sayings of Christ upon the cross, as well as His sufferings, had a further intention than they seemed to have. This was a mediatorial word, and explicatory of the intent and meaning of His death. "Father, forgive them.' That is to say, "Father, that which I am now suffering and dying for is in order to this, that poor sinners may be pardoned.' The great thing which Christ died to purchase and procure for us is the forgiveness of sin. This is that for which Christ intercedes for all that repent and believe in the virtue of His satisfaction; His blood speaks this: "Father, forgive them.' The greatest sinners may, through Christ, upon their repentance, hope to find mercy. Though they were His persecutors and murderers, He prayed, "Father, forgive them.'"
Its Request for the Nation. The most far-reaching intent and effect of the dying Savior's prayer for the forgiveness of His killers concerned the Jewish nation, which was responsible for His crucifixion. In this aspect of the petition, we have a remarkable display of the unity of the Godhead and of the complete efficacy of our Lord's requests of God. It is beyond question that when He asked for the forgiveness of His countrymen, He prayed in perfect accord with the Father's will. This is evinced by the fact that He did not qualify His asking with an "if it be possible," or "not as I will, but as Thou wilt," as in the case of His beseechment for Himself in the Garden (Mt. 26:39). It is to be taken for granted, therefore, that His prayer was heard by the Father, and that He knew this to be so, as He did at the raising of Lazarus (Jn. 11:41-42). Actually, "His intercession had this for its ground, though in meekness it is not expressed: "Father, I will that Thou forgive them.' In the same sublime consciousness of who He was, He speaks shortly after to the penitent thief hanging by His side, "Verily, I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise' (Lk. 23:43)."
In order to perceive the complete accordance of this request for forgiveness of the Jews with the eternal purpose of God touching them, it is necessary to consider that purpose as it is set forth in Scripture. Almost a millennium and a half before the enfleshment of the Word, God apprised Moses of His long-range intent to receive Israel again into His fellowship following their apostasy from Him, which was then to come. "I will hide My face from them," He declared; "I will see what their end shall be." "They moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities (idols): and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation" (Deut. 32:15-21; cf. Isa. 1:10-15; 54:7-10; 59: 1-2; 64:7; 65:1-7; Jer. 33:4-8; Ezek. 39:23-29).
Paul's Comment on the Matter. The best commentary on this pronouncement is that of Paul in Romans 10:18-11:36 and elsewhere. Pursuant to God's apprisal of Moses, "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," he explains. But he hastens to add that this blinding of the stock of Abraham is not forever. "As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Fathers' sakes." "For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet now have obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy." "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins." "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all" (cf. Ps. 14:7; Isa. 59:20-21; 60:15; Jer. 3:18; II Cor. 3:14-16; Gal. 3:8-18, 22).
The Apostle's connection of the final pardon and restitution of Israel with God's covenant, or promise, "unto them" is to be particularly noted. Not only was Moses informed of the future restoration of the nation to the favor and fellowship of God; through Jeremiah, Jehovah formally covenanted with His people to that effect. The provisions of this covenant are set forth in Jer. 31:31-34, and adduced by Paul in Heb. 8:6-13; 10:15-18 as applicable also to the Gentiles through Christ, its Mediator. It is a circumstance which the church seems largely to have overlooked, or deliberately ignored, but this covenant was to be made specifically "with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah." Jeremiah, we must remember, was writing to fleshly, not spiritual, Israel, and so is the covenant which he describes primarily for them. We Gentiles, by God's grace, entered by a side door, so to speak, into the blessings of the covenant during the period of the Jews' judicial blindness. Now, one of the principal benefits of this new covenant is that God was to "forgive their iniquity," and to "remember their sin no more." And, as the Apostle declares in another place, it is evident that this covenant of forgiveness which God made with Israel, the law of Moses "cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect" (Gal. 3:16-19). Hence, when the dying Savior prayed for the forgiveness of the Jews, He was but mediating before the time of its actual operation, the new and everlasting covenant in His blood (Mt. 26:28; Heb. 13:20-21).
It is quite understandable that, with the whole panorama of God's execution of this wide-ranging intent for the Jews before his mind's eye, Paul exclaims, as do we, in awed wonderment. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:33-36).
Now, since such apprehension of the outworking of His purpose in Christ was given to an Apostle, shall it be thought incredible that the whole matter were crystal clear to Messiah Himself? Nay, for indeed "the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth" (Jn. 5:20). As "all His works" are "known unto God from the beginning of the world," so also are they known unto Him by whom they are executed, the Word and the Christ of God (Acts 15:18). When, therefore, the Savior petitioned in His death for the forgiveness of the Jews, He interceded, as does the Spirit, "according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:27). Knowing that He is the Deliverer that was destined to "come out of Zion" and bear the iniquities of the people, He simply pleaded the efficacy of His blood then being shed, asking forgiveness for those who, in ignorance and unbelief, sinned against Him (cf. I Cor. 2:7-8; I Tim. 1:12-16). It is, of course, undeniable that the prayer was heard by the Father, and will, accordingly, be answered in His own time and way. Surely, it is unthinkable that Messiah here asked amiss, or in vain.
The Solution of a Difficulty. The unenlightened and the opponents of the truth have what they consider to be an impregnable objection to this as the nature of the case. It is that of the centuries of suffering by the Jews under the mighty hand of God. If the Lord's prayer for their forgiveness was heard and answered, why have they been so grievously afflicted by God for the sin of crucifying Him? Does not forgiveness carry with it the present favor of the Almighty? To raise such an objection and to ask such questions is but to expose one's bedarkenment concerning the divine ways. It is a superficial concept of God, and one that is sure to lead to confusion--if not frustration--in the faith, to invariably equate forgiveness with continual blessing on the earthly level. Certainly, God would be less than an omniscient, loving, and omnipotent Father if He proceeded in that manner. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth," saith the Scripture (Heb. 12:5-11).
The case of God's dealing with His beloved servant David is the classic example of this technique. When Israel's great king was brought to repentance and acknowledgment of his heinous sin of adultery and murder, he was immediately assured by Nathan of God's forgiveness. "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die," declared the Prophet. This, however, did not mean that David was to escape, in the flesh, the consequences of the terrible wrongs which he had perpetrated. "The thing that David had done displeased the Lord," relates the historian (II Sam. 11:27). Thus, the pronouncement of God against the king by the Prophet: "The sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised Me." "I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." "Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (II Sam. 12:1-14).
The subsequent affliction of David's house--incest, murder, insurrection, and ignominious flight before his own son--was but the implementation of this purpose by God to exact from His servant--whom He had forgiven of his sin--the chastisement that was justly due because of it. In this day, when people seem to have come to think that, because of God's grace, they can sin against Him with impunity, it is well, indeed, that they give strict heed to this instance of His dealing with sin in His servant. Sin is rebellion against God, and such opposition to Him will certainly be put down and redressed by God. As saith the Scripture, "The Lord shall judge His people" (Deut. 32:36; cf. Ps. 50:4; I Cor. 11:31-32; Heb. 10:30; I Pet. 4:17-18). As it was with their father, so shall it be with the seed of David, as saith the Word through the Psalmist: "If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments . . . then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail" (Ps. 89:20-37).
So it is with the Jews. Their sin in rejecting and crucifying their promised Deliverer was the sin of the ages. Accordingly, it called for the greatest chastisement. But, as with Peter, the Lord Jesus has prayed for them, that they be forgiven of this trespass. And, as is everywhere taught in Scripture, they shall be, and shall, in the appointed time, be gathered together to Him, and, with the Gentiles, shall glorify God for the exceeding riches of His abundant mercy to them through the Beloved (Gen. 49:10; Jn. 11:47-52; Eph. 1:10). It is written, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16). The Lord Jesus is certainly such a Man. We thus rest in the confident expectation that what He asked of the Father shall be freely given to Him. Hence, Israel, in contrition and faith, shall say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" (Mt. 23:39; cf. ch. 21:9; Ps. 118:21-29). We are persuaded that "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isa. 9:6; cf. Isa. 42:4).