Discourse on the Kingdom Law of Forgiveness, Matt. 18.21-35

v.21 The passage above defines the relationship between any offense and the church. Here it presents the relationship of sin with the kingdom of heaven. Peter raises this matter because the Lord had spoken of forgiveness in the preceding passage. Or he may raise it on the basis of what the Lord had said as recorded in Luke 17: “Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (vv.3-4). Peter deemed seven times to be most forbearing. (For note, incidentally, that during this time two famous rabbis had ruled that forgiving three times was quite sufficient. And hence seven times would be more than double the rabbinic decision of Peter’s day.)

v.22 “I say not unto thee”—Such an utterance fully manifests the dignity of the Lord. “Seventy times seven” may indicate no limit. Yet even if it means a literal 70 × 7, it would still be quite sufficient, as the following equation will demonstrate: 7 (completeness) × 7 (completeness) × 10 (human completeness) = 490 (completeness of completeness).

v.23 “A certain king” is God.

“His servants” are the saved believers. Some take these servants to be unsaved sinners, but such an interpretation is impossible because (1) they are called servants; (2) they have direct dealing with God; (3) “the servant” of verse 24ff. alludes to Peter, for he asks the question “How often shall my brother sin against me, and I [a saved person] forgive him [another saved brother]?”; and (4) verse 35 says, “So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you [the saved ones] . . .”

“Make a reckoning”—God will never forget or be confused. What a believer in his daily life owes God, God will reckon one day. The time of reckoning must be in this age: God may allow a person to be seriously ill or to encounter great dangers. Sometimes His discipline can be quite severe.

Some suggest that the time of reckoning is in the age to come, that is, at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5.10; see also 1 Cor. 3.10-15). But this is impossible because (1) at the judgment seat of Christ, there will be no more grace but all righteousness, and therefore the Lord will not be moved with compassion; (2) in the kingdom it is absolutely impossible to take a fellow servant by the throat and to cast him into prison; and (3) verses 32-34 refer to the age to come at the judgment seat of Christ and hence the teaching in verse 35 which follows is that if one does not forgive his brother in this present age, the heavenly Father will deal with him in the coming age in accordance with the manner outlined in verses 32-34.

v.24 “Ten thousand talents”—Whether of gold or silver, it is nonetheless a tremendous amount, which the servant can never repay (a talent is equal to 1152 ounces of gold or of silver). What a believer owes God in his daily life probably far exceeds symbolically even this colossal amount.

v.25 “And his wife, and children, and all that he had”—Not that the king really wants to sell this man, his wife and children, and all his things. It simply indicates that God will deprive him of everything.

v.26 Four elements are included here: (1) repentance (“fell down”), (2) humility (“worshipped”), (3) an asking for mercy (“have patience”), and (4) a making a vow of consecration (“will pay”).

v.27 “Being moved with compassion”—The lord in the parable, but even more so our God in heaven, is moved with compassion not because the servant is willing to pay back, but because of the latter’s repentance and humility and pleading for mercy. He knows very well that the servant is not able to repay, and so he forgives him the debt. “Released .... forgave”—These verbs describe actions which happen in this age. If these actions can happen in the age to come, the Lord’s righteousness will be compromised. Today God not only releases but also forgives all our debt. The grace of God always surpasses human expectation.

v.28 “Went out”—That is to say, after the time of his personal reckoning or chastening, this servant went out from the presence of his lord. “One of his fellow-servants” is also one of the king’s servants (a saved person).

“Owed . . . a hundred shilling”—A small amount.

“Laid hold on him”—Though the first servant in the parable has repented, he nevertheless has no indelible impression of the mercy shown him. He momentarily forgets and resorts to violence. This proves that his former repentance grew out of desperation, not out of despair of repayment. Though he is temporarily humble, his repentance has left only shallow marks upon him. Soon he forgets the amazing grace of the Lord. Did not David likewise rashly judge the rich man in Nathan’s parable?

v.29 In spite of the minuteness of the debt, his fellow-servant exhibits a repentance, humility, pleading, and vow similar to that of the first servant.

v.30 “And he would not”—He will not accept the same kind of pleading from his fellow-servant because he does not recall his own pleading and forgiveness.

“Cast him into prison”—Settle it by law, unmindful of grace. Though such action is legally righteous, even so, righteousness should never be applied in this case since the first servant had just received grace himself. Had he never before obtained grace, he might be quite lawful in casting his fellow-servant into prison. But now, after receiving grace the righteous act is clearly to be gracious to others.

v.31 The prayer and cry of the saints ascend to God.

v.32 This verse may refer to this age, and if so, God calls the servant home; or it may refer to the age to come, that is, a standing before God’s judgment in the future.

v.33 The Lord reprimands the servant for forgetting the grace he had formerly received. This word is the focal teaching of the parable.

v.34 This cannot be read as God taking back His word concerning His initial grace towards redeemed sinners; but God’s subsequent grace, as illustrated in this instance, must be withdrawn by God in order to maintain His righteousness.

“Pay all that was due”—After the thousand years of discipline come to an end

v.35 Verses 21 and 22 introduce the subject, verses 23-34 give the parable, and verse 35 draws the conclusion. This parable is used to teach people today.

“From your hearts”—Often we forgive on the face, by our lips, or even through action, but we do not forgive from the heart. The Lord, though, stresses the heart. If a believer fails to forgive others, he is in danger of being cast into prison till every penny is paid. How can we not forgive? How can we not ask for forgiveness? No believer should have any brother or sister towards whom he will not nod the head or speak, or with whom he will not correspond.