All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995 Ed.)

Matthew 18:21-35

Vss. 21-22: Jesus’ teaching on restoring sinning brethren prompts Peter, the outspoken and rash leader of the disciples, to ask Him what the limit is for how often they are to forgive one another. He suggests the number of seven times because the Jews viewed this as the “perfect” or “complete” number, reflecting the perfection of God. This was due to the fact that God’s creative process in the creation and admiration of the universe was done in seven days, with His admiration of it done on the seventh day (see Ge. 1). As such, Peter thought his suggestion was a great number of times, and an admirable amount to forgive.

However, Jesus evidently shocks Peter with His seemingly amazing response. Rather than only seven times, Jesus says that the limit on how many times they must forgive their brethren is unreachable. He implies this by multiplying the perfect number of seven by ten, the number of hugeness, and then by multiplying Peter’s number by it. The effect is to show that there’s no limit to the number of times that they must forgive one another. And Jesus reminds Peter that this lavishness of forgiveness is the teaching of Himself, and of none of the other Jewish teachers, by saying “I do not say to you”.

Vss. 23: Jesus uses His shocking demand of forgiveness as a jumping off point to teach on the graciousness of “the kingdom of heaven”, or God’s spiritual reign through King Jesus. He says that because He demands limitless forgiveness of His followers, heaven’s kingdom is like a king that is working to “settle account with his slaves”, or receive what’s due to him from them.

Vss. 24-27: Jesus now begins to tell a story, or parable, illustrating the way that God’s kingdom uses forgiveness and mercy. The villain of the story is a slave of the king that owes him an enormous amount of money. A “talent” was equal to about fifteen years of manual labor wages, so “ten thousand” talents is equal to 150,000 years’ worth of work. The slave would basically never be able to pay back this amount of money through normal means.

Therefore, the king, called “his lord”, or “master”, orders him and all he has to be sold, and the money to be given to him. In response to this order, the slave humbly begs for mercy, hopelessly promising that he’ll pay back all he owes. This evokes a feeling of compassion and pity in the king, so he forgives the slave the entire debt, freeing him from his intended enslavement, and the loss of his possessions.

Vss. 28-30: Despite having just received an amazing amount of mercy and forgiveness, the slave now does the exact opposite of his king. He now goes to one of the other slaves who owes him money. However, the amount owed is virtually nothing in comparison to what he owed the king. A “denarius” was the standard coin of Israel, and was the average laborer’s wage for one day’s work. Thus, “a hundred denarii” was only a hundred days’ wages, rather than 150,000 years. This slave would much more reasonably have the ability to pay off his debt. Nevertheless, the forgiven slave ruthlessly and violently demands that his fellow slave pay him.

Again, this other slave does the exact same thing that the forgiven slave did before the king. He falls down and begs for time to earn the money to pay him. Unlike the king, however, the forgiven slave is “unwilling” to give him time, and puts him in prison until he gets payment. This would most likely make it extremely difficult for the slave to get the money he owes, revealing that the forgiven slave isn’t so much interested in getting his money quickly, as he is in seeing his fellow slave suffer for his debt.

Vss. 31-34: The rest of the slaves find out about the forgiven slave’s malicious action, and are so saddened that they report the crime to their king. In response, the king orders the forgiven slave to be brought to him to condemn him for his sin. He addresses him as “wicked”, or “morally twisted”, and reminds him that he forgave him his whole debt because of his pleading. Then, he asks him if he shouldn’t have shown the same mercy that he showed to him. Finally, his anger at the slave motivates him to deliver him to “the torturers” until he repays the king his original, impossible, debt. Now, it’s absolutely certain that this slave won’t be able to repay the king, since he’ll be “tortured” in prison, and unable to earn the money needed.

v. 35: Jesus draws a practical conclusion for His disciples. He warns them that the Father will do the same thing that the king did to the unforgiving slave if they don’t forgive their brethren from their heart. In other words, just as the king punished the slave by torturing him, and putting him in a situation where he’d never be able to pay off his debt, the Father will punish unforgiving disciples with suffering in a place where they’ll never be able to receive the Father’s forgiveness. Jesus is not saying that the Father forgives disciples of Jesus because they forgive their fellow disciples. Rather, He’s saying that those who are unforgiving at heart reveal that they’re not really forgiven children of God, since they act as if they don’t believe that God has forgiven their sins. If they believed this, then they would be forgiving toward their fellow “slaves”.

Applications for believers in the Lord Jesus:

  1. There’s no limit to the amount of times that we should forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ, since the Lord demands this from us.
  2. God’s kingdom is Christ’s reign of settling accounts by getting payment from people and forgiving debts.
  3. Like the king in the parable, the Lord forgives sinners who humble themselves and seek His mercy out of compassion for them.
  4. The basis of our forgiveness of our brethren in Christ is God’s forgiveness of all our sins against Him.
  5. God will punish the unforgiving of heart for their sins. If you’re unforgiving, it’s because you don’t truly believe that God has forgiven all of your sins against Him on the basis of Jesus’s death in your place. You must imitate the doomed slave in the parable, acknowledge your overwhelming debt and your worthiness of punishment, and humbly ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness that He only gives because of Jesus’s death and resurrection.