Luke 23:27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”…
33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
Note the difference responses of our Lord relating to the different participants in the Crucifixion narrative. In the context of the weeping and wailing of the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to “forgive the Jews for they know not what they do.” In point of fact we know from earlier encounters with the Jews Jesus said that the vengeance of God upon the Jews for the killing of the Son of the Vineyard owner came at the cost of their very lives,
What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
For the Romans crucifying Jesus, Jesus pleads for the Father to forgive them. For the Jewish women lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus, in a likely prophetic reference to AD 70, warns about the coming wrath of God.
This distinction between these two kinds of speech for two different kinds of people is also captured in the difference of Christ towards Judas and Peter. To Peter Jesus says,
31″Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
While to Judas, Jesus says,
“What you are about to do, do quickly.”
The difference between Judas and Peter is one was the son of perdition while the other was one of the elect. One wonders if that might not be the discriminating difference also in the way Jesus does not plead forgiveness for the Jews who crucified Him but does plead forgiveness for the Romans who served as those executioners who would do the bidding of the Jews in crucifying Jesus Christ?
Some have insisted upon reviewing Christ’s request for forgiveness for the Romans soldiers that at that point the Roman soldiers would have been forgiven at that moment, in the sense of sins forgiven, since the Father and the Son are in agreement. This overlooks one meaning of the word forgiveness.
One meaning of the word “forgiveness” can be deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. Sanday advocates for this in his commentary on Romans when reviewing vs. 25 of chapter 3 he notes that forgiveness (remission — paresis) may be a “temporary suspension of punishment which may at some later date be inflicted.” So, when the Lord Christ prays, “Father forgive them (suspend the charges for the time being) for they know not what they do,” the request is for a deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. As such, when Jesus prays this I don’t think it is proper to think that at that point the Roman soldiers’ sin is forgiven in the sense of the debt canceled.
We should end here by noting that usually when forgiveness is used in the Scriptures it has reference to a legal and not emotional / psychological resolve. Forgiveness occurs after there has been a debt incurred followed by the legal satisfying of that debt. For example, when we are forgiven by God it is not because God has a warm fuzzy towards us and is willing to let bygones be bygones. God forgives us because our indebtedness to Him as violators of His law as been satisfied for us by the work of Jesus Christ in our stead on the Cross. Our forgiveness is thus a juridical (legal) reality. God forgives us because our debt has been paid by our surety.
(Surety — a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, for example, their appearing in court or the payment of a debt.)
Modern man would do well to re-examine his idea of forgiveness. We tend to think that forgiveness is an emotional or psychological disposition towards someone who has committed offense when in point of fact forgiveness is a legal term that requires, when necessary, restitution before forgiveness can be extended.
What we typically call “forgiveness” is perhaps better termed charity or mercy.