Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 18, 1962
NUMBER 24, PAGE 2,11a

"Father Forgive Them, Unconditionally?

Jerry F. Bassett

While Jesus was suspended from the cross he beheld his pitiless tormentors with compassionate mercy. Even in that terrible moment of excruciating agony. "Then said Jesus, Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:94)

This prayer is an overwhelming manifestation of the mercy of Jesus toward sinful men, and perhaps for that very reason it is often misapplied. Because Jesus asked forgiveness for those who crucified him, and because he did not specify any conditions to be met by those in whose behalf he prayed, many take the position that those about the cross received immediate and unconditional pardon for their sins In contrast to this position it is the purpose of this article to show that the pardon Jesus prayed for was conditional (that is, those he prayed for had to meet certain conditions to receive pardon) and that these conditions are set forth in the gospel for which Jesus was dying even as he prayed.

Following are three reasons why Jesus could not have been praying for unconditional pardon for those who crucified him. Each of these reasons shows the glaring inconsistency between the idea of unconditional pardon and the manner in which God had always dealt with man, and was preparing to deal with him through the events transpiring at the cross.


First, God's pardon of man's sin was always conditional before the events of the crucifixion. Through Moses, God declared, "know therefore that the Lord thy God he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them...." (Deuteronomy 7:9-10) Further, God's extension of mercy in the age since the cross is still conditional upon man's doing of the divine will. In a chapter illustrating the faith the Christian is to have by examples of obedience to God's commands, Paul said "But without faith it is impossible to please him' for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6) Consequently, if Jesus prayed for unconditional pardon for sinners he would have contradicted that which the Father had always done and was about to do in the gospel. Yet, Jesus declared that his words and deeds were in complete harmony with the Father (John 5:19,30-31,36-38) which leads to the conclusion that the pardon for which Jesus prayed was conditional even though neither that fact nor the conditions themselves are expressly stated in the prayer.


Second, if the pardon of Jesus' prayer was to be unconditional such would constitute an inconsistency between the granting of that pardon and the very design of Jesus' death. In Hebrews 8:6-13, Paul identifies the gospel of Christ as the new covenant which God promised to make with the house of Israel, and says that the blessings of this covenant would be the forgiveness of gins. The very purpose of the death of Jesus was to enact this covenant and to give force to its promise of pardon by the shedding of his blood. (Hebrews 9:13-17) Further, the nature of a covenant, in this case the New Testament, necessarily implies conditions to be met by those who would be the recipients of its blessings. This is why it is said that Jesus, who is the mediator of the New Testament, is "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." (Hebrews 5:9) Thus, if Jesus prayed for unconditional pardon for those who crucified him, his prayer was inconsistent with the very purpose for which he was willingly dying even as he prayed.

Third, during his ministry on earth, Jesus taught explicitly that pardon for sin was to be conditional upon the sinner's obedience to God's commands. In proof of this point, please consider the following passages, all of which are clear enough to preclude any detailed explanation of them as they apply to the study undertaken in this article.

"I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:24)

"I tell you nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3)

"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32)

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16)

The most casual reading of these texts shows that if Jesus prayed for the unconditional pardon of sinners while dying on the cross he was being inconsistent with what he plainly taught both before his crucifixion and after his resurrection.

Surely no one who believes in the deity of Jesus will take the position that he was ever inconsistent in any matter. Thus, in view of the foregoing facts it must be concluded that the pardon for which Jesus prayed was conditional upon the obedience of the sinners to certain commands even though that conditionality is not expressly stated in the prayer.

What then were the, conditions attached to the pardon for which Jesus prayed?

Remember that the prayer of Jesus was made while he was on the cross and was in behalf of those who crucified him. On the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ, Peter preached to many of those same men and charged them with the very sin for which Jesus had prayed that they be forgiven. (Acts 2:22, 23) The reaction of these men to Peter's charge was to ask, "Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37) Since Jesus had prayed that they might be forgiven of the black deed at the cross, and since this is the very sin with which Peter charged them it follows that the affect of their question was then, "What shall we do to obtain the forgiveness for which Jesus prayed?"

If those men had been forgiven unconditionally at the cross, Peter would have been wrong in charging them with the guilt of the crucifixion and would have committed the error by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-4) Or, if it be argued that Peter did not actually charge them with guilt but only reminded them of their deed, he would then have surely answered their question, "Do nothing, God has already forgiven you by the prayer of Jesus." However, Peter's answer to them was a clear statement of the conditions they had to meet to obtain that forgiveness for which Jesus had prayed. "Then said Peter unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38)

Thus, the conclusion must be drawn that the mercy of God as seen in the prayer of Jesus on the cross is bestowed upon those who obey the gospel for which Jesus died.

Indeed, what great mercy this is. The very ones who were responsible for the death of Jesus were among the first to have opportunity to obtain his forgiveness. Since that time the gospel is come into all the world to be preached to every creature. Every man, no matter what his offense, can be pardoned of his sins it he will meet God's conditions in obeying the gospel. While time yet continues and mercy yet lingers, obey the gospel of Christ to obtain God's mercy.

— 320 Miner, Antioch, California