An injustice had been done. An innocent man had been condemned to die a horrible death by crucifixion. Humanity cruelly mocked, ridiculed, and laughed him to scorn while he was in pain and agony. One could understand why such a man would be filled with anger, bitterness, and even hatred.
However, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34a). The literal force of the imperfect tense suggests that He prayed this over and over. “Of all the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross three of them were prayers….. in this crucified condition Jesus could not use His hands to help the needy; they were nailed to the cross. He could not use His feet to walk through Samaria; they were pierced and fastened to the cross. But Jesus could still do something: His tongue was not pierced. His mouth would work, so He prayed. In that condition Jesus did what He could . . . Jesus did not pray for himself. He prayed for His enemies” (Willard Cox, Seven Sayings of the Suffering, Savior, p. 1).
This was completely consistent with His teaching. He taught “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you, and prosecute you” (Matthew5:44). We all know that such is easier to say than to do. Jesus practiced what He preached.
If you were in His position on the cross is this how you would have responded? Do you and I still need to grow in our love for our fellow-man? Likely so!
Let us ask the question: Was Jesus praying that they be forgiven right then and there, without any change at all? I do not believe that Jesus was praying for such. If He was, understand that God did not immediately wipe their sins away without conditions. Though, He did provided them an opportunity for forgiveness less than two months later (Acts 2:36-38; 3:13-15; 17; 19). Brother Tyler Young has written, “He was not asking God to clear them of all guilt regardless of whether or not they persisted in their treachery; He was expressing, a desire that God grant them opportunity to repent that they might be forgiven” (Tract; When Should I Forgive My Brother?; p.4). I think this is correct. God could have struck them dead on the spot for doing what they did. However Jesus wanted them to have an opportunity to repent. He knew that many had done what they did out of ignorance of the truth.
Another question: Do we pray for others, even our enemies, as Jesus did? I want to be more like Him; what about you?