Luke 23:34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

When Jesus said, "Father, forgive them", whom were included in His mind? Does it include the High priests, Caiaphas, Herod, the Sanhedrin, etc. i.e., the rulers as in 1 Corinthians 2

7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

A secondary question is this: How significant is this forgiveness? Does it mean that whomever He forgave on the Cross were healed?

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    Jesus is asking the Father to forgive them. So the verse does not explicitly say if the Father honored this request. Did the Father honor this request? If so, what does this forgiveness entail? Excellent question, BTW. Jul 20, 2020 at 22:30
  • Jesus has the power to forgive sins, however, in this specific case he resorts to the Father, as the condition was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit mentioned in Luke 12:10.
    – Betho's
    Feb 7 at 14:15

5 Answers 5


In Luke 23:34, "forgive them" is a simple matter of following the antecedents.

  • In V33, "they" and "them" refers to the soldiers who carried out the orders of Pilate acting at the behest of the Jewish leadership

Thus, the immediate antecedent of the pronoun "them" in V34 is the soldiers. However, does this also include the Roman authorities and/or the Jewish leadership as well? Grammatically, it could be either or both. Let is examine the evidence of the rest of the NT.

  • Rom 3:23, 24, “… for all have sinned … and all are freely forgiven...”
  • Rom 5:15, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to the many.” [Note the same word, “many” applies to all people.]
  • Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all people, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all people, resulting in justification of life.”
  • 2 Cor 5:14, “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
  • 2 Cor 5:18, 19, “…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ …”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all people.”
  • Heb 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours [Christians to whom John writes] only but also for the whole world.”

Thus, the forgiveness that Jesus offers is universal; BUT that does not mean that all will avail themselves of this free offer - many will not!

[I recall recently a famous footballer who ended up in custody because of serious drinking and drugs. After front-page news for 2 days, he asked to go on national TV to give an apology to everyone. At that confession, no one was informed of anything (everyone knew what had happened). However, it was only when he confessed and admitted his drink and drug problem that healing could begin.]

While Jesus forgives all, it is only when we acknowledge our condition by confession (1 John 1:9) that divine healing begins. We do not know how many soldiers or Roman authorities became Christians (Pilate never became a Christian as far as we know), but Jesus still forgave before anyone even asked!


He was interceding on behalf of Israel regarding its National judgment (Lk.21:23), for denying Him as the Messiah and giving Him up for death; Lk.23:18-34 is giving the account of when the people of Israel, along with their leaders where before Pilate when he was determined to let the Lord go, but they "denied the holy and just one, and desired a murder to be granted unto you"(Acts.3:13-14). Saying "let his blood be upon us and our children" (Mt.27:25).

In the verses preceding the Lord's prayer to the Father, He is being led to the cross, and a great company followed and began to cry, but the Lord said to them "daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For the days are coming, in which they shall say blessed are they that are barren.... shall begin to say let the mountains fall on us..." (Lk.23.20-31). This is the same language when He spoke of the national judgment of the tribulation, and the day of the Lord's judgments mentioned in Revelation during the opening of the seals (Rev.6:14-17; Mt.24:19-22).

During the gospels, the Kingdom was at hand, but in the early Acts (period) the Kingdom is being offered (due to the Lord's intercession to forgive them), "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance ("for they know not what they do"), as also did your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you (Christ would have returned if they repented, and restored the Kingdom to Israel), Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things...here their national forgiveness is being offered, to receive their covenanted kingdom promises (Acts.3:17-21,24-26; cp.1:6). But we see the rejection continue because the leaders of the nation interrupt the offer (Acts.4:1-3).

Christ said during His earthly ministry that to speak a word against him would be forgiven, but blasphemy against the holy spirit would not be forgiven, and then speaks about how they would be persecuted and brought before leaders and synagogues (Lk.12:8-12; cp.23:35). We see this fulfilled in Acts with Stephen who was filled with the holy spirit, which the leaders resisted and then continue to stone him (Acts.6:5,9-12,51,54-60). Now the judgment of the tribulation was set to come, the time of Jacobs trouble (Mt.24.21; Jer.30.7). This is seen in Stephen's vision of the Lord "standing at the right hand of God", whereas in all other places, He is said to be "sitting at the right hand", but not in the book Revelation, where He is said to be standing before He opens the seals of judgment (Rev.5:6). Similar language is also used in the O.T "Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations" (Ps.82:6).


The text seems self-explanatory:

32 ¶And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. 33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34 Then said Jesus: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. 35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying: He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37  And saying: If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.


When Jesus was on earth, he went about preaching the Kingdom of Heaven. And gave several teachings about how to ‘behave’, or ‘live’ under that Kingdom. The ‘Lord's Prayer’ is included in this; that prayer is a ‘kingdom’ prayer. Now, forgiveness is a very important kingdom principle - not ‘just’ us asking God to forgive us, but also, in fact equally, ‘us’ forgiving other people who ‘sin’ against ‘us’. So Jesus had to ‘practice what he preached’. In some respects, he had to forgive them. It was ‘right’. And he had to live ‘right’ right up to the end.

Matthew 6:12

. . . for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Mark 11:25

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, . . .

So this is the first part. But, if you want a ‘deeper’ answer as well, it was us that crucified the Lord. He was crucified because of us. So essentially, He is forgiving us, you and me.

Your secondary question means that this ‘sin’, of wrongfully crucifying him, illegally, as He had not broken the Mosaic Law, under which he was being put to death - would not be held against them. They were still under that ‘Law’, ( he hadn’t died yet), and under that Law, they could be held accountable for killing an innocent man.


I propose the answer is “all of the above”. Jesus forgiveness was practicing what he preached, and was towards his nation, his people, the Roman authorities, their soldiers, believers specifically, and mankind in general. On another note: since this redemption was considered already-done by God from before the earth was even formed, and Jesus reinforced his forgiveness of those who carried out God’s will in His plan of it, there has been and is no excuse for anti-Semitism towards the Jewish people about it. Either we believe the Cross was ordained, and that Jesus meant it when he forgave everyone, or we don’t believe Him. Rev. 13:8, 1 Pet 1:19-20.

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