On the cross, Jesus said:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV)

Was Jesus referring to the Jews that Peter was talking about in Acts 3:17?

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. (ESV)

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  • I believe they were, but not just the Jews. Their rulers were Romans, and Romans were also present during Jesus crucifixion. Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 21:48

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Peter speaks to a group that had gathered in Solomon's Portico in response to his healing a man who had been lame from birth. Only Jews were allowed in that particular area. He speaks of Jesus' rejection by his audience and by "your rulers," characterizing it as part of the divine plan.

  • Brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Acts 3:17-18

He then calls his hearers to repentance.

  • Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus.

So in Acts, the speaker is clearly thinking about a Jewish audience. But in Luke 23, the verse in question is preceded with the sentence:

  • they crucified him there, along with the criminals

The ones who crucified him were Roman soldiers, so it stands to reason that he is speaking about them. However, we should also consider that Christians believe Jesus suffered for the sins of all mankind. During his Passion, it is plausible that he prayed God would forgive all human beings generally, and particularly those who played a role in his death.

To conclude: Peter spoke to a specific group of Jews who had gathered in Solomon's Portico. We cannot say with certainty that Jesus was thinking only of the Roman soldiers who crucified him him, and we should not reject the idea that he may have had a deeper more universal meaning in mind.

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    Indeed, Paul says that none of the rulers of this world understood, 1 Cor 2:7-8. Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 1:10
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    I always read it as Christ talking directly to all man kind, not just jews, not just romans, but all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. +1
    – JonH
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 18:09

Luke 23:34 is a deeply significant verse for a variety of reasons as Ellicott points out:

(34) Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.—Again, the silence is broken, not by the cry of anguish or sigh of passionate complaint, but by words of tenderest pity and intercession. It is well, however, that we should remember who were the primary direct objects of that prayer. Not Pilate, for he knew that he had condemned the innocent; not the chief priests and scribes, for their sin, too, was against light and knowledge. Those for whom our Lord then prayed were clearly the soldiers who nailed Him to the cross, to whom the work was but that which they were, as they deemed, bound to do as part of their duty. It is, however, legitimate to think of His intercession as including, in its ultimate extension, all who in any measure sin against God as not knowing what they do, who speak or act against the Son of Man without being guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost. (See Note on Acts 3:17.)

Note Ellicott's conclusions here:

  • Jesus' prayer was directed to the soldiers nailing Him to the cross
  • Jesus' prayer is also directed to all sinners because we all sin in ignorance because none of us realize the full extent of our own sinfulness
  • Ellicott also draws a direct link to Acts 3:17. See below.

To this list, Barnes add another conclusion:

  • The duty of praying for our enemies, even when they are endeavoring most to injure us.

To this list I would add an important further conclusion:

  • Jesus' forgiveness is extended to people before they even confess and ask forgiveness for their sins.

Now to the OP's specific question and its connection to Acts 3:17. The word "ignorance" is translated from (and etymologically related to) the Greek word ἄγνοια (agnoia) which occurs four times in the NT all of which BDAG places under a single meaning of:

lack of information that may result in reprehensible conduct, ignorance, unawareness, lack of discernment, specifically:

  • Acts 3:17 - And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as [did] your rulers also.
  • Acts 17:30 - So indeed God, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now commands all men everywhere to repent
  • Eph 4:18 - being darkened in the understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance being in them on account of the hardness of their heart
  • 1 Peter 1:14 - as children of obedience, not being conformed to the passions in your former ignorance.

Note that in all cases, the word ἄγνοια (agnoia) refers to one's ignorance of sin or the ignorance of its extent/depth. (In my personal experience and observation, even mature Christians never fully realize the depths of their own sinfulness and how much we need Christ and His love & grace.)

Therefore, I agree with the OP - Jesus' prayer in Luke 23:34 is directed not only to the soldiers, but the reason that Jesus was on the cross at all was because our (specifically my) sins and sinfulness. In my case, I am still discovering many things bout which I was ignorant that cause others much pain.

Jesus' prayer in Luke 23:34 is our assurance that even the sins of which we are still ignorant, are forgiven.

Rom 3:23, 24 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.


The forgiveness of Christ is immensely far-reaching. With regard to that particular prayer he made to the Father, whilst hanging in agony, in the process of dying, it staggers us nearly two thousand years later.

The question is whether those ones Jesus asked to be forgiven were the Jews Peter spoke of in Acts 3:17. The speech Peter gave took place in the Temple in Jerusalem, in Solomon's porch. First, he addressed them as "Men of Israel" (verse 12) and then as Brothers" (in the verse asked about). As a Jew himself, he would naturally address fellow-Jews as men of Israel, and brothers. These were Jews who had witnessed the miracle of Peter healing a man who had been lame from birth.

But the definitive statement that identifies those ones is in verse 14. He says they are those who denied Jesus Christ to be the Holy One, the Just. Instead, they demanded a murderer be released so that Jesus would have to be crucified. Peter identifies the crowd as having acted in ignorance, as did their Roman rulers who alone had the power to order crucifixions. As Jesus' prayer was for forgiveness for all who acted in ignorance regarding his crucifixion, then that would agree with Peter's speech in Acts 3 - all the Jews at that time, and the Roman rulers, and the soldiers. All those ones acted in ignorance.

This is substantiated by the apostle Paul's later statement in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 where he reminds the Corinthian Christians that when he first came to them, it was to preach Christ crucified. He then explains that "the rulers of this age" (or, "princes of this age" A.V.) could not know the wisdom of God in Christ being crucified, "For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (vs. 8).

This was the mystery of God, until the Holy Spirit revealed it by raising Christ from the dead (vs. 7). This deep, spiritual truth could not be comprehended until after Christ had been raised, so that all who were involved in his crucifixion were acting in ignorance. This means that the Jewish people of that time, their Roman rulers, and the soldiers, were incorporated into Jesus' prayer for forgiveness from the cross. They did not know who this Jesus was; that he was the Lord of Glory. It's worth pondering the extent of this prayer for forgiveness when we realise that Jesus' death 'covered' far, far more people than just the ones present at his crucifixion! But that's another question.

Paul further explained, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (vs. 14). In Acts chapter 2 Peter urged that crowd of Jews and Gentile proselytes to grasp that they were witnessing the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy about the Spirit of God being poured out. When they repented and put their faith in the risen Christ, they too received the Holy Spirit. They stopped being 'natural' and became 'spiritual'. Then they understood! They were no longer ignorant, but acting with Spirit-filled faith!

When you ask, "Was Jesus referring to the Jews that Peter was talking about in Acts 3:17?" that's back-to-front because Peter had not yet made that statement in Acts 3:17. Jesus could not refer to something that had not yet been said. However, Peter knew what Jesus had said little more than 50 days earlier in his prayer for forgiveness for the ignorant people who had crucified him. Therefore, Peter was referring to both the Jews at that time, the Roman rulers and the soldiers who Jesus had prayed for while on the cross. But, given that he was only addressing Jewish people in Acts 3:17, he was specifically identifying them as needing forgiveness.

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