Following his teaching about the lost sheep, Jesus dealt with the issue of forgiveness in response to a question he received from one of his disciples. Peter said, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Peter’s brother Andrew was also a disciple of Jesus and was most likely the person Peter was referring to when he asked Jesus this question. It could have been that these brothers were the two disciples that had argued about who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34). Peter had gone with Jesus up into a mountain and witnessed his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), but Andrew was left behind and was likely involved with the remaining disciples failed attempt to cast a demon out of a lunatic boy (Matthew 17:16). If Peter and Andrew were typical brothers, they probably fought a lot and were very competitive toward each other. Peter may have thought seven times was a reasonable limit or a sufficient amount of tolerance based on he and his brother’s track record of fighting. In response to Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus said, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). In other words, Jesus was saying Peter shouldn’t have limits to his forgiveness. He should continuously forgive Andrew, even if his brother committed the same offense against him over and over.
Jesus told a parable to express the type of forgiveness God shows us compared to the forgiveness we are expected to show each other. He said, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which ought him ten thousand talents” (Matthew 18:23-24). A talent was a measure used to weigh gold and silver and was equal to 75 lbs. The sum of 10,000 talents was meant to represent an astronomical amount of debt that no one would ever be able to repay. Today 10,000 talents of silver would be worth $168,300,000 and 10,000 talents of gold $13,833,600,000. In spite of the impossibility of him being able to do so, the man who owed the king the money said, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (Matthew 18:26). In response, it says in Matthew 18:27, “Then the lord of the servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” Jesus went on to say that the man who was forgiven his enormous debt went out and found a man that owed him 100 pence, the equivalent of $3.47 in silver or $285.47 in gold today, “And he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest” (Matthew 18:28). The man begged him to be patient and promised to pay it back, but the man that had been forgiven the 10,000 talent debt would not, “but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt” (Matthew 18:30).
In order to drive home the point of his parable, Jesus told his disciples that the man that had owed 10,000 talents was brought back before the king and his sentence was reversed. Jesus said:
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? and his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:32-34)
The Greek word Jesus used that is translated tormentors, basanistes (bas-an-is-tace’) means a torturer (930). Basanistes is derived from the word basanizo (bas-an-id’-zo) which represents a painful type of labor (928). This was likely meant to be a reference back to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 18:6 about having a millstone hanged about one’s neck and being cast into the sea because of an offence toward a young child or baby Christian. Jesus concluded his parable with the warning, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). The implication being that God will hold us accountable for out debt to him (Jesus’ death on the cross) if we do not forgive others and he has forgiven us.