What Did Jesus Mean By Forgiving 70 x 7 Times?

Sometimes when you are wronged, it can be extremely difficult to forgive that person for what they have done, especially if they do it over and over. So how do we forgive them? How do we forgive 70 x 7 times, and what does that mean?

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:21-22,

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

So was Jesus instructing Peter, and ultimately us to just forgive a bunch of times? By no means. There is such a deeper picture that Christ was painting for the disciples at that time. When reading this scripture and many others, you have to understand that Jesus was a first century Jew, and what that would look like for him. So, let’s look at what he was really trying to say.

What does it really mean?

You seen when Christ gave the example of 70×7, he wasn’t just saying forgive 490 times. (70×7=490) Christ was actually alluding to the 490 years that the Jews had spent in captivity and slavery. They were taken from their homeland, their families were torn apart, and they were enslaved, along with many other atrocities that they endured.

He was saying even in the hardest of situations, forgive. Even after their enemies had hurt them and wronged them for almost five centuries, He was teaching them to forgive. He knew what harboring the unforgiveness would do them no good.

There’s an old saying that says,

Harboring unforgiveness or bitterness, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

He goes on to teach them in a parable about a king that forgave a great debt for a slave, and then the slave went out and demanded a small sum from a fellow slave. When he could not pay, he had his fellow slave thrown in jail.

Christ was in the grand scheme of things showing us how the Father continually forgives us of great debts.

Going The Extra Mile…

Just a few chapters back in Matthew 5:40-48, Christ paints an even grander picture for us.

If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Now take what Christ said in chapter 18 and tie it into this. Christ was telling them forgive even in the most difficult of situations. The Jews were still under Roman oppression. A Roman soldier could pretty much demand anything from them, and they had to comply.

A soldier could and would force a Jew to carry their pack for a mile, even on the sabbath. Technically doing that much work on the sabbath was forbidden by Jewish law. But, again, Jesus going against the grain, told them to forgive the soldier in that instance and gladly go the extra mile.


Love Your Enemy

In verse 44 He instructs them to love their enemies. The enemies that he was discussing was any person who had a deep hatred for them, even to the point of wanting them dead. This would be those who held them in captivity and those who ruled over them currently. It can also be applied to simple “enemies” such as a neighbor you are feuding with, but the greek word means so much more than that. You can find a great article on this from Patheos HERE.

Loving your enemy is much greater when we tie it in to what else Christ said. It is easy to love those who love you, but Jesus was teaching his disciples to go to the next level in their relationship with the Father.

So I challenge you to rethink forgiveness the next time somebody wrongs you. It may be difficult, but think of how difficult it must have been for first century Jews to take this command.

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2 thoughts on “What Did Jesus Mean By Forgiving 70 x 7 Times?

    • Hey Sarai, The 490 years is referring to the 70 7’s in the book of Daniel chapter 9. It was 490 years of punishment to deal with their sin as a nation and to prepare for the coming Messiah. I can see where the way I wrote it could come across as the captivity from the book of Exodus. I apologize for the confusion.