Jesus said to him, I say not to you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Until seventy times seven. This is no fixed number. It is a figurative way of saying that there is, and there can be, no limit to Christian forgiveness. To understand the point and force of St. Peter's question, it is necessary to know the rabbinical rules of forgiveness with which he would be familiar. It was a settled rule of the rabbis that forgiveness should not be extended more than three times. Edersheim says, "It was a principle of rabbinism that, even if the wrong doer had made full restoration, he would not obtain forgiveness till he had asked it of him whom he had wronged, but that it was cruelty in such circumstances to refuse pardon." It says much for St. Peter's apprehension of his Master that he was sure he would not limit forgiveness to the rabbinical "three times." From his point of view, making the three times into seven times was a splendid piece of liberality. But he could not measure the generosity and nobility of his Lord, who took the "three times" and made it "seventy times seven." "It did not occur to St. Peter that the very act of numbering offences marked an externalism which had never entered into, nor comprehended, the spirit of Christ. He had yet to learn, what we, alas! too often forget, that as Christ's forgiveness, so that of the Christian, must not be computed by numbers. It is qualitative, not quantitative. Christ forgives sin, not sins; and he who has experienced it follows in his footsteps."
I. THE ULTIMATE LIMIT IS THE DIVINE EXAMPLE OF FORGIVENESS. "As Christ forgave you, so also do ye." What do we expect from God? Can we conceive of a limit to the times when we may hope for the mercy of God? What would life be worth if we could? The fear of outstretching the limit would fill us with misery. Man can never lose the hope in God. If he does he becomes fixed in sin. "There is forgiveness with thee;" a man must be able to say that in full view of the provocations of a long life, when he comes to his dying day. To the Divine forgiveness there is no qualification of degrees or numbers.
II. THE PRACTICAL LIMIT IS OUR CHRISTLY LOVE FOR OUR BROTHER. If we are Christly, we want to do him good. It does not matter about ourselves, and injury done to us. It does matter to a Christly man that a brother has done a wrong. The Christly man is set upon his recovery from the wrong; and if that means his forgiveness over and over again, until patience is tried unto the uttermost, the Christly man will forgive and bear, if only he may win back his erring brother at last. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.