On Being a Forgiver
An overcomer is not the same as being a mere believer in Jesus Christ. In John’s message to the Seven Churches, the word was given to the entire Church, but the rewards were reserved for those who overcome. The clear implication is that not all believers would actually overcome.
The difficulty that Christians have had in distinguishing the believers from the overcomers is their simplistic view of divine reward and punishment. It is generally believed that all unbelievers are punished in “hell,” while all believers receive “eternal life.” There seems to be a type of divine democracy in this, where all men are treated equally, depending only on whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ.
But Jesus Himself made it clear in Luke 19 that some believers would be rewarded with rulership over five cities (19:19), or ten cities (19:17). This alone shows us that all future rewards are not equal. But this goes beyond the basic reward of immortal life, for these rewards deal with authority over others, or other cities. Immortality is immortality, and everyone who receives it will have it equally. But immortality is not the only reward.
Then, too, there is the little-understood question of WHEN a person will receive this reward of immortality. By this, I do not mean to enter the debate about whether a person receives immortality at the moment of his death or later in the resurrection. The more important question is whether he is raised in the first resurrection or the second. The first resurrection consists of those who are called to positions of authority, for Rev. 20:4-6 says,
4 . . . and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
The first resurrection will NOT include everyone, for it speaks of “the rest of the dead” not coming to life until a thousand years later. This makes it a limited resurrection. The second resurrection, however, includes ALL the dead—that is, the rest of the dead (Rev. 20:5). Of this resurrection Jesus said in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
This resurrection of which Jesus spoke was the second, in which “all who are in the tombs” are raised to life. In verse 29 Jesus makes it clear that this resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers, for some will receive “life,” while others will receive “judgment.” (Paul confirms this in Acts 24:15.)
We can only conclude, then, that the first resurrection will include ONLY believers, but NOT ALL believers. The second resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers, who will receive their respective rewards (life or judgment) at the same time. This is consistent with what Jesus taught in Luke 12:46, where He says that some of God’s “servants” will receive their reward “with” (at the same time as) the unbelievers.
This is also confirmed by Moses in the law. The dead are to be raised “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16). Moses prophesied that the congregation (i.e., “Church”) was to be summoned before God by the blowing of two silver trumpets (Num. 10:3). But only one trumpet was blown to summon the rulers of the people—that is, those in positions of authority or rule. Since “the last trumpet” uses the singular term, we can see that Paul was speaking of the first resurrection that would summon only the rulers of the people—that is, the overcomers. This is the “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35) that the men of faith sought to attain.
The distinction between the two resurrections raises the question of what it takes to be an overcomer. Must a person be beheaded, as a literal reading of Rev. 20:4 would seem to indicate? Must a person suffer martyrdom, as so many of the men of faith did who are listed in Hebrews 11?
The simple answer is this: overcomers must indeed lose their heads, but not necessarily their physical heads. God is more concerned with replacing our minds with the mind of Christ than He is with physical beheadings. Secondly, in the list of overcomers in Hebrews 11, it is primarily their faith that commends them, not their death. Yet they had to love God more than their own lives. The list in Hebrews 11 includes (by name) only two men who were actually martyred—Abel and Samson. Neither was beheaded, and the rest died normal deaths. Yet all these obtained “a better resurrection.”
So it must be with those who follow in their footsteps.
What, then, does it take to be an overcomer? What must we do to obtain that “better resurrection” and become a “ruler” in God’s Kingdom? There are four main things that are clearly taught in the Scripture. There are, no doubt, more than these, but if a person fulfills these four, there is little doubt that he will fulfill all other requirements as well.
In Matthew 18:21, 22 we read,
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? 22 Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Seventy times seven equals 490. This was not a random number. It is equal to the “seventy weeks of Daniel” (Dan. 9:24). It is also 10 Jubilees (49 x 10). The number 490 is prominent, because it is a forgiveness cycle. Every year on the Day of Atonement, God forgave the nation, covering its sin by the blood of the goat.
Thus, when Jesus said to forgive “seventy times seven,” He spoke a hidden truth of judgment in Bible prophecy. God was obligated to forgive the nation 490 times—once each year on the Day of Atonement. From the beginning of Daniel’s 70 weeks (458 B.C.) when Judah’s Jubilee calendar was divinely reinstated, God once again forgave the nation (and the world) each year for the next 490 years. The final year fell in 33 A.D., and at this point God settled the accounts. He foreclosed on the debt, but sent Jesus to pay it in full on the Cross. Hence, He reconciled the world to Himself by paying its debt for sin.
Jesus illustrated his statement about forgiving 490 times by illustrating it with a parable. He said this immediately after telling Peter to forgive 490 times, and not just seven times. In Matt. 18:23-35 we read,
23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents.
A “talent” of gold in those days was 131 pounds (Troy) of gold. A “talent” of silver was 117 pounds (Troy). Ten thousand “talents” of either gold or silver represented a huge debt that was impossible to repay.
In the parable, the debtor appealed for grace, and the king forgave the whole debt. But the former debtor later refused to forgive the small debt that his neighbor owed him. When the king heard about it, he summoned the ex-debtor. Verses 32-35 tell us,
32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you? 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers [Imprisonment was called in the Roman law books, cruciatus corporis, “crucifying the flesh or body.”] until he should repay all that was owed him.
Jesus then summed up the parable with a moral to the story:
35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Thus, we see that this parable is not really about forgiving monetary debts, but about all transgressions that men do against us. We are to follow Jesus’ example in forgiving those who trespass against us. In the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matt. 6:12, we read, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Luke 11:4, it reads this way:
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
In the Bible, sin is reckoned as a debt. If a man sins against another, he is said to be indebted to him. And so Jesus’ parables about monetary debts are really about the art of forgiveness. Jesus Himself, of course, was ready to lead the way in showing us the extent to which a person was to forgive, saying at the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Christians often have a problem forgiving others who have offended them. Some have truly been brutalized by others. Whether they have been wounded by a simple comment or physical abuse is not the issue here. Nor is it our purpose in this writing to try to remedy any emotional or physical traumas that Christians have experienced. It is doubtful if anyone reading these few lines has experienced the kind of abuse that Jesus received when He went to the Cross. In whatever way we have been abused, He was abused more. And yet He was able to forgive.
Some people have been called to forgive more than others, depending upon their circumstances. Many in the early Church suffered horrible deaths at the hands of Roman torturers, gladiators, and lions. Others were burned alive and even slowly roasted over a bed of hot coals. Whatever circumstance God has put in our lives is an obstacle to being an overcomer. The obstacle is removed by the power of forgiveness and nothing else.
In fact, an overcomer is one who overcomes something. Without something to overcome, how can he be an overcomer? The only way one can exercise the power of forgiveness is to have something to forgive. To have something to forgive, one must be a victim of some sort of sin. No one is called to forgive an act of kindness. In fact, in biblical law, only the victim has the right to forgive. The biblical judge cannot forgive a sin committed against someone else. He has the power only to determine how much debt is owed to the victim. The victim, then, has the right to demand all of what is owed to him, part of it, or he may forgive the entire debt. That is his right.
It is not that a person must always forgive a debt that is owed to him. He should be led by the Spirit in this matter. To automatically demand payment for all debt to the last penny is to be legalistic. One must go beyond demanding one’s rights. One must pray to know the mind of God in each situation and to know what is best for the sinner (debtor). Perhaps it is best to teach him the discipline of working off the debt in order that he may repent and learn not to victimize others in the future. Or it may be in his best interest under God to cancel all or part of the debt.
Whatever the circumstance, this is where our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). A legalistic person is unable to forgive until the last penny has been repaid—and even then, he will never forget! Yet the other extreme is to think that every sin must be forgiven regardless of whether the sinner repents or not. In the parable of Matt. 18, God was more than willing to forgive the sinner; but when the debtor himself refused to forgive a debt, his own forgiveness was revoked. Why? Because God was judging him by his own standard of measure.
This is the law that Jesus mentioned in Matt. 7:1, 2,
1 Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Likewise, in the law it was a sin to charge interest to a brother—that is, a fellow citizen of the Kingdom (Deut. 23:19). However, the next verse tells us it was lawful to charge interest to a foreigner—that is, one who believed in a different set of laws and who saw nothing wrong with charging interest on loans. He could be treated according to his own standard of measure.
In general, this is the principle of grace and blessings being given to those who are citizens of God’s Kingdom, subject to His moral standards. But to those who reject God’s moral standards, they may be treated according to the way they normally treat others. Thus, the debtor in Matt. 18 did not deserve the blessings of God’s law and was treated according to his own standard of measure.
This principle has often been abused by religious groups who are not members of their particular organization or denomination. Some refer to non-members as “gentiles” in order to justify stealing their property or even doing violence to them. The balance here is to see that anyone who is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, who believes that He was the Sacrifice for sin, and that He rose from the dead for our justification is a citizen of the Kingdom. It has nothing to do with race or joining a religion or denomination.
There are laws against partiality in judgment. There are laws against oppressing foreigners—even unbelievers. These laws will balance the application of this double standard on usury and limit its application properly.
In Matthew 18 we thus learn the limits of forgiveness as well. Forgiveness is applicable on two levels: personal and judicial. On the personal side, one should forgive and not carry grudges. Grudges are like debt notes, and they cause people to be negative. This can even cause health problems.
Judicially speaking, the best way to learn how and when to forgive is through our children. When our child does something wrong, how do we judge him? If we simply forgive the offense without holding him accountable in any way, we will soon teach him that it is acceptable to steal or hurt others. In later life he may easily become a criminal.
On the other hand, if he is overly punished, or if forgiveness is withheld from him even after he has made things right, he will grow up feeling bitter and angry with others. In both cases, it is a reaction to injustice. Children rebel against injustice and hypocrisy, which is rooted in partiality and double standards. So we must learn to forgive and even be quick to forgive—yet we must also learn that when dealing with those who are physically, mentally, or spiritually immature, it might be in their best long-term interest to use some discipline to bring them to repentance before extending forgiveness.
I believe that this is an underlying principle in Matthew 18. The debtor needed discipline, and so forgiveness was withheld from him until he paid the last penny. Though the parable ends on that note, we should also keep in mind that the law provided for a Jubilee—the cancellation of all debt at the end of 49 years. In other words, it should be understood that the debtor in the parable would ultimately be forgiven of his debt, even if some the debt were still unpaid.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, has indeed paid for the sin of the whole world. This establishes the fact that God will save all mankind and puts the responsibility upon Him to do this. However, the way in which He does this is our present question. We see from Matt. 18 that He does not forgive everyone regardless of their actions. Those who have no faith in His Sacrifice will be held accountable until the great Creation Jubilee at the end of time. Those who do have faith in Him are citizens of the Kingdom and will obtain immortality at the general resurrection of the dead. But the priests of the Kingdom (overcomers) will inherit immortality in the first resurrection and will rule with Him in the Kingdom (Rev. 20:4-6).
The moral of the parable of the debtor was not to define the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. It was to define the difference between a regular believer (a Christian) and an overcomer. The forgiven debtor had the lawful right to obtain the small debt that his neighbor owed him. Nowhere in the parable is that right abrogated. But likewise, the king had the right to extract the huge debt from the debtor. And so the king treated the first debtor according to his own standard of measure. If he could not forgive the small debt of his neighbor, then neither would the king forgive the larger debt.
In my early life when this parable was read to me, I was told that I would lose my salvation if I did not forgive every sin others committed against me. Needless to say, this mortified me and put me under extreme pressure, because I was also taught that if I lost my salvation, then I would burn in hell-fire forever. That was a cruel burden to put on a child, and I do not want anyone else to suffer the same mental anguish.
So let me explain that this parable does NOT address the question of our being “saved,” or “justified by faith.” It deals with being an overcomer. Justification is pictured in Israel’s festival called Passover, where one is justified by the blood of the lamb. This parable, however, deals with another of Israel’s festivals called the Jubilee, which occurred about six months after Passover.
The Jubilee was a day in which all debts were forgiven every 49 years. It preceded the great Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), which pictures the time when we are clothed with immortality (2 Cor. 5:1-4). At the Feast of Booths in ancient times, the people left their houses and built “booths” made of living tree branches. It resembled a week-long camp-out. This was prophetic of the day the overcomers leave the present mortal “house” and dwell in a house not made with hands that is currently reserved for us in heaven. This is more fully discussed in my book, The Laws of the Second Coming.
And so, Jesus’ parable of the debtor gives us the key to understanding how to be an overcomer, and not merely a believer. Being a believer means placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. Being an overcomer (in the parable) means being a forgiver. This is one of the primary requirements to inheriting the first resurrection as an overcomer. Without having the ability to forgive, no one will be placed in a position of leadership to rule in God’s Kingdom. After all, ask yourself this question: Would YOU want an unforgiving judge or ruler placed in authority over YOU? No, and neither will God do this. Just because a person is a Christian believer does not make him fit to rule God’s Kingdom.