Why would we ever withhold forgiveness?

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:23

The context of this passage is the day of Yeshua’s resurrection, in the evening of that very day. The disciples were still trying to understand what had happened since their Teacher had been crucified a few days before. A strange report of Messiah’s appearance had come from Mary, and Peter and John had both been to the tomb and found it was empty.

Suddenly, Yeshua is among them all, proclaiming peace and wholeness (shalom), and providing an admonition to remain receptive to the holy Spirit of God and to exercise the privilege of forgiveness with others.

Most commentators view this as a special privilege, anointing, or commissioning of the twelve disciples (or, in this case, the ten disciples, since Thomas and Judas were not among them). However, there is no indication this admonition was just to Yeshua’s closest circle, but it was conveyed to all of those present.

The significance of this cannot be minimized: the first collective teaching Yeshua provides his followers after being resurrected is to remain receptive to God’s Spirit and to be mindful of how they exercise forgiveness, because to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then the state of unforgiveness remains.

In reality, this should not be surprising to us, since Messiah consistently taught of the importance of forgiving others, and how the believer’s use of forgiveness with others will be an indicator of God’s forgiveness with them.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.

Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Luke 17:4 – “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

If we can cautiously peel back the prejudice of our religious orthodoxy regarding the historical commentary of this passage and simply consider the Messiah’s words for what they say, the importance of forgiveness in the teaching of Yeshua cannot be understated.

If we are allowing the Spirit of God to guide our lives, then we need to always be mindful of how important the role of forgiveness plays in our interactions with others. For to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then a state of unforgiveness remains. And if we are to maintain a consistent view within the larger context of Yeshua’s teaching during his life and ministry, that state of unforgiveness can be measured against our own standing with God.

The fact that the operation of the Spirit and forgiveness are knit together so closely should cause us to evaluate how receptive we are to the influence of the God’s Spirit in our lives. A life guided by the Spirit is, by default, a life of forgiveness.

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