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3. The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant

The Passage:
Matt 18:21-35

The Parameters

    Remote Context

This parable is sandwiched between the broader context of Jesus’ teaching on church discipline and the topic of divorce and remarriage. Both issues involve forgiveness.

    Immediate Context

Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother when he sins against him. (18:21). Jesus’ answer is directed to the Peter and the rest of the disciples who believe in Christ, therefore this parable is directed to the saved. Jesus answer basically means - an infinite number. The parable illustrates His answer.

The Problem

How many times must we forgive others? Perhaps the unspoken question and problem is how can we forgive others an infinite number of times? What happens if we don’t forgive? So Jesus gives the following illustration:

The Progression


The Presentation

    The King and Servant

The situation

The king was owed an amount so large the servant could never repay.

The servants’ plea

The servant admitted his debt and begged for mercy.

The response

He felt compassion on the servant and released the debt.

    The Unforgiving Servant and another servant

The situation

The Unforgiving servant had a fellow servant (one of his peers) who owed him a small amount. The servant grabs his fellow servant and chokes him! No mercy, no compassion.

The servants’ plea

The indebted servant begged for mercy

The response

He refused to release the debt and demanded payment, but ironically, he put him in a situation where he would never be able to repay. (This is and important detail.)

    The King and the Unforgiving Servant

The situation

The king heard of the ungrateful servants refusal to forgive another servant what was owed him.

The king’s response the ungrateful servant - He tortured him until he could repay.


    Jesus’ Concluding Statement

God will do the same to us if we do not forgive our brother from our heart.

The Point

“Unlimited forgiveness ought to be demonstrated with mercy toward others because it is the reflection of a right relationship with the Father.” Or to state it another way. God’s forgiveness of our sins should motivate us to forgive those who offend us.

The Relationship to the Kingdom Program of God

Since the audience is Peter and his companions, this parable is addressed to believers; therefore, the truth is for present day relationships. The king’s forgiveness for an enormous debt illustrates God’s forgiveness of the believer for his sin. The unforgiving servant’s refusal to release the debt illustrates one who has not appreciated his own forgiveness. The punishment for the unforgiving servant shows God’s efforts to help the believer appreciate his forgiveness. The story illustrates an improper attitude of one who is destined for the kingdom of God.

The Particulars

  • 10,000 talents is an impossible amount to repay. This is important because it points out that our debt to God is one we could never repay. That is why hell lasts for eternity.
  • The image of being released from a debt is a great illustration of what it is to forgive. You’ve heard the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” People are confused. They think that forgiveness = forgetting. But it doesn’t. You know they owe you, but when you don’t make them pay, you know that it cost you. We don’t forget. We can’t forget, but we don’t hold a grudge. We don’t bring it up again.
  • It is interesting to note that the unforgiving servant did not admit his inability to repay. In fact, he said he would pay it off. I think that is significant because it shows that he didn’t really appreciate his own forgiveness. Then he turned around and refused to forgive another servant a debt owed him. We are so much like this servant. We feel like we can’t let another person off the hook. When we do that, we put ourselves in God’s place.
  • The unforgiving servant sent his fellow servant to prison where he could not repay the debt. This is important because no one can ever repay you for harm done. You’ve heard the phrase, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” You can’t get even.
  • In this parable the unforgiving servant is sent to the torturers by the king (God) for his unwillingness to forgive others. In the broader context of understanding the law of love, and the immediate context of forgiveness, I think this means that if we are unwilling to love well and forgive others, God will “torture” us. I interpret torture as causing us to live and fail by our own efforts, to face our evil, recognize our sin and appreciate God’s forgiveness of us. Then we will in turn forgive others because we will see that we are just as bad as them and capable of doing the same thing they did to us.
  • This parable illustrates the principle of Isa 55:8. Isaiah is not talking about God’s infinitude, omnipotence and omniscience. He is talking about forgiveness in the immediate context. In the previous verse he says, God has compassion and will “abundantly pardon.” We are not like that. We are like the unforgiving servant. God’s ways are not our ways.
  • Why did Jesus say 70x7 ? What is the significance of that number? It equals 490. That is how many years Israel stayed in the land without obeying the Sabbath year. God forgave Israel 490 times before he finally sent them to Babylon. Also compare Daniel’s prophecy. God is going to forgive Israel for 490 more years - 70 weeks of years... God does not ask us to do anything that He isn’t willing to do.


  • When we are injured by another, it establishes a debtor relationship.
  • We forgive by canceling the debt someone owes us for wrong done. We don’t expect them to pay us back. We don’t try to get even.
  • My motivation to forgive is my own forgiveness. I can never repay God what I owe. When someone else does evil to me, they can never repay either. But when I recognize my forgiveness, I won’t hold them accountable for their evil. When we refuse to forgive someone else, it is the same as saying. I would never do such a thing. When we realize our own evil, we know that we can and will do the same things to others.
  • Misery is assured if I fail to forgive.
  • What about the person that does not come seeking forgiveness and repent? Jesus forgave the people while he was on the cross and they had not repented. They did not know what they were doing. Until they repented there could be no remission of sin and no relationship, but what forgiveness does is release the other person from me. It turns the problem over to God. I no longer hold it in my power to judge.

Related Topics: Forgiveness

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