Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’. Matthew 18:21-22
Peter thought he was being really spiritual by his willingness to forgive up to seven times. Jesus’ response to forgive someone up to 490 times must have been quite a shock! Jesus never wasted a word. So the number of times he instructs us to forgive must have some deeper significance. But what is it?
Hebrew is alphanumeric which means that every word has a numerical value. Words that share the same numeric value are often connected in some way and these connections frequently communicate deeper spiritual insights. And is this certainly the case here.
490 is the numerical value of the biblical Hebrew word “tamim” which means to “complete,” “perfect,” or “finished.” A person who can’t forgive will always live an imperfect, and incomplete life that’s lacks a true understanding of the “finished” gracious work of the cross. 490 is also the value of the Hebrew phrase “Let your heart be perfect” (1 Kings 8:61). Forgiving helps to make us complete and is key to perfecting our heart.
But there are some even deeper connections. The word nativity and Bethlehem, the city where Messiah was born, both individually add up to 490. This makes perfect sense since Jesus was born to so that we might be forgiven. And forgiveness is associated with bread in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespass as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt). We celebrate this forgiveness by partaking of the broken bread of Communion concerning which Jesus said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Just like a person can’t live without their daily bread, an individual can’t survive spiritually and relationally without forgiveness. All of us need to learn to forgive and to be forgiven.
Forgiveness is not an elective it’s a requirement. We must forgive because we have been forgiven by the Lord. Biblically, extending forgiveness should not be dependent on receiving an apology, “even as Messiah forgave you, so you also must do” (Col 3:13). Unforgiveness keeps you imprisoned and chained to your past but forgiveness sets you free.
Don’t delay! Ask the Lord, “Who do I need to forgive today? May the Lord give you the grace right now to forgive in Jesus name.”