Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV)
- Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
The interesting thing about this verse is that Jesus is not saying that we should forgive 490 times or simply a lot of times for that matter. I came to understand recently that there is a very specific meaning when we look behind the symbolism of those numbers.
In the Bible, the number "7" symbolises completeness or a finished work, while the number "70" signifies 'perfect spiritual order carried out with all spiritual power and significance' (Bullinger, 1921, p.235). Therefore, 490, being the product of 70 x 7, signifies spiritual perfection of perfect order and completeness.
Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone and eagerly offered an answer to his own question. He thought that forgiving completely would suffice. But Jesus responded by saying that it wasn't good enough to just forgive completely but to forgive to the point of spiritual perfection
If we think we have no unforgiveness... we need to stop and examine our hearts. This is one of those things that makes me go "ouch" whenever I stop to think about it or have those creeping negative thoughts against someone... We are required to forgive to the point were we no longer meditate on the hurt or have any anger or animosity towards the person who sinned against us. Our hearts need to be completely cleared to say the least.
Unforgiveness hurts us and not the person who hurt us. It also hurts and hinders our spiritual lives. I often use something I've heard to illustrate, it gets a laugh but gets the point across: "Unforgiveness is like taking poison while waiting for the other person to die!"
I quoted E.W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, 1921
. For anyone interested, this classic study guide can be found as a free internet resource here: http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/number01.htm