The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Part 1)

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Welcome to the Parables

Today we begin a study of 33 of Jesus’ parables. Parables were a very distinctive part of how Jesus communicated with people. No one before or after Jesus used parables like he did.

Jesus’ parables make up about 35% of his teaching in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. About two-thirds of Jesus’ parables are found in the Gospel of Luke.

It is interesting to note that, technically speaking, there are no parables in the Gospel of John.

Before we take a look at the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18.23-35), let’s consider some questions and answers about parables in general.

Why did Jesus speak in parable?

As we know, apart from personal experience, stories are the quickest way to learn something. Jesus told important stories to help people understand, evaluate and redirect their lives.

His parables have forced people over the centuries to see life from new angles and to learn about what God expects from them.

Jesus used parables to get God’s people to stop, reconsider their ways, and change their behavior.

He wants us to life a Jesus-kind-of-life and he uses the parables to challenge us to that way of life.

What is a parable?

All of Jesus’ parables would have been found in the fiction section of a book store. Even though they were fiction, they carry a powerful and important message about real life.

When Jesus told parables, he told stories designed to get people on his side. After they were in agreement with him, he delivered the “punch line” that confronted them with the change that God desired.

What is the best way to interpret a parable?

Here are three things to remember when attempting to understand a parable.

(1) It is essential to come to the parables with a willingness to hear and respond to God. If we resist Jesus’ teaching, the words of Isaiah will apply to us.

He wrote, “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand” (Isaiah 6.9).

(2) Parables cannot be pulled from Jesus teaching as some kind of “timeless truths.” In fact, if we cannot find our interpretation of Jesus’ parable in the larger teachings of Jesus, then our interpretation is wrong.

Imagine a triangle for a moment. If our understanding of the parable sits atop the triangle of the major purposes of God, we are in a good place.

If we attempt to make the rest of the Bible support our view of the parable, it is as if we have flipped the triangle over on its top most point. It is just as wrong to do that to Biblical interpretation as it is to triangles.

(3) Very often, the most important point of a parable is what is said at the end. The scholars call this the “rule of the end.” As we interpret parables, we will pay special attention to the ending words and thoughts.

Matthew 18.23-35 – The Unforgiving Servant

As Coach Jake Taylor says, “Here’s some homework for you.” Please read all of Matthew 18 today. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is the ending message of the entire chapter and gives us the best way to understand what Jesus is saying in the chapter.

As you read about the unforgiving servant, please see it as a story with three scenes that are followed by an explanation.

(Scene 1) Verses 23-27 – A servant owes his master an enormous amount of money. He begs for mercy and the master forgives his debt.

(Scene 2) Verses 28-30 – The servant who has been forgiven finds a person who owes him a small amount of money, demands payment, and ends up throwing him in debtors prison.

(Scene 3) Verses 31-34 – Other servants told the master what had happened. The master puts the man in a place where torturers could exact payment for his large debt.

(Explanation) Verse 35 – The Father in heaven expects people in his kingdom to forgive people from the heart.

Is the parable part of Jesus’ central message?

There is no doubt that the mission of Jesus was to forgive the sins of all of humanity. There is also no question that Jesus expected his followers to join him in extending forgiveness to others.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5.7).

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6.12).

Immediately following the Lord’s Prayer Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6.14-15).

When we interpret parables, we study the larger message of Jesus to see if the two intersect. Matthew 6.14-15 appears to be quite similar to the main point of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

On another occasion, Jesus had this to say about prayer and forgiveness. He said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11.25).

There are other similar passages that highlight the teaching to forgive. We end our Scripture search with the words of Paul that seems to echo the message of the parable.

Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Going Deeper

May I suggest a few things you can do to get the full value of this study.

(1) Above all, make the decision to align your life with God’s revealed will in the parable and related Scriptures.

(2) As you have read the Bible verses that deal with forgiveness, ask God to show you any areas of unforgiveness in your life. Extend forgiveness to others and experience what that does to your inside condition.

(3) Become familiar with the message of Matthew 18 by reading it.

(4) Tomorrow, we will examine the parable in detail and see how it connects with Jesus’ message to the church in Matthew 18.

About This Blog

Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, Stories With Intent. His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.


  1. I think it is no coincidence that Jesus used parables so often – because, after all He knows how our brains work and absorb information.

    Whether through analogy, allegory or parable, we tend to better comprehend (and remember) a message that is illustrated through word pictures.

    I’m looking forward to beginning 2021 studying the parables of Jesus through your blog series and discovering nuansances previously missed, or perhaps forgotten.

    And on a side note, I am praying today that the forecasters are wrong about a potentially devastating ice storm. Having the extra responsibility of young ones in my home to keep warm and safe, the thought of a power outage is daunting. Winter weather is a heavy burden to carry. There are others who feel that as well. I think of those homeless who cannot escape it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I wake up, I hit my knees in prayer giving thanks to Jesus. I’ve never been 100% committed like I am now. As I ask for focus on wisdom, this parable really grabbed my attention. As God revealed to me that I no longer have to live and operate out of fear. So, I’m committed to forgiving people, past and present, including forgiving myself. Being able to apply forgiveness to anyone, including myself, I receive victory in Jesus name. Thank you Jesus…

    Liked by 1 person

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