Why did Jesus say this? Surely they knew what they were doing!
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
The majority of those involved in the death of Christ did not realise they were party to a serious miscarriage of justice.
Neither did they realise that they were putting to death the promised Messiah as scripture prophesied they would.
Jesus in asking God to forgive them was acting in accordance with what God would have us do.
Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Stephen followed his example.
Acts 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
2 Timothy 4:16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
That the people did it without comprehension is spoken of by Peter.
Acts 3:17 And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.
Consequently forgiveness was available for those who, when they knew the truth, would repent and be baptised.
Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
Paul speaks of the gospel being the wisdom of God which the rulers did not understand.
1 Corinthians 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
He speaks of himself obtaining mercy because the persecution he carried out was done in ignorance of the truth.
1 Timothy 1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
We are all born into this same ignorance.
We also ‘do not know what we do’ until we encounter the Gospel.
Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
When ‘the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’ are preached to us we have the same opportunity of repentance and salvation.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
If we believe, repent, are baptised for the remission of our sins and then live a life in Christ we can be saved.
The prayer of Jesus is efficacious for those who respond and turn from their ignorance.
John 17:9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
Their word is found in the Bible.
If you want to come to grips with what the Bible really teaches, why not take the free online Bible study course available on our website, www.thisisyourbible.com? This course will give you a background in the major themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As with everything we offer, there is no cost to you other than your time and effort... You will also have a personal tutor to whom you may pose questions either from the course itself or those questions which come to you as you read the Bible.
I hope this helps.