The Matthew Series 24. The Unforgivable Sin
Matthew 12:22-32 English Standard Version (ESV)
Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Passages like this are why it is so important for us as a church to go through a book verse by verse. These are passages that scare us, and so we avoid them. However, as we will see tonight God’s grace is beautifully displayed within this passage. So, we read a passage like this and see a terrifying verse, in verse 32 it says who ever speaks against (or blasphemes against) the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. This passage is clearly saying that there is something we can do that will not be forgiven! And it is not alone; in 1 John 5:16b we read of a sin that leads to death (implying spiritual death), in other words a sin that will condemn us. We also read twice in Hebrews one in 6:4-6 and 10:26-31 we read again of sins that will not be forgiven.
So, let’s make one thing clear before we start this study tonight; there is a sin that we can commit that will not be forgive, that will condemn us to eternal punishment. What is it; well that is the point of this passage and what we will look at tonight.
Now, there have been many attempts to reconcile this passage through the ages, the most common interpretation is the one given by the great early church theologian Augustine; he said that essentially the unforgiveable sin is resistance to the work of the Spirit until death. Many through the ages have changes this slightly but essentially said the same thing. Now on one level they are right; resisting the work of the Spirit of God until death; persistence in un-repentance, will not be forgiven. But this is not what is being described here, nor in John, nor in Hebrews. It is not the case, because Jesus clearly says that whoever commits this sin will not be forgiven neither in this life nor the life to come! In other words these people are already condemned.
Let us be clear, the Holy Spirit has inspired the writers of the New Testament to describe these events and sins, as a warning to us but you will see in this study, as a encouragement to us as well.
Again what is the unforgivable sin? Well, to see it we have to see the context of this verse, and let us start with the most obvious question; who committed the sin? Well the passage is clear about that it was the Pharisees. What did they do? The attributed the work of The Holy Spirit in Christ as a work of the devil.
So, is that the unforgiveable sin; saying something is the work of the devil, when it is the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, yes and no. You see we have to know who the Pharisees were and what they actually said that committed them.
Let’s look at these Pharisees and see who they were. The first thing we see is that;
1. They knew better
The Pharisees see this miracle of Christ and here the people talking about it, and the people say, “can this be the son of David?” This is a clear reference to hope in the coming Messiah. The Pharisees knew the prophecies better than the people did, they taught on it, they had spent their lives studying the scriptures.
Now, what is interesting here, is that the people respond to the miracle as it should have been responded to, because this miracle is typical of the expected hope of the Messiah; just go back a few pages in your Bible when John asks is Jesus the Messiah; Jesus quotes Isaiah saying that he has come to heal the blind free the oppressed. The Pharisees see this; and do not discredit the miracle, they do not deny it had happened. The Pharisees understood what was going on, it was clear that it was real, what they couldn’t stand, what they didn’t want was this to be their Messiah. Rather than embrace the truth they bend it, and their twisted minds come up with a completely illogical and completely hypocritical response. They say; “They only way he can do this is because He does it by Baalzebul. Jesus exposes their stupidity and hypocrisy by saying surely if Satan is against Satan his house will fall; why would a house be against itself? And then, if I cast out by Baalzebul, who do you and your followers cast out by? (in verse 25-27). He is saying to them; you more than anyone in this crowd know that what I am doing is a display of God and a fulfilment of the Messianic hope, you more than anyone should understand this? And yet you deny! In fact, Jesus shows clearly that they knew what He was doing and that they knew that He was the Christ when he says in verse 28; But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of heaven has come upon you!
The unforgiveable sin, is not mistaking God’s work, it is not confusing God’s work for Satan’s. It is having the knowledge to know what it is right and looking at God’s salvation and knowing it to be true and saying I don’t want it. And this lines up with The passages in 1 John and in Hebrews. They all emphasis the knowledge of God. Hebrews 6:4-6 states it most clearly when it says;
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they (sin)fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
What does the writer of the letter to the Hebrews emphasise; enlightenment, who have tasted the heavenly gift, they partake in the Spirit and taste the good word of God. This all points to people who know the truth, who understand what is the truth is. It is people who have the knowledge of God, who understand the gospel, who look at the offering of God, which is the free forgiveness of sin and basically say to God you can keep your salvation! I don’t want it and I don’t need it. It is these people who Jesus says are condemned already, in this life and the life to come.
The Pharisees knew the Scriptures, they knew that Jesus fulfilled the expectation of the prophecies of the OT, they knew that these Miracles were confirmations of Jesus’ Divinity, they knew God, but knowing God they did not want Him, and so God gives them over to their desires and condemns them.
So, are we saying that there are people who are alive today that are walking around and no matter how hard they try they will not be forgiven? Well, yes and no!, because (and this is our second point);
2. They did not want forgiveness
When Jesus attributes their attitudes and actions to the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit; he is saying that those who know the work of the Spirit, which is to confirm the Word of God and Draw men to salvation, and yet say that is demonic. He is not saying that this is coming from a place of ignorance, or a mistake. No one is going to get to the judgement seat of God and be shocked to find out that on in their life they accidentally committed this sin and are therefore condemned. No! these Pharisees knew the Salvation of God, they knew the forgiveness of God and they did not want it. Why? Because to accept what Christ was doing and saying; would be a loss of all that they actually wanted, which was a self-righteousness and the life they wanted. These people knew all the details, all the realities, all the promises, but they still did not want God.
In other words these are people who do not care whether or not they committed the unforgiveable sin, because ultimately they actually don’t want to be forgiven by God! C.S. Lewis in his book the problem of pain says the gates of Hell are locked, but they are locked from the inside. In other words those who reject God want nothing to do with Him. The logic of this flows through the entire message of the New Testament, if you reject the way that God has made for salvation; well there is no other way, you have condemn yourself.
The reality is church, that these people do not want God’s salvation and therefore do not care about this; therefore, if you are worried that you have committed the unforgivable sin, if you want God to have mercy on you, you have not committed the unforgiveable sin.
3. This is good news for those who want forgiveness!
The good news of this passage, is that apart from those who through wilfully and fully rejection of God’s means of salvation; God will forgive the greatest of sinners.
Jesus says in verse 31;"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people... 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven...". No matter how great the offence, no matter how bad the sin, the cross is greater. And if you don’t believe me, think of Peter, who on the night that Jesus was betrayed declared three time, I don’t know Jesus! Yet the grace the cross was bigger!
Think of Paul, who went out in a murderous rage against Christ and His church, who killed Christians, and persecuted them, who heard Christ on the Road to Demasus, Saul why do you persecute me?” He received full Pardon from God. In fact, go through ever great man written about in this entire bible, and you will see that they all sin, fail (some murdered) and all doubted and yet the grace of the cross was enough! Paul, in fact in reflecting on his life, says that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tm 1:15).
The reality is that if you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit you know that you have willingly rejected the work of Salvation, and there is no other way to be saved, but anyone, who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Church, the great blessing of this passage, is that if you long for God’s forgiveness and salvation, passages like this and many others in the New Testament declare and show that you will be forgiven, you will be saved, there is no sin too great!
But passages like this warn us of the reality of mankind that given all that we need, given knowledge and display some might so harden their heart to God that they do not want God’ salvation; and therefore God gives them over to their desires and their destruction.
So, let’s praise the God who is able to save the worst of sinners! Even me!