Q – Recently, I got into a discussion regarding Matthew 12:32. I think I have the essence of Jesus deliberately telling the Pharisees that their theology is whacked and they are literally watching Jesus do miracles in their presence and continue to deny His diety.
Could you expound and explain 12:29 and 12:32? I really don’t get what Jesus means by “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”.
Jim – Well, sure I can! That’s my gig! But, it’s not an easy one to untangle, because the context is really much larger than the couple of verses you’re citing. So, let’s look at the whole story.
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:22-32)
The whole scenario began with Jesus healing a desperately sick man. He was possessed by a demon, causing him to be blind and mute. That’s a dangerous spiritual condition that required more than just medicine. It would require someone more powerful than the demonic forces to take charge and cast them out of the man. It would take someone with genuine and unquestionable spiritual authority.
So Jesus, being the Sovereign and having all authority, healed this wretch’s spiritual and physical ailments. And everyone around was astounded. These were miracles far beyond the type that charlatans and soothsayers pulled off. There were lots of supposed healers and false messiahs running around Canaan at the time. But, Jesus was outstandingly different. So, they concluded that Jesus had to be the Messiah, the son of David. Only Messiah would have this sort of power and ability.
The Pharisees were also present and they overheard the people declaring their awe and recognition of Jesus. That made them angry. Remember, if Jesus was indeed the Christ, then these Pharisees were out of business. They could no longer wield authority over the conscience of the populous. There would be no more temple offerings, cutting off their primary means of support (and robbery). If this Jesus were indeed the Son of David, He would rise to the throne, unite the twelve tribes and rule supremely. This was not good for the Pharisees, considering their own questionable ways and methods.
So, in an effort to dissuade the people from following Jesus, they declared that He was the exact opposite of the Messiah – He was a devil. They said that He was controlled by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. So, in essence, these Pharisees not only degraded Jesus, they degraded the Spirit of God that had healed this man. Rather than recognize the Spirit of God at work, they blasphemed the Spirit and called it demonic. They attributed the work of the holy character and nature of God to the most unclean and foul spirit they could name – the lord of the flies (Beelzebub).
Jesus, meanwhile, knew their thoughts – nothing being hidden from Him. He first pointed out the absurdity of their position. A kingdom whose army fights against itself will ultimately come to nothing. Why would the devils work to inhabit some poor individual and then have their own demonic prince come exile them? That’s a sure recipe for defeat.
Second, Jesus turned the tables on their logic and pointed out that their own sons acted as exorcists (the act of casting out demons was well known among the Israelites). So, Jesus pointed out that their condemnation of His actions was also a condemnation of their own children. Therefore, since the Pharisees had essentially called their own children demons, Jesus declared that their children would be their judges.
Then He hit them with the clincher. If He was not empowered by demonic forces, yet if He indeed had the authority to drive demons from their hosts, then there was no other conclusion than that the kingdom of God (and the true son of David) was in their midst.
They hated that conclusion. But, the logic was impeccable.
Next, Jesus announced His superiority over the demonic realm. He was the stronger man who could bind the devils and cast them from their abodes. And, He drew a theological “line in the sand.” He said that there are only two groups – those that were for Him and those who were against Him. Either the Pharisees were helping Him unite Israel as a kingdom, or they were working to scatter them. There was no gray area and no middle ground.
Then, Jesus turned from mere logical argument and exhibited the genuine authority and rights of judgment that He maintained. Remember that these Pharisees were attempting to insult and undermine Jesus, the man. This was safe ground, assuming He was not the Messiah, the Son of David, or the Son of God. But in reality, they had maligned, impugned and indeed blasphemed the Spirit of God. Jesus, meanwhile, knowing that He was set to die for the sins of His people (Israel in the largest sense and the church in the strictest sense), announced that all manner of sin and blasphemy was to be forgiven. That’s really good news considering the careless way most of us treated God and His Christ prior to our conversion. Our unbelief and rebellion were certainly blasphemous in His eyes.
But (and this was a big exception!), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which was demonstrated by the Pharisees attributing the good, holy and righteous works of the Spirit God to the prince of devils, will never be forgiven. Remember, too, that Jesus previously told these same men that they were “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27) These were the men who Jesus called a “generation of vipers” and asked them, “How can you escape the damnation of hell?” (Mat. 23:33) These were dark and wicked men who were more interested in the perpetuation of their own power and religion than they were in the actions of God on Earth. And, their wickedness culminated in equating the Holy Spirit and Beelzebub.
Truly evil. And, according to Jesus, never to be forgiven.
Then, the most amazing statement in the whole passage –
“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
I cannot help but think of Jesus’ words as they were nailing Him to a plank of wood, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) These people were exacting the most inhumane, ignominious punishment on Him that they could devise. Yet, despite their railing against Him and demanding His death, He prayed for their forgiveness. And, I must conclude that God heard that prayer and honored it. Otherwise, there was no hope for Israel at all. But, Jesus forgave their blindness, their ignorance, their hate, their violence, their mob mentality and their lack of love for Him.
Nevertheless, though He was perfectly willing to die in their place and bear the burden of their sins, He declared that the sin of the Pharisees, their speaking devilishly of the Holy Spirit, would never be forgiven – not here, not there, not now, not ever.
Now, that leads me to an inescapable conclusion. The Doctrine of Particular Atonement must be true. “Why?” you ask? The Doctrine of Universal Atonement claims that Jesus died for every sin of every person who ever lived. But, if we find even one exception to the rule, it’s no longer a valid rule. If we discover even one sin that was not fully atoned for at Calvary, then Limited Atonement is axiomatic.
And, here we find one such exception. Jesus did not pay for the sin of blasphemy that the Pharisees performed. Their blasphemy remained on their heads and He declared that they would pay for it eternally. Ergo, He simply was not their substitute. Otherwise, He could not have said that their sin was unforgivable and eternally unforgiven. Particular Atonement is necessarily true, given Jesus’ own declaration.
Anyway, in summary, the unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That blasphemy takes the specific form of attributing the acts, character and holiness of the Spirit to unclean spirits and devils. That is an utter affront to the holiness and righteousness of God.
Now, only a truly destitute and evil person, devoid completely of the Spirit, could ever draw such a conclusion. So, it’s obvious that their sin would not be forgiven. They are not God’s children, they do not have the Spirit inhabiting them, they are not among Christ’s sheep and they will stand unforgiven and unsaved at the final judgment.
I didn’t say it; Jesus did.
On the other hand, Christ has fully redeemed and utterly saved His people, even forgiving their blasphemy and careless attitude toward God and Christ. The proof of genuine salvation is the infilling of the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit is incapable of blaspheming against itself. The Spirit produces faith, repentance and sacrificial love.
I once heard a preacher say, “If you’re worried that may have committed the unpardonable sin, let me assure you. You haven’t.” He based that statement on the fact that people who could blaspheme God are not worried over their own sinfulness. They are devoid of truth. But, a Christian, indwelt by the Spirit of God, will recognize his uncleanness, worry over his lack of righteousness and run to the Savior to plead for mercy. So, if you’re worried over the unforgivable sin, you haven’t committed it.
All in all, once again, we see the Sovereign authority of Jesus, the full redemption of His people and the utterly miserable state of those who are without the Spirit, without forgiveness and for whom Christ simply did not die.
Does that help?
Yours in Him,