Chapter 12: The Unpardonable Sin
by James R. Baker, Scotland.
This subject is found in Matthew chapter 12, Mark chapter 3 and Luke chapter 12. Each of the synoptic writers reveals that it was spoken at a time when the feelings of Jews in general and of their religious and civil leaders in particular, were shown to be in opposition to Jesus Christ. The personal influence and teachings of Christ were drawing forth repentance, love and devoted service from some or else stirring up hatred in many other human hearts. These matters as well as the whole incident are described more comprehensively in Matthew’s gospel which will therefore be dealt with in greater detail.
The general theme of the Gospel of Matthew is to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the true and only Messiah of Israel. This Gospel is arranged into a series of five pamphlet type sections which are preceded by an introduction and completed with a concluding epilogue. The arrangement is as follows:
|1.1 to 4.11||The Introduction presents the Private Life of the King|
|4.12 to 26.1||This large part of Matthew contains the five books presenting the Public Life of the King|
|1. 4.12 - 7.28||- The Preaching of the King;|
|2. 8.1 - 11.1||- The Power of the King;|
|3. 11.1 - 13.53||- The Parables of the King;|
|4. 13.54 - 19.1||- The Purpose of the King;|
|5. 19.2 - 26.1||- The Prophecies of the King.|
|26.2 to 28 .20||The Epilogue presents the Passion and Presence of the King|
It should be noted that each of the five pamphlet type books commences with narrative and ends with a discourse which closes with the words "and it came to pass when Jesus had ended these sayings" (see 7.28, 11.1, 13.53, 19.1 and 26.1).
Chapter 12 is one of the crisis points in Matthew’s account of the life and earthly ministry of Jesus the Messiah. It records His rejection by the nation despite the many aspects of incontrovertible evidence that had been previously presented to them. Here He states His superiority to the priestly system of Judaism, "That in this place is one greater than the temple" 12.5. He is also greater than the Nation’s wisest and greatest King, "behold, a greater than Solomon is here" 12.42. But He is also pre-eminently above all the historic prophetic ability and greatness of the nation "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" 12.41.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN -12.22-37.
This section that contains our subject commences with the particular evidence of the power of Christ over satanic powers. After He had healed the man with the withered hand, He had withdrawn from the attention of the Pharisees but soon was the focus of attention again. The next case brought to Him was a man under demonic control who could neither see nor speak. The miracle that followed was a remarkable one which brought out varied and distinct reactions.
- For the man who was demon possessed there was immediate healing from the possession with the resulting ability to both speak and see.
- As for the people they could see that such power was clear evidence that Jesus was the Messiah the nation had been waiting for, "And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?" v.23.
- It is easy to see why the Pharisees were angry when they heard the words of the people. Their evil hearts were stirred to know that such an admission was again being publicly made by the common people. And yet the Pharisees knew within their hearts that something absolutely miraculous had taken place that day. The very fact that they attributed it to the powers of evil in the unseen world makes clear that they knew that what had been taking place that day was a work which was beyond mortal man, it could only be either Divine or satanic. Their resistant minds would not acknowledge the deity of Jesus of Nazareth therefore, "they said, this fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils" v.24. How blasphemously they spoke about Christ. They were attributing to Satan the power which had been exercised by the Son of God; and far worse they were in effect asserting that far from being the Messiah of the nation, our Lord Jesus Christ was a mere man under the control and power of Satan. For such so called spiritual leaders this was sin indeed. It was the sin of rejection, to which allusion has been made.
The response of Christ is most illuminating. His words reveal that Omniscience, a Divine attribute was in Him, "And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said …" v.25. He knew all that had been said and even what was in their minds. He also knew that Divine purpose was being worked out in all these circumstances and that His rejection by the nation of Israel was to be used to bring the Gentiles into blessing as well as Israel, see vv.18,21. His words of rebuke to the Pharisees were most important, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation" v.25. Here the Lord was showing that earthly kingdoms do not normally act against their own national interests and certainly Satan would never use the evil powers within his administration to act against his own demons. This would have been divisive within the kingdom of evil and thus makes clear the folly of their suggestion. In fact the Lord is saying that in such circumstances Satan would have been casting out Satan and therefore acting against himself to the overthrow of his own kingdom, v.26.
And further, He reminded them of "your children" v.27. This, no doubt, was concerning those Jews who by invoking the name of the Most High God had sometimes cast out demons. This activity had, and was, being exercised within the Jewish nation in this very matter. We read of John who had said to the Lord Jesus, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us …" Mk.9.38 and again, the Lord Jesus said "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils …" Later we read "vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus" Acts 19.13. In these cases the Lord had not forbidden them and it seems that they had also been free from the censure of the Jewish leaders. Thus the Lord is saying here "And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?" v.27. Again the Lord is drawing attention to their inconsistency. They had never brought any of their own people under the extremely serious charge they were laying upon Him. This argument is protracted but very important to our subject as we move nearer to its conclusion. Having exposed the weakness and inaccuracy of their claims the Lord Jesus now begins to apply the truth which has been emerging.
The Kingdom of God had been Revealed
"But if I cast out devils … Then the kingdom of God is come unto you" v.28. There had been clear evidence that the Messiah, the King was in their midst. The whole of Matthew’s ministry has led up to this but those very religious leaders were rejecting Him despite the veracity of His claims. Here in the life of Christ they were beholding the precise conditions which had been forecast that would characterise the kingdom. Previously John the Baptist, when in prison, had sent his disciples to Christ to ask "Art thou He who should come, or do we look for another?" Matt.11.2-6. He was in effect asking the question; are you really the promised Messiah of Israel? At first sight, it seems strange that the Lord Jesus did not give either a direct positive or negative answer; but the reply He did give was very clear when considered in light of the Old Testament Scripture. It was, "Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." John knew well that the Old Testament prophecies had promised that such things would accompany the ministry of the promised Messiah, Isa.35.5,6. Thus, here to the Pharisees, He was revealing that the power He had just wielded over the evil beings which had indwelt the man was proof that the Kingdom of God had truly come to them.
The Kingdom was to be Marked by the Power of the Holy Spirit
"But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God … the kingdom of God is come" v.28. They still thought they were dealing with a mere man. Here is the point where the Holy Spirit is introduced into the section. The Lord’s works were not by the power of Satan; rather, they were exercised in the power of the Divine Holy Spirit of God. Any Jew who knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament would know that from the beginning the Holy Spirit had been revealed as the active power in the Godhead, Gen.1.2. They also knew there were passages to teach that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit would mark out the Coming One, Isa.11.1, 2. Thus, here was evidence that the Godhead was working in the Nation in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Kingdom would Reveal the Defeat of Satan
"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" v.29. Already the Lord Jesus had met Satan in the Wilderness and proved Himself to be the great Victor over his temptation and power. And further, the many miracles accomplished by Him had proved His ability over Satan in spoiling his goods. At the time of the Temptation the Lord had been led (or driven) there by the Holy Spirit, and when it was over He had returned from it in the power of the Holy Spirit. These facts all stress the importance of the Holy Spirit’s power in the life, ministry and miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom would not be Free From Opposition
"He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad" v.30. He is addressing a solemn warning to those who had opposed Him. All the evidence had been rejected; they were against Him. Here again it must be stressed that the opposition is not only against Christ Himself but rather against the deeds which He had performed in the power and unction of the Holy Spirit of God. In the language of v.30 they certainly were not gatherers but rather scatterers. The ground is thus laid for the subject of blasphemy; in the very solemn statement that follows.
A General Statement on Forgiveness of Sin
v.31, "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men" Here we see the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Despite the depths of evil which have been committed by mankind, provision has been made for all to be forgiven. The New Testament preaching of the Gospel offered pardon to all based on repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. These facts are important to appreciate in light of the subject being considered here. Many unsaved have been misled by preaching which declares that there are those today for whom there is no forgiveness if they have committed the unpardonable sin. This is not true, as we shall see. And we do see here something of the different forms of guilt that can be described. Blasphemy refers to profanity and impiety expressed from the lips of ungodly men. How gracious of God, who is intrinsically holy, to forgive such depraved speech and actions.
Blasphemy Against the Son of Man
Here the following words should be considered. "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" v.32. Although the apostle Paul was a godly Jew before conversion he speaks of himself as having been a blasphemer and injurious, 1 Tim.1.13. In his ignorance he had spoken and acted impiously and irreverently about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. This was akin to the sin of ignorance spoken of in the early chapters of Leviticus and such sin could be forgiven. This was the sin against the Son of Man, v.32, and Paul verily had been guilty of it but later he said "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" 1 Tim.1.13.
Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
But now having spoken of such sins of ignorance the Lord returns to the Unpardonable Sin. Clearly this could not be a sin of ignorance; we have already seen it was charged against people who had been given clear and incontrovertible evidence. This sin could not be forgiven to those he was speaking to in that day; and neither could it be forgiven in the age to come. These terms used and the people involved are extremely important in understanding the question of our subject. The term "the ages to come", Eph.2.7, describes eternity, but "the age to come" Heb.2.5, is a specific age in the future; it describes the coming millennial period.
Thus the words used here admit of no doubt, that in speaking impiously in condemnation against the work and person of the Holy Spirit they were not just blaspheming against the Holy Spirit generally. Every informed Jew would know that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person and was known as such in the Old Testament. The Lord here speaks of "The blasphemy of the Holy Ghost." Here in the context of Matthew chapter 12 the blasphemy was in what they had said about the empowering of the life and miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ. To them all the former evidences had been presented and they knew He had performed miracles which were supernatural, they knew He was no ordinary man and yet they attributed it to satanic power. They were in effect saying that our blessed Lord was indwelt by and empowered by Satan that He was in fact the Man of Sin! This is the import of committing the Unpardonable Sin. It can thus be seen that this sin could only have taken place when the Lord Jesus was here upon earth. But it could be committed in the future also in the future period of millennial days when once again our Lord Jesus will physically be on earth; the age to come. If at the end of that coming day, those who will finally revolt speak against Christ and His ministry it will be possible for them also to commit the sin for which there is no forgiveness.
The final section of our passage, 12.33-37, further reveals that the evidence has been given and rejected by the religious leaders the Pharisees. The generation is an evil one, the tree is corrupt and the evil man has brought out from his evil treasure evil things. Idle words have been spoken and will be raised again in "the day of judgment" and will be rewarded with condemnation. Here is the closing answer to the blasphemy which has been upon their lips.
This passage contains reference to the Unpardonable Sin and when examined carefully is seen to contain the same elements of truth on this subject as we have found in the parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel. It is generally agreed that this is exactly the same incident as we have considered in Matthew. It begins with the visit of the scribes who had arrived from Jerusalem. In the days of the New Testament there were scribes among both the Pharisees and Sadducees as is found in Acts 23.9, where we read "and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying …". The scribes of our passage are those spoken of by Matthew as Pharisees. Little comment is required in light of this. We should in further confirmation note that the early part of Mark chapter 3 records mention of the many miracles which had been performed and the unclean spirits of v.11 no doubt include the specific case recorded in Matthew’s section. Mark chapter 3 concludes in the same way as Matthew chapter 12 and Mark chapter 4 commences in the same way as Matthew chapter 13. It can thus be seen that the argument advanced regarding the Unpardonable Sin stands unchallenged by Mark.
It is harder to chronologically harmonise Luke’s account of the time when these verses occur. Luke’s presentation of the life of Christ does not always follow as strict a chronological order as the other synoptic writers. It appears to have something of a moral and topical approach; interested readers will find further helpful information on the subject in chapter 3 of According to Luke by David Gooding.
It is not intended to deal with all of the 12 verses in this passage but rather to show that the portion commences with the Lord’s denunciation and warnings against the Pharisees. Here we can immediately see that the general pattern and background is similar to our previous considerations. This is further confirmed by noting that the immediate relevant verses first refer to speaking against the Son of man followed by blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The detail is not here but the truth remains and is confirmatory of the importance of the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- From the foregoing it is clear that it was possible to commit the Unpardonable Sin during the time when our Lord Jesus was living in this world.
- The sin was The Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
- This Blasphemy was not a general speaking evil of the Holy Spirit.
- The Blasphemy was specific in attributing the miraculous signs and wonders to satanic powers and in believing that the Lord Jesus was satanically possessed.
- The Blasphemy was by the religious leaders of the Jewish nation.
- That this same sin may be committed in the future when Christ is on earth again.
- That it is not possible to commit this sin in the present day of grace because the Lord Jesus Christ is not physically on earth now.