What is the 'Unforgivable Sin' of Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus makes one of His many astounding statements: "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."
Wow. Those are pretty tough words! Blasphemy against Jesus will be forgiven, but speaking against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. So, am I even saved? Before I became a Christian several decades ago, I was an atheist. I know I said things against the Holy Spirit. Is there hope for me? Is there hope for anyone who is currently speaking against the Holy Spirit?
I usually tell people that if they fear if they've committed the unpardonable sin, then that is evidence that they have not committed it. People who blaspheme are not concerned about rejecting the truth of God. God the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin (John 16:8), so if you are the least bit concerned about possibly committing this sin, then that is probably an indication that you are being convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, and there is plenty of hope for you.
I think it is also important to note that this warning by Jesus is never repeated again. The epistles contain no warnings to us today that believers are in danger of committing this blasphemy.
Is Jesus speaking about people hardening their hearts (like Pharaoh did) and thus going past some "point of no return?"
Or is Jesus saying something a bit more limited in scope, and so do we have nothing to fear about committing this particular sin today?
Rightly interpreting scripture requires examining the context of a passage, any examples of what it teaches, its original meaning, and how God would have us apply it today.
1. The context (Matthew 12:22-32).
A man possessed with a demon who made him both blind and mute was brought to Jesus. There was no normal way for people to communicate with this man, but healing him was no problem for Jesus. The crowd was astounded and asked, "Could this be the Son of David?" They were asking if Jesus could indeed be the descendent of King David and thus the Messiah.
The Pharisees jump in and immediately attribute the miracle to the power of Beelzebub (Aramaic for "lord of the flies"; a name for Satan). They simply cannot admit that what Jesus is doing comes with the approval of God and from His power.
Jesus then counters their resistance with three responses: If Satan is fighting Satan, then that would destroy his own kingdom; if their own exorcists are able to cast out demons, why don't they believe His ability is just as (if not more) legitimate? Lastly, if Jesus was able to invade his enemy's territory ("the strong man's house") and bind him — and thus bring the Kingdom of God to His people right then and there! — He must be the Messiah.
In the Old Testament prophecies about the coming kingdom of God, sickness would be reversed (Isaiah 35:5-6), evil would be restrained (Isaiah 2:1-5), and the curse would be lifted off the earth (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Wherever Jesus went when He walked the earth, He gave us "previews of coming attractions" of that coming kingdom that would someday be over all the earth: the dead could not stay dead in His presence, demons were driven out, sickness was healed, and even a little donkey that should have bucked him off (it had never been ridden) knew its Master and gently let him ride.
The kingdom of God was breaking into the Pharisees' world. But the leadership of Israel — the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and elders — all dismissed this evidence and strove to rid themselves of Jesus.
So Jesus warns these Pharisees about a very specific sin against the Holy Spirit. Do we read anywhere in the New Testament about Israel (or anyone else) committing this very sin that would make them "unforgivable?" I think we do in the book of Acts.
2. An example.
Israel had already rejected the ministry of God the Father through John the Baptist (Matthew 3:17). When Jesus walked the earth, they obviously were rejecting the message of God the Son. There would be another opportunity for Israel to receive the long-prophecied kingdom of God and that would be in the ministry of the Holy Spirit once the Spirit would descend at Pentecost.
Throughout the book of Acts we see the apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit, first through Peter and then later through Paul, reaching out to Israel to believe and receive the kingdom of God (Acts 2:22,36; 3:19-26; Acts 28:25-28). That particular generation of Israel, led by the intransigent Pharisees, priesthood, Sadducees, scribes, and elders, all banded together to reject the Son of God.
Stephen rebuked the Sanhedrin: "You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did so do you" (Acts 7:51).
They had rejected God the Father, then the Son, and now finally the Holy Spirit. Going, going, gone. What was left for that generation of Israel but judgment?
3. The meaning of Jesus' warning.
The judgment of God, in response to Israel's continued blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, came in AD 70 when the Roman armies came and wiped out Jerusalem, eradicated the temple, and displaced or enslaved millions. When that generation of Israel refused to listen to Jesus' warning in Matthew 12:31-32, they then rejected God the Holy Spirit as revealed through the apostles, and eventually faced destruction — and ultimate judgment.
Another Bible story perfectly dovetails this warning from Jesus. In Numbers 13-14, Israel faced a similar dilemma. They were standing on the verge of entering the promised land but they decided to believe the fearful message of the 10 spies instead of the faithful message of Joshua and Caleb. They had experienced one miracle after another, but rejected God's command to enter the promised land. So God cursed that entire generation, and they all died in the wilderness.
Hebrews 6:1-6 also echoes this message. In that passage, the author warns the generation of Israel that had witnessed the miracles of Jesus that even though the Son had forgiven them from the cross and had given them more time to repent (Luke 23:24), time was running out for them to turn to the message of the Holy Spirit.
This generation had "tasted of the heavenly gift, and had been partakers of the Holy Spirit ... tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and falling away ..." (Some translations say, "if they should fall away." However, the word "if" is not there in the Greek text. "Falling away" is a participle indicating that these same people who had tasted the good things to come were still in the process of falling away. They were never saved in the first place, and were actually running further away from God!)
Seeing the miracles of Jesus and the apostles, they had experienced and been the beneficiaries of amazing miracle after amazing miracle (thus being "partakers of the Holy Spirit"), and yet instead of moving toward God they fell away from Him. There was nothing left for that particular generation of unbelieving Israel except the judgment of God, and it fell on them with a vengeance in AD 70.
4. What does this mean for today?
Today, the message of God is complete forgiveness to all who come to Him just as they are. Every sin is unpardoned until you come to Christ for salvation, and the moment you put your trust in Him, every sin is then forgiven (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 2:13).
Although I think Jesus was specifically talking to the leadership of Israel at that time, and such a warning is not given to us in the epistles, is there a lesson to be learned? Sure! God is patient, and "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). But death does indeed come to us all (Hebrews 9:27) and we will face what we have done with the Lord.
God implores us not to ignore Him or harden our hearts as Pharaoh did, but to come to Him now while we still have the opportunity. The devil is just fine with us coming to know Christ as Savior and Lord ... "but do it later," he says. I say all the time that plenty of people want to get saved at the eleventh hour, but die at 10:30.
The Bible tells us that "now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Don't make the mistake of the Pharisees and harden your heart to Christ until it is too late. Come to Him today.