“I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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” (vv. 31–32).
We will conclude our study of the hard sayings of Jesus today with a look at what is perhaps the most difficult saying of all for Christian readers of the Gospels. Matthew 12:22–32 tells us about Jesus’ teaching regarding the unforgivable sin, and these words of Christ have troubled many people.
It is not hard to figure out why this saying has caused such concern. After all, we know that our fundamental need as human beings is for God to forgive us and that unless He forgives us, we will spend eternity in hell. The wrath of our Creator is being revealed against all ungodliness, and unless we receive pardon through faith in Christ alone, that wrath will be on us forever (Rom. 1:18–3:20). If there is one sin that God will not forgive, then we want to know what it is so that we can avoid committing it.
Throughout church history, different suggestions have been offered as to what the unforgivable sin consists of. Some people have suggested grievous sins such as murder or adultery; however, David committed both of those sins and was forgiven, so they cannot be candidates for the unforgivable sin (2 Sam. 11:1–12:25). To understand what Jesus means, we need to look at His specific identification of the unforgivable sin, and that is “blasphemy against the Spirit” (Matt. 12:31). The key word is “blasphemy.” Blasphemy is a sin involving words, sometimes written but usually spoken against God. If we have not written or spoken against the Holy Spirit, then we have not committed this sin.
But what does it mean to speak against the Holy Spirit? The actual events the passage describes are helpful here. What provoked Jesus’ teaching was His knowledge that the Pharisees were thinking that He was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, that is, Satan (v. 24). Essentially, the Pharisees were looking to the miracles of Jesus—clear evidence of the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus as the Messiah— and attributing them in their minds to the devil. They were attributing in their thoughts a work of God to Satan, which is the most severe charge anyone can level against our Maker. Note that Jesus does not say the Pharisees had crossed the line into actual blasphemy; rather, they were close, and He warned them lest their thoughts be expressed in blasphemous words. In reality, then, this teaching was an act of grace on Christ’s part toward the Pharisees. He was working to prevent them from committing the unforgivable sin.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Christians may worry that they will commit the unforgivable sin, but they should not fret. After all, Jesus glorifies everyone whom He justifies (Rom. 8:28–30), so He will not let us commit the unpardonable sin and finally fall away. That should not make us complacent about blasphemy, however. God takes seriously the reverent use of His name, and those who blaspheme impenitently show that they do not really know Jesus.