Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Blasphemy of the Holy Ghost & the Unpardonable Sin: What Are They?

The “blasphemy of the Holy Ghost” and the “unpardonable sin” are two terms used to describe the same sin.  Some believe that it’s uttering a particular curse word while others believe that it’s giving Satan credit for something that God has done, while others believe that it’s committing some great sin such as suicide.  Indeed these are all sins, but they’re not the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) – it’s far worse. 

But if these aren’t it, then what is it?  Well, that’s the purpose of this lesson – to provide the believer with a sure answer.  Matthew 12:23-37 will be our main text with elements of Mark 3:22-30 and Luke 11:15-23 interjected as required.    

The Setting

And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? (Mt. 12:23)

Just prior to this lesson, Jesus had delivered and healed a demon-possessed man whose condition had left him both blind and dumb (Mt. 12:22; Mk. 3:19b-21; Lu. 11:14).  Amazed by this, the people began to see Jesus as the Messiah.  You can tell because they referred to him not as “a” son of David, but as “the” son of David.  The son of David of whom the prophets had prophesied would be born of a virgin (Gen. 3:15; Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:20-25); the son of David of whom the prophets had prophesied would be born as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12); the son of David of whom the prophets had prophesied would be born in Bethlehem and of whom would be called a Nazarene (Mic. 5:2; Mt. 2:23); and the son of David who was born as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:15-37).  And so when they began to ask if this was the son of David, they weren’t asking because they didn’t know, they were only stating the obvious in the form of a question.
24But when the Pharisees (and scribes, which came down from Jerusalem… – Mk. 3:22) heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out by devils, (He hath [has] Beelzebub, – Mk. 3:22) but by Beelzebub the prince of devils.  (And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. – Lu. 11:16). 
But word of this has quickly reached the scribes and Pharisees who promptly organize and send a delegation to Galilee.[1]  Jesus has already performed many signs and wonders, but for the first time he was starting to be recognized as the Messiah; and it is this recognition as such that has stirred them, and so they leave for Galilee.  And although they don’t know it yet, for the first time they’re going to be forced to confront just who the person of Jesus is.

But why the concern?  Jesus isn’t married nor does he have any children; and so if he dies, then the lineage of Messiah dies; and so either Jesus is the man that he claims to be (the Messiah) or the prophets were wrong and the gospel is a lie.  The religious leaders want him dead, but if he dies then everything they’ve been taught is a lie.  But if he lives, then he presents a challenge to their way of life (Jn. 11:47-48).  So they’re forced to reconcile who the person of Jesus is: he’s either the man that he said he was or all that they've been taught for generations is a lie.  They’re also forced to reconcile who Jesus is in light of who they are.   

But his fulfillment of prophecy and the miracles that he did should have been enough – even the common people could see that.  But the scribes’ and Pharisees’ problem was that they were looking for a King instead of a Saviour.  They wanted someone to set them free from the bondage of Rome but not the bondage of sin.  Jesus was born of the seed of David and was thus the rightful heir to the throne (Mt. 1:1-17; Lu. 3:23-38; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8); so had the Jews been able to rid themselves of the Romans, Jesus would have been crowned as King and they all knew it; and this is how he was able to teach in the synagogues.  He had standing but not popularity.  But although they knew who he was, they didn’t revere him as such.  And so by coming to Galilee they either want to get him “back on track” or destroy him.  They did, after all, come to tempt him and seek a sign, which is what all religious people do (Lu. 11:16).  But to satisfy their curiosity, immediately after this lesson Jesus will give them a sign that no man has ever seen (Mt. 12:38-42; Lu. 11:29-31)!         

The scribes and Pharisees were of course religious but unsaved men – and it is their fear of Jesus that has brought them to Galilee.  Having arrived, they quickly set about calling him and his ministry into question.  But they’re in a quandary.  They can’t deny that a miracle has taken place lest they offend the people thus risking loss of popular support.  But neither can they commend Jesus because it would have been seen as an endorsement upon him and his ministry, which in turn would have only strengthened the peoples’ view that Jesus is the son of David, which in turn would’ve undermined their own efforts at stopping him.  So instead they’ve “put a spin on it.”  They agree that Jesus has performed a work of God, but claim that he’s done it by the power of Beelzebub.[2]  Worse, they say that he has Beelzebub!  In other words, they’re saying that Jesus is demon-possessed!  And so the attack isn’t so much upon what he’s done as it’s upon who he is by his very nature and character, his person, his Deity.          

Implied of course is that Jesus has only done this “good deed” as a means of further deceiving the people; thereby also implying that he’s a deceiver and that the people shouldn’t be listening to him but the scribes and Pharisees instead.  But in placing this spin, they’ve now drawn a clear contrast between them and Jesus and their ministry and his.  They claim that Jesus is Satan incarnate and that he’s performing his deeds by the power of Satan while also inferring that they’re God’s men even though they haven’t delivered or healed anyone!  And so the contrast is between them and their “ministry” and Jesus and his – and Jesus picks up on this.      

The Encounter Begins

25And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself (that kingdom cannot stand. – Mk. 3:24) is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

But God isn’t going to allow this first and very real attack upon the person of his Son go unchecked.  Scripture reveals that Jesus performed all of his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (see v. 28; Jn. 5:19-20; 14:10-12; Heb. 2:4 etc.); and on this occasion he’s received a Word of Knowledge that has allowed him to know what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking (1 Cor. 12:7-11).  And so when Jesus begins to answer them according to their thoughts, it must have come as a shock!  But before he answers them, he wants to correct a fundamental flaw in their doctrine.  They believe that an unrighteous man can produce a righteous work.[3]  They believe that Jesus has performed a righteous work but that he’s done it by or through the power of Satan; and so he’s going to correct their doctrinal error and as a result further define the contrast that they’d already introduced, but do so in a manner that requires a decision. 

He begins by explaining that any kingdom divided against itself will inevitably be brought to desolation – and the two kingdoms contrasted here are the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.  And so Jesus is insinuating that either their kingdom is doomed or his – with the obvious implication that it theirs and not his.  Satan has a kingdom, but it’s a kingdom of this world (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 2:2).  He once offered it to Jesus.[4]  And if it were not his to give, then it wouldn’t have been a temptation.  And so there are only two kingdoms from which to choose: the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan, and a choice must be made.

Jesus then explains that any city divided against itself will fall.  Prior to this lesson, Jesus had “woe-d” the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they’d accepted his works but denied his person.  And so in the context of this story, a city divided is one that accepts the works of Christ but rejects the person of Christ, which is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees are doing (Mt. 11:20-24)! 

And finally, any house divided against itself will also fall.  Again just prior to this story, Jesus had been in Galilee dining in the home of a Pharisee when he was approached and anointed by a sinful woman (Lu. 7:36-50).  Thinking to himself, the Pharisee reasoned that if Jesus was a true prophet, then he would have known what kind of woman was anointing his feet – that she was a sinner.  The Holy Spirit (again) intervened with a Word of Knowledge that allowed Jesus to know what the Pharisee was thinking.  And similar to the story here, Jesus showed the Pharisee that he didn’t have a heart like God else he would have been able to rejoice in the woman having been set free from her slavery to sin – similar to the scribes and Pharisees and their attitude towards the man who’d been delivered and healed in this story.  Jesus forgave the woman and her sins, and the Pharisee and the others with him wondered within themselves as to how a man could forgive sins just as they’re now marveling as to how a man can deliver and heal the demon-possessed.  Jesus was dining in the house of a Pharisee, but the Pharisee was personally questioned regarding his opinion of Christ and who is was.  So the “house” in this story is the individual who must make a personal decision about Jesus and his ministry.  And so a house that is divided is one who denies Christ and subsequently winds up in Hell.[5] 

Summing, the example of the kingdom showed us that there are only two choices: the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan (cp. v. 26 and v. 28).  The example of the city showed us that the works of Christ really can’t be separated from the person of Christ because they’re of the same Spirit.  And finally, the example of the house reveals that a personal choice is required regarding our personal view of Christ and his ministry, which is the same decision that the scribes and Pharisees will soon have to make.  Our earthly bodies are either temples of the Holy Spirit or the synagogues of Satan – and it is within our power to choose (contrast 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:18-20; Eph. 2:21-22 with Rev. 2:9; 3:8-9).      

But the scribes and Pharisees are confusing the two.  They believe that an evil person can perform righteous works.  But Jesus is basically teaching that a bad tree can only produce bad fruit and that a good tree can only produce good fruit (which he later does); but that they aren’t to confuse the two which is exactly what they’re doing.  Satan can only produce unrighteous works and that God can only perform righteous works – and trying to mesh the two only brings about confusion and God is not the author of it (1 Cor. 14:33).  And so even though they’re religious and laboring in the name of the Lord, the fact that their works doesn’t match their heart reveals that their earthly “house” will fall; i.e. they’re destined for Hell unless the repent (Mt. 7:21-23). 

Furthermore, Satan can only tell lies (Jn. 8:44).  He never tells the “whole truth” – only half-truths, which are by definition lies.[6]  There’s no evidence in Scripture that Satan ever healed anyone (Jn. 10:10); and yet these doctors of the law are claiming that Satan has both delivered and healed.  Jesus is basically asking them to provide a Scriptural reference which of course they cannot do.  They’re simply trying to discredit Jesus and his work(s).  But he’s corrected their error and in so doing has drawn a deeper contrast between himself and them.  It’s worse than they thought!  Righteous men can only produce righteous works and unrighteous men can only produce unrighteous works (although they can do “good deeds”).  So by this Jesus is forcing them to examine themselves to determine who is righteous and who is self-righteous.  It should be remembered that Jesus has delivered and healed a demon-possessed man and they haven’t delivered or healed anyone! 

(And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? – Mk. 3:23) 26And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?  (but hath an end. – Mk. 3:26; because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. – Lu. 11:18) 27And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?  therefore they shall be your judges.  28But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, (finger of God – Lu. 211:20) then the kingdom of God is come unto you. 
Jesus is now going to further enlighten them and so he calls them closer (And he called them unto him,…).  He’s going to speak them in parables, but not immediately.  He’s going to first identify the real influence in the story – and it isn’t Beelzebub: it’s Satan.  And so he basically asks that if someone’s delivered from demon possession, then of what value or benefit is that to Satan?  If a person is delivered from demons, then the door is open for them to accept Christ – and Satan certainly doesn’t want that!  So why would Satan deliver a soul of which he already has grasp?  Jesus has thus proved his theorem that it’s illogical to suggest that Satan is casting out Satan because it only opens the door for Jesus;[7] and so the only remaining logical conclusion is that these people are being delivered by another power: the power of God!  A power which he possesses and they don’t because he can cast out demonic spirits and they can’t!      

Jesus then decides to entertain their logic.  He argues that if he’s casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, then by whose power are they casting them out (v. 27)?  They claim to be servants of God and yet they have no power to deliver or heal (nor did they ever).  But at the same time, they claim that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub.  And so the implication of their logic is that God doesn’t have any power over Satan!  

Of course such a conclusion is ridiculous.  It was God who formed the heavens and earth and everything in it and not Satan (Dt. 10:14; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 102:85 etc.).  Jesus is asking them to reconcile who the real power in the universe is: God or Satan.  If they believe that it’s God, then they must side with Jesus because he can deliver and heal and they can’t – which means that they don’t have the power of God in them which means that they’re not saved and in need of salvation; and so they must decide to accept or reject Jesus.  If they believe that it’s Satan, then they must explain how Satan can deliver and heal and how it is that he’s more powerful than God – especially when Scripture teaches the exact opposite.  But even the demons have enough sense to know who the real power in the universe is, why can’t they (or we; Mk. 1:23-28; Lu. 4:33-37)?

Jesus then explains that his power comes from the Spirit of God (v. 28); and in so doing has now turned the discussion into one about himself thereby implying that his actions are the direct result of his Father’s will; and so it isn’t his kingdom that’s divided but theirs.  Jesus explains that since he’s the one who’s able to deliver and heal that he’s the Kingdom of God which is a lengthy way of saying that he’s the Messiah.  The implication is also that since they don’t have the power to deliver and heal, then they don’t have the Spirit of God dwelling within them which means that they’re spiritually lost and destined to Hell unless they repent.   
The Three Parables

Having tried to make an appeal based upon biblical logic and reason, Jesus then provides them with three parables that are designed to drive home the point.   

(21When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: 22But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, and taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, – Lu. 11:21-22) 
In this first parable, the strong man is no strong man at all.  He’s trusting in his armor when he should be confident in the Lord (Ps. 20:6-9; 44:1-8).  So once his armor is stripped, there’s no innate strength within him to resist and so he’s quickly overcome even though outwardly he appears capable – similar to the scribes and Pharisees.  They sit in Moses’ seat and outwardly appear to be very religious and devout, but in this lesson Jesus has completely destroyed their “armor” thus revealing their nakedness (Gen. 3:7-11).  They’ve accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub and have accused him of being demon-possessed.  But Jesus has completely emasculated their argument by showing how illogical and unscriptural it is; so their private interpretation was no defense against someone who actually knew the Word of God.  And having been soundly defeated, the scribes and Pharisees have been exposed for what they really are: unregenerate fools who look good on the outside but inside are full of dead man’s bones, rot, and decay (Mt. 23:1-39).     

29Or 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. (Mt. 12:30)
 In the second parable, the strong man has been overcome but the emphasis is on the spoilage of his goods (possessions).  It was implied in the first parable, but expounded upon here.  The strong man in these two parables represents the scribes and Pharisees, and so a good example of their “spoiled goods” would be the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus just prior to this lesson or the man who was delivered and healed by Jesus.  Both were under bondage to the religious system imposed by the scribes and Pharisees but have now been set free by their liberator Jesus Christ!  And so now that Jesus has completely destroyed their foolish arguments, even more people will be able to see that he’s indeed the son of David!  The gates of Hell cannot prevail against this revelation that Jesus is the Christ (Mt. 16:16-18)!

30He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. 
It’s one or the other.  Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees that he’s the Kingdom of God and they’re not – despite what they may think of themselves.  He’s telling them that he’s the one drawing people into the Kingdom of God and that they’re the ones pushing them away (scattering abroad).  This is yet another contrast which shows the difference between what the scribes and Pharisees were doing as opposed to what they should have been doing.  He’s telling them that his kingdom isn’t divided but theirs is.  But in so doing, did you notice that Jesus didn’t say that “He that is not with God is against God”?  No, he said that “He that is not with me is against me.  The scribes and Pharisees attacked Jesus personally and so he’s responding personally.  Jesus is claiming to be God and he’s forcing them to make a decision about him and who he is.  Is he God come in the flesh or just another ingenious deceiver?

31Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin (all sins – Mk. 3:28) and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not (never – Mk. 3:29) be forgiven unto men. (but is in danger of eternal damnation: 30Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. – Mk. 3:29-30)  32And 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. 
All manner of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven except for the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Spirit).  This includes cursing because Jesus said that we could curse him and it would be forgiven – and so this can’t be blasphemy.  Nor can it be giving Satan credit for something that Christ has done because Christians do this all the time: many believe that tongues are of the Devil even though Scripture squarely teaches that it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit (Mk. 16:17; 1 Cor. 12:10-11; 14:1-40 etc.)!  And so by this they’re attributing a work of God to Satan!  But neither is blasphemy some specific horrible sin such as suicide: King Saul and Samson both committed suicide and Scripture teaches that both of these men were saved.[8]

So what is the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost?  The verses above provide the answer.  The immediate lead-in was the third parable which requires that a decision be made between one of two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan – Heaven or Hell.  These are the only two choices and so the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is based upon our decision to accept one while rejecting the other.  The verses above teach that the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is the type of sin that can never be forgiven and that it is the type of sin that leads to eternal damnation.  It is the type of sin where the Holy Spirit is viewed as “unclean.”  And being unclean, the scribes and Pharisees wouldn’t touch it – and they’re claiming that Jesus is unclean and that the Spirit within him is unclean and so the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is simply the rejection of the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s a failure to allow the same Spirit that resides in Jesus to reside in you by way of repentance unto salvation.[9]  It’s a failure to repent of your sins and to acknowledge Jesus the Messiah the son of David as Lord and Saviour.    

33Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.  34O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  35A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 
But Jesus isn’t finished.  He now reiterates the contrast that he’d earlier established: a tree and its fruit are either both good or both bad and there’s no in-between (but bad fruit can, for a time, appear to be good: Mt. 21:18-21; Mk. 11:12-14).  Jesus plainly tells them that they’re bad trees with bad fruit.  Their heart is evil and so their conversation is evil which is exactly the same lesson Jesus presented to the Pharisee as he dined with him just prior to this story (Lu. 7:36-50).  Their heart is evil and so their works are evil.  He’s telling them that good goes with good and evil with evil, but don’t ever mix the two.  These men were bad trees with bad fruit and in need of repentance.  And how could he tell?  Their logic and their doctrine were bad which revealed that their heart was bad – as also seen by the fact that they couldn’t rejoice when the people were set free, delivered, and healed.  Their faulty view of Jesus and his work caused them to reject him as Saviour.  But the deception didn’t stop there; it led them to push people away from the kingdom of God rather than drawing them near – despite the fact that they thought that they were doing God a favor. 
36But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement.  37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. 
The scribes and Pharisees earlier said that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub because he was demon-possessed.  The scribes and Pharisees believed that they were the power of God upon earth and yet they couldn’t deliver or heal a single soul.  Signs and wonders are to follow the believer but yet they were chasing them, as many professing Christians do today (Mk. 16:17-18; Acts 14:3; Rom. 15:19 etc.).  But their idle words showed that they’d never considered themselves in the light of God’s Word.  In their own self-deception they’d convinced themselves that they were among God’s chosen few when such was hardly the case.  Their words led them to justify themselves and condemn Jesus, and so it’s by that same standard that they’ll be judged.   


The blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is the rejection of the gospel which is also a failure to allow the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you because you’ve regarded it as an unclean thing (Heb. 10:26-31).  This is the answer to the question but it isn’t the main theme or topic of the passage.  The main lesson was that of the person of Jesus.  The people began with a question: Is not this the son of David?  They weren’t asking because they didn’t know, they were only affirming what they’d already come to believe, but doing so in the form of a question.  They were essentially saying, “This is the son of David.  Can’t you tell?” 

It’s interesting to note that the common people were beginning to understand but that the religious philosophers and theologians struggled.  They sought a sign even though they had more than enough information to render a proper decision had they chosen to do so.  They knew the Scriptures but they didn’t know the man of whom the Scriptures spoke, and so that’s why they couldn’t recognize Jesus when he came.  So instead they sought a sign which is what all religious people do when they don’t know the Lord.  But as it happens, right after this story Jesus does give them a sign – the sign of the prophet Jonah, which is that he will die and be buried for three days and three nights and then be resurrected from among the dead (Mt. 12:38-42; Lu. 11:29-32). 

God will allow false prophets and teachers to produce signs and wonders, and so the real test comes in their doctrine that follows (Dt. 13:1-5; 18:20-22).  All that Jesus said and did could be proven from Scripture while the doctrine of the scribes and Pharisees was baseless, but it often takes someone skilled in doctrine to see through Satan’s subtle lies.  But in this final sign Jesus provided one infallible proof of his Deity: his resurrection.  But the question remains: do we see Jesus as the son of David or as some type of a deceiver?  Is he only a “good man” or a great prophet but not the son of David?  If nothing else, this lesson has taught us that it’s a personal decision that we must all make and I pray that you make the right one.  Selah.      

[1] On a map, Galilee is actually north of Jerusalem.  It’s about 2500 ft. above sea level while Galilee is about 700 ft. below, which is a difference of some 3200 ft. and 68 miles “as the crow flies.”  And so when Scripture says that they came “down” from Jerusalem, they went up in direction (north) but down in elevation, and so when it says that they came “down” from Jerusalem, it isn’t an error.
[2] Beelzebub is a god of the Philistines whose name means “Lord of the Flies:” a name of which Jesus later uses as a synonym for Satan (Mt. 12:25-28). 
[3] Pausing, unsaved people can only produce “good deeds” but never righteous works.  The reason for this is because they’re not righteous themselves; they’re not righteous because they haven’t repented of their sins unto salvation.  Teaching that “good deeds” or “good works” leads to salvation is teaching salvation earned and/or maintained by works which is heresy.  Conversely, only saints can produce righteous works as they move forward in faith and charity.  God’s people routinely perform “bad deeds,” but these do not hinder their salvation although it will lead to the loss of eternal rewards.  Selah.   
[4] During Jesus’ temptations out in the wilderness, Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if he’d only fall down and worship him (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lu. 4:1-13).
[5] Perhaps this could also refer to the “house of Israel” which has failed to minister the gospel – the primary task of which has now been given to the Gentiles (Mt. 21:42-44).
[6] Again, Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness are a prime example of this (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lu. 4:1-13). 
[7] Right after this story Jesus teaches this very lesson (Mt. 12:43-45; Lu. 11:24-26).
[8] King Saul is thoroughly in a paper written by this author entitled “Was King Saul Saved?”  See Hebrews 11:1-3, 32 for Samson.
[9] A good biblical example of this is found in Hebrews 10:26-31.

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