Matthew 12:31 – Blaspheming the Spirit
And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.Matthew 12:31
The word of the Lord Jesus in our text has again drawn our attention. It is precisely because the Savior says so emphatically that there is no forgiveness for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is the Bible not full of the gospel of the forgiveness of sin? Does the prophecy of Isaiah not resound the wonderful words, ‘“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord? “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”’ (Isa 1:18) Does the apostle John not write, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”? (1 Jn 1:7) Is there a limit to God’s forgiving grace? Can there be a sin that is so terrible that it excludes forgiveness?
In the word of Christ in our text we touch upon the so-called unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. During the course of church history there has been much uncertainty about the answer to the question what is meant by this unpardonable sin. The church father Augustine already referred to this sin as the “great mystery.” Even now there are Christians who suffer greatly for fear that they have committed this sin. They hear the message of the gospel, but do not dare to say that things are well between the LORD and them. The notion that they are guilty of this evil takes away their joy and peace.
This is a good reason to take a closer look at this word of Christ. Is this a word that indeed robs our heart of the ultimate assurance of faith?
The situation in which the Savior spoke this word is clear. He had just performed a wonderful miracle. He had healed a blind and dumb demoniac. This miracle had drawn great attention: the crowds were beside themselves and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
Jesus’ enemies have noticed the people’s enthusiasm and are greatly offended by it. They do not hesitate to counteract. Their vicious slander has to destroy the effect of the miracle. They tell the people that Jesus poses as someone who fights against those demoniac powers, but in reality “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” In fact, he is in league with the devil. What Jesus accomplishes here is nothing but a performance from hell!
This slander is terrible. Now that Christ confirms his preaching with a wonderful miracle and that the redeeming power of the kingdom reveals itself in the healing of this poor sufferer, the Pharisees dare to call this a revelation from hell, and try to label him odiously as a sorcerer. It is in this situation that the Savior speaks this profoundly serious word. It is a word that comes to the Pharisees as an emphatic warning: the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven!
It has always attracted attention that there is a certain contrast in the words of the Lord that follow, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Is blaspheming against Christ not as bad as blaspheming against the Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit placed here above the Son? How does this word of the Savior agree with the confession of the Triune God? Is the Son not equal in glory with the Holy Spirit?
We cannot deny that there is a certain contrast in what Christ says after our text. We will understand this contrast only when we keep in mind that the Savior speaks here about the Son of Man in his humiliation. Indeed, he is the great Son of David, the King of Israel. But he still appears in Israel as the Messiah in his humiliation. That there is still so much ignorance about his Person and work is part of this humiliation. Even with his apostles there is still much misunderstanding. Every time they ask again, “What does he mean?” (Cf. Jn 16:17; Lk 9:45.)
It is terrible when people speak against this Messiah-in-humiliation. But, though terrible, it is not outside the limit of forgiveness. For there is so much that has to be revealed yet. There is still so much misunderstanding that has to be removed.
Indeed, but this changes after Pentecost. For then the Holy Spirit comes to earth as Christ’s Counselor. This Counselor, or Advocate, will take away everything that veils and conceals the Person and work of Christ; for he is the Spirit of Truth, who will testify about Christ (Jn 15:26).
The apostles will preach the gospel. By their proclamation, the Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8). In the court of the temple in Jerusalem, Peter and the other apostles will declare that Jesus who was raised by God is the One who leads into life. Through that testimony the Holy Spirit him self will witness about Jesus (cf. Acts 5:32). In this way the Spirit will fully bring to light the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Anyone who willfully rejects the witness of the apostles and of the Spirit blasphemes against the Holy Spirit and commits the sin of which the Savior speaks in our text.
So it is an evil that can be committed after Pentecost. It is the fully conscious rejection of the light that now shines in the darkness. The point in this blasphemy against the Spirit is, that it is a contradiction, a denial of what has come to light in all its clarity. It may not elude us that Christ speaks this profoundly serious word about the blasphemy against the Spirit at the time when in the healing of the demoniac, the kingdom of God comes to the people with all the evidence.
This blasphemy is unforgivable. For he who rejects this light, rejects God’s saving and forgiving love in Jesus Christ.
Our text is not in Scripture to frighten us or to deprive us of all assurance. Also in this profoundly serious word, it is the love of the Good Shepherd. He wants to warn us not to stubbornly resist what has become crystal clear after Pentecost. He wants to keep us in the way of the true peace.
There is a limit to the rejection of the voice of the gospel that calls. From this boundary it calls us back to the Promised Land!
There is nothing mysterious about this sin against the Holy Spirit. It is the evil of the sinful human heart that is exposed. It is that heart that in spite of all the light that shines so brightly still chooses the darkness.