What is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin? It’s a big question. I tell you it’s something serious and if you commit this sin, you can’t be forgiven in this age or in the age to come.
Now there are two possibilities about how we understand this.
- That it is a sin which can be committed by anyone at any time and therefore it’s relevant to us now or,
- That it’s the sin committed by that generation related to the Pharisees accusing Jesus of doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub, in other words, by the power of demons.
I’ve spoken before on the ‘unforgivable sin’ being a general statement (see the links below):
I’m going to talk today about a more specific issue which relates in some ways to the Jewish understanding of the Gospel and of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and how that relates to the question of the unforgivable sin as recorded in Matthew 12 verses 22-45:
I’ve already explained how Jesus was different from previous prophets (see link below):
And now we come to the other Messianic miracle which we looked at briefly in John chapter 9: the healing of the man born blind. I’m not going to read it.
Our third Messianic miracle. What happens when the man is born blind is healed? The religious leaders investigate what happened and they need to question whether Jesus is the Messiah. As with the others, it ends up with the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah even though He has done a miracle which they say only the Messiah can do.
They reject Him on the grounds that He has done the miracle on the Sabbath and therefore, was breaking the Sabbath; therefore, He is not from God.
The blind man says: ‘Well, how can He not be of God? He has healed a man born blind! This is a Messianic miracle; you should believe in Him.’
But they don’t want to do that. We won’t go into details on that now.
Let’s look at this second Messianic miracle, the one in Matthew chapter 12: the casting out of the demon from a dumb person.
Now, the Pharisees didn’t deny that demon possession was possible, nor that a person could be delivered from this condition. Their method for driving out a demon was to speak to the demon, get it to reveal its name, and then to cast it out.
And you see that Jesus uses this method when He’s casting the demon called ‘Legion’ out of the man.
This, however, is not going to work with a person who is dumb because he can’t speak. Therefore, they said only the Messiah can cast out a demon from a dumb person, which is exactly what happens in Matthew chapter 12.
You also find that in the account of Mark, on this occasion, there is a delegation of religious leaders present who are checking out this miracle.
Mark 3 verse 22 says,
So, again, you’ve got a delegation coming from Jerusalem to Galilee to find out what’s going on and this event that triggered the Sanhedrin’s claim is recorded in Matthew 12:
We’re going to read now from Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s commentary on this. He says:
So, the ‘Son of David’ equals ‘Messiah’. Was not this the Jewish Messiah? He was doing the very things the Messiah was supposed to do; therefore, He must be the Messiah.
They didn’t ask this question when Jesus cast out other kinds of demons, but they did when He cast out this type of demon.
By this time, the Pharisees were severely prejudiced against Jesus and were rejecting Him as the Messiah.
You have people asking could this be the Son of David? Could this be the Messiah?
They had to respond. They had two possibilities: ‘yes’ or ‘no’. ‘Yes’, He is the Messiah, the Son of David; ‘no’ He’s not.
But they are already committed to saying that the Messiah was going to do this kind miracle by the power of demons, so they had a problem. The only way they could do it was to take the second option, that ‘He’s not the Messiah’, and to give a reason why they came to this conclusion.
In verse 24 of Matthew 12, when the Pharisees heard it, they said:
“This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
Their explanation of how He has done this was that He had done it by the power of Himself being under the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebub.
They took the second option; they rejected His Messianic claims.
In order to perform these very unique miracles they claimed that Jesus / Yeshua Himself was possessed or demonized, not by a common demon but by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
The name Beelzebub is made up of two Hebrew words (baal = lord, zebub = flies) which combine to mean ‘the lord of the flies’. Some of you may have read a book by William Golding called ‘Lord of the flies’.
Back when I was an English teacher at the Hasmonean School for Boys, a Jewish school, I had to teach ‘Lord of the flies’ which is quite an interesting book because it does bring in the possibility of the demonic realm. It doesn’t bring in Jesus, but it raises this whole question.
But the fact is that they had rejected that Jesus is the Messiah on the grounds that He was demon possessed.
So, their first response to the miracle was to begin the process of investigation. Their response to the investigation was to reject His claims on those grounds. And this action was done to set the stage for what was going to follow next.
Jesus responded to this in two ways:
- His first response was to defend Himself and point out the error of the Pharisees’ way of thinking
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them:
He said it can’t be true because, if this is the case, then Satan’s kingdom is divided against itself and if there is a such a kingdom, then the kingdom is going to be destroyed.
He also said:
- The second point they themselves recognize is that exorcism was a gift of the Spirit and that their followers were able to cast out demons. But they were not dumb demons.
In other words, the logical conclusion you should come to from this miracle is that the Kingdom of God has come upon you, I am the Messiah, you should repent and believe in Me.
That was the clear message which Jesus was giving. This is done by the Spirit of God. Only God can do this. Therefore, I am the Messiah.
He then says,
That is what Arnold Fruchtenbaum says is ‘the unpardonable sin’.
Jesus goes on to say:
In this condemnation, Jesus then says that these religious leaders of this generation have now committed the unpardonable sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
We know of course that Jesus dying on the cross would be the way in which we could be forgiven for our sins. Therefore, individual Jewish people, including individual Pharisees, could repent and believe the Gospel and be set free from this sin and find eternal life.
In fact, the Book of Acts begins with multitudes of Jewish people coming to believe in Jesus, including Pharisees, including Paul, the apostle who was a leading Pharisee, who repented and became a Christian and spread the Gospel more effectively than anybody else.
Nevertheless, the fact that this would take place would lead to the judgment that would follow and the sign which would then follow, which Jesus speaks about later in the passage, is the sign of Jonah.
When the Pharisees come to Him later in the chapter and demand a sign from Jesus, He says,
What is the sign of Jonah?
The sign of Jonah is ‘death and resurrection’.
Jonah was thrown into the sea. The great fish came and swallowed him up. He remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights and then was vomited up on the shore and went again out to preach the Gospel, to preach the message of the Lord into Nineveh as God had told him to.
Whether Jonah was dead or not in the belly of the fish is another question, but the fact is that this event becomes a typological sign of ‘death and resurrection’.
Therefore, the sign of Jonah is the sign of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and He says ‘this is the sign which would remain for you’.
The Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus and their hate for Him would lead to the crucifixion which became this sign, which, in turn, was the purpose for which Jesus came into the world, to die for our sins, to bear our sins upon Himself, and to be the redeemer who brings us to God; to be followed by the resurrection which will give them and all people the opportunity to find forgiveness of sin if they repent and believe.
As I said, the Book of Acts does record that many of the Pharisees did believe, including Paul, and, individually, they could be saved through faith in Jesus.
If anyone rejected this sign of Jonah, this meant that their sin could not be forgiven and as such such rejection remains the unforgivable sin.
Ultimately, we’re coming to the same conclusion, that the unforgivable sin is NOT to repent and believe the Gospel, NOT to believe in Jesus.
In the Jewish context, it’s this sin of rejection of Jesus on this basis which is going to lead to the judgment which would fall upon Jerusalem, on the whole Judaic system, on the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the destruction of the Temple, and the dispersion of the Jewish people into the nations.
As Jesus prophesied in Luke chapter 19 verse 41:
‘The time of your visitation’ is the Messiah coming to you. He has shown that He is the Messiah by doing these miracles. He has shown that He’s the Messiah by dying for our sins and rising from the dead.
If you reject it, you remain under the judgment of God and the judgment is going to fall. And the judgment did fall in AD70: the Romans besieged Jerusalem and exactly what Jesus prophesied here happened.
Judaism as it was known came to an end with the Temple’s destruction. It had to be reconfigured by the Pharisees who would create a religious system at the heart of which would be the denial of both, Jesus as the Messiah, and the need for the blood of atonement through the either Levitical sacrifices or through Jesus / Yeshua Himself.
Under the New Covenant, God does require repentance and faith in the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross which replaces the former covenant with Moses and is the only way in which we can have forgiveness of sin through repentance and faith in Jesus.
This is the logical consequence of the unforgivable sin of attributing to Satan / Beelzebub the miracles of the Messiah, of rejecting Jesus, and rejecting that Jesus has come to perform these miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As I’ve said, individuals could repent and believe and escape the judgment. But, on this point, the Bible is clear. Regardless of what of what sin anyone commits, every sin is forgivable for that individual who comes to God through Jesus the Messiah, including disbelieving in Jesus previously, including mocking Him, including even persecuting or killing His people as was the case with the apostle Paul.
If you repent and believe, you’ll be forgiven. The nature of sin is irrelevant, but every sin is forgivable for the person who believes in the Gospel.
For that nation as a whole, for that particular generation, this unique sin was unpardonable. It would lead to the events of AD70 and the fall of the Temple, the dispersion of the Jewish people into the nations.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum says that nobody today can commit that particular sin. Anybody who believes can find forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus.
As Paul wrote in Romans chapter 1,
In Romans 10 he says,
In this passage we can see there is a process which is at work, which led to the crucifixion, the troubles which followed for Israel. A process which can be reversed through repentance and faith in Yeshua / Jesus the Messiah.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall have eternal life and salvation through his name. Amen.
Let’s have a word let’s just have a word in prayer before we sing our last hymn.
Lord, I do thank you for your Word. We thank you that you are the Messiah. Thank you that you were able to do great and wonderful things when you came to the earth. Thank you that you’re still able to do great and wonderful things. We thank you Lord that your power is still there to heal, to deliver from evil, and to give us the victory through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We do pray Lord for any who are suffering, who are oppressed by evil and by the evil spirits, that they may be set free from this by the power of Jesus.
We pray for our own nation Lord as it goes further and further into evil. We think also of the coming week of Halloween and the way in which that will be another celebration of evil, and Lord, we just pray you’ll set people free from the powers of darkness as they come upon us.
We pray Lord for Israel and for the Jewish people Lord: that you’ll open their eyes to the truth that Yeshua is the Messiah, that you did these miracles not by the power of evil but by the power of God, by the Spirit of God, and that you ever live to make intercession for us and to bring us to faith in God through Jesus our Saviour and Lord, amen.