Blasphemy Against Jesus

22Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"

24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

28"But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.

30"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Anyone 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.

33"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Matthew here continues to present episodes in Jesus’ life where He asserts His authority as the Messiah. In this section, He does so through actions and words. First, through actions, by performing a miraculous healing: "Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’" (vs. 22-23). This man was blessed to have such good friends, who would bring him to Jesus. "The evil spirit had secured himself by stopping up the windows and the door of the soul: the victim was blind and mute. How could he escape? He could not see his Savior, nor cry to Him… It is well when men take to bringing others to Jesus: good is sure to come of it" [Spurgeon, 152].

The miracle had a powerful effect on those who witnessed it, and turned their thoughts to thinking that Jesus could be the promised Messiah, the "Son of David." The main obstacle, apparently, to their absolutely conceding that He was the Messiah was their own expectations of how the Messiah would act. They were expecting in the Messiah a mighty conqueror of their foes; in Jesus, they found a humble servant of the people.

The Pharisees, however, reacted to the miracle in a totally different way. Instead of advancing the more obvious conclusion that Jesus was sent by God to do these great works, they irrationally made the claim that Jesus’ benevolent miracles were the work of the evil one: "But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons’" (vs. 24). Ironically, the Pharisees were apparently in a much worse condition than the blind and mute man, even before he was healed. For though they could see, the Pharisees chose to be blind to the great works of the Lord. And though they could speak, their words were a detriment to them, leading them to destruction.

Indeed, their words were so absurd that, undoubtedly, what they said was purposely malicious. "There is not one of us who does not perceive in this story, as in a mirror, the extraordinary power of God. From which we infer that the minds of the scribes were infected with a devilish venom, when they did not hesitate to speak ill of such a wonderful work of God" [Calvin, 39]. Clearly, the Pharisees understood that what they witnessed was extremely miraculous. Yet, they could not bring themselves to ascribe to Jesus power from God. So they chose to blaspheme His work instead. They did this for selfish motives, for to acknowledge that Jesus acted with the power of God, would also be to acknowledge that Jesus spoke with the power of God. They did not want the people to follow the teachings of Jesus, because in many ways, Jesus’ teachings contradicted their own. "The Pharisees saw that if His miracles were recognized the people would believe that He was sent from God (see John 3:2), and then all His teachings must be received as true, and all His claims admitted as just. They could not question the reality of the healing, nor ascribe it to mere human agency; they therefore resorted to the absurd idea of a league with Satan, though Jesus was really destroying Satan’s work" [Broadus, 267]. Indeed, many absurd things are said by those who are stubbornly set against belief in the True and Living God.

In my mind, Jesus shows remarkable restraint in answering the Pharisees. Rather than replying with the wrath that the blasphemous charge deserved, Jesus first answered it with simple logic: "Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand’" (vs. 25-26). Why would "the prince of demons" give Jesus the power to drive out demons? It doesn’t make sense. "It is not to be presumed that Satan is stupid: the Pharisees were taking up an impossible position. Theoretically, of course, it might be argued that Satan could allow the expulsion of one demon in order to effect some diabolical purpose, but this would be met by the fact that Jesus kept on expelling demons; He carried on an unrelenting war against all the demonic forces" [Morris, 315].

Next, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: "And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges" (vs. 27). The Pharisees of the time sanctioned certain Jewish exorcists. And whatever work they did, whether actual exorcism or fraud, it could not have been as clear a miracle as what Jesus just did before their eyes. So, it made no sense that the Pharisees would sanction the work of their exorcists, and yet call Jesus’ work, which was so much more clearly true exorcism, the work of the devil. Indeed, given the magnificence of Jesus’ miracle, it should have caused the Pharisees to realize that a whole new age had been ushered in: "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (vs. 28). For it is logical that part of the work of ushering in the kingdom of God would be to drive out demons: "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house" (vs. 29).

In the rest of this section, Jesus speaks (in a more general way) of the seriousness of what the Pharisees were doing: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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" (vss. 30-32). "Our Lord now solemnly declares that a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable sin; and it is distinctly implied that their accusation, that He cast out demons by the help of Beelzebub, was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and so was past forgiveness" [Broadus, 271]. By aligning themselves against the One who was sent by God to save them, the Pharisees were aligning themselves against God Himself. Moreover, to align themselves against Jesus, with full knowledge that He was sent by God (as testified by the Spirit of God in their hearts), was a sin that "will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." This is the so-called unforgivable sin. The Pharisees were not just guilty of blaspheming against Jesus, they were blaspheming against the Spirit of God, because the Spirit revealed to them that Jesus was sent by God and was doing the work of God. Given this knowledge, they were under an obligation to treat Him as Lord, and to obey His teachings. They chose instead to reject this knowledge and blaspheme Him. As Jesus states, to blaspheme Jesus, in itself, is not unforgivable. Even Paul the Apostle (at one time) blasphemed Jesus, but he did so in ignorance (see I Tim. 1:13). The Pharisees blasphemed with full knowledge of who Jesus is, as given to them by the Spirit of God. And so, they were guilty of committing the unforgivable sin. This sin is spoken of elsewhere in the Bible. The writer of the book of Hebrews teaches: "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace" (Heb. 6:4-6).

Given that the concept of the unforgivable sin is difficult, let us hear from some learned theologians concerning the matter: "Let us gather from these verses the exceeding sinfulness of sins against knowledge" [Ryle, 131]. "The sin that cannot be forgiven is not to be understood as the utterance of any particular form of words. It is impossible to hold that any form of words is unforgivable, granted that the sinner subsequently repents and turns to God. Jesus is talking about the set of the life, not any one isolated saying. When a person takes up a position like that of the Pharisees, when, not by way of misunderstanding but through hostility to what is good, that person calls good evil and, on the other hand, makes evil his good, then that person has put himself in a state that prevents forgiveness. It is not that God refuses to forgive; it is that the person who sees good as evil and evil as good is quite unable to repent and thus to come humbly to God for forgiveness. And there is no way to forgiveness other than by the path of repentance and faith" [Morris, 318]. "It denotes the conscious and wicked rejection of the saving power and grace of God towards man" [Beyer, in Morris, 319]. "He who is guilty of this outrageous crime has sinned himself into a condition in which spiritual feeling is dead, and repentance has become morally impossible" [Spurgeon, 155]. "We do not hold that those who fight against His grace and power with determined malice are blaspheming the Spirit of God; but we do hold that such sacrilege is committed only when we strive knowingly to extinguish the Spirit dwelling within us. And the reason why the Spirit, rather than the Son or the Father Himself, is said to be blasphemed is that, in depreciating God’s grace and power, we are making a direct assault on the Spirit, from whom they proceed and in whom they are manifest to us. Does some unbeliever curse God? It is as if a blind man came into collision with a wall. But he is not cursing the Spirit unless he has been enlightened by Him and is aware of his ungodly rebellion" [Calvin, 46].

Finally, Jesus points out that the blasphemous words that the Pharisees spoke reflected the state of their evil hearts: "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (vss. 33-34). "The life of the scribes was not notorious for gross wickedness; yet their slanders were the symptoms of the poison of their pride, ambition and envy. Because all this was hidden from the ordinary folk, Christ draws the inner evil out of darkness into light" [Calvin, 48].

And in general, the speech of men reflect the state of their hearts: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (vs. 35-37). Have your words gotten you into trouble lately? Have you found recently your mouth to be uncontrollably speaking evil? Do not dismiss such lapses as merely "careless words", for "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Rather, seek help from the Lord, by His Spirit, to heal your heart, and purify your mind, so that what comes out of your mouth may be pure grace.

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