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 continue looking at the subject which we looked at last time which was the question of the unforgivable sin, and somebody asked me the question: Have I committed the unforgivable sin?
I gave a talk last time on the general implications of this question and the answer which I gave, briefly, was that any sin we may be forgiven through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ his death his resurrection.
So, the unforgivable sin is NOT TO BELIEVE that Jesus died for our sins was buried and rose from the dead and NOT TO REPENT of your sins and believe.
The sin, ultimately, the unforgivable sin, is NOT TO BELIEVE in Jesus because it’s only through Jesus that you get forgiveness.
That is, briefly, what I said last time.
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:
What do we make of that passage?
Jesus is going through a confrontation here with a man who is demon-possessed.
A little word about ‘demon possession’. The Bible does indicate that this is a condition by which a fallen angel or a demon can come and inhabit a human being and dwell in them.
Both Judaism and Christianity recognize this as a possibility. Christians have long taught about exorcism, demon possession, and driving out demons in the name of Jesus.
Judaism also has this idea of a dybbuk, a malevolent Spirit that comes and inhabits a human. It’s rare but it happens.
It was very prevalent, apparently, at the time of Jesus because we read that Jesus went around casting out demons and healing the sick on many occasions.
It seems that the presence of Jesus draws out the presence of a demon and that applies both to the First and the Second Coming of Jesus.
So, we see that at Jesus’ First coming, there was a great number of people who were demon-possessed, and it appears that will be the case at the end of days also.
Demonization is particularly associated with the worship of demons or worship of pagan or occult practices.
Psalm 106.36 it says,
The psalm directly says that, in their worship of false Gods, they were worshiping demons.
Corinthians also has a similar idea in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 19, Paul writes:
This is quite a heavy subject. And the Bible does indicate that this is something which is a possibility.
Sceptics would say: ‘Well, it’s all fantasy; you can’t believe in angels, demons or anything like that.’ But the Bible says that all these things are real, that they exist.
And, if you look in our time, you can see that there is a great deal of false religion, the occults, witchcraft, yoga: which says that people can ‘discover the god within’.
You won’t discover a god within you. If you look for God within, you’ll discover a fallen angel, an evil spirit. And the Bible also says that the devil is able to appear as an angel of light.
He doesn’t always appear as the ‘bad guy’, he can come as the ‘good guy’, giving you peace and love and all these things, which people are looking for. But if they’re looking for it in the wrong place, they’ll find not the ‘good thing’ they want, they’ll end up finding something which is evil and which is controlling, and which is demonic.
All kinds of other things, drug taking, homosexuality, pornography, sexual immorality, promiscuity, all these things open us up to the demonic world. It doesn’t mean that every time you sin in that way you are becoming demon-possessed, but habitual sin in this way opens you up to the possibility of demonization.
In one week’s time we have what’s known as Halloween. What do we make of Halloween? Halloween means ‘hallowed evening’.
As far as the church is concerned, it was called ‘hallowed-evening’. The Catholic church invented this ceremony called ‘All Saints’ Day’ on November the 1st, and they said that the day before, Halloween, should be the ‘hallowed evening’. Why do they do it on this particular date? Well, because this date of October the 31st and November 1st was the time in the pagan religion when they celebrated something called Samhain.
Samhain was a pagan festival and one of the things which the church actually tried to do was take over pagan festivals and Christianise them and hopefully make them good. Actually you don’t want to do that, you just ignore the pagan festival and you turn to Jesus. But that’s what the Catholic church did. In fact, they did the same with Christmas, but that’s another story.
Samhain was an autumnal festival held at the beginning of the darkest and most barren time of the year. The Celts feared that, at this time, all kinds of evil spirits roamed about, threatening the crops, the flocks and the herds. These supernatural powers needed to be placated. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica huge bonfires were lit set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the autumnal festival acquired a sinister significance with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming around.
It was a time to proclaim the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. The origin of the word ‘bonfire’ is ‘bone-fire’, so called because these fires often involved a human sacrifice to placate the evil spirits.
Julius Caesar described mass human sacrifices in Gaul (that’s France). Some of the tribes made colossal wicker figures whose limbs were filled with living men. These images were then set alight, and the victims perished in a sea of flames.
So that’s the origin of Halloween. Not very good, is it? Notice that it talks about spirits ‘coming out’ and you’d hope you could placate these spirits. Some people feared that the spirit would come out of the grave and go back to the house in which it had lived before. So, if you lived in a house where somebody had died, you would have wanted to offer some sacrifice to placate these evil spirits from coming back into your house.
It tells you that behind Halloween there is a demonic force and therefore you know you shouldn’t be too surprised when you see people dressing up in witchcraft outfits and evil things taking place.
It’s a high day for witchcraft and the occult.
So, these things are real, and they happen, and they open people up to evil spirits.
Now, when you look at this passage, you also see that demon possession was believed in by the Pharisees. In fact, they accused Jesus of being in contact with the demonic world.
In John 8 verse 48 he says,
Pharisees also believed in demons and angels. They even had their rituals for casting out demons and, in fact, in Acts chapter 19 you have an interesting incident where it says,
It wasn’t terribly successful because the demon-possessed man then turned on them and said,
Showing that the One who had power over the evil spirits was Jesus and that such power can only be exercised by somebody who is filled with the Holy Spirit and who has the power of Jesus upon them.
Therefore, the Bible says that these things are real.
In the context of Matthew 12, we have to say that that is the issue which is before us as we look at this passage. In this passage in Matthew 12, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who witness Him heal a mute man who was possessed by a demon. And they say that He has cast out the demon by Beelzebub, the chief of the demons.
There’s a Jewish teacher called Arnold Fruchtenbaum – I know some of you know him too – whose works I have read and commend. He has a great insight into much of the Jewish background of the scriptures and he says that this is ‘the unforgivable sin’.
I’ll explain why that is later. This is a specific sin against the Holy Spirit which could only be committed by that generation. I.e., rejecting the Messiah on the basis that He was doing miracles by the power of the devil.
How do we come to that conclusion? If you were paying attention when I read the scripture, you may have noticed that when Jesus performed the healing of this man, the crowd asked a question. The question was: Could this be the Son of David?
The Son of David is a code name for the Messiah
When they ask ‘could this be the Son of David?’ They are saying ‘could this be, could Jesus be the Messiah?‘
This particular healing raised the question of Jesus being the Messiah.
One of the things which Arnold Fruchtenbaum brings out which is interesting, is that the ancient rabbis acknowledge that miracles are possible, that a holy person will be able to perform miracles if they’re empowered by the Spirit of God to do so. And you could point to examples in the Old Testament.
They also separated miracles into two categories:
- miracles that anyone empowered by the Spirit could do, and
- miracles which only the Messiah could do
When we look through the New Testament, you find that Jesus / Yeshua Ha mashiach / the Messiah did both. He did general miracles, and He did the specific Messianic miracles.
What are the three Messianic miracles which Arnold Fruchtenbaum says the Pharisees spoke about? They are:
- healing a leper
- casting out a demon from a mute person, and
- giving sight to a man born blind
If you read through the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus did all three.
Also, what you find in the Gospel is that whenever one of these miracles was done there was an investigation recorded in the scriptures in which the religious rulers investigated Jesus to see if He was the Messiah.
You have the story of the healing of the leper in all three synoptic Gospels, that’s in Matthew, in Mark, and in Luke.
In Luke chapter 5 verse 12 it says that the man was ‘full of leprosy’. That means he was in an advanced state of leprosy, and he was about to die.
Jesus then touched the leper, and he was made whole.
Now, leprosy is very contagious. So, generally, people did all that was possible to avoid touching a leper. If you touched a leper, it was likely that you could be infected with leprosy yourself.
Lepers were unclean. They were cast out of society. You didn’t touch them. But Jesus touched him, and He made him completely whole. And the man was totally healed, and He told the man then to go to the priests and offer the sacrifice for cleansing according to the Law of Moses.
We read through Leviticus 13 to 14 about a series of rituals for a cleansed leper. This means that, when this happens, the priest must order an investigation because such a miracle hasn’t happened before, and this is what the Messiah is going to do.
First, he investigates the man. He finds out that the man really was a leper, that he was now healed of leprosy, and that Jesus has healed him.
Because this is a Messianic miracle, the situation calls for the next stage which is an investigation of Jesus: whether he is the Messiah or not.
Reading Luke’s account of this in Luke chapter 5 verse 17, it tells us that, after this healing of the leper, a crowd of religious leaders descended upon Capernaum to investigate Jesus.
The detail here shows that they come not just from Galilee, they come from Judea and Jerusalem. Judea and Jerusalem are a long way away. Judea and Jerusalem are a long way from Galilee.
They’ve made a long trip up to a small village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, religious leaders of all kinds.
When you read on, in the account, you find that the next thing that happens is that four friends of a paralytic man bring him, poor friends bring a paralytic man to Jesus, but they can’t get to Him because of the crowd, so they make a hole in the roof and let him down and when the man comes before Jesus, the paralyzed man, Jesus says something unusual.
Instead of healing him, He says:
Son, your sins are forgiven you.
The religious leaders who are watching this react. Mark’s account says,
Were they right or wrong?
Well, on one level, they’re right. ‘Who can forgive sins except One? Even God.’
So, when Jesus says ‘your sins have been forgiven you’, He is saying something which only God can say.
Obviously, a human can say it, but can only say it and mean it if He is God. And Jesus is therefore either blaspheming or saying that He has the right to say it.
Jesus then says,
Which is the easier thing to say?
Actually, the easiest thing to say is ‘your sins are forgiven you’ because if you say, ‘your sins are forgiven you’ and they are not, then there’s nothing visible which is going to take place.
On the other hand, if you say, ‘rise up and walk’, either he is going to rise up and walk or he is not. If the paralytic doesn’t rise up and walk then, obviously, the person who’s saying it is deluded, he is a phony and a fraud and you can pay no attention to him.
In this case, if he doesn’t rise up and walk, then, the first statement, ‘your sins are forgiven you’, you can also ignore as being unreal.
But they don’t want to say that. They say that only God forgives sins. They’ve come to check out if He really is the Messiah after He has done a Messianic miracle.
Now, they have another dilemma. He has healed a leper, He has also done another miracle which specifically points to Him being the divine person, in other words, God, in the process.
They conclude that He may have done a Messianic miracle but that He is not the Messiah, and they are left with a problem.