“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
–Jesus, Matthew 12:31-32
What is the terrible sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” and why did Jesus say that it won’t be forgiven? This is what Bible-readers always want to know upon reading Matthew 12. And they spend hours talking about it. Some even wonder if they have committed this sin inadvertently and are therefore beyond Divine favor.
The key to what is really going on is seeing that this is about the Trinitarian relationships. Matthew had just told us, as He does in several places in his gospel, that it was the Holy Spirit that powered Jesus’ ministry (v18). But some Pharisees had just charged that Jesus did what He did “only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v24).
So the picture we have in the gospel of Matthew is this. Insult Jesus, or berate Him, or even betray Him, and He will still hold out mercy to you. He condemns those who consciously reject Him, but implied in all His denouncements is a warning to repent, and hope for being received if people did. So Jesus was hopeful even the dreadful Pharisees, who received so much of His opprobrium. He was open to meeting and talking with them if they asked. Even at night if they insisted.
But malign His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who filled Jesus, lived in Jesus, enabled Jesus to do what He did, and you cross a line with Jesus. The key is to realize that we are glimpsing an encounter within the Trinity. The economic is revealing the immanent.
What we are seeing here is not Jesus defining a special category of sin for which there is no forgiveness. We are seeing Him get angry! We are glimpsing the fierce love between the Members of the Trinity. Jesus is jealous for the Spirit’s reputation. “The Holy Spirit is off-limits. Slight Him and, as far as I am concerned, your condemnation is sealed.” It is like the way some people get when you insult their mother, only way more intense.
He can display this confidence about His will and people’s forgiveness because anyone’s salvation depends on His and the Father’s decision. We all have hardened hearts. The only way for us to turn to receive God’s forgiveness is if God un-hardens them. In these verses we are hearing God say, if you cross the line about My Holy Home-Boy, your heart will be left hardened.
Whatever you may be walking around feeling condemned about, and wondering if you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit about, it isn’t this. These particular Pharisees were assaulting the bond that holds the universe together.
Forgiveness flows from God so freely because of an agreement made beyond the veil of creation, in the inner reaches of Counsel of God, before the foundation of the world. There a handshake was struck between the Members of the Godhead, something theologians call, the pactum salutis (the pact of salvation). They would allow Their bond to be severed. The pactum salutis was enacted when Jesus Christ came to earth. And consummated on the cross. When that bond was broken, it re-made all the bonds broken by our sin. Because the Trinity opened Themself to that tragedy, the floodgates of forgiveness were opened to us.
Whatever else you want to see in that verse, see first the intimate passion among the persons of God.