Blasphemy of the Spirit
I think Matthew 12:22-32 (and parallels) is quite a bit more complicated than a matter of non-repentance though that is part of the picture. I think the crime is a peculiarly Jewish one because they experienced Jesus in his earthly ministry and his ministry in and as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was always at work in the Lord Jesus [see Acts 10:37-38] but his glorification and exaltation the Holy Spirit becomes Jesus' peculiar representative and witness [see Acts 2:33 and elsewhere]. And what you make of this somewhat repetitive piece.
1. Jesus makes a distinction between sin against him as "the Son of Man" and sin against the Spirit.
2. If it were simply a question of non-repentance then the distinction would not be a valid one.
3. If they remained non-repentant they could not be forgiven when they sin against either.
4. I'm sure we're dealing with two-phases of the redeeming work of God.
5. The two are: the earthly ministry of Jesus and his ministry in the new age (the eternal age) when the Spirit does his work in presenting the exalted and glorified Jesus to them (and to us).
6. For them to reject Jesus during his earthly ministry there was the possibility that they could be forgiven during the age of the Spirit, which was the age to come (Acts 2:23, 33-38 and Hebrews 2:5).
7. Reject Jesus when he comes in and through and as the Holy Spirit and there is no other manifestation of Jesus to come.
8. The era of "the flesh" ended when Jesus died in and to the flesh and the era of the Spirit began when as the exalted Lord Jesus sends and comes in the Holy Spirit to indwell them. Be sure to see 1 Peter 3:18 and Romans 1:3. When they sinned in the new age they sinned during the final age in which they can find forgiveness—that is, in the age when the Holy Spirit represents the Savior.
9. In this text [Matthew 12:22-32] "this world" is the era of "the flesh" during which Jesus carries out his redeeming work in "the body of his flesh" (compare Ephesians 2:15) and "the world to come" is when he carries out his redeeming work in and through the Spirit (see texts below).
The passage seems to suggest that blaspheming the Spirit is worse than blaspheming Jesus, since one is forgivable and the other isn’t. But if both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are both part of the Godhead why would one sin be regarded worse than the other?
Is it because the Son of Man is merely human and that we can be forgiven for blaspheming a human but not for blaspheming deity? Probably not. Jesus made it clear that when we dishonor him we dishonor the Father. It isn’t hard to find Israel (and other nations) attributing God’s righteous work to their gods or Israel’s own wisdom. Nor is it difficult to find Israel and the nations saying evil things of God (Assyria did but Jonah says they were forgiven when they repented). Nor is it difficult to find Israel attributing the Spirit’s work in the prophets to some vile source. [You'll remember the "golden calf" incident when Israel said, "Here is your God, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt"—Exodus 32:4 when in fact it was the Holy Spirit that led them through the wilderness to Canaan—Isaiah 63:7, 10-11, 14.]
Maybe it’s not a question of “worse” and maybe it’s not a question of humanity or divinity. My judgment is that it has to do with the nature of God’s revelation of himself and his purposes. I don’t think the big issue is in the word “blaspheme". I don’t think attributing Christ’s miracles to a satanic source is the peculiar way to blaspheme the Spirit.
Once more, here’s what I think we're dealing with. There are two phases of God's redeeming work in Jesus. The first phase is what Jesus did during his "earthly ministry" in the body of his flesh and the second phase is what is accomplished in his present post-resurrection and glorified state when he presents himself to the world in and through the Holy Spirit.
To redeem the world and bring it life God came in and as Jesus Christ, who was born of a woman and under the Torah. Like the rest of his people (and humanity) he was made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3, John 1:14 and Galatians 4:4) though, of course, he lived in positive, sinless holiness to the Holy Father. But that was the initial phase of God’s self-unveiling in Jesus Christ--in flesh, in Jewish flesh. In the purpose of God and to bring the world to glory he must die to the flesh so in his fleshly body he died to reconcile the world and bring immortality (note Ephesians 2:15). “The flesh” (with all its Adamic and peculiarly Jewish connections) must be lived through and overcome. Christ said to the Jews “the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:62-63). He is put to death in flesh and made alive in spirit (see 1 Peter 3:18 and compare 2 Corinthians 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 15:44-49). Christ is the Redeemer unveiled as part of the old Adamic structure (see Luke 3:37), he dies to it and rises as the new and last Adam.
Now the still human (but no longer “fleshly” in the old Adamic sense, subject to death and the like) the exalted and glorified Jesus Christ reveals himself to them in and through the Holy Spirit. See passages like John 14:18-27, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and Ephesians 2:22. And take a really close look at Acts 3:19-21 (maybe I can say something about this text later).
There are two phases of the self-revelation of the Redeemer. One in “the flesh” (an earthy ministry as a child of Adam like the rest of us) and it took place in “this age” (the age prior to the Messianic age). To reject, vilify and crucify him during his time in the flesh could be forgiven (see Acts 2:23, 37-38) because he would come again in and through and as the Holy Spirit. But to reject and vilify (crucify him again) when he finally presents himself in and through the Spirit is to reject the final self-revelation of Jesus available to them and to judge themselves "unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13:46 with Acts 2:33). To reject the exalted and immortal Jesus is to reject the new creation of which he is the Author and that is to sin against the new order, the new world but more to the point, it is to sin against the Holy Spirit who came to bring the exalted Jesus to the hearts of men (see Acts 3:19-22, John 14:15-18,23 and 16:13-15). To reject the glorified and risen Christ is to reject the full, final and exhaustive revelation of the Holy Spirit in and through whom Christ himself appeals to the world— that is unforgivable. It’s unforgivable because there is no other self-revelation of God. A merely earthly, subject to death Jesus Christ, is not enough to redeem the world. He must also be raised in glory (see Romans 4:25 and John 6:62-63 and 16:7-8).
But what if people repent? Why, then, they are forgiven! But they cannot repent while rejecting the only revelation of Jesus there is. We need to remember that if they persisted throughout until death to blaspheme the Son of Man there would have been no forgiveness. “Except you believe that I am he you will die in your sins,” he said in one place. No, he isn’t saying that if they reject the Spirit that they would become incapable of repentance under any circumstances. He’s saying (if I understand him correctly), “You can reject me now in this phase of my self-revelation and find forgiveness when I later reveal myself in and through the Holy Spirit as the exalted and glorified Lord. But you can’t reject my self-revelation in and through the Spirit and find forgiveness later because there is no other form or phase of revelation. You shut the door against yourselves.”
1. If they rejected [until they died] Jesus during his earthly ministry—his ministry in the flesh—they would not have been forgiven.
2. If they reject him [until they died] during his ministry in the Spirit in his present exalted and glorified state—they would not be forgiven.
3. If they rejected him during his earthly ministry and then received him during his ministry in the Spirit (as they did in Acts 2) they could be forgiven.
4. If they rejected him during his final ministry through the Holy Spirit they could no forgiveness.
Note the similarities (though there are differences) to all this in Hebrews 10:26-29.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.