Sometimes Jesus says strong things that strike fear into our hearts. In this text Jesus makes this statement: “Cursing the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this world or the next.”
Sweat breaks out my forehead when I read this, and I wonder if I’ve committed an unpardonable sin. Have I consciously or unconsciously cursed the Spirit? I know for a fact that I have knowingly, rebelliously, and stubbornly disobeyed His voice on many occasions in my life. Where do I stand?
Well, what does Jesus mean?
It’s always good to start with the context. Jesus was curing some demon-possessed people. His power over the spirit world caused some to think that he may, indeed, be the Messiah. The Pharisees, who were not ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah, quickly jumped on this. They came up with an alternate explanation of Jesus’ power. They claimed that Jesus cast out demons with the power of Satan. In other words, the Pharisees claimed that the power behind Jesus was the Devil.
We know from this text and many others that the power behind Jesus’ miracles was, in fact, the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus didn’t do his miracles out of his own deity but rather in dependence on the Spirit.
So, in essence, what the Pharisees were doing is attributing the work of the Spirit of God to a demon. In other words, they were calling the Spirit of God a Devil. When you understand this context, Christ’s strong response makes more sense.
First of all, Jesus points out the irrationality of this claim. Why on earth would Satan cast out his own demons? That strategy doesn’t even make sense!
Then Jesus tells the Pharisees that any sin can be forgiven except this one–you can’t call the Spirit of God the Devil and make it into the kingdom of heaven. If, when you see the obvious work of the Spirit of God, you consider it the work of the Devil, then you are lost. That kind of hard-hearted viewpoint, if held on to, can only lead to judgment.
This hard-hearted viewpoint eventually led the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus for claiming to be God. They continued to maintain that Jesus’ power was demonic rather than divine. They, however, were the ones who actually committed blasphemy by claiming that the work of the Spirit through Jesus was actually the work of the Devil.
Jesus ends this encounter by completely turning the tables on the Pharisees. They accused Jesus of doing his works in the power of the Devil. Jesus turns this right back on them. By their evil disbelief and blasphemy, Jesus said, the Pharisees demonstrate the evil in their hearts. They, not Jesus, were the ones being led by demons.
Jesus challenges us to think through the consequences of our words. It was no light thing to dismiss Christ’s power by calling it the work of Satan. The end of that line of thinking is death.
I breathe as sigh of relief once I understand the context. I don’t think I’m in danger of calling the Spirit of God a demon. Nonetheless, I live in a world that very consciously calls good evil and evil good. Buying into this worldview gets awful close to blaspheming against the Spirit. So, though we don’t need to live in fear, we do need to be alert and sober.