Should a Christian fear the possibility of committing the “unpardonable sin” and ultimately of being lost forever? Among certain groups, we hear warnings against so-called “mortal sins” which are unforgivable. Other groups label sins such as adultery, murder or abortion as “unpardonable,” yet Jesus states that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people” (Matt 12:31, ESV) and only makes an exception for one very specific sin addressed to a specific group of people.
The People Warned
Matthew tells us that the Pharisees were the main subjects of the warning (12:24) while Mark adds that scribes were also there (3:22). These were men who knew the Old Testament Scriptures and were familiar with the many prophecies concerning their coming Messiah. Christ stood right before them, proved His Messianic claims by His miracles, and even cast out a demon in their presence with many witnesses. The Pharisees and scribes did not deny the miracle. Yet their conclusion was, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons” (Matt 12:24). It is clear from their words that these men were unbelievers. They had never been saved. The sin Jesus goes on to describe does not cause anyone to lose salvation, because it can only be committed by those who have never had salvation.
The Sin Described
After Jesus points out how contradictory their conclusion is, He tells them how dangerous it is. “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt 12:31, ESV). There are two features of this sin. First, it is referred to as “blasphemy.” The word means to “revile” or to “slander.” Second, it is blasphemy “against the Spirit.” All other blasphemy can be forgiven, but not this type. Why not? Mark adds that these men “were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (3:30). The Lord Jesus said He did this work “by the Spirit of God” (Matt 12:28). They were slanderously attributing the work of God’s Spirit to an unclean, demonic spirit. Thus it was possible for these men to sin in such a way making forgiveness and salvation impossible. This makes sense logically. What more could God do to draw these Pharisees and scribes to Himself? They saw the Lord Jesus, heard His teachings, witnessed His signs performed by the power of the Spirit, watched His dominion over the forces of evil, and observed firsthand the fulfillment of Scripture. They had sinned against the brightest light possible. If they refused to acknowledge Him in the brightest of light, how could they ever expect to receive Him?
Some feel that the sin being committed here is a national sin, the Pharisees and scribes representing the nation of Israel as its leaders. They believe that this chapter brought the nation to the point of no return and that they must now face the future judgment (brought upon the nation in 70AD). However, Jesus refers to it, not as a national sin, but as an individual sin (“whoever” in Matt 12:32 and “everyone” in Luke 12:10).
Others interpret this sin as the rejection of Christ. However, would we not honestly admit that all of us rejected the Son, yet God continued to speak to us in His grace until we finally embraced His Son? Still others teach that this sin is the final rejection of Christ, which cannot be forgiven. Yet it would be unnecessary to state that a final choice is a final choice.
From the context of Matthew 12, it seems that this sin involves personally witnessing the work of God’s Spirit (performed by His Son while on earth), watching His power demonstrated over Satan, and slanderously attributing that power to the demonic realm. If this is the case, we conclude no one can commit the “unpardonable sin” today, for these conditions do not presently exist. Neither did the conditions exist in the book of Acts. Nowhere in Acts do we read about the possibility of committing the “unpardonable sin.” But will these conditions exist in the future?
The Age to Come
What did Jesus mean when He said that this sin would not be forgiven “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:32)? There are three occasions in the NT where “this age” (touto aion or touto kairos) is contrasted with “the age to come” (aion erchomai or mello). All three (Matt 12:32; Luke 18:30; Eph 1:21) point forward to the Kingdom Age when Christ will reign upon the earth. Conditions in the future Kingdom Age (“the age to come”) will be similar to those which existed when Christ was here the first time (“this age”). Of course, the Kingdom Age will be far more glorious, because He will actually reign as King. But in both “ages” Christ is physically present on earth, has the Spirit coming upon Him, announcements are made beforehand concerning His Kingdom, He performs signs demonstrating His Messiahship and shows His power over Satan. These similarities can be seen in the table below.
It is therefore possible that the “unpardonable sin” could be committed by unbelievers during Christ’s millennial reign, since the conditions will be so similar. We know from Revelation 20:7-9 that a vast company of unbelievers on earth will rise up against Christ at the conclusion of His 1000 year reign. A believer in the Lord Jesus never needs to fear committing this sin. Believers can grieve the Spirit (Eph.4:30), or even quench the Spirit (1Thes 5:19), but nowhere do we find a believer blaspheming the Spirit, thereby committing the “unpardonable sin.” Our security is found in Christ alone, not in what we do or fail to do (Eph 2:8, 9).
|This Age||The Age to Come|
|Christ Present on Earth||Gospel Records||Zech 14:4; Rev 19:11ff.|
|Christ and the Holy Spirit||John 1:32-33||Isa.11:2ff.|
|Kingdom Announcement||Matt 3:2; 4:17||Rev 11:15; 12:10|
|Christ Performing Signs||Acts 2:22||Isa 35:5-6|
|Christ’s Power over Satan||Matt 8:16||Rev 20:1-3|