There is this enigmatic statement by Jesus that has confused Christians for a long time (like me), and I thought I had a decent answer to it (which I did), but then something comes along and the ol’ light bulb gets switched on. Ah! Lord, now I see. Well, without further ado, here is Jesus,
22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. — Matthew 12:22-32
So, the big question is: what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
The understanding that I carried around with me is that this means that anyone who spurns the grace of God exhibited by the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit would be condemned. Jesus performed quite a few miracles before this verbal exchange, and they were done through the power of His Spirit. And I think this is true, as far as it goes, but the light goes farther yet.
This statement from Jesus, though as harsh as it may seem, is actually profoundly gracious. We have to remember that humanity, apart from Christ, is under God’s wrath and judgment not just for our sins, but because we are sinners. With that in mind, we know what Jesus is going to do in the Gospels, He is going to die on the cross for the remission of sins for His people (Matthew 1:21). Here is where the graciousness shows up.
Not only will Jesus die for the sins of His people, so that who ever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life, but He tells us that the sins committed against Him would be forgiven. The Jews, Romans, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and so on all knew what they were doing, especially the Jews. They knew who Jesus was. They knew Him to be the true Son of God, and as wicked children of the Devil, they envied Him and murdered Him (Matthew 27:18). And Jesus tells us that they will not be condemned for this, but would receive more time to repent. Grace.
However, when the Holy Spirit comes, either their hearts of stone would turn to hearts of flesh, or they would harden their hearts and spurn the Spirit. Unfortunately, the Jews (majority of them anyway) chose the latter option and God gave them up to their sins. At Pentecost many hearts of stone were certainly shattered by the Word of the Lord being preached and the Holy Spirit moving wherever He willed. But the Jews in Jerusalem chose to reject the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the Kingdom, the building of God’s true family in Christ, the true Israel. They blasphemed the gift of the Holy Spirit, their time was up.
51 You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. — Acts 7:51
Because of this, God brought judgment upon Jerusalem. The time of repentance was up. From the time of Jesus’s death to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Jews had about 40 years (significant number!) to repent, but the blasphemy of the Spirit in that age would not be forgiven. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 a new age has begun with the true Israel, the church (Galatians 6:16), spreading the Gospel and the Kingdom. Those who reject the Spirit in this age will not escape the wrath of God either. From the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 to today, the Lord has been patient giving many opportunities for people and nations to repent, or as Paul says,
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. — Acts 17:30-31