On a certain occasion the Lord Jesus said that "every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 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 12:31 and 32.)
This is a verse that is not always well understood, sometimes with serious consequences. Assumptions are made about its meaning, and not a few people, judging themselves guilty of this sin, have lost hope of God's forgiveness. The main question is: what does "speaks against the Holy Spirit" (or blasphemes, as we read in Mark 3:29) mean?
Consider its context: When the people saw Jesus heal instantly a man demon possessed, blind and dumb, they were astonished and asked, "Could this be the Son of David?" By the Son of David they meant the descendant of King David who, according to the promises made to them, and the prophecies, would take the kingdom and bring glory to Israel. He was the Messiah.
Seeing the excitement of the people at that time, the religious leaders among them concluded that the disposition expressed by the people to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, needed an extreme action on their part. It was not feasible to deny the authenticity of the supernatural miracle He had just accomplished, so in their desperation they suggested that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
Beelzebub is a word of unknown etymology, but it was used as a shameful name. According to some, it could mean "lord of a house," "lord of the flies," "lord of dung" or "lord of the idolatrous sacrifices." It was an ill-conceived and illogical statement on the part of these leaders, just as Jesus then demonstrated and gave them the above information.
These are solemn words; they declare that there is a sin for which there is no forgiveness of God, neither in the present or in the future, for eternity. When a passage is not clear enough in itself, exegesis demands that we seek an elucidation in parallel with other passages, for there can be no contradiction.
There is no sin committed by anyone that the Lord Jesus cannot forgive through their repentance and conversion, for He died on the cross to take upon Himself all sins: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). This is in line with all the Bible teaches us, that God is merciful, and His justice was satisfied in the blood of Christ, thus permitting the justification of all who receive Him as Lord and Saviour.
The unpardonable sin cannot be committed by those who have already received eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus, since it will never be taken away from them: it is eternal, and eternal life is communion with God before Whom there can be no sin.
But there will certainly be eternal condemnation, therefore with no possibility of forgiveness from God, for those whose name is not written in the "book of life" (Revelation 20:15). Among these are those who commit the unpardonable sin.
It was the rejection of religious Jews to clear evidence that He cast out demons by the Spirit of God that led Jesus to give the information in the first paragraph above. Their unpardonable sin was the attitude they were taking, or the decision they were to take, to stand against Christ rather than side with Him as He had taught just before this.
The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ (1 John 5:6). Who resists this witness makes the Holy Spirit a liar, and so also blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. He rejects the salvation that comes through the testimony of the Word inspired by the Holy Spirit, and rejects the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Not only is it a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but it is also speaking against Him. Here is the sin which is unforgivable now and in the age to come. For this there will never be forgiveness.
Jesus' statement that "every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men" with the exception of those who reject the salvation proclaimed by the Gospel is broad, but three questions have arisen recently and have been put to us, motivating this article:
These are the people who, through ignorance and no fault of their own, never had the option to receive Him as their Saviour. The Bible does not actually give a categorical answer about them, though it is generally concluded by inference that, as mankind in general is in sin, and Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation from the consequent punishment (eternal death) due to sinners, he who never got to know Him is lost. Many hold a Calvinistic doctrine according to which God chooses for Himself those who will be saved, and only these will be given the opportunity to be saved. In other words, those who are lost due to rejection or ignorance were not elected by God to be saved.
In the broader teaching of Christ, we learn from the "beatitudes" that salvation is for the poor in spirit and for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; in the parables of the "prodigal son" and of "the publican" it is for the lost who admits his sin and seeks forgiveness from God. The features seen here are the admittance (confession) and repentance of sin - the soul that is saved is the one who realises he is a sinner and seeks to be forgiven by God: "he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Just as a child trusts in his father, from whom he depends, the soul that can be saved is the one who pursues righteousness, struggles to do it, acknowledges his inability, but trusts in God for what he lacks.
"God our Saviour desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1Timothy 2:4). Knowledge of the free salvation that the Lord Jesus has provided for us allows it to be accepted immediately, so that we can already enjoy peace in our souls, the enjoyment of the blessings of being born again by the Holy Spirit, entry into the church of Christ and the light of the Gospel. The Bible is silent about those who never heard of this salvation. They certainly will not be saved by the works of righteousness they have done, but will not the mercy of our God reach them if they have the above characteristics and faith? One day we'll know, but we can reassure ourselves knowing that besides being perfectly righteous, God is also rich in mercy. He told Moses "I will have mercy on whomever i will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion" (Romans 9:15).
The answer to this question can be left in His competent hands.
The tribulation period of seven years (Daniel 9:24-27), or "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7), is characterized by the prior removal of the church and of the Holy Spirit from Earth (2 Thessalonians 2: 7). But the gospel is still proclaimed to the ends of the earth and there will be a multitude of conversions, of all nations, tribes, peoples and languages contributing thousands of martyrs (Revelation 7:14) because of persecution promoted by the beast.
The answer here is clearly YES.
The "wicked one" (also called the "beast" or "antichrist") will come "after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness in them that perish because they refused to love the truth to be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that all may be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12) It does not necessarily mean that they miss the opportunity to hear the Gospel again, but deceived by the lie of the Antichrist they will reject the Gospel, having previously preferred to continue in their sin ("iniquity"). The fierce persecution the beast will promote against those who do not subject themselves to him will be an incentive not to repent (Revelation 13:5, 20:4, etc..) ..
The answer is that those who previously refused the salvation that was announced to them, taking pleasure in unrighteousness (and thus committing the unpardonable sin) will not have another opportunity to convert, but will believe the lie of the wicked one, inspired by Satan. But we understand that there will be opportunity for those who had never before heard or understood clearly the message of the Gospel, and never deliberately and finally rejected our Saviour. They are like those who never heard the Gospel, as we saw in the previous question.