22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV
Matthew continues to arrange the events of Jesus’ life in order to provide further proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He had come declaring Himself to be the long-awaited King of the Jews and calling the people to repentance. The Kingdom they had been eagerly and patiently anticipating had come.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV
Mark records that, immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV
But the Jews were having a difficult time reconciling their expectations of the promised Messiah with what they were witnessing in the actions of Jesus. Yes, they were amazed by His miracles and attracted to His message, but He did not act or look like a king. He had no royal retinue, only a small, ragtag group of disciples made up of former fishermen, a tax collector and other assorted nobodies. Apart from His miracles, there was little about Him that would have led the people to see Him as the Messiah. Which is why, even after having watched Him cast out another demon, they responded, “Can this be the Son of David?” Actually, their question can best be translated as, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” They were filled with doubt and misgivings. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah, but they were having a difficult time resolving their dreams with reality.
The Pharisees, fearing that the people were being swayed by Jesus’ miracles and rhetoric, declared Him to be operating in the power of Satan.
“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV
Beelzebul was another name for Satan. These religious leaders could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They had been eye-witnesses of many of the healings Jesus had performed and had just seen Him cast the demon from the blind and mute man. But they were unwilling to attribute the power of Jesus to God, instead accusing Him of being under the influence of Satan.
Jesus responded by revealing the non-sensical nature of their accusation. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, provide Jesus with power to cast out demons? What benefit would Satan gain from such an arrangement? In fact, Jesus reveals the self-destructive nature of such a plan.
“…if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26 ESV
Then Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, asking whether their own “sons” were casting out demons by the power of Satan as well. Jesus had not been the first to exorcise demons. We know from the book of Acts, that there were others who at least attempted to do so.
13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. – Acts 19:13-14 ESV
So, how did the Pharisees justify the actions of such people? Were they also under the influence of Satan? Jesus concluded that the reasoning of the Pharisees was flawed and highly biased. They were rejecting Him, and in doing so, they were rejecting the arrival of His Kingdom. And Jesus blatantly contradicted their assessment, claiming to be operating by the power of the Spirit of God. Not only that, His demonstrations of that power were proof that the kingdom of God had come.
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28 ESV
With the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had broken into the earthly realm. In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recorded the announcement of the angel regarding the virgin birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of the promise of God.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23 ESV
Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. His birth made the presence of God tangible and touchable.
He is the image of the invisible God… – Colossians 1:15 ESV
No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT
But they refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. And rather than admit that Jesus was operating under the power of the Spirit of God, they attributed His actions to Satan, an action Jesus described as blasphemy. But He was very specific in His accusation, declaring them to be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit.” And then He dropped the bombshell that this kind of blasphemy was unforgiveable in nature. They could say all they wanted against Him and be forgiven, but their decision to blaspheme the Spirit of God was unforgivable.
In essence, Jesus was declaring that His power to heal had been given to Him by the Spirit of God and was proof that He was the Messiah. To deny this proof was to reject the testimony of the Spirit of God. It was to refuse to accept Jesus as who God, through the Spirit, declared Him to be. If you recall, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had been accompanied by the verbal, audible testimony of God. Jesus was His Son.
By attributing to Satan, the works done by Jesus, made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God, the Pharisees were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. The unforgiveable sin is the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.
The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:
So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT
And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.
This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT
But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV
The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.