One of the most difficult statements that Jesus utters is found in Mark 3:28-29 and involves Jesus warning against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (see also the parallel in Matt. 12:31-32). Mark narrates a series of conflict stories between Jesus and the Pharisees.
The conflict began when Jesus pronounced the paralytic’s sins forgiven. The Pharisees thought to themselves, “Why does He (Jesus) speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).
In order to demonstrate His authority to forgive sins, Jesus commanded the paralytic to rise and walk. After observing Jesus’ casting out demons, the scribes, a group closely associated with the Pharisees, rejected the possibility that Jesus was Messiah and could cast them out by the power of God. Rather, they charged that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul as an explanation for why He is able to exorcise demons (Mark 3:22).
Beelzebul is identified as the ruler of demons, even Satan himself. Jesus highlighted the absurdity of Satan casting out Satan. In truth, Jesus cast out demons by the power of God. Jesus then levied His own charge: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29).
To begin, let us be clear about the meaning of blasphemy against God in general. In the Old Testament, one could blaspheme God by worshipping other gods, showing arrogant disrespect toward God or by any number of actions that were offensive to God. It could include a wide range of offensive, insulting speech or activity directed against God.
In this passage specifically, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to decisively reject the Spirit’s witness about Jesus and the Spirit’s operation in Jesus’ ministry. The danger of making such a judgment against Jesus, despite the Spirit’s witness and work, is a serious matter indeed.
In fact, it is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. All other sins and any other kind of blasphemy can be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. If a person chooses to make a settled judgment against Jesus, despite the witness and work of the Holy Spirit authenticating Jesus as Lord, then they will face the severe and eternal judgment of God.
Ironically, in their charge that Jesus was a blasphemer, many of the scribes and Pharisees themselves committed blasphemy. Darrell Bock captures the gravity of Jesus’ words well when he states: “Jesus is not a soft-spoken teacher of religion saying ‘Consider My way as one of many choices to finding God.’ He boldly asserts that a person’s eternal fate is wrapped up in the choice” (“Jesus According to Scripture,” 191).