A chance meeting has led me to Matthew’s gospel.
God has settled me in chapter12 and I find myself focused on verse 36 for several days.
The context of verse 36 is part of his response to “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
These Pharisees attributed his work, God’s work, the Spirit’s work, to the devil. A portion of his response includes this: “men will have to give an account for every careless word they have spoken.”
We have this tendency to take a verse like this and beat people up with it. Another way of stating that idea would be the undue guilt and condemnation we lay upon people who will not look at scripture for themselves.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities of what he was talking about.
Matthew was a Jewish oriented writer and part of his mission seemed to be convincing the Jewish believers that Jesus was God, through lineage, prophecy, actions, and words. Chapter12 gives us a taste of many aspects of this. Since the Pharisees were notorious for their long eloquent prayers that truly meant nothing, Matthew went right for the heart. You will be held accountable for every word.
But I say to you that every idle word, whatever men may speak, they shall give an account of it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36 MKJV)
One might think that he had turned his attention back to his disciples, or the crowd that seemed to follow him everywhere. That would be a logical assumption except that He, in verse 34, states: “you generation of vipers”, a specific reference to the Pharisees that had challenged him and were still standing before him.
Although the target of His conversation is the Pharisees, He is also talking to the Jewish crowd that always followed Him; the fact that Matthew points all this out then by extension applies to us as well. But does it really?
Only seconds before Jesus made this statement of condemnation he made a startling statement, to those that heard it, that was very freeing, and a reference to a future act, the cross, and his death.
“I tell you therefore, men will be forgiven any sin and blasphemy, but they will not be forgiven for blaspheming the Spirit. Whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come.” Matthew 12:31-32 Moffatt NT)
There seems to be a dividing line.
The Pharisees were educated and there should be no doubt about that. Paul was one, and his zeal drove him to murder early Christians. (Do not think naively that Stephen was the first and only.) And yet, with all their education, they could not see or understand that God stood before them. Matthew was still trying, all these years later, to point this fact out to them.
Why, with all your education, would you make a statement like this; “When the Pharisees heard this, they replied, “He drives out demons only because their ruler Beelzebul gives him power to do so.”” Matthew 12:24 GNB)
Here again, we have another clue to help us interpret scripture. In Revelation 20 verse 4, John tells us that he saw those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus. Doesn’t this imply that words were the reason they were killed? Not necessarily. Were they simply careless? It does not seem to matter when it comes to making a final stand for the true God, as they demonstrated exemplary action.
These are the tribulation saints – those who did not believe prior to the harpazo (the rapture.) These saints, as God called them, certainly experienced a judgment based upon their words and actions.
The pathetic aspect of this is that they did not have to go through the “great tribulation”, and that in itself exhibits a disregard that is mind-boggling. Even still God is not bringing judgment upon them because of this lack of activity on their part.
As I write this I am thinking about a guy at work, a Jehovah Witness, that does not know the true God, and yet has a vague understanding of God and who he is. He does, however, believe that Jesus and Satan were brothers. Why wouldn’t a belief system like that not fall under the category of blaspheming against the Spirit? If anything I think that we find that God is much more merciful than most of us imagined.
One other thing to note about these people who disregarded God’s pleas for them to come to Him. Faults or not, they (if deemed a part of the tribulation saints,) will rule and reign with Christ during the thousand years, merely because they finally took a stand and chose God over the beast.
There are other predominant flags here that lead us to an understanding of what and to whom Jesus is talking.
- First, let’s not just classify them as Pharisees but deeply religious people. Now we can extend this to today, and we have plenty of those.
- Secondly, Jesus deemed their words as careless. Perhaps we can substitute thoughtless, derogatory, in opposition, blatantly lacking belief, and therefore in denial of the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore God. If you attribute an act of God to the Satanic then you are not just denying the power of God, you may well be denying God himself.
The passage tells us that Jesus knew their thoughts. Doesn’t that mean that they had not openly spoken out the negativity that filled their vile little hearts? What if, even on a small scale, they had broadcast their denials of God and his power?
The Pharisees, do they not become the poison that begins to kill the tree? Alright, you caught me, I left out an aspect of Jesus response to the Pharisees; his comments about trees producing good fruit. So, let me interject them for a moment.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is known by its fruit.
Matthew 12:33 NET.)
If I want an Apple tree that is what I buy, therefore the tree is expected to produce a particular fruit.
In its early stages of growth, not having reached maturity, I would be foolish to expect fruit. Therefore patience is a virtue, and condemning the tree without giving it a chance to grow is foolish. Jesus was from an agricultural environment and may have had a firm grasp of this. Even if farming was not in his knowledge base he was a carpenter, and who better would have understood trees.
These days we know that certain trees have issues in particular environments. (No kidding, are we not the same way.) It is safer, on the part of the grower, to graft an excellent apple variety onto a variety that may not be known for its edibility as much as it is for disease resistance. Hence the trunk of the tree is different from the producing portion. The rootstock (the part in the ground that becomes the anchor in a sense) often resists a common nematode that impacts apple varieties, while the canopy produces a much-desired fruit. (This should have a familiar ring to it, as scripture tells us that we believers have also been grafted in.)
Placed in a preferred environment (good soil) the tree what it was meant to do. Can it be nourished through fertilization? Yes, and a knowledge of pruning techniques that enhance production is essential, for some trees produce on the second-year growth of wood.
How would you make a tree bad?
That does not even sound right, to a farmer that is counterproductive, as a majority of a farmers time is spent fighting against influences that can cause a tree to go bad. If I wanted to harm a tree, or purposely kill it, then a simple method would be to withhold water. A lack of water will stress the tree, impacting the fruit and production; and, if the drought is prolonged and severe enough the tree will not recover from the stress, and die. Isn’t death bad enough?
How does this relate?
Obviously, it does because Jesus presented it. Have you not read that in the life of the believer, the word of God is the water. Now picture putting yourself under a self-imposed stress, because of a lack of water. How far do you have to push the limits of non-watering before your chances of recovery are maxed out? (In a plant’s life, removal of water impacts every aspect of the plant. Each aspect is essential; and, taken together over an extended period a death sentence for the plant.) The point here is that stressing a plant is a bad thing, and at minimum causes the plant to wilt until more water comes. Now why would you want to intentionally do a similar thing to your own life; and yet, that is what we do. Most of us, from the standpoint of God’s word, never water ourselves, and if the Holy Spirit shows himself strong anywhere near us, most will cry that they want none of that.
What did the Pharisees say that was so bad? “It is only by Beelzebub .. that this fellow drives out demons.”
Are you serious? This was a direct affront to the idea that Jesus was God, and even they understood that only God could cast out a demon. This makes me chuckle for people are ignorant enough to say that Jesus never said that he was God. If he did not say it when he was demonstrating it, the Pharisee’s had just watched it happen, and they are now confronted by evidence that conflicted with and convicted them of their unbelief.
There is something that happens in people, and they will not accept responsibility for their mistakes.
Seriously, how many times have you heard someone say “I knew that!” or “that is what I meant to say!”. The Pharisees did not waste their time saying those things, they take it to the next step; they immediately start plotting to kill Jesus. Knowing this concerned him to the degree that he pulled away from these madmen. (Do not think that Jesus pulled back out of fear. I believe that he knew the precise timing, and when he needed to ride into Jerusalem on the donkey, as scripture and the prophets foretold; and therefore, relocated so as not to provoke unnecessary and premature murder attempts.)
Calling Jesus “this fellow” is another slap in the face of God. Even if you cannot attribute his works to God, they knew his name, and evidence alone told them that Jesus was God, just as he had stated.
The bottom line here is that the blasphemy that is unforgivable is a denial of His name, son-ship, authority, claims, and power; effectively refusing to accept who God is. It is not just your playing with words, this is a choice and lifestyle. That should have rung a bell for belief in the one who raised Jesus from the dead is the key to salvation.