Title: The unpardonable sin part 1
Scriptures to Read: Mark 3:20-22; Matthew 12:22-24
The major turning point in Jesus’ public ministry
We began the third major division of Jesus’ life: The Controversy over the King, which begins with the rejection of the herald and will end with the death of the herald. And now between these two events we come to the major turning point in his public ministry. And if we don’t clearly understand what happens here then the second half of His ministry doesn’t quite seem to make a lot of sense.
Matthew and Mark’s parallel accounts
There are two parallel passages for this account, one in Mark and one in Matthew. Matthew gives the most detail because he is writing to a Jewish audience where it has the most significance. So we will stay mostly with Matthew’s account because of his details, but a couple of points have to be made from Mark’s version. Two things in particular.
1. First of all in Mark 3:21: “When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.” Notice those who are His friends and those who have been listening to him are recognizing that something different is taking place. They misinterpret the situation. They think He needs to be saved from Himself because His zeal seems to border on insanity and they are afraid He is beside Himself.
2. The second thing to notice in Mark is verse 22: “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem.” This event takes place up in the Galilee, and was instigated by priests who traveled to the Galilee from Jerusalem, which again is a three days’ journey. What this shows is that the period of interrogation is now complete, they have reached their decision, and they are looking for a public opportunity to make that decision known. And the opportunity comes with the event of the casting out of the dumb or mute demon.
So with these two details from Mark, we will stay with Matthew because Matthew contains everything else that Mark has, but then adds some more details.
The Pharisees method of casting out a demon
The event begins in verse 22 of Matthew when He casts out the demon that caused the person to be both blind and dumb (Dumb meaning that he was a mute, so he could not speak). Now the act of casting out demons was itself not unusual. The Pharisees carried out a ritual that had three basic steps:
1. First of all, he would have to establish communication with the demon. When the demon speaks he uses the vocal chords of the person he controls.
2. Secondly, after establishing communication with the demon he would have to find out the demon’s name.
3. Thirdly, once he knew what the demon’s name was he could use the name to command the demon to go out.
The problem with casting out a dumb/mute demon
In Mark 5, Jesus used the standard Jewish approach. He asked the demon, “What is your name?” and the answer was, “My name is Legion”. Because of this three step procedure there was one kind of demon they could do nothing about: the kind of demon that caused the person controlled to be a mute so he could not speak. And because the person could not speak, there was no way of establishing communication with this kind of a demon, no way of finding out the demon’s name, and so in the framework of Judaism it was reckoned impossible to cast this kind of a demon out.
The second Messianic miracle
Now we have already mentioned the first Messianic miracle, the healing of a Jewish leper. There are two more; here is the second one, the casting out of a mute or dumb demon. Keep in mind that from a Jewish background the casting out of other demons was not uniquely Messianic. When He cast out other kinds of demons the question raised then was, by what authority did He cast out demons. But to cast out a dumb demon was unique and that raised a different question. This was something the Messiah was supposed to be able to do. Here is the question this raises in verse 23: “All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” Notice, they are not asking by what authority He cast out demons, as they did earlier. Now the issue is, is this the son of David? As you should know, this is a Messianic title. What they are asking is: could this be the Jewish Messiah? He is doing what Messiah alone was supposed to be able to do.
The leadership complex
Now, while they are willing to raise the question, could this be the son of David? What they are not willing to do is answer the question for themselves. They are looking to the leaders to make that decision for them. Throughout Jewish history the people have laboured under a complex Arnold calls “the leadership complex”. Whichever way the leaders go; the people are sure to follow. We see this frequently in the pages of the Old Testament. When the king did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, the people followed. But when he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, they also followed. Even in our day, when we witness to our Jewish contacts, eventually they always raise the same objection: if Jesus was the Messiah, how come our rabbis don’t believe on him. That is the leadership complex.
The two choices of the Pharisees: To accept or reject Jesus as the Messiah
In view of what is happening the Pharisees have only two options. The first option would be to proclaim him to be the Jewish Messiah, but as we have already seen, they don’t want to do this because of his rejection of Pharisaic traditionalism. The second option would be to reject His messianic claims, however, if they choose this option they will have to explain how it is possible for him to do these special miracles never done before.
The reason the Pharisees chose to reject Jesus as their Messiah
In verse 24 notice they go with the second option and they do reject his Messiahship. But then to explain away his unique abilities, they claim that he himself is possessed, not by a common demon, but by the prince of demons, Beelzebul. (Originally, the name was not Beelzebub, It was Beelzebul with an “L” at the end. And that means the Lord of the Royal Palace. Beelzebul was among the gods of the Philistines. But the Pharisees began mocking some of these gods, and they changed the last letter from an L to a B, and changed the meaning from “the Lord of the Royal Palace” to “the Lord of the Flies”). This became the official Pharisaic reason for rejecting his Messiahship: He is not the Messiah on the basis of demon possession. Now this is not only found in the gospels, it is also found in the rabbinic writings of the Talmud. There are two passages in the Talmud that reflect the events of verse 24. One passage says this:
The reason they had to execute Jesus on the Passover, though it contradicted Jewish law to have executions on Passover, had to do with the nature of His crime, and that was this: He seduces Israel by practicing sorcery.
There is a close connection between sorcery and demonism. Now a second passage in the Talmud says that when he was still living in Egypt He made these cuts inside the skin of His flesh and inscribed into His skin the four letters of God’s name. In Hebrew God’s name comprises four letters that would correspond to our Latin letters YHVH. This is given as the reason that He could perform His miracles. Neither here in the gospels, nor in the rabbinic writings do they deny the fact of his miracles. There are too many witnesses to those miracles. But in both places they ascribe it to a supernatural or demonic source.
So keep in mind, to understand the nature of the unpardonable sin, the given reason why they rejected him is that they rejected him on the basis of demon possession.