Studies in Mark: Opposition by Friends and Foes

Mark 3:19‑30  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Unpardonable Blasphemy
It is important to observe that the sin concerning which our Lord made such an unqualified pronouncement is a specific one. It is in no sense vague and indefinite, but on the contrary it is here, as well as in the parallel passages of Matthew and Luke, stated in precise terms to be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This terrible guilt rested upon the Jewish generation of that day. Most cogent evidence of the power of the Holy Ghost was before their eyes in the words and works of Jesus; but they denied the validity of that evidence, and going further in their malice they ascribed this power for good to the energy of Satan. For this willful blindness and obduracy of heart there was no remission. Such perverse unbelief was the sure sign of that impending doom to the nation which could not be averted. Could there be a more perfect testimony than that which was rendered by the Spirit through the holy Son of man in whom every act and word and motive were in absolute accord with His divine energy? The generation to which the Lord ministered had “done despite to the Spirit of grace” by describing this testimony as Satanic, and was “guilty of an eternal sin.”
This last phrase is peculiar to Mark. And the expression is one pregnant with deep significance. It teaches by a word the unalterable character of the unforgiven. There is an eternal fixity in the unholy character of such rebellion against the authority and love of God. The penitent is forgiven, but the guilt of the impenitent is eternal. And eternal sin implies eternal punishment.
The following remarks are helpful in elucidating the correct interpretation, and thus preventing erroneous views of this passage, some of which have caused unnecessarily much personal distress, as in the case of Peter Williams and of many others.
“Our Lord most solemnly pronounces their doom [the scribes], and shows that they were guilty—not of sin, as men say, but of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. There is no such phrase as sin against Him in this sense. People often speak thus, Scripture never. What the Lord denounces is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Keeping that distinctly in view would save many souls a great deal of needless trouble. Flow many have groaned in terror through fear of being guilty of sin against the Holy Ghost! That phrase admits of vague notions and general reasoning about its nature. But our Lord spoke definitely of blasphemous unforgivable sin against Him. All sin, I presume, is sin against the Holy Ghost, who has taken His place in Christendom, and, consequently, gives all sin this character. Thus, lying in the church [the case of Ananias and Sapphira] is not mere falsehood toward man, but unto God, because of the great truth that the Holy Ghost is there. Here, on the contrary, the Lord speaks of unforgivable sin (not that vague sense of evil which troubled souls dread as ‘sin against the Holy Ghost,' but blasphemy against Him).
“What is this evil never to be forgiven? It is attributing the power that wrought in Jesus to the devil. How many troubled souls would be instantly relieved if they laid hold of that simple truth! It would dissipate what really is a delusion of the devil, who strives hard to plunge them into anxiety, and drive them into despair, if possible. The truth is, that as any sin of a Christian may be said to be sin against the Holy Ghost, what is especially the sin against the Holy Ghost, if there be anything that is so, is that which directly hinders the free action of the Holy Ghost in the work of God, or in His church. Such might be said to be the sin, if you speak of it with precision.
“But what our Lord referred to was neither a sin nor the sin, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It was that which the Jewish nation was then rapidly falling into, and for which they were neither forgiven then, nor will ever be forgiven. There will be a new stock, so to speak; another generation will be raised up, who will receive the Christ whom their fathers blasphemed; but as far as that generation was concerned, they were guilty of this sin, and they could not be forgiven. They began it in the lifetime of Jesus. They consummated it when the Holy Ghost was sent down and despised. They still carried it on persistently; and it [this persistency] is always the case when men enter upon a bad course, unless sovereign grace deliver. The more that God brings out of love, grace, truth, wisdom, the more determinedly and blindly they rush on to their own perdition. So it was with Israel. So it ever is with man left to himself, and despising the grace of God. He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness.' It is the final stage of rebellion against God. Even then they were blaspheming the Son of man, the Lord Himself; even then they attributed the power of the Spirit in His service to the enemy, as afterward still more evidently when the Holy Ghost wrought in His servants; then the blasphemy became complete."1
“And there come his mother and his brethren;2 and, standing without, they sent unto him, calling him. And a multitude was sitting about him;3 and they say unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, and saith, Who is my mother and my brethren? And looking round on them which sat round about him, he saith,4 Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (3:31-35, R.V.).
The kinsfolk of Jesus had set out for Capernaum with the intention of restraining Him in His active service by word and work (ver. 21). They arrived after the interview in the house between Jesus and the scribes from Jerusalem had taken place. On account of the multitude, His mother and His brethren were unable to obtain access to Him, and they accordingly sent a message to announce that they were seeking Him. They must have known that scribes, to whom naturally some reverence and regard were due as teachers of the law of Moses, were among the audience. But this they disregard and send their peremptory message as if to assert the paramount claims upon Jesus of natural ties.
But the Servant of Jehovah, in that wisdom which had come from above, turned the occasion to account in His preaching of the kingdom of God. He did not meet with an angry rebuff this unwarrantable interference which sprang from natural affection, although it was ignorant affection, blind to His heavenly mission. But the Lord used the incidents as text, so to speak, for the announcement of the fundamental principle of the kingdom which was at hand. The effort made by His kindred to influence Him led Him to declare that obedience to the will of God is the only reliable foundation of divine relationship, while it necessarily takes precedence of every other claim. “Looking round on them which sat round about him, he saith, Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
“Looking round” (περιβλέπω) is a characteristic expression of Mark, and is only used once by any other New Testament writer (Luke 6:1010And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Luke 6:10)). By Mark it is used six times, and on all but one occasion it has reference to the Lord Himself (3:5, 34; 5:32; 10:23; 11:11). In the remaining instance it is applied to the disciples (9:8). The term seems here to imply the intense personal and individual interest the Lord took in those who sat around Him in the attitude of discipleship.
This simple and profound saying of the Lord (ver. 35) embodied truth applicable to man from the beginning. For obedience to the will of God must ever be inseparable from man's well-being and happiness. Historically, the will of God forbade eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and disobedience to that expressed will involved the forfeiture of the bliss of Eden and the inheritance of a world of sorrow and sin. Of Adam's descendants, whether enlightened Jews or darkened Gentiles, it is written comprehensively, not of a particular era, but of every age, “They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not so much as one.” So that disobedience to God is declared to be perpetuated among men, His will being universally slighted and despised.
Now the Lord Jesus came not only to recall man by His instructions to a sense of his individual responsibility to God as the moral Governor of the world, but to afford in Himself an instance of perfect human obedience to the will of God. He came as a man truly, but also as the Incarnate Servant of Jehovah, which no man beside Him was or could be. Upon every sentient creature service to God is not a matter of choice but of incumbency, but upon the Son there was no obligation of servitude. He chose to take upon Himself “the form of a servant.” This He purposed to do before the world was, as was intimated by the prophetic Spirit through the psalmist, “Then said I, Lo, I am come: in the roll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:7, 87Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, 8I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:7‑8)). This utterance is definitely declared in the Epistle of the Hebrews to have been fulfilled by the coming of Christ (Heb. 10:5, 95Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: (Hebrews 10:5)
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. (Hebrews 10:9)
). In Him the will of God was done in this world, where the will of man was and is ever struggling for supremacy. And no Gospel sets forth with greater precision than the Fourth—that which portrays Him especially as the Son of God—His absorbing devotion to the will of God. After His ministry of the water of life to the woman at the well of Sychar, He said to His disciples, “I have meat to eat that ye know not.” “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32, 3432But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. (John 4:32)
34Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:34)
). Again, testifying to the Jews of Himself as the appointed Judge of living and dead, He said, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 5:3030I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)). And once again, He declared, “I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me,” going on to make known what is that will with regard to those who come to Him, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:38-4038For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:38‑40)). What subjection was this! In the matter of receiving poor vile sinners, loving them as He did, about to die for them as He was, He acknowledged that He could not cast them out because it was the Father's will that they should come to Him and receive eternal life. In His joy, as in His suffering, He was the submissive One—in all the worthy Object of our admiring and adoring wonder and worship.
But, moreover, we have been permitted to see how His submission was subjected to the most rigorous of all tests. Three only of the apostles were allowed to accompany the Lord in His vigil in Gethsemane. But sleep overcame these, so that there were no human witnesses of that agony of the Holy Servant. Yet we have the record of the prayers and supplications, the strong crying and tears, the bloody sweat, the threefold repetition, communicated to us in the Gospels as well as by allusion in Heb. 5:77Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; (Hebrews 5:7). As a Son He learned obedience, and His obedience was unto death. In the garden the consummation of that obedience in atoning sufferings and death was immediately before Him. He anticipated the cup that His Father had given Him to drink. He gauged its bitterness with absolute perfection. He measured the immeasurable burden of guilt to be laid upon Him. The sting of death as for none else was before His spirit. It was in the anticipative realization of all this and of much besides, that He fell prostrate and prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” In this perfect resignation we have the triumph of holy obedience. “Thy will be done” was soon followed by “It is finished,” and the will of God was indeed done. That obedience was thereby accomplished through which many were made righteous.
[W. J. H. ]
(To be continued)