In my last post, we looked at how Luke presents the outpouring of the Spirit and the offer of forgiveness as a second chance for the Jews in Jerusalem to enter God’s promised time of refreshing.
Luke hinted that Israel would get a second chance when he included in his gospel Jesus’ parable of the fig tree.
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now [the length of Jesus’ earthly ministry] I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’ (Luke 13:6–9).
Remember the verse we cited to begin this study: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
Now, in the Acts of the Apostles, we see God offering to forgive all their previous blasphemies against the son of man.
Many Jews in Jerusalem accepted the message of the Apostles and responded appropriately. We see this in the words of James to Paul, upon Paul’s return to Jerusalem.
You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law (Acts 21:20).
The tragedy, however, is that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and eventually the majority of the Jewish people, would reject this second opportunity.
Their rejection would lead Stephen to declare:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51).
Notice that Stephen is not upset that they were rejecting him or even the apostles. What was bothering him was that they were rejecting the Holy Spirit.
Paul was getting the same response as he preached throughout the mediterranean world, always beginning in the local synagogues.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’ (Acts 18:5–6).
It is significant for our study that the word, “reviled,” in this text is the same Greek word that is translated “blaspheme” in Luke 12:10.
In the final chapter of Acts, Paul meets with the Jewish leaders in Rome. He explains to them the false charges against him.
For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain (Acts 28:20).
Notice the words, “it is because of the hope of Israel.” Paul was not preaching something disconnected from the ancient Jewish traditions. Rather, his message was the true interpretation of those traditions.
He goes on from morning to evening expounding the Scriptures to them, testifying about the kingdom of God, “and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the prophets” (Acts 28:20). But the response was mixed. Some were convinced but others were not.
Then Paul says something that causes them all to leave. Quoting again from the prophecy of Isaiah, he said:
The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, you will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them (Acts 28:25–27).
The tragedy in the story of Acts is that Israel rejects their second chance. They blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. For this there would be no more offer of forgiveness.
So, God turns to the Gentiles.
Therefore, let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen (Acts 28:28).
Throughout the book of Acts, the terminology Luke uses to describe the Jewish rejection is that of blasphemy. The word, BLASPHEMEO, conveys uncontrolled rage, often resulting in violent assault. This is why it is often translated “to revile,” “to slanderously charge,” “to denounce,” “to speak evil of,” or “to malign.”
For example, when Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch of Pisidia and making headway with the Jews, some Jewish leaders, seeing the crowds and feeling jealous, turned them against Paul.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him (Acts 13:45).
That word, “revile,” is the same word translated “blaspheme” in Luke 12:10.
We see it again in Acts 18:6.
And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6).
Paul even admits the, before his conversion, he also tried to incite the Jews go blaspheme, which he interprets as acting “in raging fury” against the apostles.
I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:11).
We see this rage in the Jew’s response to Stephen’s speech in Jerusalem, a rage that lead them to murder one of God’s eminent preachers.
When they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. . . . They cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54, 57–58a).
I will wind this up and make a final statement about what I think is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in my next post. If you have followed me to this point, you have probably already guessed it.
Photo: The Lapidation of Saint Stephen by Rembrandt, 1625. Public domain.
Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.