LEARNING BASIC BIBLE STUDY METHODS
An Inductive Guide to the Study of the Bible,
Using the Gospel of Matthew
THE AUTHORITY TO GIVE SIGHT
(Note: This is the thirteenth lesson in this series on learning how to study the Bible. To work through the series in order start with the Introduction and proceed through the lessons in sequence. These are all reserved in the archives.)
The next passage in the chapter records the healing of the blind men. While this is a relatively short narrative and seemingly not as significant as some of the longer ones, it is worth taking some time with it because of the importance in the Bible of the theme of blindness, both physical blindness and spiritual blindness.
In this chapter in Matthew the miracle of causing the blind to see shows yet another realm of the authority of Jesus the Messiah--the authority to give sight.
Reading the Text
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
28 When He had gone indoors, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29 Then He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” 30 And their sight was restored.
Jesus warned them sternly: “See that no one knows about this.” 31 But they went out and spread the news about Him all over the region.
This little account is really too short to suggest that it parallels other accounts in the gospels, of which there are several dealing with the healing of the blind. Some commentaries suggest that this account in Matthew 9 is another telling of the story of the healing of the blind man Barthimaeus, recorded in Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43. Matthew then would have been using the event twice in his gospel, if that were the case.
But there is very little to support this extreme position. The two stories are similar in that the blind are healed, although in our passage there are two blind men. But no doubt Jesus healed many blind people in His ministry, as the closure to Matthew 9 suggests (v. 35; see also 4:23 and 8:16-17). The fact that the blind say essentially the same thing in both passages does not mean they are the same event; the same thing is said elsewhere, such as in Matthew 15:22, which has nothing to do with blindness. And, in Matthew 20 the healing of Barthimaeus takes place as Jesus the King is beginning to make His way to Jerusalem; in Matthew 9 the incident is part of the demonstration of the authority of Jesus and occurs earlier. So the obvious conclusion is that Matthew 9:27-31 is a separate event in which Jesus healed two blind men. The event took place as Jesus left the home of Jairus after raising the little girl and returned to the place He was staying, perhaps in Peter’s house.
The Structure of the Passage
This narrative is really straightforward. Verse 27 records their cry to Jesus for help. Verses 28-30a records Jesus’ healing of them. And then verses 30b, 31 record the aftermath when Jesus instructed the men. The central core of the story, the healing itself, is the significant part, because there we have the words of Jesus about their faith. This points to the message that Jesus clearly has the power and the authority to give sight to the blind, but He requires that they believe He can do it. So while the point of the story is that Jesus has this authority to give sight, the sub-theme of the story is the requirement of faith to be able to see.
It is probably worth studying this topic at the start since it is what the passage is all about. Apparently, for some reason, blindness was fairly common in the days of Jesus. We do not know if the cases were all the same, whether they were blind from birth, or were blinded in some way. But to be blind then, as at any time, was a terrible handicap. The self-righteous leaders in the days of Jesus would have added to the problem by accusing such handicapped people of being sinners whom God had punished. And, it is true, that there are cases in the Bible where blindness was a punishment from God; but it is also true that that was not the automatic explanation for Christ (see John 9:1-5).
Blindness also was symbolic of spiritual ignorance, just as sight was symbolic of understanding. When God announced judgment on the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, part of the judgment was that they would not understand the truth and not believe the message. In a word, they would be frozen in their ignorance and unbelief. God said, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (6:9-10).
Jesus used this same symbolism in some of His teachings. In John 9 Jesus healed the blind man, and found a good deal of opposition for it from the spiritual leadership. So Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (9:39). The Pharisees knew He was speaking about them, and so they said, “What?--are we blind too?”(v. 40). And He said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim that you see, your guilt remains” (v. 41).
In other words, some who have their physical sight are blind to the truth--they are spiritually blind. If they continue to refuse to believe, then like ancient Israel they would remain in their blindness. He has the authority to seal up their spiritual blindness as a judgment if they persist in it--let the blind remain blind still.
But there were those who were physically blind, and they wanted to see, and so they were healed by Jesus who gave them sight. Because faith was required of those who were blind and wanted to see, those blind people were interpreted by the evangelists to be symbolic or at least representative of those in the nation of Israel, spiritually blind and ignorant of the truth, who through faith received their “sight.” In other words, these men might have been blind, but because of their faith they could see better than others.
Analysis of the Passage
I. The blind may receive their sight from Jesus the Messiah (9:27). The first section (verse actually) of the narrative is the cry for mercy from the blind men. They followed Jesus, probably aware of His presence in the crowd because of the news that spread from the healing of Jairus’ daughter. They cried, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
The cry for mercy is understandable, for it is one of the most basic cries for divine help in Scripture. “Mercy” in the Bible, sometimes translated with the idea of “grace” or “favor,” describes some act of compassion that is undeserved--a free gift, a kind act. It is usually reserved for prayers to God, such as in seeking forgiveness for sin, protection from enemies, healing from disease, or any other number of needs. In the human arena it can be used from an inferior or subordinate person to a superior or a master to request for pardon, favor, or general benefit. They clearly knew that this Jesus had supernatural power and authority, and so they persisted in following Him and seeking His mercy.
But they called Him the “Son of David.” Why? Well, the title itself should indicate to the reader that kingship is being stressed. After all, David was the king, and a son of David is the heir to the throne. It is another, and more direct reference to the Messiahship of Jesus. But why should the blind men call Him “Son of David”? The answer to that will call for some study on the prevailing understanding of what the King, the promised Messiah, would be doing. Here you will need to go back into the Old Testament to look us some Messianic prophecies; to find them you may need to look in your dictionaries or theology books under “Messiah” or the like to see this. A good commentary on the Bible would also direct you to the appropriate passages.
Two Old Testament passages come to the fore. In Isaiah 35 we have a song of the joy of the redeemed when the LORD finally redeems Israel and brings in the reign of the Messiah:
1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
2 Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
The passage goes on to declare that there will be a highway in the land, on which the redeemed may walk. The ransomed of the LORD will return to Zion with singing, and everlasting joy will crown their heads. The song is clearly for the Messianic age that the nation was anticipating.
It is interesting to note that in Matthew 9:32 immediately after the healing of the blind man Jesus healed a man who was mute. He who had been mute, spoke.
The connection of these miraculous events of the so-called Messianic or golden age to come with the personal Messiah was prophesied in Isaiah 61:
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God.
In this listing of the things that the Messiah will do, we have the phrase “release (or opening) from the darkness for the prisoners.” The poetic expression is somewhat ambiguous, although in the context it probably has the primary meaning of setting prisoners free from the bondage. But the expression “opening from darkness” was translated by the Greek Old Testament this way: “opening from darkness for the blind.” This would have the sense, perhaps, of prisoners kept in darkness being set free were in fact like the blind given their sight.
When Jesus read the Scripture lesson from the prophets in the synagogue, Luke tells us He read this passage (Luke 4); and Luke simply records the Greek translation of what He read: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.”
Regardless of the deliberate ambiguity in the original Hebrew oracle, by the first century this passage and others were taken to mean that the Messiah would restore sight when He set them free from bondage--and no doubt in Jesus’ mind there was a double meaning here. Jesus desired to give them spiritual sight when He set them free from the bondage of sin before He would bring in the great Messianic age. This sequence troubled John the Baptist a little, for in Matthew 11 we read how he sent and asked Jesus if He was the Messiah or not. Jesus’ answer was: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The bind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matt. 11:4,5). These are the works that the Messiah was expected to do, and Jesus was doing them. Therefore, Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel--and in the land in the days of Jesus there was an intense Messianic expectation.
The two blind men were not simply interested in Jesus’ lineage from David and His right to be a king. They used “son of David” in the sense of “the Son of David,” par excellence. Every legitimate king was a son of David; but one Son of David would be the great One whom they longed for with great longing. Since Jesus had been doing the miracles, these blind men believed that He was the one, and they pleaded for mercy from Him. If Jesus was Messiah, He would heal them.
II. Faith in Jesus the Messiah is the requirement for receiving sight (9:28-30a). It does not matter whether we are talking about receiving physical sight or spiritual understanding, faith is the prerequisite.
The faith of these two men is stressed in the story. First, they cried out to Jesus for help. They had to have formed an opinion about Jesus in order to do that; they had to have believed that He was able to heal them. Then, second, they followed Him indoors. This is an indication of their perseverence. It is rather bold, to be sure. We probably should not think, though, of modern housing when reading this account. The houses of the first century would have a number of add-on rooms to the central building, and often an inner courtyard for them. We do not know exactly where the blind men were, but the text makes the note that they followed Jesus away from the crowds and the public streets into the private area. And Jesus probably waited til they followed Him indoors to test their faith further (and to let the crowds calm down).
Third, their answer to Jesus’ question affirms their strong faith. Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Jesus was not trying to make it difficult for them; rather, He often gave people the opportunity to pour out their whole heart, to express their full faith and show their earnestness, before He answered. When He questioned them here indoors, they responded convincingly, “Yes, Lord.” Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” This does not mean that the amount of healing depends on the amount of faith; rather, it simply means that because they had faith they would receive their sight. And so because of their steadfast faith their sight was restored.
What is so impressive to the reader is the ease of His might in doing these things. We simply see His quiet majesty in response to those who come to Him by faith. It should also be noted that His question focused their faith in Him, and not just to God in general.
The Lord was fully able to give them sight, but He waited until He was able to draw from them a statement of their faith. They had come to the point of faith based on what they knew the Scripture predicted and what they had heard Jesus was doing. And that is usually the way faith develops. People have the clear word from God of how the Messiah will release us from the dark prison of sin and grant us spiritual understanding, and they can see how Jesus fulfilled Scripture again and again in meeting the needs of people in the gospel records, and down through history in the life of the church, and so they can cry with confidence to Him for mercy. It is the way for the blind men to be healed. It is the way for anyone to be healed, physically. But most importantly, it is the way to be healed spiritually, to have the spiritual blindness removed and spiritual sight given. Christ Jesus has the authority to give sight.
III. Jesus warns those He healed about publicizing the event (9:30b,31). Here is a good example of a part of the passage that was given for that specific time alone and that is not now applicable. We learn this by probing why Jesus gave the instruction. When Jesus healed the men, He sternly warned them not to let anyone know about this. Why would He do this? Jesus here was doing a “Messianic” work, another one on the same day, but He did not want the word to get out. In fact, He waited to do this indoors, out of the sight of the public eye.
The answer probably concerns the timing and the circumstance. Jesus certainly was revealing Himself as the Messiah, but in the proper way the Messiah should be understood. The crowds were enthusiastically following Him for healing and for food; but His mission was first to deal with the problem of sin, and that would not come through enthronement but through His sacrificial death. He had to control the crowd’s response and understanding of His mission. So in these several incidents where He warned people not to publish the news, or where He retreated from the crowds into the hills or out in the boat, or where He began to explain His death when the people were eager to make Him king, Jesus was trying to avoid a premature king movement that was falsely based and ill-conceived.
Today we do not have a binding word like this not to publish what the Lord has done--because the purpose of the binding word to the blind men was temporary in view of the circumstances. Instead, we are to go throughout all the world telling of Jesus’ Messiahship, and of His miraculous power.
If there is an application from this part of the story for today, it would be a warning against telling about Jesus in a falsely based or ill-conceived way. For example, publishing the news about the power of Jesus to heal without the primary focus on the spiritual healing through His death on the cross would be close to what Jesus was trying to prevent. People love to throng to one who has the power to heal; but they are not eager to come to one whose death reveals their sin and their need of salvation. Spiritual sight is more important than physical sight.
I have already discussed the themes of blindness and Messianic healing of the blind from the Old Testament and so do not need to repeat those here.
In the New Testament the theme of spiritual blindness is used by the apostle Paul--as one might expect since he when able to see was spiritually blind and persecuting Christians with a vengeance, but when confronted by Christ was made blind temporarily so that he could see. So he wrote to the Corinthians to say, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. . . . God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
In other words, unbelief is blindness; and salvation is illumination. Salvation begins with God’s causing light to shine in the darkness. Like Paul, people may be well versed in the knowledge of theology and Scripture, but until God shines in their hearts, they cannot see. It is the task of believers to present clearly to the unbeliever the truth of God’s word, to sow the seed as Jesus put it; but unless and until God causes them to see, it will not be understood and received. This should remind us that salvation is a miraculous work of God from the beginning to the end.
Conclusion and Application
I think enough has been said already on the main point of the passage and the significance of it that I do not need to belabor that here. But in brief I can restate the points.
The passage teaches that Jesus has the authority to give sight. He can certainly restore physical sight to people who are blind, and did that frequently enough to show He has that power. This is why people today can pray for healing, although they must allow that the answer to their prayer may come now, or in the resurrection, for God has His timetable and His purposes.
But behind the healing of the blind men is the deeper meaning of the healing of their souls. Jesus was more concerned with the spiritual blindness in Israel that the physical blindness, which was often a symbol of the former. And the fact that these men came by faith to be healed physically shows that Jesus had already begun to reveal Himself to their souls, that they already had been enabled to see spiritually.
The second main point, then, of the passage is that faith is required to gain sight, both physically and spiritually. Whoever comes to Christ must believe that He is the promised Messiah and that He has the power and the authority to give sight.
The task of the church is therefore to take this message to a world that is blinded by the god of this world, the evil one, the deceiver. The people the church reaches out to may be educated, brilliant, clever, and even concerned with moral and ethical matters--much like Paul was! But if they do not believe in Christ Jesus as the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, the Savior or the world, they are spiritually blind. We who have received our sight, who have come to faith, should then be characterized by (1) praise and thanksgiving, (2) devotion to Christ, (3) a growing spiritual discernment in all things, and (4) public witness of the glories of the