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DIFFICULT PASSAGES: Mark 8:22-26 – Why Did He Do It Like That?


They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes wee opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.” – Mark 8:22-26

Mark provides us with the only record of this miracle. In some ways, it is the most curious of all Jesus’ miraculous signs. The story is simply told, but not as easily understood.

Jesus,with His disciples, came to Bethsaida at the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee, just east of where the Jordan River empties into the sea. This was a fishing village, and the home of some of the Twelve. It was not Jesus’ intent to stay here for any length of time or to engage the people of this village in extended teaching. He was on his way to Caesarea Philippi with the Twelve where he would teach them further concerning things He had no intention of saying to the multitudes.

Yet, as He passed through,people recognized Jesus and brought a blind man to Him, begging Him to heal the man. Perhaps because of His desire to get away from the crowds, Jesus Himself took the man by the hand and led him out of the village. There He spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him. Then He asked him, Do you see anything? This is the only instance of healing in which Jesus asked if the person were healed.

The man replied, I see people; they look like trees walking around. In other words, he could see, but not clearly. Then Jesus again placed His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home with instructions not to even enter the village.

This is the only miracle that was done in stages as well as the only one where the person healed was asked if he had been cured. Why did He do it like that?

Chrysostom, “the golden mouth” preacher, was a presbyter and bishop at Antioch in the late 4th century. In his later days, he was a much admired archbishop in Constaniople. He has left voluminous writings. He said that this miracle occurred in stages because of the imperfect faith of the man. He did not seek healing from Jesus; others brought him to Jesus. The first glimmer of sight caused him to believe, and Jesus went on to heal him completely.

R. C. Foster (Studies in the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, Reprinted 1971, p. 696) says as follows:
We cannot tell why the miracle was performed in two steps. The question Jesus asked seems to indicate that the method was His deliberate plan. The man had not been born blind, but had lost his sight, for he knew the appearance of trees and men. [J.W.] McGarvey holds that the miracle was not gradual, but consisted of two instantaneous miracles, each of which accomplished exactly what Jesus intended; and that Jesus used this different method to reveal that He could heal in part and by progressive steps. It certainly did dramatically emphasize the immediacy of Jesus’ other miracles.
When I asked why it was done this way in one of my classes at the Sunset School of Preaching in the mid-1960′s, Johnny Ramsey suggested it was perhaps to show that He was in complete control of the process. His answer was similar to that of McGarvey, cited by Foster. Yet, I thought there must be more to it than that.
CONTEXT

To see the full picture, we must keep the context in view. It was when I looked at this event in its context that I began to get a clearer idea of why Jesus did it this way. Earlier in this chapter, the Pharisees asked for a sign, even though many signs had already been given. Jesus refused to give another sign to those who refused to see the signs He gave (Mark 8:11-12).

Immediately after that, His disciples misunderstood Jesus’ remark about being careful to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees. He responded by asking them, “Do you still not see or understand” and quoting Isaiah 6:9-10 against them, a passage which speaks of eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that are hardened. After this, the disciples did understand – some. But did they see and understand clearly? No, for immediately following this healing, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Christ of God – and then began to rebuke him when He said He would be crucified in Jerusalem (Mar_8:27-32).

In other words, this miracle was also a parable-in-action, designed to teach the disciples that full sight of the riches of God in Christ does not come at once! William Barclay (The Gospel of Mark, In The Daily Study Bible Series, Vol 3. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2nd edition, 1956, p. 194-195) comes close to this, as he says:
Usually Jesus’ miracles happened suddenly and completely. In this miracle the blind man’s sight came back in stages. There is symbolic truth here. No man sees all God’s truth all at once. One of the dangers of a certain type of evangelism is that it encourages the idea that when a man has taken his decision for Christ he is a full-grown Christian. One of the dangers of Church membership is that it can be presented in such a way as to imply that when a person becomes a pledged member of the Church he has come to the end of the road. So far from that being the case the decision and the pledge of membership are the beginning of the road. They are the discovery of the riches of Christ which are inexhaustible, and if a man lived a hundred, or a thousand, or a million years, he would still have to go on growing in grace, and learning more and more about the infinite wonder and beauty of Jesus Christ.
LESSONS FOR US

There are several important lessons for us in this “parable in action.”

  1. We should never assume that, because we can see some truth, we know all truth. We need to be humble enough to realize that “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The time will come when we will see Jesus as He is, and then we will be like Him (1 John 3:1-3). Until then, let’s be humble enough to recognize there are things we do not yet see and understand.
  2. We should realize that seeing a little does not mean we see clearly. Peter, in Mark 8:27-29, confessed Jesus as being the Messiah. Yet, in verses 31-32 when Jesus began to talk about going to Jerusalem to die before being raised from the dead, Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. Peter understood Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ; he did not understand what that meant.
  3. If we – and even apostles – do not fully understand the implications of what we see in the Scriptures or in Jesus, we need to be patient with others who do not understand what we think we understand. Sincere believers in Jesus who are seeking to follow Him as closely as possible will sometimes understand various things differently. We need to be patient with one another, always seeking better understanding ourselves and seeking to learn even from those who disagree with us. If we love only those who love us, what do we do more than others? If we are willing to learn only from those who agree with us, how will we ever correct our misunderstandings? Further, if we refuse actually to listen to them, why should we expect them to listen to us as well?

If we would take these three lessons to heart, there would be far less strife within the church and far less prejudice against others who seek to follow Jesus. There would also be far less reason for other Jesus-followers to have prejudice against “us” – whoever “we” may be.

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10 Responses

  1. Thank you for the article about the blind man. Sometimes I feel we are all spiritually blind, to lessor or greater degree. We can never completely understand why there is suffering in this world, such as illness, loss of life etc. However the holy spirit revealed to me this morning, that suffering does have a definite . purpose as Christ’s suffering had a specific
    purpose. I believe the blind man had to be healed in stages because his faith came in stages. Sometimes our healing also comes this way that is in stages.

    • Maria,

      It is perceptive of you to realize that suffering, while not always sent by God, is used by God to teach us endurance and give us greater hope. At least this is the message I get from Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-5.

      This particular parable, however, says nothing at all about the man’s faith. Remember that even faith as a grain of mustard seed will move mountains! His healing did not depend on his faith, but on God’s power.

      I am convinced the message of the miracle is that we do not always see as clearly as we think we do. He said he saw men – but Jesus had taken him aside out of the village. Were there men there? We don’t really know, but I doubt it. Did he see trees that he thought were men? I don’t know. If he saw men, to him they looked like trees. If he saw trees, they looked like men who looked like trees walking. Whatever he saw, he thought he saw men who looked like trees walking. He did not see clearly, though there was a glimmer of sight.

      So with us. We get a glimmer of truth – and tend to think we have comprehended TRUTH. We still have a long way to go, for we do not see as clearly as we think we see.

      That is why we must be very careful in judging others over doctrinal understandings of the Scripture. The most fundamental doctrines are clear. God loves us. He sent His Son to save us from our sins. He gives His Holy Spirit to those who in trust obey the Christ. When we follow Jesus, we become more like God.

      But the things that divide Christians are things that are not as specifically taught in the Scriptures. We do not have to be identical in our convictions to be able to love one another, love God, and serve Him together. We do have to love one another and love God more than we love self to be able to serve with those with whom we disagree.

      Of course, when someone denies that Jesus has come in the flesh or that He is God’s Son by whom we are saved, we cannot fellowship such a person. This is the antichrist.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      Jerry

      • I think there are many ways to look at it, and just like most of scripture, many ways to apply it to our lives. Think about some of the most common topics preached today, and how each preacher is able to pull out various forms of application.

        What Maria was stating was in agreement with the first part of your article:

        Chrysostom, “the golden mouth” preacher, was a presbyter and bishop at Antioch in the late 4th century. In his later days, he was a much admired archbishop in Constaniople. He has left voluminous writings. He said that this miracle occurred in stages because of the imperfect faith of the man. He did not seek healing from Jesus; others brought him to Jesus. The first glimmer of sight caused him to believe, and Jesus went on to heal him completely.

        I don’t believe this is an “either, or” type of passage. I think all of these interpretations can be used to help us with our walk with Christ. I believe this because it’s vague. If God wanted one specific answer, then Jesus would have explained to His disciples what happened, like He did many times before.

        Great article Jerry, thank you for your service in the Kingdom.

        God bless,
        Charlie

      • Charlie,
        Thank you for your insights and kind comments. I stand by what I wrote in the article, and in my comment to Maria.

        Too many times, we have a glimmer of truth and think we now see Truth in its entirety. This has two effects:
        (1) It cuts us off from growing in our understanding of Truth.
        (2) It leads us to reject those who reject our limited understanding.

        Each of these is disastrous. One makes us spiritually impoverished; the other leads to division and fragmentation among sincere believers in Christ.

        Unfortunately, we see both of these effects manifest among followers of Jesus.

  2. Bro Starling,

    Thanks for a thorough answer. I am working on this event for our Young Adult Bible Class and knew the question would come up as to why 2 steps. I had not really looked at it in a while, I had forgotten McGarvey’s comments.

    Scott
    Parrish Church of Christ, Alabama

    • Scott,

      This passage is one that demonstrates the importance of context. In this case, the pre-text and the post-text both contribute to understanding. What comes before sets the stage – and what comes afterward illustrates the point Jesus was making for His disciples. Many (if not all) of the miracles seem to me to be “parables in action.” That is, the event of the miracle not only shows Jesus’ power and mercy; it will teach an important lesson as well. May God bless you in your Young Adult class!

      Jerry

    • Jerry,
      I think you gave a wonderful reasoning for this peculiar miracle account. I think it also has an apologetic purpose.

      If Jesus was only human he would have had no knowledge in the first century of how eyesight actually works. Eyes take in images but send these images in impulses to the brain that it must interpret. The blind man had lost his sight at some point in his life both because his eyes and brain were damaged.

      The description he gives of his partial healing is a very clinical description of visual agnosia, a condition in which the eyes work fine but the brain can’t sort out the jumbled images it is receiving. It is kind of like a scrambled video transmission.

      It tells the modern reader what no pre-20th century reader could have known since this understanding was unknown to science until the late 19th century. The eyes AND the brain needed to be healed. Jesus could have healed both instantly but did not.

      By inclusion of the phrase, ‘men like trees walking around’ he tells us moderns that he is Divine; he knew what none of his audience could have known in 30AD, or even in 1800AD, how eyesight works. Of course, he designed it!

      See Creation magazine, Sept 1999

      (edited format for easier reading)

      Kevin, thank you for this insight. I have never put those 2 things together before. – Jerry.

  3. thanks for your commitment to truth. I hope I will be able to relay this message effectively to our small group at work tomorrow. Thanks again,

  4. This is fantastic

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