22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. – Mark 8:22-30 ESV
In this passage, Mark combines two different incidents from the life of Jesus in order to convey an important truth. In the first, Jesus performs only the second miracle that Mark records in his gospel. In chapter 7, we have his record of Jesus healing the deaf man who also suffered from a speech impediment. And there will be some similarities between these two miraculous healings.
Jesus and His disciples have traveled from the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the town of Bethsaida, located not far from the sea’s northern-most tip. This was not the first time Jesus had been to Bethsaida. In fact, Matthew reports that Jesus has a stinging indictment against the city for the stubborn refusal of its inhabitants to repent.
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse.” – Matthew 11:20-21 NLT
This rather harsh statement from Jesus is important because it provides insight into the miracle Jesus performed. Upon His arrival in Bethsaida, Jesus was met by a group of individuals who were bringing a blind friend in need of healing. Mark says that these compassionate friends “begged him to touch the man and heal him” (Mark 8:22 NLT). And what Jesus does next is both interesting and insightful.
To fully appreciate the actions of Jesus, it is important to consider all that has happened up to this moment. Earlier that same day, Jesus had transformed seven loaves of bread and a few fish into a meal that fed thousands of people. And He had followed up this miracle with a warning to His disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The religious leaders had come to Jesus demanding that He give them a “sign from heaven” in order to prove His claim to be the Messiah. But these prideful and arrogant men had been blind to all that Jesus had done, refusing to accept His miracles as proof of identity. So, Jesus warned His disciples not to allow the teaching of the Pharisees to influence them. The unrepentant hearts of these self-righteous men were causing them to reject Jesus and encouraging others to do the same. Like yeast spreading through a batch of dough, their unbelief was beginning to permeate and influence the people of Israel. But the disciples failed to understand the meaning behind Jesus’ warning, thinking instead that He was upset that they had failed to bring enough bread. So, Jesus addressed their inability to comprehend His words.
“Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” – Mark 8:17-18 NLT
Notice the last thing Jesus said to His disciples before they left for Bethsaida.
“Do you not yet understand?” – Mark 8:21 ESV
All of this sets up what happens next and reveals the sovereign hand of God behind all that Jesus did. It was no coincidence that a blind man was brought to Jesus. And the manner in which Jesus chose to heal the man was highly intentional and purposeful. First, Jesus isolated the man from his well-meaning friends by leading him outside the village. Once they were alone, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and touched him. But why? Couldn’t Jesus have simply commanded the man to receive his sight? Was it really necessary that this healing require spit and human contact? And why did Jesus’ first attempt to restore the man’s sight seem to fail?
…spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”
The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” – Mark 8:23-24 NLT
Jesus’ methodology seems a bit odd. And it’s outcome appears less than successful. But everything Jesus did was intentional. The blind man, unable to see anything that Jesus was doing, was able to hear Jesus spit and could feel the sensation of the spit on his eyes. He could sense the hands of Jesus gently touching his eyes. Yet, when he opened his eyes, his sight was only partially restored. He could see but only as through a haze. Everything was fuzzy and indistinct. Men looked like trees walking about.
This man had gone from complete blindness to partial sight. His condition, while much-improved, was not what he had been hoping for. Blurred sight was far better than no sight at all, but it was still not ideal.
Earlier, Jesus had healed a deaf man by restoring his hearing. Now, he was restoring the sight of a blind man. Both hearing and seeing are metaphors for the human capacity to understand. That is why Jesus had said to His disciples: “You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?”
They had seen Him heal the deaf man. And they had heard His warnings about the Pharisees. And yet, they still did not fully understand, just as the blind man did not fully see. But Jesus had no intention of leaving the man with imperfect sight.
Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. – Mark 8:25 NLT
Jesus finished what He had begun. He didn’t leave the man with slightly improved sight but He completely restored his vision so that he could see everything clearly. This two-part healing provides an important lesson. It reminds us that Jesus came to restore far more than physical sight or hearing. He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they might see the glory of His presence. He came to open the ears of the spiritually deaf so that they might hear the message of the good news. But what they see and hear must include the full scope of God’s redemptive message.
The disciples thought they understood who Jesus was. They saw Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They had high hopes that He was going to set up His Kingdom on earth and reward them with places of honor and prominence in His administration. But when they heard Jesus speak, they became increasingly confused by what He said. And before long, when He began to talk of His pending death in Jerusalem, they would have difficulty comprehending and accepting His words.
The apostle Paul reminds us that the plan of God is far greater than we can understand. Much of what we experience in this life appears out of step with our understanding of God’s will. We are like men with partially restored sight who view everything through distorted lenses that provide an imperfect image of reality.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT
The disciples did not fully comprehend who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But Jesus was gradually opening their eyes to the truth of His ministry and mission. In time, they would see clearly and fully. But, as Paul reminds us, we will not fully understand the ways of God until His plan of redemption is complete.
After telling the newly sighted man to avoid going back to the village, Jesus and His disciples made their way north to Caesarea Philippi. On their way, Jesus struck up a conversation with His disciples, asking them, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). His question was intended to get the disciples to wrestle with the various rumors concerning His identity. In a sense, Jesus was asking the disciples to reveal who the people understood Him to be. When they saw Jesus perform miracles, what was their conclusion? When they heard Him speak, who did they think they were listening to? And the disciples reveal that there were all kinds of opinions among the people.
“John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28 ESV
The people were like the man with partially restored sight. They could see, but imperfectly. Their view of Jesus was incomplete and inconclusive. Notice that there is no mention of Jesus being the Messiah. When the people looked at Jesus, it was like they were viewing Him through distorted lenses. He appeared indistinct and blurry.
This prompted Jesus to turn to His disciples and ask them the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). These men had spent their every waking minute with Jesus. They had seen every one of His miracles and had heard every one of His messages. They enjoyed intimate access to Jesus and the privilege of hearing Him explain some of His more cryptic parables. So, who did they understand Him to be?
And the ever-impulsive Peter was the first to respond.
“You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 ESV
In his gospel account, Mathew records that Peter added the further description: “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples, acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah but also the Son of God. His words revealed a level of understanding and insight that the rest of the people did not share. But Matthew lets us know that Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own.
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17 ESV
God had revealed this insight to Peter. His partially blinded eyes had been opened so that he could see the truth of who Jesus was. This statement from the lips of Peter was like an unexpected epiphane. Even as the words came out of his mouth, Peter must have wondered whether he truly believed them. And He would go on to reveal that his understanding of who Jesus was and what He had come to do was still cloudy and indistinct. He would continue to wrestle with the weight of his own words and the expectations of his own heart. But the time would come when he and his fellow disciples would see everything clearly and distinctly.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.