NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
Verse 27: As Jesus was going away from there, two blind men followed Him. They called out loudly, “Son of David, be kind to us!”
Perhaps the two blind men who started following Jesus after He left the synagogue leader’s house where this miracle just occurred, had also heard about the woman with the bleeding problem, or the Centurion’s servant, or they heard someone read Isaiah where it says what will happen when the Messiah comes: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened so that they can see, and the ears of the deaf will be opened so that they can hear. Crippled people will dance like deer, and those who cannot speak now will use their voices to sing happy songs.”1
Early Church Bishop Hilary believes that whatever these blind men had heard, it was enough for them to plead with Him for healing. He writes: “It indicated to them that their Savior in the flesh was of the line of David. It also introduced light to the minds of those who were blind by what many believed to be sins of the past. They could not see Christ but were told about Him. The Lord showed them that faith should not be expected as a result of health but health should be expected because of faith. The blind men saw because they believed; they did not believe because they saw. From this we understand that what is requested must be predicated on faith and that faith must not be exercised because of what has been obtained. If they could believe, He offers them sight.”2
Verse 28-29: Jesus went inside, and the blind men went with Him. He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to make you see again?” They answered, “Yes, Lord, we believe.” Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Because you believe that I can make you see again, it will happen.”
This narration is only recorded by Matthew, so we do not have any other independent resources to add more to the story. But it appears that these blind men followed Jesus until He came to a house. We are not told which house, but given the fact that our Lord was doing all of this in Capernaum after having dinner with Matthew, it is highly possible that it was the house where He was staying. The fact that Jesus went inside the house without being greeted or asking permission and the blind men followed Him, shows that He was familiar with the place.
Chrysostom asks this question, “For what purpose did it happen that, while they are crying out, Jesus delays and questions them further?” He explains: “Here again Jesus is teaching us utterly to resist the glory that comes from the crowd. There was a house nearby. He led them into the house to heal them there in private. Then He charged them to tell no one.”3 It sure makes us ask why then are today’s healing campaigns advertised and done in such a manner as to elevate the healer as a special servant of God? When someone is healed, why is it then spread across the globe in magazines and through media, in which the person healed and the one who prayed for their healing are spotlighted, but the One from whom the power came for such a miracle is seldom mentioned? I’m certain it is done to bring glory and honor to the power of God, but so often He is the last One to be mentioned.
Our Lord certainly performed miracles out in the open before crowds, and behind closed doors with only those He chose to be present. In some cases He told the recipient to tell no one, while on other occasions He told them to go show the priests or to go back home where they could tell all their family and friends. I’m certain, only the Master knows the real reasons why, but on the surface it appears that each healing served a purpose. On some occasions it was done to increase the faith of those who might not be sure of who He was or that God’s power was present in Him. And at other times it was done as a witness to His being the Messiah, sent by the Father. However, His being revealed as the One who came to die for our sins had not yet been made public. In fact, it appears that only His disciples knew until the whole world would know, He was the Lamb of God.
So for our sake, we should consider the occasion and circumstances when it comes to healing. If someone comes forward for healing in a worship service, don’t then take them into the back room and pray, do it in front of everyone so they can see the power of God at work. But if someone asks to receive prayer for healing before the service begins, don’t tell them to wait until they can join the healing line during the service just for show, do it then.
What Matthew says next gives us a hint as to why our Lord chose to repeat the method He used when healing the synagogue leader’s daughter in private rather than in public.
Verses 30-31: After the men received their sight, Jesus gave them a strong warning. He said, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” But they left and spread the news about Jesus all around that area.
Yes, Jesus bade them not to spread it around, but they were so thrilled that they ran out of His house telling everyone what had just happened. It appears that the news of His raising the young girl from her death bed resulted in people bringing another man to Him for healing. This man was a mute, and the rumor was that it was caused by a demon. But our Lord wasted no time in removing the power that kept the man silent.
We may never learn down here how many others came for healing while Jesus was making His way along the highways and byways of Galilee. But for some reason when it came to His encounter with demonic powers, that’s when the opposition could not remain quiet. This man who was brought to him was considered to be an imbecile. In Hebrew they were called “Heresh”.4 So Jesus not only faced a man with physical disabilities, but was also thought to be mentally challenged. Yet this was no greater obstacle to His ability to heal than any other disease He encountered.
While many Bible scholars and theologians have struggled over why our Lord would not want these men to become walking, talking witnesses to His being the Messiah, the man sent from God, I have read none that supply the definitive answer. Therefore we must look at the context of what was happening at this point in our Lord’s ministry. His ultimate goal was to come and die as the Lamb of God so that all men’s sins could be forgiven when they came to God in repentance. And after He paid the price for man’s redemption, God would raise Him from death so that He could serve as witness and example of the eternal life that was promised through the new covenant of salvation which He came to preach and establish. Therefore, anything that might keep Him from reaching those goals should be considered an impediment and overcome. So we can clearly understand that Jesus knew He still had years to go before He went to the cross, so He did not want His fame as a healer to become so great that He would be inhibited from becoming the Savior He was meant to be.
Verses 32-34: As these two men were leaving the house, some people brought another man to Jesus. This man could not talk because he had a demon inside him. Jesus forced the demon out, and the man was able to talk. The people were amazed and said, “We have never seen anything like this in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “The ruler of demons is the one that gives Him power to force demons out.”
While the people were amazed at Jesus’ power, the Pharisees came up with an impromptu explanation that the devil had given Jesus permission to cast out evil demons. I don’t think that even the most under-informed citizen of Capernaum would buy that explanation. Had these pious men of the cloth forgotten what God asked Moses, “Who made a person’s mouth? And who can make someone deaf or not able to speak? Who can make a person blind? Who can make a person able to see? I am the One. I am the Lord.”5
So in spite of the Master’s efforts to keep the word of His miracles from spreading, they went like wild fire. After all, once they took Him down from the cross and put Him in the tomb, what else would persuade His disciples to still believe in Him as the Messiah if it wasn’t for the wonders He performed by the power of His Father in heaven. It is no wonder that after our Lord ascended back into heaven, that His disciples went out preaching the gospel and doing many of the same miracles they had seen Him do.
Chrysostom responds to what he feels was the reason for the Pharisee’s complaint about what Jesus had just done. He writes: “Now this healing especially vexed the Pharisees. They were disturbed that Jesus was being exalted above all others, not only those who are but all who had ever been. For He did what He did so easily and quickly. He cured diseases innumerable and otherwise incurable. The crowd exalted Him. But the Pharisees continued to disparage His works, contradicting themselves unashamedly. Such a thing is wickedness—which finds itself desperately saying, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons.’ What could be more absurd than this! For in the first place, as He also says later on, it is impossible for demons to cast out demons.6 For it is a demon’s custom to clap in applause at the activities of his own kind, not oppose them. Second, not only did He Himself cast out demons, but He also purified lepers, raised dead people, reined in the sea, canceled sins, proclaimed the kingdom and approached the Father. Demons would never choose to do these things and would not ever be able to accomplish them.”7
Verse 35: Jesus then began to travel through all the towns and villages of Galilee. He taught in their synagogues and told people the Good News about God’s kingdom. He healed all kinds of diseases and sicknesses.
Our Lord did not sit in Capernaum and create a ministry center at His residence, He took His healing ability on the road. I dare say, that some of the villages He went through had never seen a prophet, let alone One with such miracle powers. It is remarkable how Jesus went into the synagogues and openly taught about God’s plan of salvation through grace and faith. He did not consider them to be off limits or part of the opposition’s territory. Synagogues were considered very important to the Jews in every city where they lived. As a matter of fact, verbal tradition states that wherever ten Jews live it is necessary to establish a place for them to congregate for prayer at the time of each prayer service.
Such places were called Beit K’nesset (“House of Assembly”). Even today in Israel, the place where the Jewish legislators meet to do their work is called the Knesset. The word “synagogue” comes to us in English from the Greek word synagoge which actually means “bring together.” It was also the word used by the translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, and that’s how it made its way into our Bibles. Even though this is not initially a Jewish word, it began to be used by Jews who lived among non-Jewish people as their way of referring to what they called among themselves in Greek: “oikos proseukhē,” meaning: “house of prayer.”8 This is the term Jesus would use later when referring to the Temple.9
But in Jesus’ day, they were more likely to use the Hebrew term: “bayith tĕphillah” which is “house of prayer.” The Jewish inhabitants of any city could compel each other to construct a bayith tĕphillah and to purchase scrolls containing the Torah, the Prophets, and the Sacred Writings”.10 They were also told to build it at the highest point of the city; that the entrance should open only to the east; that a platform be placed in the center of the hall; that the elders sit facing the people who sit facing the platform; and that the synagogue was to be treated with respect.
We also learn that the bayith tĕphillah in villages were treated different than those in cities because the people in the small villages are more closely knit.11 It was in these small houses of prayer that Jesus entered and taught. And if Jesus came to a village that had not been able to erect a house of prayer, scholars say that He taught openly in the city square.12 So Jesus was not trying to hide, but wanted to let the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob know that the long-awaited Messiah had come.
1 Isaiah 35:5-6
2 Hilary: Commentary on Matthew, 9:9
3 Chrysostom, Matthew, Homily 32:1
4 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Chagiga, folio 2b
5 Exodus 4:11-12
6 See Matthew 12:25-26
7 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 32:2
8 Cf. Isaiah 56:7
9 Matthew 21:13
10 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Ahavah, Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim, Ch. 11, Halacha 1, 16
11 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Megilla, folio 26a, Gemara
12 Dr. John Lightfoot, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark 1:38