And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 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?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Mark 8:22-26 ESV
In 2 Kings 6, we find an interesting account during the Israel’s war against Syria. While the Syrian king repeatedly attempted to position his army for battle, Elisha the prophet kept warning the king of Israel where the Syrian army was camped. So, Israel’s army kept avoiding the Syrian army. This infuriated the Syrian king so much that he began to demand who was the traitor within his commanders. However, one of the king’s servants revealed that Elisha was responsible for conveying the information, and the king promptly found the location of the prophet and surrounded the city where he was staying. Here’s how the scene then unfolds:
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.
As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.2 Kings 6:15–23
I love this text because it fits wonderfully with our passage in the Gospel of Mark. It reminds us that we are each walking around blind to the spiritual realm all about us. And, most importantly, what we should notice is that God is fully able to open the eyes (physical and spiritual) of whom He wills as well as blind whom He wills.
BETHSAIDA & A BLIND MAN // VERSE 22
After His tense encounter with the Pharisees in Dalmanutha, we were told that Jesus got back into the boat with His disciples, which led to a very interesting dialogue between Him and His twelve apostles. Now Mark tells us simply: And they came to Bethsaida. Interestingly, back in 6:45 after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus sent His disciples over to Bethsaida; however, after making little progress against the wind and Jesus’ walking on the water to them, 6:53 tells us that “they came to land at Gennesaret.” So, while Bethsaida is north of the Sea of Galilee, they ended up on the west side in Gennesaret, which also happens to be in the same vicinity of Dalmanutha. Thus, they have now arrived at Bethsaida and would soon be making their way even further north (8:27).
Even though this is the first time that Mark has explicitly told us of Jesus visiting Bethsaida, Matthew 11:21 makes it clear that Jesus had already ministered there. Of course, Mark has mentioned Jesus going throughout all of Galilee, such as in 1:39. Yet in Matthew 11:21, Jesus had declared, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
As we have seen, while Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon, He made it known that His earthly ministry was not directly toward Gentiles such as them. Thus, although He retreated into the region for a respite, He did not do the mighty works that He had done in Galilee. “However,” as Sproul notes, “speaking hypothetically, He declared that if He had performed the same kind of miracles in Tyre and Sidon that He had performed in Bethsaida, those Gentile cities would have expressed abject repentance. But Bethsaida, which actually has seen the miracles, had not believed in Him. Therefore, He said, the final judgment on the Gentiles of Tyre and Sidon would be lighter than the judgment that would fall on the Jews of Bethsaida.”
Nevertheless, take note that as Jesus came to Bethsaida, some people brought to hm a blind man and begged him to touch him. This brings three thoughts to mind.
First, even though the people of Bethsaida had largely rejected Jesus as the Christ, they were still desirous of Jesus’ miracles. Of course, this principle is ever true on a large scale, for even the most ardent hater of God still desires God’s gifts of life, breath, water, etc.
Second, even though these people had rejected Him, Jesus still goes on to heal the blind man that they brought to Him. This illustrates what Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, that the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
Third, let us not, however, remove the possibility of genuine belief from this group of individuals, for we know that even in places of unbelief God often preserves a remnant of belief. One of the clearest instances of this is found in the LORD’s comforting of Elijah while the prophet was on the run from Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah lamented to God that he was the only follower of the LORD left in Israel; however, God told him that there were still seven thousand who had not bowed to Baal that He had preserved. So, even while Bethsaida as a whole fell under the condemnation of Christ, it is certainly possible that these were among the few that did believe.
LIKE TREES, WALKING // VERSES 23-26
We now move onto the miracle itself, which, like the healing of the deaf man, is another Mark exclusive. The scene unfolds as such:
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?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Within the account of this miracle, we find Jesus touching the blind man three times (once to lead him out of the village and twice to heal him), which I believe will serve as three points of anchor by which to structure our study of this text. Furthermore, as we set our eyes upon each touch of our Lord, we will also seek to answer two questions that this text raises. First, why is Mark calling our attention to Jesus’ peculiar healing this man, especially with His touch and spit? Second and perhaps most intriguingly to this particular miracle: why did Jesus not heal his eyes entirely the first time?
Jesus first touched this man by taking his hand and leading him out of the village. Geoff Thomas remarks that:
Our Lord was not about to put on a show for these people, but like a good physician he dealt personally with the man. He was an individual not some representative sick man to be gazed at by the curious. His healing was for God’s glory not for the entertainment and gossip of the masses.
The fact that Jesus so purposefully took this man aside should indeed remind us again of how Jesus ministered to individuals. Today’s religion of secularism may emphasize individual autonomy, yet when it comes to giving answer to the various forms of brokenness around us, it takes its cues from one of the chief secularists, Karl Marx, by focusing upon systems, classes, and groups. Of course, from a purely materialistic perspective, a systemic overhaul of the current order makes sense. If you believe in no eternal state of the soul, then your only hope of heaven is to build it here on earth, and you’ve only got one life to make that happen.
Jesus took a very different approach, one that was upside-down to the world’s standards. We only need to look at the modern world around us to see the tangible evidence of how Jesus’ ministry has shaped the world. Indeed, no one has had a greater influence than Christ. Yet during His life, He steadfastly avoided any notions of revolution and turned His attention to individuals rather than systems. Even when surrounded by crowds, Jesus’ focus was often given to a single person (i.e., Mark 5:21-43). Jesus addressed individual hearts, and by changing people personally, He worked a leaven into the dough of the world that would change it entirely.
As things continue to grow more uneasy around the world today, let us renew our commitment to Christ’s strategy for building His kingdom. We do not need clever marketing or mass public movements; we only need to faithfully serve our risen Lord and to be ready for opportunities to share Him with anyone who will listen. He, in turn, will be faithful to bring His kingdom, even if we do not presently notice it. Indeed, God’s kingdom grows like a tree, and the growth of trees can only be discerned by the passing of years and even of generations.
Let us move onto the third touch of Jesus as we tackle the first question, and in doing so, we should take notice here of some parallels between this miracle and the healing of the deaf man from 7:31-37. Both were brought to Jesus by others who then begged Jesus for the men’s healings. Jesus took both men aside from the crowd in order to heal them. Jesus deliberately laid his hands on them both, even using His spit with both men. Finally, both miracles end with Jesus seeking to keep the miracle secret, which is here implicit in His command for the formerly blind man to not even enter his village on his way home. All of this returns us to the question that we raised while studying the healing of the deaf man, which I proposedly kicked down the road: why did Jesus choose to heal in such a peculiar manner? You see, I believe that Jesus was intentionally tying these two miracles together.
As I have argued before, many take Mark’s Gospel to be the most plain of the four, yet I believe that the complexity of the book lies in how Mark has structured each passage together. These two healings are a marvelous example of just such complexity. Last week, we saw that Jesus had a very specific lesson to teach His disciples through the feeding of the 5000, which was then repeated in the feeding of the 4000, namely, that He is one with the Father, the Christ and the Son of God. Notice, then, how the events after each feeding unfolded. After feeding the 5000, Jesus and His disciples got in a boat, had a showdown with the Pharisees, and then encountered the deaf man. After the feeding of the 4000, Jesus and His disciples got in a boat, had a showdown with the Pharisees, and then encountered this blind man. Perhaps I can repeat Jesus’ question from last week: “Do you not yet understand?”
It was for good reason that Jesus asked His disciples while in the boat, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear” (8:17)? Since the very beginning of chapter 4 when Jesus began to teach in parables, Jesus still taught to the crowds at large, “but privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (4:34). To them particularly, He called to listen and behold (4:3), to hear and to see, to understand and to perceive. It is no accident, therefore, for Jesus to very physically call attention to the miracles of restoring hearing to a deaf man and sight to a blind man. Through these two miracles, Jesus was providing a sort of enacted parable, which displays that He alone is able to give ears to hear and eyes to see to those who are deaf and blind to Him and His kingdom.
This glorious news because we each belong to that very category. None of us were born with ears to understand nor with eyes to perceive the beauties of God. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11). The default human condition is not goodness but a wicked rejection of and rebellion against the Creator. We rightly call this state total depravity. I am convinced that many scoff at that term because they fail to understand what it means. By total depravity, we mean exactly what Paul describes in Romans 3, that everyone is entirely fallen and does not seek after God of his or her own initiative. However, this certainly does not mean that we are utterly depraved, meaning that, by God’s common and preserving grace, none are as wicked as they could be. Nevertheless, we are still totally depraved, totally unable to ascend to God through our own merits and totally unable to desire to do so anyway.
Like this man, we are each spiritually blind until God opens our eyes to see. Indeed, in Ephesians 1:18-19, Paul notes that it is God’s Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Without such enlightened eyes, we fail to see the goodness of the gospel and the glory of Christ. Therefore, to behold such wondrous things in God’s Word is no lesser miracle that the one found in our text. So, let us rightly rejoice in the famous words of John Newton: “I once was blind, but now I see.”
Let us now observe the second touch of Jesus and also return to the second question that we did not answer. If the particular manner of this healing was to connect it with the healing of the deaf man as a visual parable to the disciples, then that understanding also helps us find an answer to the question of why Jesus did this miracle in two stages, for this is the only miracle recorded in the Gospels where Jesus does not immediately and fully heal the person right away. Instead, after first touching the man’s eyes, Jesus asked whether the man could see anything, which was another exclusive for Jesus. Upon working a miracle, Jesus almost always gave a definitive pronouncement that the healing was made. Since our Lord has the authority to raise the dead, we know that healing blindness was not too great for Him, especially blindness that almost certainly not present at the man’s birth (which, by the way, is another common link with the deaf man). He clearly knew that His first touch did not fully heal the man and asked whether he could see for the benefit of His watching disciples.
Since this miracle was meant to teach the disciples, I believe that it is safe to conclude that they were meant to see the state of their spiritual sight within this man’s physical sight. Everything that Mark has written reveals that, while the disciples do believe in Jesus, they do not yet see Him as He truly is. They do not yet see Him clearly. They certainly believe that He is from God, but they do not seem entirely certain that He is God’s Son. They clearly believe that His is anointed, but they still seem uncertain about whether or not He is truly the long-awaited Christ. Their vision of Christ was just as foggy as the man when he saw people like trees walking about. They had the vague outline of Jesus but not the complete image. Yet as the miracle indicates, Jesus Himself would not keep their vision so cloudy.
Just as with the healing of blind eyes, so do we also find a visible portrait of a spiritual reality for us as well. Indeed, just as we are all blind until Christ gives us our sight, so too in this life will our vision remain cloudy and unclear. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Even though we have the indwelling Spirit who gives us sight to see Christ, we nevertheless see dimly, beholding the glories of Christ as foggy as a walking tree. Even though we have complete revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, we still do not see our Lord as we one day will see Him. In other words, our salvation is not yet complete. Of course, upon the cross, our salvation was purchased and guaranteed, yet it is not yet fulfilled until Christ returns to glorify His bride.
Thankfully, we can anticipate that day with joy, knowing that Jesus completes whatever He begins (Philippians 1:6). So, as Ryle counsels,
But let us look forward and take comfort. The time comes when we shall see all ‘clearly.’ The night is far spent. The day is at hand. Let us be content to wait, and watch, and work, and pray. When the day of the Lord comes, our spiritual eyesight will be perfected. We shall see as we have been seen, and know as we have been known.
 R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 174.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 129.