When I put glasses on for the first time, it made a world of difference. The fuzzy signs on the other side of the parking lot became clear, and instantly my ‘blindness’ was cured. The same is not true for spiritual blindness, however. As we see in Scripture, spiritual blindness is not cured with prescription lens, nor is it fixed instantly. Instead, what we find is multi-step process in the hands of our gracious God. Let’s consider.
Jesus and a Two-Part Healing
In Mark 8 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. There, some people brought this blind man to Jesus as he begged Christ to touch him (v. 22). By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already healed “a man with an unclean spirit” (1:21–28), a leper (1:40–45), a paralytic (2:1–12), and many others (3:1–6; 5:1–20, 21–43; etc.). Thus, by this time in Mark’s Gospel the body of evidence for Jesus’ power in healing is great. Still, this healing is unique because of the way it foreshadows and interprets the events that follow.
In the case of the blind man at Bethsaida, we find the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus must heal the same man twice. Verses 23–25 read,
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.
Notice, after Jesus causes the man to have sight in v. 23, the man’s vision is still impaired. Jesus, in response to the man’s cloudy vision (people who look like trees), must lay hands on him again to fix the man’s vision. Only after Jesus’ second attempt is the man’s vision “restored.”
What is going on here? Did Jesus lack power on the day he strolled into Bethsaida? Was he “unable” to heal the man fully on this day? Or was something else going on? Could it be that this unique healing—again, no other healing takes two attempts—is meant to teach us something about the way God heals, especially with regards to spiritual blindness? I think so.
Spiritual Blindness Is Not Instantly Corrected
If we let Scripture interpret Scripture, we should look at the surrounding context of this passage, but we should also look at other instances of blindness, such as John 9, which explains how physical blindness relates to spiritual blindness and how the healing of the blind man exposed the blindness of the Pharisees. Therefore, lets consider that passage and then come back to look at the surrounding context of Mark 8.
In John 9 Jesus answers his disciples question, explaining how this man’s blindness is meant to glorify God: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). In context, this display of God’s works glorifies the sovereign Lord as the blind man comes to sight and knowledge of Christ, while the men who are supposed to see, the Pharisees, are shown to be blind. John 9:39 concludes, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
In this instance, the healing of the man’s physical blindness highlights a greater moral condition—the spiritual blindness of those in Israel. Whereas Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5), the teachers of Israel cannot see it because they are spiritually blind. Whereas the Prophets taught them that healing the blind marked the messianic age (Isaiah 29:18; 32:3; Matthew 11:5), these teachers didn’t see it.
Tragically, Jesus’ works of healing appear to be a common, tragic, and wonderful occurrence in the Gospels. Those with the light of the Law are blind to whom the Law points, and those without the Law (or at least not trained in the Law) are the ones whose eyes are being opened to what the Law describes. In truth, Jesus never contradicts or overturns the Old Testament. Rather, he shows how his life and work fulfill the promises of old. Yet, as we learn in Mark 8, such insight may not come in one ‘healing.’
Indeed, what we find after the two-part healing is a two-part revelation where Peter sees Jesus as the Christ and yet remains blind to him and then sees the full glory of Jesus as the son of God. Consider, in Mark 8:27–31 we find Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ, after Jesus asks him, “Who do you say that I am?” In this reply, Peter demonstrates spiritual vision that exceeds his peers and human capability (cf. Matthew 16:17). Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Herod gives the same answer (6:14–16) that many in Israel are giving (8:27–28): Jesus is either John the Baptist redivivus, Elijah, or one of the prophets. This indicates how blind Israel was; they were as spiritual insensitive as the man who beheaded John.
Thus, when Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ, he shows incredible insight, spiritual understanding, and God-given vision (see Matthew 16:13ff). He has been cured from his blindness. Yet, as Mark continues, his vision is very faulty, just like the man who saw people walking around like trees. How do we know Peter had poor eyesight? Keep reading: in verse 32, just after confessing Jesus as the Christ, Jesus rebukes Peter for tempting Jesus to forsake any notion of suffering and death. Peter rebukes Jesus for his ill-conceived plan to suffer and die at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and Jesus in turn identifies the satanic nature of Peter’s words.
Clearly, Peter’s vision is imperfect. It needs further correction. Like the blind man, it will need another application of Jesus healing touch. And miraculously, this comes in the very next episode, when Peter is taken with John and James to the Mount of Transfiguration. Here, Peter’s eyes are opened to see the glory of Christ. As Mark 9:2–13 recounts Jesus’ Transfiguration, we learn who Jesus truly is. Peter finally sees Christ as the resplendent Son of God that he is, and thus the second stage of his vision is granted.
Still, even this phase of revelation is not perfect. Rather, as the rest of Mark’s Gospel indicates, Peter lacks Holy Spirit power to stay with Jesus in prayer and confess him as Lord in the face of Jesus’ arrest. Therefore, we see that while Peter’s eyes have been opened to who Jesus is, his blindness still has lasting effects—effects only remedied by the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Five Lessons about Spiritual Eyesight
In all, Peter’s insight into Christ’s identity teaches us a great deal about spiritual understanding and spiritual blindness. Below are just five observations from Mark’s Gospel and the rest of the New Testament, as it relates to spiritual vision and spiritual blindness.
First, there is no lost metaphor in Scripture.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ miracles do more than just demonstrate God’s power, they also help reveal God’s designs and/or interpret events. Just as the cursing of the fig tree explains something of Jesus’ temple cleansing (Mark 11:12–14 and Mark 11:15–19), so physical healing relates to spiritual healing. For instance, a case study of blindness in the New Testament picks up themes from the Old Testament (see Isaiah 29:18; 32:3), it indicts Israel for their spiritual blindness (John 9), and demonstrates the grace of God to open eyes to see him. In short, blindness is more than a physical condition God is able to overcome, in the hands on the New Testament authors (led by the Old Testament), it is an apt metaphor to explain Israel’s blinded condition.
Second, the ordering of Scripture matters.
Just as God inspired the words of Scripture, so also he ordered the texts. In this case, the double-healing of the blind man anticipates the double-healing of Peter—first in his confession, then in his vision of glory. We should expect that various episodes in the Scripture are best read in their surrounding context and that oddities (like Jesus ‘failing’ to heal the man on the first attempt) is a clue to what Mark is trying to communicate.
Third, spiritual understanding is not instantaneous.
As with the man healed twice for blindness, so our vision of Christ may not come instantaneously. Indeed, Paul often prays for wisdom, understanding, and revelation to be granted to Christians (see Ephesians 1:16–19 and Colossians 1:9–12). Indeed, our spiritual transformation depends upon seeing more of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and such illumination is not something that comes instantaneously. Therefore, we should not grow impatient with our own slowness in understanding, and we should be equally patient with others who don’t yet ‘get it.’
Fourth, spiritual insight is God given.
Just as the blind man had no capacity to heal his eyes, so neither do we. We are totally dependent on the Lord and thus we ought to be gracious to those who do not see. We would not criticize a blind man for stubbing his toe and we shouldn’t chastise the spiritual blind for running into walls either. This is true for unbelievers, but also for Christians. If Paul prayed for believers to see and know and experience more of God’s love, then we should be gracious to believers who don’t yet see what we see in Scripture. The same goes in reverse: we may not see as we ought to and we need the grace of others to help us walk in the light.
Fifth, we should expect that Jesus will reveal truth to us in his time, not ours.
It was the Lord’s prerogative to heal the blind man at Bethsaida in two phases. It will be the same for us. Therefore, we should not expect we will see everything clearly today. Rather, we should return again and again to Christ, imploring him to open our eyes. This is what Jesus loves to do, and we see the glory of God displayed by it. In fact, because revelation is not something instantly attained or humanly achieved, we must like blind men stay close to the Lord until he opens our eyes. And even more, if and when he does open our eyes, we must stay equally close—praising him for his grace and leading others to see him.
Indeed, spiritual blindness is a true condition, and one that requires the very power of God to overcome. And thankfully through seasons short and long, God delights to show himself to us who humbly come to him as blind beggars seeking to know him.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds