The response that Jesus gives to the disciples of John the Baptist is one that points back to numerous Old Testament passages with an emphasis on Isaiah. They asked Jesus if he was indeed the one who is to come and so it only makes sense that the answer, being in the affirmative, is one that is going to settle the issue in regards to what was being expected. Matthew 11:2-6 reads:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1
The first part of the response presents the start of what will become somewhat of a chiastic answer. He says “tell John what you hear and see” and then answers based on what would be seen and then heard. But it should also be noted that there is much more than sense perception being discussed here. As far as Scripture is concerned, seeing is somewhat baseless. The Pharisees saw the “deeds of the Christ” just the same as anyone else and yet they simply couldn’t understand what was being presented to them. So also, the disciples heard Jesus preach the good news to the poor, quite possibly on numerous occasions and yet Jesus still had to “open their minds to understand” that he would be killed, buried and rise again in Luke 24:45.
What You Hear And See
Jesus emphasizes this issue in Matthew 13:13-15. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in the LXX saying:
13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
Notice that in the opening line Jesus says they see but they don’t see, they hear but they don’t hear and finalizes it with the fact that they do not understand. This is further specified in the Isaiah passage where the order of hearing and seeing is the same that Jesus gives in Matthew 11:4, “tell John what you hear” – you will indeed hear but never understand – “and see” – you will indeed see but never perceive. I don’t say this to condemn John’s disciples. We have no way of knowing what the disciples took away from Jesus’ answer. The point is that simple reliance on our senses for understanding is not biblical and Matthew 11:2-6 hints at this issue.2
And so Jesus begins his answer which he gives as 3 pairs of items capped with a beatitude – 7 elements in all. We have the blind receiving their site, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf (or mute) hearing, dead raised to life and the poor hearing the Gospel finalized by a blessing to those who are not offended by Jesus. Each of the initial 6 items are echoes from miracles that were performed in the previous few chapters and further predicted in the Old Testament. All of them together can look back to Isaiah 6:9-10 in that they are things that are to be seen, heard and understood.
The Authority Of The Messiah
What each of these miracles should invoke isn’t so much the capability of Jesus to do the miracle, but that Jesus has the authority to do them. In all of these items, Jesus is demonstrating divine authority and yet he is clearly a human being. Again this looks back to what has already been discussed in this series – that the one who is to come, or the coming one, was to be God in human form. After Jesus heals the lame man (the lame walk), in Matthew 9:2-8 the crowds were astonished and acknowledged that God had to have given the authority to do this. Matthew 9:8 reads:
8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
This authority is directly linked to the authority to forgive sin. That is what the healing of the lame man was all about. The crowds glorified God who had given such authority to men through the Son of Man. The language in this passage is somewhat difficult but the idea isn’t simply that men in general have been given authority to forgive sin, but that the representative of mankind, the Son of Man, has been given this authority.3
And in each of the accounts of these miracles the people making the requests have already put their trust in Christ. They request it as though they already understand that he can do what they are asking. This should certainly be a point to take away from all of this. When we, as Christians, speak of faith, we are not using some stupid idea of blind belief in spite of evidence to the contrary, like the rest of the world does. Faith for us is trust that Christ is who he said he was. In the final three parts of this discussion I will look at the miracles themselves and how they relate to the authority of the Messiah and the promises given about him in the Old Testament.
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. ↩
- This is one of those topics that just can’t seem to be exhausted. The possibility of knowledge is logically prior to sense perception which Scripture acknowledges and I’ve discussed in The Johannine Logos. Also, the series of posts on our Innate Knowledge of God is worth taking a look at in light of this topic. ↩
- Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (167). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. ↩
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