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Matthew 9:18-26 “Authority to Raise the Dead”

With the close of Matthew’s second discipleship narrative (vv. 9-17) a new cycle of Jesus’ authoritative miracles begins (vv. 18-34). The fact that Matthew tightly connects the first scene at least with the previous context of vv. 10-17 suggests more than a chronological and locative connection. Simply put, what Jesus does in vv. 28-34 flows from what Jesus said in vv. 10-17. Specifically, Jesus is Israel’s healer (vv. 10-13), bridegroom (v. 15), and issuer of new wine (vv. 16-17). The authority motif remains, but to it is added a sense of Jesus proving that He is exactly who He claimed to be: Israel’s divine savior. As such, Jesus proves His ability to raise the dead (vv. 18-26), open eyes (vv. 27-31), and unstop ears and mouths (vv. 32-34).

 

“As He was speaking these things to them, behold! A ruler came worshipping to Him saying, ‘My daughter has just died. But come lay Your hand upon her and she will live.’ And getting up, Jesus followed him as did His disciples. And behold! A woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years, coming from behind touched the tassel of His garment. For she was saying to herself, ‘If only I might touch His garment, I will be saved.’ So Jesus turning and seeing her said, ‘Courage, daughter. Your faith has saved you.’ And the woman was saved from that very hour. And Jesus, coming into the house of the ruler and seeing the flute players and disordered crowd was saying, ‘Get out! For the girl has not died but sleeps.’ And they were laughing at Him. So, when the crowed was cast out, coming in He held her hand and the girl was raised up. And this report went out into the whole of that land.”

 

These verses are a two for the price of one miracle narrative with the raising of the ruler’s daughter seemingly interrupted by the healing of the bleeding woman. It is interesting that each of the synoptics include both miracles and maintain the same format (Mk. 5:22-43; Lk. 8:41-56). While many insights might be gleaned from comparing the other gospel writers’ accounts, they cannot help us in understanding Matthew’s intention. Besides, Matthew wrote first. Matthew alone links the context of these events with his own banquet and subsequent teaching/rebuke of the Pharisees and John’s disciples.[1] Therefore, any explanation of this text’s structure must take Matthew’s own presentation at face value. Because Jesus has only just finished claiming to be (1) Israel’s healer (2) Israel’s bridegroom as expected from Hosea (vv. 10-17), these events provide the proof that Jesus’ claims are in fact true. The bridegroom vs. the grim reaper motif follows the account of the ruler’s dead daughter (vv. 18-19, 23-26) while the healer motif follows the bleeding woman (vv. 20-22).

 

The Bridegroom of Joy Petitioned (vv. 18-19)


As already mentioned, this narrative picks up right where v. 17 left off. There is no other way to make sense of Matthew’s “while He was saying these things to them” (ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος αὐτοῖς), for he clearly indicates that the ruler approaches Jesus while He is still conversing with John’s disciples and (presumably) with the Pharisees at Matthew’s banquet. Jesus has only just accused John’s disciples of practicing mourning when they should have been rejoicing. Now, with the ruler’s petition, Jesus has the opportunity to prove that He, the bridegroom, is a bringing of joy and not sorrow.

 

Jesus is Petitioned (v. 18)

As He was speaking these things to them, behold! A ruler came worshipping to Him saying, ‘My daughter has just died. But come lay Your hand upon her and she will live.’

 

Matthew’s ever favorite “behold!” (ἰδοὺ) introduces the arrival of a new character. This ruler (ἂρχων) receives no further definition or description from Matthew. It is enough to understand that he is a man of authority (as the title implies) much like the centurion (8:9). And yet he humbles himself before Jesus in much the same way that the leper did (8:2). The literal sense of προσκυνέω is to bow/prostrate oneself and is often translated as “worship” (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; 4:9, 10; 14:33; 28:9, 17), yet even in the less intense sense of “bowing” (Matt. 18:26) there remains an element of worship. To bow is to lower oneself in an effort to physically demonstrate one’s social/spiritual/cultural status. One bows to someone who is worthy of honor, respect, homage and is his superior. A ruler[2] is not the social, political, cultural, or religious[3] inferior to a carpenter’s son turned itinerate preacher. Yet he bows all the same in an expression of homage from an inferior to a superior. Unless we dismiss this gesture as pure flattery, an attempt to manipulate Jesus into doing something for this ruler, there is something being stated that comes with massive implications. In bowing, the ruler is admitting that Jesus is his superior which strongly indicates that he knows who Jesus is. This suspicion is not only supported but is unequivocally confirmed by what he says.


His daughter has just died.[4] Matthew offers nothing to suggest how she died, whether by sickness or injury, only that she has recently (perhaps within minutes) breathed her last. The point is that there is no need for a doctor or any sort of emergency personnel. She is beyond the aid of human help. This is what makes this ruler’s request so fascinating, because he is convinced that Jesus, by merely laying His hand on her, will make her live. The ruler believes that Jesus possesses the authority and ability to reverse death! He is not asking Jesus to make his daughter well like the centurion and his slave but is asking Jesus to do something quite unprecedented.[5] While Jesus has already accomplished many miracles, doubtlessly some of which were witnessed by this man who presumably resided in Capernaum, none of them included raising a person from the dead. There is a small precedent in the Old Testament of the dead being raised by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-37), but both instances record much more than merely a laying on of hands. At the very least, this man considers Jesus to be on the same plane as Elijah and Elisha. Yet his request seems to indicate that he believes Jesus to be superior to even these two great prophets of old. This seems to be confirmed by Jesus’ response.

 

Jesus Responds (v. 19)

And getting up, Jesus followed him as did His disciples.


Matthew does not record a single word coming from Jesus. Only immediate action. That He got up (καὶ ἐγερθεὶς) indicates that He had been sitting, confirming that this request was made while Jesus was either (a) still at Matthew’s banquet or at least (b) He was seated in a position of official teaching when answering John’s disciples.[6] Either is possible yet the first more likely.


The point is that Jesus immediately followed this man home, and His disciples followed Him. One wonders what the disciples of John were thinking at this point. They were just chastised for mourning during a time of celebration and here comes a man with a dead daughter. Will Jesus be forced to eat His own words? His disciples don’t seem to think so, for they follow Him.

 

The Healer in Action (vv. 20-22)


The scene is interrupted by another “behold!” (ἰδοὺ). Matthew now introduces the bleeding woman. This two-fold miracle account not only demonstrates Jesus as the bridegroom, but also as the healer. Thus, both John’s disciples and the Pharisees are given proof of Jesus’ claims.

 

Salvation Sought (vv. 20-21)

And behold! A woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years, coming from behind touched the tassel of His garment. For she was saying to herself, ‘If only I might touch His garment, I will be saved.

 

It is essential for accurate translation and, more importantly, to follow the author’s intention that we correct the majority of English translations that express this woman’s desire to be healed or made well (NASB, ESV, NKJV) with the correct idea that she desired to be saved (σωθήσομαι). The Greek text is plain and unambiguous that she is one who is seeking salvation. But before we jump to that thought, several observations must be made.

First, we must identify her as Matthew does. That is, she is a woman who bleeds. The present participle from αἱμορροὲω (to bleed, suffer hemorrhage) is the only means Matthew uses to identify her. She is one who bleeds and has been bleeding for twelve years. This term is used only here in the New Testament and even that only in Lev. 15:33 in the LXX of the Old Testament. This helps us identify her bleeding as some sort of menstrual/uterine disorder that has plagued her for over a decade. This disorder carries physical, social, and religious consequences. Physically, one cannot consistently lose blood without suffering loss of energy, strength, and overall health. Socially, she is considered unclean as in the days of her menstruation (Lev. 15:19-33). Anything she sits or lays on and anyone she touches is contaminated with uncleanliness until evening. Thus, she would be avoided by everyone who values cleanliness. If she had a husband when this business began, it is doubtful that he is still in the picture. Religiously, as an unclean person with no way to become clean, she has not participated in Temple worship for the length of her ailment. Not only does she suffer, but she is also cut off from all forms of comfort and communion. Her situation is utterly hopeless.


Second, Matthew records what she does. Coming up from behind Jesus, she designs to touch one of the tassels of His garment without Him noticing. The tassel (τοῦ κρασπέδου) mentioned here describes what Israel was commanded to wear on the four corners of their outer garment as a constant reminder of the MC (Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:12). These were to remind each individual Israelite of God’s covenant and to inspire obedience and faithfulness. Amazingly, she touched the tassel of the one Israelite in history who actually has obeyed the law in every aspect.


Third, Matthew provides for us her rationale. She touches Jesus so that she might be saved. She is looking for more than a physical recovery. Like the leper, she desires physical, social, and spiritual restoration and she recognizes Jesus as the one who can provide it. She seeks to be released from the power of the curse in all its dimensions. There are some who chalk her reasoning up to superstition, yet to do so goes too far and misses the whole point. It is not that she thought there was magic in Jesus’ tassel (more likely she touched the tassel as the least part of the garment to avoid contaminating Jesus) but that knows Jesus is the source of salvation. This fact is also confirmed by Jesus’ response.

 

Salvation Found (v. 22)

So Jesus turning and seeing her said, ‘Courage, daughter. Your faith has saved you.’ And the woman was saved from that very hour.

 

Jesus is no rewarder of the superstitious or well-intended. If salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then one’s faith must be in Christ, not in His tassels. Jesus stopped in His tracks, turns and sees her before encouraging her. His response is strikingly similar to the paralytic. The same command to take courage with a term of endearment. This is the only woman Jesus refers to personally as “daughter”. Ironic since He is on the way to raise another man’s daughter. To this He adds the reason for this courage, her faith has saved her. This is not a correction (your faith not your touch has saved you) but confirmation (I am exactly who you believed Me to be and have the authority to do what you require). The perfect passive verb ἐσώθη indicates that this salvation has already been accomplished for her and continues on with its effectual results. There is no reason for her to fear, tremble, or doubt for she has been saved on account of her faith in Jesus.


A simple note from Matthew confirms that she was indeed saved that very moment. Her physical malady was cured, her cleanliness restored, and security with Christ guaranteed. Her faith in Jesus’ authority and ability to save her was well founded because He truly is the healer of Israel.

 

The Bridegroom of Joy Continued (vv. 23-26)


Having proven His claim to the Pharisees that He is most certainly the divine healer of Israel, Jesus continues to the ruler’s house. The narrative still needs to prove Jesus’ assertion that His advent is a time for celebration and not mourning for those who are His friends.

 

Mourners Reject and are Rejected (vv. 23-24)

And Jesus, coming into the house of the ruler and seeing the flute players and disordered crowd was saying, ‘Get out! For the girl has not died but sleeps.’ And they were laughing at Him.

 

The scene is certainly chaotic, noisy, and disordered but it is hardly out of the norm for ancient funeral practices. This is how the ancients mourned their dead. Men of means (like this ruler) would pay professional mourners and flute players to play their dirges and wail in mourning. This is the scene that Jesus enters. Taking a look around, Jesus commands them to stop it and get out. The present imperative from ἀναχωρέω (to depart, retire, withdraw) carries the sense of “be gone and stay gone!”. This command is immediately followed by Jesus’ reasoning. The girl is not in need of mourning because she is not dead but only sleeps. The point is the same as that made to John’s disciples. Mourning is inappropriate, presumptions, and downright rude in a situation that requires celebration. Jesus is not denying that the girl is dead but is denying the need to mourn. He is about to raise her and thus her death will be no more troublesome than a nap. Who mourns when their child naps? To this, the crowd laughs.


This is something of an insight into their character that they can so easily turn from mourning to mirth. If this child is truly and finally dead, then surely laughing would be most inappropriate. It is possible that these people simply couldn’t help themselves over the thought that Jesus doesn’t know the difference between a sleeping girl and a dead one. Yet, “sleep” is a common euphemism for death (Jn. 11:13; 1 Cor. 11:30). Jesus is not commenting on the state of the child so much as the permanence of that state.


These people know who Jesus is in that He has already produced miracles and has claimed heavenly authority. They laugh[7] because they understand exactly what Jesus proposes: that He will raise her from the dead. It is not that they fail to believe Jesus but much worse. They mock Him for even suggesting a thing. Like John’s disciples, they are convinced this is a time for “mourning” because they have rejected the bridegroom who brings with Him the blessing of New Covenant wine.

 

The Joy and Life Replace Mourning and Death (vv. 25-26)

So, when the crowd was cast out, coming in He held her hand and the girl was raised up. And this report went out into the whole of that land.

 

With the doubters and detractors put out,[8] Jesus turns His attention to the girl. Jesus does exactly what the ruler desired Him to. He takes the girl by the hand and raises her up. The brilliance of Matthew’s account is in its simplicity. Jesus is recorded as speaking no words here, no special prayer or series of movements. With a touch, Jesus raised the dead. Surely there can be no reason to mourn while this One is among us, can there?


Matthew concludes simply by stating that this report became known throughout the land, that is, all through the Galilee. One wonders which report? The report that an itinerant preacher is going around healing and raising the dead? Or the report that Israel’s healer and bridegroom has come? Those reports are not the same thing. Here we see a question forming that will not be answered definitively until much later in Matthew’s gospel: Who do the people say Jesus is? As the One who claims and demonstrates authority to cleanse, heal, forgive, save, and raise from the dead, Jesus can only be the Son of David, the Christ, the Son of the living God.



[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 228.


[2] Luke and Mark identify this man by name (Jairus) as well as specifically label him a synagogue ruler (ἀρχισυναγώφων). Because of the role which the synagogue played in Jewish society (a center of worship but also of community), an elder/official/leader of the local synagogue would have massive influence within the larger society. Thus, Matthew does not highlight his role within the synagogue so much as he emphasizes the fact that this man is a leader within the community.


[3] Jesus was a member (if that) of the local synagogue, not a ruler. Even from a religious standpoint this man is Jesus’ superior.


[4] The aorist of τελευτάω (to die) communicates the action as a whole. A more stative way of saying the same thing is “my daughter is dead”. Yet the temporal adverb ἄρτι (now, at once) indicates that this action has only just occurred.


[5] Some (John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012, p. 204; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, p. 372) believe that this man’s faith is less than the faith of the centurion who desired Jesus to only give the command to heal. Yet, the faith of this man cannot be considered any less than that of the centurion, for which is greater, to heal or to raise the dead?


[6] Some (Lenski, p. 372) maintain that this expression speaks nothing of the kind and that it is vernacular akin to our “he up and left”. If true, then it is the only time in Matthew (8:15; 9:7, 19, 25; 12:11) or the rest of the New Testament (Mk. 2:12; 4:27, 38; Lk. 1:69; Jn. 12:17; Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:15; James 5:15) where the phrase does not indicate someone/thing raising or being raised from sitting or lying down. What is more likely is that Jesus was indeed seated, and that Matthew uses this turn of phrase to foreshadow what is about to happen. Namely, that Jesus who rises will raise the little girl.


[7] The imperfect tense indicates that they kept laughing. This was no mere chuckle or smirk, but an uncontrollable and sustained guffaw.


[8] Literally cast out (ἐκβάλλω) as used for so many demons and unbelievers (Matt. 7:22; 8:12, 16, 31; 9:33, 34; 10:1, 8; 12:24, 26, 27, 28; 17:19; 21:12; 22:13; 25:30).

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