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Matthew 9:32-34 “Authority Acknowledged & Rejected”

“Now, while they were going out, behold! They brought to Him a man who was mute, being demon possessed. And after the demon was cast out the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled as they said, ‘Never was this seen in Israel!’ So, the Pharisees were saying, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’”


The first major section of Matthew’s argument is drawing to a close. Beginning in 4:23, Matthew has been presenting Jesus’s Messianic Authority. That authority was first generally summarized (4:23-25), personally proclaimed (5:1-7:29), and then specifically proven (8:1-9:34). This is the last miracle of the final cycle of Messianic proof and thus the reader is expecting something of a climax. Yet, if one reads too quickly, there may almost be a sense of disappointment due to the fact that little emphasis is placed on the miracle itself. This is precisely the point. The climax does not focus on the miracle itself but on the people’s response to Jesus. Recording very little of the miracle, Matthew directs the reader’s attention to the miracle’s context and the people’s divided response to the miracle.


The Miracle’s Context (vv. 32-33a)

It is best to remember that this miracle falls into the broader context of Matthew’s third cycle of proof which begins in v. 18. All three of these cycles have a loose temporal context that binds the individual parts. The first cycle (8:1-17) contains three miracles that take place on the same day as the SM beginning with Jesus’ descent from the mountain (vv. 1-4), continuing through His entering Capernaum (vv. 5-13), and following Him into the evening (vv. 14-17). The second cycle (8:23-9:8) revolves around Jesus’ trip across the Sea of Galilee where He gets into the boat and calms a storm (8:23-27), arrives at the other side and battles demons (8:28-34), and arrives back home in time to heal a paralytic (9:1-8). This third cycle maintains the same binding fabric of time in that this event happened on the same day as the salvation and life given to the two daughters (9:18-26) and giving sight to the blind men (9:27-31).


The Scene of the Miracle (v. 32)

Now, while they were going out, behold! They brought to Him a man who was mute, being demon possessed.


Matthew provides the timing of this scene in connection with the two men given their sight. The temporal participle ἐξερχομένων (from ἐξέρχομαι – as/while they were going out) in and of itself does not specify who “they” are and so we must rely on the context to tell us. While it is true that “they” could refer to Jesus and His disciples, it is also true that Jesus has not been associated with His disciples since v. 19 and has only been described with singular verbs. On the other hand, the context of the two men who were blind who went out (ἐξελξόντες – aorist active participle from ἐξέρχομαι) is quite near (v. 31). Thus, the context points to the two blind men as the subject of going out. This creates a sense of non-stop work for Jesus as the house to which He retreated is more like a doctor’s waiting room with the suffering and the cured passing each other at the door.[1] Those coming in brought to Jesus a mute man who was demon possessed.

Matthew describes this man as being mute because[2] he was demon possessed rather than a man suffering two simultaneous afflictions. His muteness[3] is not an effect of injury, defect, or lack of development but is caused by demon possession. At this point it is wise to recognize several points.[4] First, that demon possession is real. It is a gross and arrogant mistake to conclude that the gospel writers were ancient superstitious weirdos who blamed strange maladies on spiritual forces. With regularity the writers of the New Testament speak of normal physical ailments as such and often make distinction between them and demonic activity. They neither confused the two nor used one to explain the other. In other words, if Matthew records that this man was possessed by a demon, we must take his word for it knowing that this is an accurate diagnosis.

Second, that demon possession is a spiritual condition with physical and mental symptoms and thus can only be treated spiritually. Demon possession is exactly what it sounds like. An agent of Satan (a demon) actively invading and controlling a person from within. This is not a psychological problem like schizophrenia, but a spiritual invasion from an unholy host which cannot be expelled through treatment. Only the command from the Lord of Hosts will dislodge the demon.

Finally, demon possession is not, nor has it ever been commonplace and is indicative of the ever-raging war between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of darkness. Even a casual reading of the Bible will show that demonic activity is both reactionary and anticipatory to the mighty deeds of God. Demonic wickedness reigned seemingly unchecked in the days before God’s global judgment via deluge (Gen. 6:1-8). Demon possession, a thing hardly heard of in the Old Testament, grew to such an extreme that normal people could tell the signs of it in the days just preceding the coming of Messiah. In the future, demonic activity will once again increase in the days preceding Messiah’s return to rule and reign (Rev. 9:1-11). The ebb and flow of demonic activity corresponds to God’s major power plays. It is as if Satan attempts to block the predetermined plan of God only to see God remove his blocking piece from the board. The point here is that increased volume demonic activity around Jesus’ first advent fits the broader biblical pattern. With this in mind, it is not surprising that such instances are very few and far between (that is, not the norm) in our own day. 


The man being brought to Jesus is not just a sick or disabled man, but one who is suffering under the demonic control of at least one (8:28-32) of Satan’s agents. As such, it is doubtful that he would have ever come to Jesus on his own. Those who bring him (of whom Matthew tells us nothing) are acting in his benefit, much like the friends of the paralytic (9:1-2). Only Jesus can expel this demon and so to Jesus they bring him.


The Result of the Miracle (v. 33a)

And after the demon was cast out the mute man spoke.

That it is Jesus who casts the demon out is only implied and how He does so is not even mentioned. So many questions come to mind. Did Jesus simply rebuke the demon? Did He lay His hand on the man? What did the man say once he regained control of his tongue? Matthew omits all these details and actually skips the miracle itself to tell only what happened afterwards. Rather than being frustrated, we must recognize this for what it is: a clue. It is not the miracle that Matthew emphasizes, but the results of the miracle. Here, we read that the man who was mute because he was demon possessed spoke after the demon was cast out. Every miracle recorded in 8:1-9:33 displays Jesus’ victory over the curse in one way or another. Most of the time, the curse’s effects are more oblique coming in the form of known illnesses, even if those illnesses are quite severe. Yet here, the people witnessed Jesus going head-to-head with the forces of darkness and then see Him arise victorious.

We may be tempted to be unimpressed with this miracle because we have already read a detailed account of Jesus casting out numerous demons (8:28-32). But we must also remember that (1) that miracle was performed in Gentile territory and (2) the only witnesses were Jesus’ disciples and a few distant herdsmen. This exorcism was witnessed by many. But again, it is the response of those witnesses that Matthew desires his audience to contemplate.


The Miracle’s Divided Response (vv. 33b-34)

Within the text of Matthew’s narrative stand two groups, each responding to Jesus’ miracle in a different way. Much can be gleaned from what is said but also from what remains unsaid. The crowds stand impressed by what they see while the Pharisees attempt to explain away Jesus’ undeniable authority.


Unconvinced Marvel (v. 33b)

And the crowds marveled as they said, ‘Never was this seen in Israel!’

Where the crowds even came from is again unstated.[5] Perhaps they have already started gathering from the reports being spread by the ex-blind men or maybe these people have been following Jesus ever since He left the official’s home. While it may be too much to extrapolate a grand number from the plural crowds (οἱ ὄχλοι), Matthew clearly has in mind many more people than only those who brought the demon possessed man to Jesus. 

The response from the crowds is that of marvel. This is the same term (from θαυμάζω) Matthew used to describe Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s faith (8:10) as well as the response from the disciples after Jesus exercised authority over the storm (8:27). It describes the impression of being either extremely impressed or disturbed by something. Here, the force is on how utterly impressed the crowds were by Jesus. So much so that they exclaim that nothing like this has been seen in Israel.

There is much said and unsaid in that statement but first, we must understand to what this statement is made. While it is possible that only the exorcism of the mute man is in view, given the fact that vv. 18-33 could have easily been acted out in an hour or two of the same evening, it is more likely that the crowd refers to all that has been done by Jesus that day in their midst.[6] At the very least, we should expect this reaction to encompass the last two miracles (giving sight to the blind men and the exorcism of the mute) since the two sets of afflicted persons literally passed each other. When they utter that nothing like this has been seen, what they mean is that the dead are raised, the blind are given sight, and the mute are made to speak…in a single evening! This is not hyperbole, but an honest assessment of Israel’s history. Nothing done by God through Moses, Elijah, or Elisha can compare with what these people have seen this day. This is entirely new. The crowds now begin to see what Jesus has already spoken of in that He brings something new that cannot be contained by the old (vv. 14-17).

While it is tempting to take this as a positive sign, what is more telling is what the crowds leave unsaid. Is it not Yhwh who makes man’s mouth and makes him mute or deaf, who makes man seeing or blind (Ex. 4:11)? Is not Yhwh’s Messiah expected to restore Zion by opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf (Is. 35:5)? Hasn’t Yhwh promised to restore repentant Israel and raise them up so that they may live before Him (Hos. 6:1-3)? If nothing like this has ever been seen before in Israel yet (1) Yhwh alone can do these things and (2) Yhwh and His Messiah promises to do these things, then the only logical explanation is that Jesus speaks and acts with the authority of Yhwh’s Messiah. Yet, this is where the crowds stop. They marvel, yet they fall short of confession. Whatever one is tempted to say about the two blind men, they were better off than these crowds. With all their marveling, they remain unconvinced.


Convinced Rejection (v. 34)

So, the Pharisees were saying, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’

Δὲ (but/and/so) is not adversative here so much as it joins a reactionary response.[7] The Pharisees appear a second time in this chapter.[8] In v. 11 they sought to undermine Jesus’ authority among His disciples. Now, they seek to do the same thing among the crowds. The imperfect ἔλεγον (from λέγω – they were saying) indicates a progressive idea where they are continually and repeatedly meeting the crowds’ marvelous observation with their own rationale: Jesus is able to cast out demons because He is in league with the ruler of demons, that is, Satan. This blasphemous slander which soon became their pre-canned creed (12:24) reveals much about the Pharisees and their position.

First, it should be noted that they only offer to explain the exorcism. This line of reasoning cannot explain giving sight to blind men, raising the dead, nor healing the hemorrhaging woman because none of these ailments were the work of demons. What the Pharisees are suggesting is that Jesus is not working a miracle so much as a hoax. Both the orders to invade the person and the orders to depart basically come from the same source, Satan. The result is that Jesus would gain credibility as being anti-Satan when in fact He is in some sort of partnership with him. Yet, that this erroneous explanation only addresses the present matter only serves to confirm Jesus’ Messianic authority in all the other cases. This is a pathetic attempt to grasp at straws that, while slanderous and blasphemous in the worst ways, only confirms rather than casts shade upon Jesus’ work.

Second, the Pharisees tip their hand regarding their motives and reveal several of their fatal assumptions. They do not care if Jesus is the Messiah or not, but only that He is messing with the status quo. Because Jesus’ power (1) validates His claims and (2) those claims include both (a) accusations against Pharisaical righteousness (5:20), (b) contradictions against (i) Pharisaical teaching (5:21-48), (ii) Pharisaical worship (6:1-18), and (iii) Pharisaical practice (6:19-7:12), then (3) Jesus’ power cannot be of God. The assumption is that they are righteous in all that they say, think, and do. They are their own measuring stick and because Jesus constantly contradicts them, He cannot be operating with God’s power.[9] By using this errant syllogism, the only option left is that He operates with Satan’s power.

Third, the Pharisees are literally fulfilling the role of ancient Israel as condemned by the prophet Isaiah as they call what is good “evil” and call what is evil “good” (Is. 5:8-25). By turning people back to the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus has already proven that the Pharisees have misunderstood, mistaught, and misapplied the word of God (5:17-7:12). Yet, they call their misunderstanding and misapplication “good” and Jesus’ exegesis “evil”. Likewise, they look at all the good Jesus has done (all the miracles from 8:1-9:33) and call them “evil”. There is truly nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). The Pharisees are a picture perfect embodiment of ancient rebellious Israel.

Finally, the Pharisees have now officially positioned themselves as enemies of Jesus. Their opposition was hinted at in v. 11, but there it was coming from the shadows and could be dismissed as idle curiosity of Jesus’ practice. Here, there is no such attempt at subtlety. Their opposition is overt and emphatic. Again, they do not care if Jesus is who He claims to be. They are now card-carrying members of the anti-Jesus (or antichrist) party. 


It must be pointed out that neither of these two parties, the crowds and the Pharisees, are followers of Jesus. While it is true that the crowds are impressed by Jesus, they stop short of following their marveling observations to its logical conclusion. They recognize that Jesus is something new and brings with Him new blessings. Yet, they prefer to stand from a distance and marvel. The Pharisees are clearly more overt in the opposition, but that does not place them at odds with the crowds. From this point forward, the Pharisees will be pushing their agenda in order to fully win the crowds over to their platform of anti-Christ.


To all of this we must realize that there was a third group present, a group that Matthew leaves in the shadows of his narrative. The disciples got up and followed Jesus from Matthew’s house (v. 19) and presumably followed Him back (v. 28). Matthew records neither their reaction nor their response to this miracle because they have already come to their conclusion about Jesus and have decided to follow Him. While the crowds and the Pharisees cannot be understood as saying the same things, they stand on the same side: those who fall short of confessing, trusting, and following Jesus. It makes little difference if one blasphemes, or one simply stands to the side and marvels without conviction. Both are something less than disciples and therefore fall short of following Jesus. After Jesus’ authority is boldly proclaimed and publicly proven, the vast majority of Galilee refuse to follow Jesus. Most marveled. Some slandered. Only a few, a very few, laid all aside to follow Jesus alone.

[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 403.

[2] The participle δαιμονιζόμενον is adverbial, modifying the implied verb of being (was) from the predicate adjective κωφὸν by explaining the reason or cause of the man’s muteness. Thus, ἄνθρωπον κωφὸν δαιμονιψόμενον means “a man who was mute because he was demon possessed.”

[3] Κωφός literally means “blunt tongue” and is used to describe both those who cannot speak (Hab. 2:18; Matt. 9:32, 33; 12:22; 15:30, 31; Lk. 1:22; 11:14) as well as those who cannot hear (Ex. 4:11; Lev. 19:14; Ps. 38:13; Is. 29:18; 35:5; 42:18, 19; 43:8; Matt. 11:5; Mk. 7:37; 9:25; Lk. 7:22). It is typical that those born deaf have trouble speaking clearly, yet this is not the case here as (1) the reason for the man’s muteness is attributed to demon possession and (2) once the demon is exorcised the man speaks (v. 33) without reference to his hearing.

[4] See Hendriksen’s list for these and additional observations (p. 436-7).

[5] Nolland, p. 403.

[6] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. 208.

[7] In order for δὲ to be considered contrastive (but), there must be a contrast. The Pharisees do not argue the point that nothing like this has been seen in Israel as the crowds have stated. Yet, they produce their own conclusion as to how Jesus was able to do what has never been seen. They are not contradicting the crowds, but attempting to convince the crowds of their own conclusions that explain the miracles. Therefore, the context suggests that δὲ is used as a simple conjunction introducing a related yet distinct clause.

[8] Matthew mentions the scribes in v. 3, those learned and school in Torah, yet it is a mistake to state that the scribes and Pharisees are one and the same. While there would certainly be some overlap between the two groups, they are treated separately by Matthew on several occasions. “Scribe” refers more to one’s training in the Law. “Pharisee” is more descriptive of one’s convictions, practice, and standing within the community.

[9] Nolland, p. 404.

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