A Strange Note in the Symphony: Jesus’ Secrets and the Summons to Seek

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith!” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus warned them sternly, “Be sure that no one finds out!” But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout that whole area. (Matthew 9:29-31)

Having challenged the blind men to a higher faith, Jesus heals them: he “opens their eyes.” It is the latest line of music in the song prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before:

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the parched ground will become a pool of water,
and the thirsty land springs of water. (Isaiah 35:5-7)

But a strange note sounds in the symphony. In what should be an incredibly joyful moment—“Our eyes are open! We can see!”—Jesus speaks, and he speaks sternly.

The Greek word used for “warned them sternly” is a strong, emotional word, indicating displeasure, even anger.

That’s strange enough, coming from Jesus—whose overall tone from Matthew 3 until now has been … authoritative, strong, but not angry.

(It makes one wonder if these men weren’t completely sincere. We’ll come back to that.)

But what he says is also strange:

“Be sure that no one finds out!”

What Is Happening Here?

I’ll lay my cards on the table right now: I don’t understand what’s happening in this story.

I’ve read it before, of course, many times, and I’ve never understood why Jesus would tell people, in the midst of his intensely public ministry, not to spread word of their healing. It just seems odd. But I’ve never thought too deeply about it.

I’ve had guesses. Maybe he was doing damage control—trying to keep the crowds to a manageable size. Maybe he was taking his own advice, a la Matthew 6:1: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them.”

Maybe—I think this one is more likely—he was trying to avoid a premature confrontation with the local powers. We know from Luke that Herod, the bloodthirsty local puppet king, eventually heard about Jesus’ miracles and wanted to see him perform one.

We also know that the more popular Jesus became, the more the Pharisees saw him as a rival, and their confrontations grew more and more heated as Jesus’ influence spread.

In the case of these blind men, a line from earlier in the story also indicates Jesus may have been avoiding bigger threats—namely, the threat of Rome. The blind men didn’t just call out “Teacher, please heal us.” They specifically identified Jesus as the “Son of David”—the coming Jewish king, the Messiah.

It was a treasonous thing to shout.

Psalm 2 is one of the great messianic texts in the Old Testament. It lays out the Jewish expectation for a future king who would rule the world:

Ask of Me,
and I will make the nations Your inheritance
and the ends of the earth Your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
You will shatter them like pottery.” (Psalm 2:8-9)

The blind men pointed to Jesus and yelled out that he was this prophesied future king. Under Roman rule, people were killed for claims like that. Crucified for them, in fact.

Text and Subtext

As I said … I don’t know what’s happening in this text. But I’m thinking more deeply about it.

I think Jesus is forestalling a conflict: with Herod, with the Pharisees, with Rome. In fact, that conflict would come, and it would end with crucifixion (and beyond). But for NOW, in this moment, it was too soon. He wasn’t ready for Herod to arrest him or for Rome to label him a revolutionary.

So he told the men to keep quiet.

But I still think there may be more happening in this scene.

The reason is the emotion in that strange Greek word translated “sternly warned”—that note of anger and antagonism when Jesus addresses two men he had just healed. I would expect him to treat them with joy and gentleness, not displeasure.

I wonder (this is total speculation now) if they weren’t sincere. If they had been sent by the Pharisees or some other group to get him into trouble, much like later individuals came to ask Jesus questions for the purpose of entrapping him.

I wonder if it means something that in the four gospels, the only other beings to openly proclaim that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of God” are demons. (Both “Messiah” and “Son of God” are Psalm 2 terms that equate to “Son of David” in the thinking of the day.)

Whenever the demons do this, Jesus tells them to shut up and casts them out. They proclaim the truth, but they seem to intend to hurt him with it.

It makes me wonder if all that ruckus out in the street—the blind men following Jesus and shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us” (not actually asking for healing, curiously enough)—was meant to cause trouble.

I’ve written about the story, up until now, as though the blind men were entirely sincere. But Jesus’ anger makes me wonder.

On the other hand, perhaps his anger was not at them at all. Perhaps they were sincere, but Jesus saw beyond them to a hand pulling strings, to a power (human or demonic) attempting to trap him in his own compassion, in his love for these men and his desire to help them.

In other words, maybe spiritual warfare is happening here.

This might be the more likely explanation. One of the only other places where this word is used is in John 11:33, where, at Lazarus’ graveside, Jesus sees the mourners and is “angry in his spirit and deeply moved.” That description is followed by one of the New Testament’s best-known statements: “Jesus wept.”

In that scene, Jesus is not angry with the mourners. He’s angry with death and the powers behind it. He weeps, and it’s warfare.

Keeping Jesus’ Secrets

Sincere or insincere, one thing is not in doubt: the blind men chose not to keep his secrets. After Jesus’ stern warning, Matthew says:

But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout that whole area.

Maybe not coincidentally, the very next encounter in Matthew 9 involves both a demon and Pharisees. The conflict heated up. The final confrontation drew that much closer. And the crowds grew.

Having healed them, Jesus invited the blind men into a personal trust. He asked them to keep a secret with him—to honor him by protecting him, by guarding the dangerous truth they knew. They wouldn’t do it.

There’s something heartbreaking about that.

Summoned to Seek

I say all of this to say: many of us are familiar with the text of the Scriptures. And many of us settle there, unaccustomed to looking deeper.

Sometimes our desire to honor the Bible’s authority, to “just believe” what it says actually prevents us from digging, from seeking to understand the meaning beneath and above and around and through the meaning—subtext and context, everything giving meaning to the text.

Jesus was clear from the very start of his ministry that casual onlookers would not be gifted with the “pearls” of the kingdom. Those are reserved for those who seek. (See Matthew 7:6-8.)

When things in the Bible seem odd, we are meant to ask questions. We are meant to wonder.

We are summoned to seek.

We may not find many answers at first, but we will encounter deeper mysteries and learn to ask better questions. We’ll start to see Jesus for who he is. We’ll uncover secrets and enter into trusts.

The Bible invites us into all of this. It invites us—even urges us—to ask questions. Dig deeper. Wonder. Knock.

Unlike the blind men, we are not under orders to keep Jesus’ identity secret (the opposite, in fact).

But like them, we are invited to treat the “pearls” of the kingdom with honor. To respect them, to answer the summons and give truth the effort it deserves. We are invited to walk in good faith with Jesus, to join him in his kingdom mission rather than taking what he gives us, running away, and misusing God’s goodness for our own ends.

I may never really know what’s happening in this story.

But its strange notes have reminded me—again—to seek.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 132 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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2 responses to “A Strange Note in the Symphony: Jesus’ Secrets and the Summons to Seek”

  1. Michele Avatar

    This is such an interesting take on a question I’ve also pondered quite a bit… It really does make more sense than any I’ve heard so far. I also appreciate the reminder to dig deep. A year or so ago a Canadian couple joined our international Bible study in Kathmandu for a month and, as we were transitioning between studies, offered to teach us the ‘manuscript method’ they use in campus ministry. A couple of us were familiar with inductive studies, but I thought it would be great for the others to learn and was eager to see a variation of it I hadn’t seen and to let some one else lead/teach. It went well overall, but I did see that if anyone had a different take than what these leaders were after, they’d “correct” it even if there was no more evidence for their view (in my opinion anyway) than the new one. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a clear illustration of our tendency to want to cling to certain answers and interpretations that those teaching inductive study would be so quick to do so. It feels safer, I guess. Thanks for taking the time to ponder this one right out of the box(es) and share your thoughts!

    1. Rachel Avatar

      You’re welcome! I love to do it … I do find it interesting how we default to the “right” answers according to our upbringing, sometimes to the detriment of actually seeing the Scriptures. That’s kinda been a lifelong journey for me!

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