08.06.06 Mk. 5:35-43 (See also Mt. 9:23-26; Lk. 8:49-56) Capernaum
JAIRUS’ DAUGHTER RAISED
35 While He was still speaking, people came from the synagogue leader’s house and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher anymore?”
36 But when Jesus overheard what was said, He told the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” 37 He did not let anyone accompany Him except Peter, James, and John, James’s brother. 38 They came to the leader’s house, and He saw a commotion —people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”
40 They started laughing at Him, but He put them all outside. He took the child’s father, mother, and those who were with Him, and entered the place where the child was. 41 Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). 42 Immediately the girl got up and began to walk. (She was 12 years old.) At this they were utterly astounded. 43 Then He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this and said that she should be given something to eat.
08.06.06.Q1 Was the daughter of Jairus dead (Mk. 5:35; Lk. 8:49) or asleep (Mk. 5:39; Mt. 9:23; Lk. 9:52)?
The question arises not because there is a conflict in the Synoptics, but because Scripture recorded that it was the opinion of the people that she was dead. While the word “sleep” is often used as a metaphor for death, this interpretation was clearly eliminated by Jesus Himself. However, it can be assumed that the young girl was unconscious, in a coma, or near death. Jesus would have understood that she was not dead, but the people had no concept of someone being unconscious or in a coma. The passages read as follows:
Mk. 5:35 “Your daughter is dead.”
Mk. 5:39 “The child is not dead, but asleep.”
Mt. 9:24 “The girl isn’t dead, but sleeping.”
Lk. 8:52 “She is not dead but asleep.”
It was the Jewish belief that sleep was regarded as a kind of death, in which the soul leaves the body but returns to it on its waking. In addition, Mark 5:35 reflects the opinion of several men who presumed she was dead. The other references indicate that the girl was either unconscious or in a coma. If she was merely sleeping, no one would have called Jesus to wake her up. Being dead or near death were often deemed to be one and the same, especially since there was no basic medical knowledge, as is taken for granted today, to determine the difference. And even if the difference between these two states of being were known, there was no medical cure to improve the condition of the dying or near death patient. Whether the girl was clinically dead is hardly the question; rather, she had all appearances of death and was evidently close to it.
Matthew used the Greek word katheudein, (2518) which usually means natural sleep. However, the girl may have suffered a medical case of catalepsy, which is a condition in which the person’s body becomes stiff, ridged, and stops moving. The person remains rigid in whatever posture he or she was in at the time of suffering catalepsy and the ability to communicate is lost. It has all the signs of death, and is either a coma or close to being a coma. Throughout history, and even today, in most areas of the Middle East a person was buried on the day of death without embalming. Some excavated tombs have revealed some buried persons may have suffered from catalepsy, then woke up only to find no escape from the tomb. Jesus performed an incredible healing in the young child much to the astonishment of the people and the leader of the local synagogue. Nonetheless, there are three points to consider:
- To speak of death as sleep is an image common to all the Laws and cultures. Therefore, the reality of death in this case cannot be denied.
- Death is followed by a resurrection just as sleep is followed by an awakening.
- Jesus used the exact same Law when describing Lazarus in John 11:11. Possibly, to Him, both she and Lazarus were merely sleeping, since in Him there is no death.
Jairus was a synagogue ruler in Capernaum, a position that would have been comparable to today’s position of a senior pastor or rabbi. Most village and country synagogue rabbis honestly and sincerely cared for the spiritual well-being of their people. Unfortunately, while Jairus believed in Jesus, his fellow villagers were doubtful which is probably why Jesus eventually cursed the village.
“Peter, James, and John.” While Jesus had twelve disciples, He had an inner-circle of three who were particularly close to Him – Peter, James and his brother John. There is no reason given as to why they were chosen, but the three times when Jesus called them aside are as follows:
- With Jesus when the daughter of Jairus was raised to life
- At the Transfiguration
- During His agony in the garden
The close relationship Jesus had with them, particularly with Peter, made Peter’s denial during the Passion Week all the more dramatic.
“A commotion — people weeping and wailing loudly.” Grief was openly expressed with uncontrolled outbursts of crying and wailing. The term commotion (Gk. thorubeo, 2350) means to make an uproar, or to throw into confusion. Professional mourners were often a part of such an event. As stated previously (08.05.06), when there was a funeral, there were also flute players who played songs while professional mourners (Gk. sappedans) sang elegant songs of lament. A poor family had at least one woman mourner and a minimum of two flute players who played songs of lament as family and friends mourned their loss as stated in the Oral Law.
Rabbi Judah says, “Even the poorest man in Israel should not hire fewer than two flutes and one professional wailing woman.”
Mishnah, Ketuboth 4.4
So in this case the president of the local synagogue would probably have had a small band – not because he was wealthy – but because so many would contribute and share his sorrow. This cultural practice was not only among the Jewish people, but in neighboring cultures as well. For example, in the Roman world, when Emperor Claudius died, the wailing of the flute players and professional mourners were so loud that Seneca said that the emperor, although dead, probably heard them. The eerie sounds of uncontrollable wailing and emotionally charged shrieks by professional mourners will never be forgotten by any Westerner who hears them, including this writer.
“She was 12 years old.” This was an important year in the life of a Jewish girl and her family. It was the age of examination prior to becoming a daughter of the commandment at the age of 13 years and one day. She would be responsible for her own spiritual welfare. Then she would also be a candidate for marriage and a new family. The family and village not only mourned the loss of the young life, but also of the loss of a future family.
“At this they were utterly astounded.” The astonishment shook the community; not just because the young girl was instantly restored to life and health, but because everyone know that previously the prophets Elijah and Elisha had both restored dead children back to life (1 Kgs. 17:17-24; 2 Kgs. 4:18-37). Now the people of Capernaum realized that someone of prophetic magnitude was in their presence. Little wonder then, that when Capernaum and two other villages show little interest in the message of Jesus, that Jesus said they would be destroyed.
“No one should know about this.” This is an utterly amazing statement. Picture this: There is a crowd of people packed into the house of the president/ chief elder, the rosh hakkeneseth of the synagogue – the most important person in the community. His 12-year old daughter is in bed either dead or dying when Jesus and His disciples arrive. Everyone is weeping and singing mourning songs of lament. The air is tense with sorrow, because if she isn’t dead now, she soon will be. Then Jesus enters the room with her parents and His three inner most disciples – Peter, James and John, and the following steps occur:
- Upon entering the room He quieted everyone and said that girl was sleeping.
- He removed the paid professional mourners and others who ridiculed Him.
- He then uttered two Aramaic words Talitha koum!” meaning, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” She responds and gets up, completely healed.
- The family presented the girl to the waiting audience who cheer and express both excitement and joyful disbelief. The reputation of Jesus traveled far and wide.
- Then Jesus exits the room and tells the family, “No one should know about this!” Who was He kidding? How could anyone possibly be quiet about this incredible miracle? Why did He make this statement?
Jesus had a continuous serious problem: How could He communicate to the Jewish people that He was their Messiah without having them misinterpret Him and conclude that He was a political-messiah? This dilemma did not exist to the same intensity in Greek communities (i.e. Mk. 5:1-20). The miracle publicly demonstrated that Jesus had power over life and death. In their minds, only the Messiah could do such great works, so they were forced to ponder if Jesus really was the Messiah. He obviously challenged their preconceived ideas that the Messiah would destroy the Romans. He did not want to tell anyone that He was their Messiah. He wanted them to make that determination for themselves so that whatever their answer would be, they would take ownership of their final decision.
However, the people wanted the tyranny of Roman oppression to end and Israel to be restored to its glory days of King David. They would naturally expect that anyone who had power over life and death would most certainly also be able to bring Israel to international superpower status. However, that was not the intent of Jesus. He told them not to tell others of this great feat. When considering the great joy the people had over the second life of the twelve-year-old girl, and that Jesus could possibly be the one to bring Israel to its promised greatness, one must wonder why Jesus even bothered to tell these people to be quiet. In a culture where “next-to-nothing” brought excitement, this was ecstatic! The Living Word who once spoke the world into existence; formed man into the image of God; and breathed life into him, now restored life to the young girl.
There were three distinctly different reactions to this miracle; reactions that were repeated time and time again. Clearly the interpretation of what was seen and experienced is ultimately defined by the condition of the heart.
- The crowds were amazed and wondered what kind of man Jesus could be.
- The leading Pharisees were angered with great passion. They obviously could not deny the powers that Jesus had, so they attributed them to demonic forces.
- Another group simply could not reconcile their concept of the messiah to the words and actions of Jesus. Nearly everyone was expecting a military messiah, yet this Jesus did meet all of the messianic prophecies of Scripture. Making a decision was clearly difficult.
Finally, the question arises of how Jairus may have then interacted with his peers in other synagogues. Everyone had heard of the Jewish Jesus healing the Gentile centurion’s servant and the son of Herod’s court official. So why did Jairus wait until his daughter was near death to call Him? Was he worried about possible criticisms from the upper echelon Pharisees? This is a very strong possibility. However, when he realized he was about to lose a daughter, he was desperate enough to go to Jesus for help.
. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:177.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:345; Vine, “Asleep, Sleep.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:41.
. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/catalepsy. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
. Vine, “Ado.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:13.
. Mishnah, Ketuboth 4.4; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 168.
. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:629-30.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:344.
. Gilbrant, “Luke.” 265.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 188; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 118.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 191.
. See 12.03.01.Q1 “What ‘Messianic problems’ did the Jewish leaders have with Jesus?” and 12.03.01.A “Chart of Key Points of the Messianic Problems.” See also 02.03.09 “Messianic Expectations”; 05.04.02.Q1 “What were the Jewish expectations of the Messiah?” and Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, and Rebellions that Impacted the First Century Jewish World.”