Mark 1:40-45


The parallel accounts are found at Matthew 8:2-4 and Luke 5:12-16. It is clear that Luke does not give us the chronological order of events. In our day many scholars think that Mark gives us the chronological order of events. In former generations it was thought that Matthew, at this point, gives us the chronological order. Among them were Bengel, Ylvisaker and Lenski. Among those who favor the Markan order are Robertson and Hendriksen. If Matthew gives us the chronological order, the healing of this leper took place immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, on the previous day, a Sabbath. Bengel was of the opinion that this leper heard the Sermon on the Mount from a distance. At this point in the Galilean Ministry it is often quite difficult to establish the chronological order of events. Gospel harmonists, especially those who follow the Matthaean order, differ among themselves as to the order of events. These matters do not affect doctrine, so long as we consider each Gospel truly historical and inspired.

On Leprosy: For a full discussion, see Fahling, pp. 223-226, or Ylvisaker, p. 295, or any good Bible Dictionary. We glean a few remarks from the commentaries here:

Fahling: The disease mentioned in Scripture seems to have been curable, whereas the leprosy of the Greeks was not, except in the early stages. . . . Even today the name of this dreadful scourge of the Eastern world strikes terror into our hearts. . . In the Old Testament it first appears as a sign given by God to Moses (Exodus 6:4), but shortly afterwards the sister of Moses, Miriam, was stricken with it (Numbers 12:13). In the Mosaic Law definite rules for its recognition, the preliminary quarantine period, and ceremonial methods of cleansing are given (Leviticus 13 and 14). . . (it is) a deep-seated malady. . . . Among the Jews those afflicted with leprosy were shunned by their fellow-men.
Ylvisaker: The malady attacked one member after the other, and finally the very bones were consumed. It was attended by a burning fever, sleeplessness and nightmares, without much hope of eventual recovery.
Stoeckhardt: Leprosy was a widespread, ugly, very contagious skin disease in the Orient. The real leprosy was considered incurable.
Bengel: The most grievous diseases were leprosy, paralysis and fever.

Instances of curing all three are found in Mark 1. Isaiah 53:3 reads: "Surely our grief (or sickness) He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried." And Isaiah 53:6: "The Lord had caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."  (NASB ). Sin, sinfulness,death, sickness and grief are the just consequences of the fall of man. Mark 1 clearly shows that Jesus came to take sin, death and all the consequences of sin upon Himself. As Matthew 8:17 says: "Matthew 8:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" 

Jesus never refused to heal a sick person. He did not heal every case of sickness in Israel. Nor does He remove all sickness today. But His Word and miracles clearly tell us that He vicariously took all upon Himself and appeased the just wrath of God toward man.

Mark 1:40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." 

Those who follow the historical order of Matthew, (see Matthew 8:1) say that Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. If that is so, this leper must have pushed his way through the crowd, a most exceptional thing.

The verb is attended by three participles: "beseeching, kneeling, saying." These participles clearly show that this leper believed in Jesus. How he came to faith in Him we do not know. Now follows a conditional sentence: "If it is your will, you are able to heal me." 

Ylvisaker: With these words, the sick man makes a twofold confession: he admits his absolute unworthiness and his childlike, trusting faith. . . With him it is not a question whether Jesus is ABLE but whether He has the WILL.
Luther: The leper teaches us how we should believe and pray especially in our bodily needs. . . This is called the right prayer in such matters, namely to believe that God can help, and yet not to set for Him the time, measure, or goal, how and when He should help us.
Lenski: In this he is not voicing doubt in regard to the will of Jesus, but his own humble submission to Jesus. He leaves his healing to the will of Jesus, if in his superior counsel, it be, indeed best to grant him healing.
Luke 5:12 informs us that the man was "full of leprosy," an advanced case of leprosy. He must have been a pitiful and ugly sight. The author of these  Notes  saw cases of advanced, incurable cases of leprosy in Nigeria. It is an unforgettable experience which makes one weep in compassion for these poor victims.

Mark 1:41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 

"Filled with compassion" denotes Jesus' condition of deep sympathy. In its various forms (twelve times in the Gospels) this verb always denotes Jesus' vicarious compassion, treating the victim as if the sin or sickness were His very own. It is not used of the sympathy of Christians toward other people. (In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15, it pictures the compassion of God toward the repentant sinner.) We can sympathize but we cannot have compassion in the sense in which Jesus did, because we cannot vicariously take to ourselves the sins and sickness of mankind the way Jesus did.

Ylvisaker: As a rule, the lepers lived in colonies at specified distances from settled communities (2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12) . . As Levitically unclean, the leper was excluded from the Church. . . The kindly concern of Jesus is a striking contrast to the extrusion of the populace. Holy purity is not too pure to enter into intimate contact with the most putrid impurity, and the latter must yield. In the Old Testament Church, the pure became unclean through contact with the unclean. Christ, the Founder of the New Testament Church, makes the impure pure through His touch.

Exactly. The fact that the man did not object to Jesus' touch proves his faith in Jesus. The impurity of the leper did not make Jesus impure (as was the situation in all other cases) but the purity of Jesus purified the impurity of the leper.

Stoeckhardt: Already with this external gesture (of stretching out His hand and touching him) Jesus shows that He wanted to extend His help to him.

Jesus said to him: "It is My will, be cleansed." 

Bengel: A prompt echo to the matured faith of the leper. The very prayer of the leper contained the words of the desired reply.
Hendriksen: Here the WILL joins the POWER, and the subtraction of 'if' conjoined with the addition of 'be cleansed' transforms a condition of hideous disease into one of hardy health.

It's as if Jesus says: "Of course it's My will. Be cleansed." He was truly compassionate. 2 Kings 5:14 tells us that Naaman's flesh was restored like the flesh of a child. After Job's affliction we are told (42:10) that "the Lord increased all that Job had twofold." The expression "much more" found at Rom 5: 15 and 17 informs us that in Christ we have regained more than we lost through the sin of Adam.

Mark 1:42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Note "immediately" again, so frequent in Mark, especially in this chapter. Immediately two things happened: the leprosy left the man and he was cleansed, the first stated negatively and the second positively. These two verbs are instances of what is called the effective aorist. Jesus' healing was immediate. Think of Peter's mother-in-law, the paralytic, the man with the withered hand and the demoniacs.

Hendriksen: Let the healers of today imitate this! Let them cure every illness immediately.
Lenski: Here is one of the plain evidences of Inspiration. No ordinary writer of any age, left to himself, would be satisfied with such brevity. . . The flesh that was eaten away, the finger and the toe joints that had dropped off, the raw sores that were spreading over the body, were instantly restored sound and whole.

The evolutionist denies the power of the Word of God when he says that God simply could not have created the universe in six days. Even Christians are sometimes amazed at how quickly God answers prayer. See Acts 12: 13-16 and Isaiah 65:24. Above all we must remember that when we hear the Gospel we have God's immediate assurance that He has cast our sins into the depths of the sea.

Mark 1:43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:

"Strong warning" etymologically means "to snort," the snorting of a spirited horse. In humans it denotes strong emotion of one sort or another. Here "after He sternly warned him." The substance of the stern warning is given in verse 44.

Lenski: The change is marked: first the tenderest compassion, then the sternest tone of voice.
Hendriksen: Jesus does not want the man to publicize how and by whom he was cleansed.

"Dismissed" is another strong verb. He dismissed him for two reasons as the next verse plainly shows. Jesus was not a sentimentalist Who stood around and talked about what He had just done. How often did He not tell the person, healed either in soul or body, to go! Cf. John 8:11; Luke 7:49; 17:19. Furthermore, He had much work to do.

Mark 1:44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 

Note the double negative in the prohibition. The sense is: "See to it that you say absolutely nothing to anyone about this." Why did Jesus make this prohibition? Stoeckhardt thought that Jesus meant that the cleansed leper should silently reflect on the wonderful work of God.

Ylvisaker: Jesus would have him reflect quietly upon the divine miracle of grace which he had experienced and refrain from much speech in order that the picture might not be effaced from his mind.

Farrar thought that Jesus meant to avoid the excitement and tumult of the already over excited multitudes of Galilee. These  Notes  espouse the explanation of Fahling, which is stated in the form of a question:

Or was it, as seems most likely, the desire to discourage any publicity which might lead to a false conception of His Messianic work, of the purpose for which He had come into the world?

This seems to be the correct explanation. So far as we know, Jesus never forbade anyone, whose sins had just been forgiven, to be silent about it. He wanted to be known as the Savior of men's souls. But often, when He healed men's bodies, He told them not to publicize it, lest they consider Him the founder of a mere earthly and fleshly kingdom. Bengel and Lenski have another explanation, which these  Notes  reject.

Lenski: The haste and the stern orders with which Jesus sends the man away have only one explanation: the news of how this man got rid of his leprosy was not to reach the priests in Jerusalem until in all due legal form they have pronounced him clean of leprosy. The priest to whom he will present himself is not to know the man's story until afterwards. It is a mistake to claim that the leper might present himself for examination to a priest anywhere, in this case at Nazareth, where a number of priests are said to have resided at this time. . . It must be drawn from 'the priest' who represented the class hostile to Jesus in the capital city. To them Jesus sends this man as a living testimony. . . Then they (the priests) finally learn this man's story, after they themselves have officially pronounced him clean, they will have a new testimony regarding the Messiah whom they reject, a testimony backed by their own finding.

These  Notes  consider the explanation of Bengel and Lenski oversubtle. As stated above, the prohibition not to tell anyone was made so that people, in their excitement, would not be misled as to the true purpose for which Jesus came.

Consult Leviticus 13:49 and 14:2-4 for the meaning of this verse. Only a priest could declare a former leper, now cleansed, as officially clean. Here two things are very clear:

  1. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Levitical Priesthood but was not identified with it. He was of the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:13) and was an eternal High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4 ). While on earth He did not arrogate to Himself the duties of the Levitical Priesthood;

  2. Jesus never departed from the Word of God, the Old Testament. He violated no laws of God. Just because the Messiah had cleansed this leper was no reason for Jesus to disregard what the Old Testament said. Only a Levitical Priest could declare a healed leper clean.

By the way, so far as we know, it was a rare instance in which this happened. Therefore, all so much the more Jesus stuck by what the Old Testament said.

AAT translates: "to show them you're well." RSV reads: "for a proof to the people." TEV has: "to prove to everyone that you are now clean." LB reads:  "so that everyone will have proof that you are well again." JB and NEB omit "to them" in translation. As noted above, Bengel and Lenski were of the opinion that "to them" is limited to the priests. That can hardly be. The injunctions at Leviticus 13:49 and 14:2-4 clearly show that the priests were the representatives of the people before God. If and when a leper somehow overcame his leprosy, he went to a priest and showed himself to the priest. But he had to offer sacrifices before the priest, who already had evidence that the leprosy was gone, would and could declare the individual clean so that the people would no longer consider him a leper and would receive him back into society. In other words, Jesus said this to the man for his own sake not just for the sake of the priests. The text does not say that he did not go to the priest. Evidently he did, whether to a local priest or to Jerusalem. Commentators are divided as to where he went but that is beside the point here.

Mark 1:45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Hendriksen: (Perhaps too harsh when he says) In verse 40 we saw the leper at his best. Now, in verse 45, we see him at his worst. By this act of inexcusable disobedience he deprived many towns of the blessings that might have come their way if Jesus could have entered.
Lenski: (Perhaps is more understanding) Despite all the severity with which Jesus had charged the man, he did not obey. This at first seems strange, when we recall the humility with which he came seeking help from Jesus. And yet psychologically it is natural enough. His sudden return from the living death of leprosy to new life and perfect health carried him away.
Fahling: It seems that the leper complied with that part of the Lord's direction which concerned his purification and social rehabilitation, but in respect to the command of silence he used his own mistaken judgment. . . The result was that the Lord's work was retarded on account of the man's well-meant disobedience.

That pretty well says it. "Well meant disobedience" by no means excuses the man. He disobeyed. And it is clear from the text that Jesus could not work openly in the city simply because the populace became over excited. When Christians lose control over their emotions with the result that the work of the Kingdom is impeded, a bad situation results.

"News" in this verse does not mean the Gospel, but simply the account of what had happened. Jesus was forced to limit His activities to unpopulated areas.

Fahling: And still they came to Him from every quarter.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 43-46. Used with permission.

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