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Did the Jewish People of Jesus' Day Expect a Healing Messiah?


A question was recently submitted to the GK Podcast Network for inclusion on the Ask Dr. Mike live show. Here is a shortened version of the question.


In Matthew, the sick and even the healthy expect the Son of David to be a healer. It's not clear to me why the 1st century Jews would have expected the Son of David (which I interpret to be the Messiah/Anointed One/Rightful King) to be e healer from reading the OT.

What follows is my response to this question.


One of the most well-known passages in Scripture related to Jesus the Messiah as healer is found in Matthew 11. Here we see Jesus’ response to disciples of John the Baptist who had sent them to ask Jesus if He was indeed the promised Messiah.

1When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed

from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his

disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone

else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and

see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf

hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And

blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”


What instruction was Matthew speaking of? We have to read Chapter 10 to learn what those instructions are.


1Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits,

to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way

of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost

sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of

heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out

demons. Freely you received, freely give.


In attempting to answer this question concerning Jewish thinking about the relationship between Messiah and healing within the title “Son of David,” most Bible students point to Isaiah 61:1-3 which reads:


1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.


I think Matthew in particular uses “Son of David” and links this Messianic title to Jesus because that was the expectation of the Jews in that day. This is another example of the importance of studying the Hebrew Scriptures. The misnomer “Old Testament” implies that the Apostolic Scriptures have superseded the Hebrew Scriptures and that simply is not true.

The Hebrew Scriptures are given for our learning. I have reminded people many times that the Hebrew Scriptures explain the Apostolic Scriptures. Without a firm understanding of the types, symbols, shadows, of the Hebrew Scriptures, you will not come to a full understanding of the New Testament.


Matthew’s Gospel, in particular, uses a phrase repeatedly – “this was said/or done so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” Matthew was a Jew writing to the Jews making his defense of Jesus’ Messiahship and he presented his case via prophecy fulfilled in and by Jesus.

Now, I believe that the basis for Matthew’s presentation of the “Son of David” as healer is based on Ezekiel 34[1], the so-called “Davidic Shepherd” found described there. Here is what verses 1-24 say.


1Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy against

the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord

God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the

shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool,

you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have

not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound

up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with

force and with severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a

shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My

flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was

scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for

them.”’”


Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: “As I live,” declares the

Lord God, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become

food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not

search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My

flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 ‘Thus says the

Lord God, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from

them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed

themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be

food for them.”’”


11 For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek

them out. 12 As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his

scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to

which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. 13 I will bring them out from

the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I

will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited

places of the land. 14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will

be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down on good grazing ground

and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock and I

will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God. 16 “I will seek the lost, bring back the

scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will

destroy. I will feed them with judgment.


17 “As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will judge between

one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. 18 Is it too slight a

thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with

your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that

you must foul the rest with your feet? 19 As for My flock, they must eat what you tread

down with your feet and drink what you foul with your feet!’” 20 Therefore, thus says the

Lord God to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean

sheep. 21 Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak

with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, 22 therefore, I will deliver My

flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and

another. 23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed

them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their

God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.


So, Matthew in his opening statement of his Gospel, verse 1 says this: “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.” This single statement alerted every Jewish reader of Matthew’s intent. He would present his case for why Jesus the Messiah is the expected healer of Israel. He emphasizes that in 1:17 when he summarizes the generations by mentioning David twice. The message is clear – Jesus is the expected “son of David.”


We find another clue in Matthew 2 where we read this in verses 1-6.


1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi

from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of

the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When

Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering

together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where

the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is

what has been written by the prophet; ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no

means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who

will shepherd My people Israel.’”


Verse 6 is a quotation from Micah 5:2. Thus, again, we see the shepherd motif that carries the idea of care, nurture, and certainly, protection and healing brought forth from the Hebrew Scriptures in Matthew’s Gospel. This is the foundation of Matthew’s appeal to Jesus as “son of David” and Jesus’ healing ministry.


There are twenty-eight miracles recorded by Matthew, and of these eight are general statements of healing, and twenty are specific narratives of miracles. Of the twenty narratives of miracles, fourteen are specifically healing. Within these narratives Matthew uses “son of God” once, “son of man” once, “Lord” three times, and “son of David” four times (9:27-31; 12:22-23; 15:21-28; 20:29-34).


Now, I want to call your attention to a statement that Jesus made as part of a longer narrative as recorded by Matthew in 9:27-38. I believe this has a direct bearing on everything I’ve already mentioned.


27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy

on us, Son of David!” 28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him,

and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him,

“Yes, Lord.” 29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according

to your faith.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See

that no one knows about this!” 31 But they went out and spread the news about Him

throughout all that land. 32 As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed

man was brought to Him. 33 After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and

the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in

Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the

demons.” 35 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their

synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of

disease and every kind of sickness. 36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for

them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are

few. 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His

harvest.”


The statement by Matthew in verse 35 is a summary of Jesus’ ministry as Messiah. Following that then is his statement of Jesus’ reaction to the people in verse 36. This then leads to Jesus’ response to the situation in verse 37-38. This is then followed by Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve to go throughout the land and heal in Chapter 10 that I’ve already read.


What is interesting about this passage is that (1) Israel was not shepherdless in a physical sense. The Pharisees are everywhere present in the Gospel. (2) Israel is not physically orphaned. Again, their religious leaders were always in every place Jesus went.


However, Matthew depicts Israel’s leaders as arrogant (9:11), heartless (9:13), fickle (11:16-19), unbelieving (12:38-39), and hypocritical (23:13-36). For those reasons and more, Israel was in reality orphaned with no shepherds. Therefore Jesus’ compassion for them was warranted.


Now, let’s jump to Matthew 12:22-28 where we find the next “son of David” title used.


22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and

He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed,

and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the

Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the

ruler of the demons.” 25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom

divided against itself is laid waste, and any city or house divided against itself will not

stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his

kingdom stand? 27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons

cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by

the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can anyone

enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the

strong man? And then he will plunder his house.


What we must understand here is that the Pharisee's attempt to tie Jesus’ healing powers to Satan is explosive. They went all in trying to destroy Jesus. Jesus’ response was that Israel was subjugated to Satan through the Pharisees and their equally evil cohorts the Sadducees, and was being liberated by and through His healing ministry. That’s the point of verse 29 – Jesus was breaking the stronghold of Satan on Israel.


There are a few more instances of Matthew utilizing “Son of David” in connection with Jesus’ healing, but I want to move on to bring this answer to a conclusion. Matthew in my opinion offers a strong argument for Jesus being the long-anticipated shepherd-king who was also a miraculous healer. Jesus cared for the weak, the diseased, the marginalized, and those especially who had been victims of the hard-heartedness of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus’ presentation as the “Son of David” is in direct contrast and juxtaposition to those leaders.


Now, how does that tie into the Hebrew Scriptures? That is where Ezekiel 34 comes in. There we find the condemnation of the false shepherds which in context refers to the entire ruling class, from Kings to religious leaders. Note verse 2 what the expectation was for these shepherds – take care of the flock. Then in verse 4 the specific expectations – strengthen the people (give them hope), heal the diseased, bind up the broken, rescue the scattered, seek those who have strayed.


Instead, notice in verse 4 that the shepherds of Israel have “with force and severity dominated them.” That means the people of God have been used for the selfish and cruel desires of the shepherds.


Then in verses 5-6 we see the results of the lack of a true shepherd for God’s people. They become scattered, in other words, dislodged from their brethren, incapable of defending themselves – they become food for wild beasts; meaning the wolves of prey will lead them astray into all forms of idolatry; they will be plundered, enslaved, and in need of deliverance.


Therefore God responds to the false shepherds in verses 10-16. He will replace the false shepherds and He will shepherd His people. Notice whom God appoints to do this in verses 23-24 – It is none other than Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the “Son of David.”


What we see is the unmistakable parallel between Matthew’s Gospel where the Son of David title is obvious and Ezekiel 34 where the healing ministry of the Messiah, the Son of David is affirmed.


The false shepherds of Jesus’ day were just as the false shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. God’s answer to both situations was the healing Messiah, the Son of David, and the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] See here https://www.jstor.org/stable/25442474?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents for a scholarly article on Ezekiel 34 and its relation to Matthew’s presentation of a healing Messiah.

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