In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus came to Bethsaida, a town on the northeast coast of Galilee. Some people brought Him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus led the blind man by the hand outside of the city limits. Jesus would isolate the one to whom He was ministering if surrounded by unbelief, especially noteworthy in the case of raising Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:40; Luke 8:54). Peter followed this example when raising Tabitha from death in Acts 9:40.
When Jesus and the man were outside of the city, Mark 8:23 says Jesus “spit on his eyes.” The belief in the culture at that time was that even the spittle of a holy man was holy. It is not known whether Jesus actually spit in his eyes or made clay, as in John 9:6 “…He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.” Either way, although perhaps offensive in modern times, it was completely acceptable in Bible times.
“And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see men like trees, walking.’ Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, ‘Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.’”
Jesus always required believing on the part of those receiving healing. The only exceptions were dead people, demented people or small children incapable of faith. “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” (Matthew 8:13) “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28) Whenever someone was capable, Jesus demanded their faith. In the case of the blind man outside of Bethsaida, his restoration was progressive. At first, the man could see images, but not clearly. Some have wrongly thought that Jesus’ healing power was deficient. The burden of faith was on the man, not Jesus. When the man saw “men like trees, walking,” he must have been thrilled to think that he could actually see again. All it took was one more touch from the Master, and “he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” The word restored means to be put back into a former state, and often, the healings of blind people were restorative healings. They had been born with vision, but had lost it for various reasons, and when they came to Jesus, they had faith to recover their sight. One clear exception in the Bible is the healing of the man born blind detailed in John chapter 9.
This healing ends in a peculiar way. Jesus instructed the man not to go into town or tell anyone in Bethsaida. John 1:44 states that “Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” However, in Mark 1, when Jesus comes to Capernaum, in 1:29, “Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” As the exact location of the Biblical Bethsaida has been a question among scholars for centuries, either the Bethsaida spoken of was very close to Capernaum, or Peter and Andrew moved there after growing up in Bethsaida. Whatever the explanation, by the time the blind man was healed, Bethsaida’s people had hardened their hearts against Jesus, so much so that it would have been futile for the man to return and share his healing miracle with the townspeople. Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13 both record Jesus’ warning and rebuke to the cities that had experienced His presence and power, yet had denied Him. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” The blind man who was healed that day may have been the last one of Bethsaida to be included in God’s blessing.