Mark 5:21-43, God’s Faithfulness to Israel

[May 30, 2010] Today we conclude the series of stories in Mark 4—5 that depict the response to the coming of the Gospel in Jesus. These stories are sandwiched—or “framed”—between the incomprehension of His own in 3:20-21 (and the rejection by the Jerusalem scribes and the singling out of His true family in 3:22-35) and the unbelief of His own in 6:1-6a.

In 4:1-34 Jesus teaches and in 4:35-5:43 He performs acts of power. In His teaching He depicts the course of the Gospel—the “Word”—as seed sown originally by Jesus who announced His own coming (the “Gospel”) and then by His disciples after Him (that is, the church). Then in His acts of power we see enacted in real events (seen by eyewitnesses) further parables of the course of the Gospel after Jesus’ departure.

The contextual interpretation of these events in Mark corresponds to their meaning in Matthew and Luke. In the first story the disciples set out to cross the “sea” and a great windstorm threatens to swamp their boat. This is a picture of the resistance the church faced when it first attempted to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. When they crossed the sea and put foot on the Gentile shore, a man possessed by a legion of demons is delivered but the people are frightened and ask Jesus to leave. This is a picture of Gentiles being delivered from the idolatrous powers that rule the Gentile world and the resistance of the Gentile world to this intrusion.

In the final story, Jesus returns to the Jewish shore and three things are related: the ruler of the synagogue calls on Jesus to save His dying daughter, a bleeding (and hence “unclean”) woman is healed by touching Jesus, and Jesus arrives at the home of the ruler of the synagogue and raises his daughter from the dead. This story depicts the salvation of Israel: the “synagogue” prays for the coming of the Messiah that, by His “touch,” Israel (the “daughter of Zion”) may at last be saved. The woman who “touches” Jesus in the press of the crowd as He is on His way to Israel: she represents the “remnant [of Israel] according to the selection of grace” (Romans 11:5, 7). She touches the Messiah by faith while He is yet on His way to Israel. That is, she represents the Jews who believe now, in the time of the church. Jesus’ arrival at the house (the house of Israel) represents His second coming. He takes hold of the dead child’s hand and raises her from the dead. The promises of God given in Deuteronomy and the writings of the prophets are at last fulfilled, and the raised girl is given something to eat—alluding to the restoration of the land.

This is not a “dispensational” interpretation. According to the teaching of the dispensationalists, the “dispensation” of the Law ends with the first coming of the Messiah and resumes when He returns. This is mistaken for the dispensation of the Law never ends. The view that it ends has led Gentile Christians to imagine that God’s relationship to Israel is—at least temporarily—suspended. This is not so. Israel’s relationship to God as it was defined by the prophets of Israel continues without interruption to the present time. The only difference—which is not an insignificant one!—is that the Messiah has come. The Messiah has come, but in humility, to offer atonement, not in glory. The time for the kingdom of God to be manifested—when God’s promises to Israel would be fulfilled—has not arrived. Israel continues to wait. Nor has the Law been suspended—though its conditions change. What the apostles taught is that the Law (the Halakah) does not apply to Gentiles, not even to the Gentiles who believe in the Messiah, at least not in the same way that it applies to Jews (the Messiah into whom they believe, by utter His faithfulness to Torah, fulfills it on their behalf). The Old Testament is not over and Christians who dismiss it are treading in heresy. It is “old” only in relation to the newness of the coming of the Messiah. That the Messiah has come changes things, absolutely, but not everything. The Messiah, by fulfilling the Torah, fulfills God’s relationship to Israel through the Torah, but He does not end it. He is the end (the telos) of the Law (Romans 10:4) in the sense that by His particular faithfulness He is its target, purpose, meaning and fulfillment. But He has not yet come in glory. Israel and the Gentile believers with them are still outwardly under the judgment of God that lies on the world.

Jairus’ Plea: Calling on the Name of the Lord (Mark 5:21-24a)

While Jairus, as one of the rulers of the synagogue, represents the synagogue community in the above interpretation, and His plea for his daughter represents their plea for Israel, and therefore he stands for Israel’s hope for the Messiah to come, he also is a picture of everyone who needs the Savior.

Though it is the work of the Holy Spirit within a person, it is by calling on the name of the Lord that we are saved (Acts 2:21). The Torah, around which the life of the synagogue revolved, demonstrates our involvement in sin and our need for salvation (as Paul shows in Romans). We are at the point of death spiritually, and unless touches and heals us, we have no hope. Jairus in this way is identified with his daughter and his plea for her is a plea for himself. The Scriptures, and Jesus Himself as He to whom the Scriptures bear witness, exposes our sinfulness—when by God’s grace we see ourselves in its light. When our eyes are opened, we see ourselves as hopeless. We cannot save ourselves. Unless God directly helps us, lays His hands on us as it were, we cannot be healed and live.

God is immanent and closer to us than our own breath, yet in the isolation of our soulishness, God who is absolutely other than us and utterly transcendent. For God to touch us requires the Incarnation. When we call upon God to save us, we are asking for what Jesus is in His coming, we are asking for that which the Gospel announces. Jairus cries out to Christ to save him.

The Hemorrhaging Woman: Touching Jesus by Faith (5:24b-34)

The woman with the flow of blood approaches Jesus in the crowd. She has been losing blood for years. Blood speaks of the soul (as breath speaks of spirit), and the loss of blood represents the dying of the soul. The number twelve, aside from its association with Israel, also represents the government of God, and it is under the government of God, the judgment of God, that she has been dying. The flow of blood also makes her ritually unclean according to the Torah. She is unclean and everything she touches is unclean. The dying of our soul under the judgment of God (the soul that sins shall die) makes us “unclean.” Moreover, the woman “suffered much under many physicians and had spent everything she had and had not benefited at all, but rather became worse.” She had tried one remedy after another but had only exhausted all her resources and made herself worse. What better describes the condition of the human soul?

In relation to God we are dying and getting worse. We know it too and seek one solution after another. What will fulfill us? What will give us more “life”? In the end we are exhausted, and unfortunately we often give up any hope. We my resign ourselves to the human condition or become cynical.

Thus the woman represents our own condition in relation to God. Like Jairus’ daughter, we are in need of salvation. When in the text Jesus calls the woman “daughter,” a verbal link is made with Jairus’ daughter.

Having heard of Jesus, she approaches Him. Her hope is revived. She knows that if she could just touch His garment, she would be healed. She pushes her way through the crowd and does so, and immediately her bleeding stops and she knows in her body that she is healed.

When the grace of God works in our lives, we learn of Jesus through the Gospel and realize that He can save us. Only we need to cut through the crowd that presses against Him. The crowd of Christians is often so distracting and so offensive that it seems impossible to get to Jesus. Apart from the grace of God we may turn away disgusted. Our past experience with “doctors” may leave us so cynical that we do not even give Jesus a chance. Instead of seeing Him, we see images of Jesus presented by the crowd that surrounds Him. The current models of Jesus presented by the latest fashions of liberal exegesis are such images and so also are the latest fabrications of the fundamentalists. These—and others—are the crowd that blocks our way to Jesus. They are all “touching” Jesus, as His disciples say: “You see the crowd pressing upon You.” But from Jesus’ own perspective, none of them are touching Him. Only this woman touched Him.

This touch is the touch of faith. “Your faith has healed you,” Jesus says. Faith is the result of the grace of God that overcomes all obstacles and that gives us a true vision of Jesus, a light in our spirit that is true. However vague to the mind, there is a taste of something authentic, of reality, which grows as the Gospel becomes comprehensible to us and we cut through all the false images that crowd Him. It takes courage to approach Him, because of the crowd, and your growing awareness of just how “unclean” you are. We “touch” Him, reaching out, knowing that if we do, He can somehow save us.

When she touches Him, she knows in herself that something has happened. And then she also becomes aware of His look. She has not just touched Him but He has noticed her. She is frightened and trembles when she realizes that she had touched His reality. It is His Person that she has touched and which heals her, and therefore she cannot avoid His gaze. He looks for her and they are face to face. This is what our touching Him by faith brings us to—a personal encounter with Him. She has touched Him, by faith, but in this personal encounter with results from that touch, He addresses her. “Daughter,” He calls her with endearment. “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be well.” By that address we are set at peace to enjoy the wellness that He brings us.

Symbolically, she is freed from the judgment of God (the bleeding away of her soul) and the uncleanness of her guilt is taken away. This follows our calling upon the Lord (what Jairus represents). What follow is the impartation of new life (regeneration).

Life that Overcomes Death (5:35-43)

Messengers come to inform Jairus that his daughter is dead. She is beyond hope—for that is what death represents—and therefore he should no longer bother Jesus. This loss of hope creates fear, as Jesus recognizes when He tells Jairus not to fear. The loss of hope is confirmed by the people in the house who can only laugh scornfully at Jesus when He suggests that all is not over, “she is sleeping.”

This takes us a step further. Not only are we at the point of death (before), and under the judgment of God (the hemorrhaging woman), but we are dead in our offenses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). On our side we have no relationship to God, so though our spirit still sustains our body, it is dead towards God. The death of our bodies becomes utterly frightful in view of this other, interior death.

Jesus tells Jairus, “Only believe,” for he has to believe in spite of the conviction of those around him that he is wasting his time. But Jesus sustains His faith by His presence and accompaniment. He enters the house and evicts those who cannot believe, and in the presence of Jairus and his wife and three of his disciples, He raises the child with a word. “My words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63). Through His word the Holy Spirit imparts life, that is, the gift of eternal life, which is Jesus’ own life, the life that overcomes death. It is, of course, impossible for Jesus to raise the dead girl to life. Yet He does so in any case with the same power that will raise His own body from the dead. Of course this resurrection is not the same as His own, for the girl will die again. The kingdom has not yet come, only the foretaste of it.

The raising of the dead girl is a picture of what happens when we believe. Not only are our sins forgiven. The forgiveness of our sins clears the space, as it were, for us to receive the gift of eternal life. Apart from the forgiveness of our sins, we would not be able to receive such a gift. This gift of life, however, is more than the promise of an everlasting afterlife. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit of God, whereby Christ Himself dwells in us as our own life now.

We are regenerated through the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3) for we who were dead in offenses were made alive together with Christ in His resurrection through faith which is of the operation of God (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 2:5-6). When we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe, we are identified with Christ—in His death and resurrection—by our coinhering union with Him. The eternal life of God, which we receive as the gift of the Holy Spirit, is the divinizing life that raised the humanity of Jesus from the grave. This divinized humanity dwells in us through the Holy Spirit and is the seed that begins to transform our own humanity with a view to the coming of the kingdom.

When we believe, the Word of Christ that addresses us (as it did the woman who was healed of her blessing) raises us from the dead. We become alive to God with a life that overcomes the power of death at work in us.


Salvation is depicted in this three-part story. (1) By God’s grace and His Word we become aware of our condition and call upon the Lord. (2) We touch Him by faith, and as we receive the forgiveness of sins we enter into a personal encounter with Christ who gives us peace. (3) As He addresses us, we receive new life, His own life, which overcomes our deadness. Thanks be to God!

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