The Girl Has Not Died But Sleeps

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesDr. Zodhiates continues his exegesis of the Gospel of Matthew.

[Matthew 9:18] An elder in the synagogue of Capernaum named Jairus (see Mark 5:22) came to Jesus on behalf of his daughter who had died. Like Nicodemus (John 3:1), he was a distinguished "ruler" (rchon [758]) devoted to Judaism and prominent in the synagogue.

Before the crowds and the critical Pharisees surrounding Jesus, Jairus boldly worshiped Christ. "Worshiped" is from the word proseknei, the imperfect tense of proskunéo  (4352), to fall prostate, from prs (4314), to; and kunéo  (n.f.), to kiss, to adore. The imperfect tense means the ruler continued to worship Jesus.

Although not everything Jesus taught was recorded, this sudden introduction shows that Jesus' words had produced faith in Jairus' heart that He could raise the dead. He loved his daughter and was grief-stricken over her loss and he had no doubt the Lord could raise her from the dead: "But come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live (from zo  [2198], to live)."

[19, 20] Jesus could have raised Jairus' daughter from a distance with a single word (Matt. 8:8, 16), but He decided to go to Jairus' house. As the Son of God, He was aware that along the way He would encounter "a woman who had been hemorrhaging (from haimorroéo  [131]) for twelve years" (a.t.).

The Old Testament taught that bodily issues were generally unclean. If clean persons touched unclean persons or things, they became unclean also. No wonder she came behind Jesus and only touched the hem of His outer garment (that is, His robe). No one but the Lord Himself could detect such faith in her heart, and absolutely nothing could make Him unclean, since He was innately pure. To the contrary, anything unclean that contacted Him was overwhelmingly cleansed:

[21, 22] Evidently, the woman knew who Jesus was: "If only I may touch (from hptomai [680], to touch) His garment, I shall be made whole (from so zo  [4982], to be saved)" (a.t.). The woman's faith was genuine and extensive; she believed she could be healed physically by merely touching Jesus' outer garment. Jesus understood her fear and comforted her. He did not attribute her healing to touching the hem of His garment but to the gift of faith He saw in her heart (Eph. 2:8). The aorist verb eso the  (from so zo , to save physically, spiritually, or both) in the expression, "the woman was saved" (a.t.), refers to the immediate healing, while the perfect tense of the same verb, séso ken, "your faith has saved you," stretches back to the woman's faith prior to the physical healing. So zo  is used frequently to refer to physical healing (Mark 5:23, 28, 34; Luke 7:50; 8:36, 48; John 11:12; Acts 4:9; James 5:15) as well as to the bestowal of eternal life (Matt. 18:11; Rom. 11:14; 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 7:25; James 1:21). The meaning of the verb can be determined from the contexts.

[23] By the time Jesus arrived at Jairus' house, "minstrels" (from aule te s [834], flute players) were playing inside in readiness for the funeral procession.

Reading this verse in conjunction with 2 Chronicles 35:25 and Jeremiah 9:17, 18; 48:36-38, we learn that from the earliest days mourning was accompanied by the music of pipes or flutes. The sorrow of death was commercialized early in Israel's history. Flute players and professional mourners were hired by the well-to-do, like Jairus. Yet even the poorest in Israel provided two flutes and a waiter during mourning. The waiter was usually a woman who attended to the visitors.

The crowd was "noisy" (from thorubéo  [2350], to disturb). The verb, used here for the first time in the New Testament, formally means to make noise-in the context, wailing or lamentation. The crowd was loud because the people were emotionally distraught over the death of one so young. But Jairus' daughter was probably a believer, having been brought up by a faithful father.

According to Luke 8:51, Jesus permitted only Peter, James, John, and the girl's parents to remain with him. From Luke 8:52 and the continuing narrative in Matthew, it seems that many people were in the house already.

[24] Planning to resurrect the girl but hindered by the crowd of unbelievers, Jesus dismissed them with a statement that generated ridicule: "Give place (anacho rete, the present active imperative of anacho réo  [402] from an [303], again; and cho réo  [5562], to space out, depart, withdraw), for the little girl did not die (from apothne sko  [599]) but sleeps" (a.t.)

When Jesus said that the girl was asleep, the crowd immediately "was ridiculing" (kategélo n, the imperfect tense of katagelo  [2606], to publicly mock, ridicule, scorn) Him. (This compound verb is used only in connection with this incident; see also Mark 5:40; Luke 8:53.) The crowd considered Christ's equating death with sleep to be ridiculous.

Jesus did not mean that the girl had not died physically, for she had, but the crowd misunderstood him. Only one meaning of the verb "died" makes sense in this context-the little girl did not die spiritually (eternal loss) but only slept (temporal rest) in death.

Before they entered the room where the body of the girl lay (Mark 5:39), Jesus attempted to comfort the girl's parents by saying that their daughter was asleep. Two verbs in Greek mean "to sleep": kathedo  and koimomai (2837). Both highlight the impermanence of the dissolution of body and soul prior to the Day of Judgment, as Acts 24:15 says, "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (cf. John 5:28, 29). The verb used here, kathedo , is also used in the Septuagint version of Daniel 12:2 to describe the pre-resurrection, temporary slumber of the physical bodies of both believers and unbelievers:

Kathedo  emphasizes lying down in sleep, being derived from kat (2596), an intensive, or kto  (2736), down; and hedo  (n.f.), to sleep. It is used for the first time in Matthew 8:24 when Jesus fell sound asleep in the midst of a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee. The second use of kathedo  is found here in verse 24.

The second verb for "sleep" (koimomai) is used more frequently to refer to the death of believers (Matt. 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 2 Pet. 3:4), which is why in modern Greek a cemetery is known as koime térion (n.f.), the place of sleep. Both kathedo  and koimomai probably encompass both the natural sleep of the body and the supernatural rest of a believer's spirit following physical death.

[25] So the crowd was "put forth" (from ekbllo  [1544], to eject, forcibly cast out. Their unbelief and ridicule made them spiritually unworthy to witness a resurrection. For the same reason, Jesus did not display His resurrected body to unbelievers.

Jesus, however, permitted the parents and His disciples (see v. 19) to witness the girl's resurrection (Mark 5:40). The miracle occurred at the touch of His hand. Luke the physician describes the event: "And her spirit (pnema [4151], the inner person that departs at death and continues on apart from the body; see 1 Thess. 5:23 and the author's book, Life After Death) came again, and she arose straightway; and he commanded to give her meat" (Luke 8:55).

The little girl was restored to her former state and arose. This was an earthly resurrection. The resurrection God promises us is not a restoration to the physical life as we now know it, but a qualitatively new state of being where spirit predominates in human personality, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. (See the author's exegetical study of 1 Cor. 15 entitled, Conquering the Fear of Death.)

[26] The "fame" (phe me  [5345], fame, report, news) of Jesus spread throughout all that land. This is the only fame worth spreading.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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