Jesus Heals a Leper
After prophesying through the sign of the multiplication of fish, Jesus then healed a leper in Luke 5:12-14,
12 And it came about that while He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man full [in an advanced stage] of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 And He stretched out His hand, and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, for a testimony [martyrion, “witness”] to them.”
It appears that these two incidents at the start of Jesus’ ministry run parallel to the ninth and tenth miracle-signs of Elisha. In 2 Kings 4:42-44 the prophet multiplied the twenty barley loaves to feed a hundred men. Its New Testament counterpart is found in John 6:4-13, where Jesus fed the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish.
In Luke 5 Jesus multiplied fish, which would then be sold to feed multitudes. The use of fish connects it to the fourth sign in the book of John, but because this sign is followed by the healing of a leper, it also follows the pattern of Elisha’s ninth sign.
In 2 Kings 5 Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy. This was his tenth miracle-sign. It runs parallel to Jesus healing the leper in Luke 5:13.
Multiplies the barley (2 Kings 4:42-44)
Heals the leper (2 Kings 5)
Multiplies the fish (Luke 5:6)
Heals the leper (Luke 5:13)
All of these miracles are prophetic signs, although their applications differ. The healing of Naaman was meant to portray the gospel going beyond the borders of Israel to heal the nations (Rev. 22:2), whereas in Luke’s account Jesus healed a leper either from Judea or from Galilee. (We are not told where this took place.)
In Luke 4:27 Jesus had already mentioned Naaman in His teaching at Nazareth in order to prove that the gospel was not for Jews or Israelites alone. Hence, it seems likely that this leper in Luke 5:12 was from “Galilee of the Gentiles,” for in that way the man, regardless of His genealogy, represented “the Gentiles” by his country.
Whether or not this was the case, Luke certainly was suggesting the idea of equal treatment in the matter of healing the nations. In fact, perhaps this is why Luke neglects to mention the location of this particular healing. Perhaps his silence was meant to suggest that his national citizenship or genealogy was not a factor in Jesus’ decision to heal him.
The Law of Cleansing Lepers
The leper asked Jesus to be cleansed (catharizo), rather than healed (therapeuo). Leprosy was a disease that rendered people unclean so that they were unable to participate in the worship of God at the temple. In their course of life, they were also required to advertise their disease by shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” (Lev. 13:45) whenever others came near, so that they would be careful not to touch him.
Since lepers could not be pronounced clean unless they had first been healed, it is self-evident that their request for cleansing included healing. In Leviticus 14 we are told the laws regarding the cleansing of lepers. Lev. 14:2, 3 tells us that lepers who had been healed were to present themselves to the priest for inspection. The priest was called to bear witness to God’s healing. Hence, in Luke 5:14 Jesus told the healed leper to “show yourself to the priest… for a testimony” (martyrion, “witness”).
The priest was commanded to inspect the healed leper and to accept the two birds that he brought as an offering. The first bird was killed, and the second was smeared in the blood of the first bird and released into the open field (Lev. 14:7). The ex-leper was then sprinkled seven times with water and pronounced clean. Even so, the ex-leper was not fully cleansed until the eighth day (Lev. 14:23).
This was the ceremony that the leper in Luke 5 was required to undergo. Jesus upheld the law and told him to do this. Presumably, the ex-leper was able to rejoin the congregation and worship in the temple eight days later.
We should also mention that the leper was to be baptized seven times with water (Lev. 14:7), which is why Elisha told Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan seven times (2 Kings 5:10). If he followed the prescription in the law, his mode of baptism was by sprinkling or by pouring water over his head while standing “over running water” (Lev. 14:5, 6). The water was to come from above to signify the baptism of the Spirit that was to be poured out from on high (Isaiah 32:15).
As for the waters below, the Hebrew word translated “running” is chay, which means “living; alive.” Hence, healing leprosy and baptism picture coming out of death into life. The baptism of lepers cleansed them but the priest did not baptize them unless he perceived that they had already been healed. The spiritual meaning of this is that no man should be baptized unless the minister is satisfied that the man has already been justified by faith—that is, healed of “leprosy.” The water of baptism was a testimony to bear witness to something God had already done in the heart.
In other words, the law does not support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which teaches that no man is saved until he has been baptized. The law makes it clear that baptism has more to do with joining the church organization than with becoming part of the true Church whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). Baptism is an official public witness on earth of a man’s justification in the eyes of God in heaven.
So in Luke 5:14 Jesus healed the leper but told him to undergo the ceremony at the temple so that he could officially worship there among the believers without fear of reprisal or rejection. Jesus also told him not to tell the temple priests who had healed him. Some have suggested that Jesus sent the healed leper to the temple as proof of His calling as the Messiah. But it seems to me that when Jesus “ordered him to tell no one” (Luke 5:14), He was referring specifically to the temple priests. In other words, Jesus did NOT want the healed leper to tell them who had healed him.
Jesus did not want the priests to launch an investigation so soon into His ministry. Such an investigation might have brought His inevitable conflict with them to a head far too soon. However, word still spread among the people themselves, for Luke 5:15 says,
15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and great multitudes were gathering to hear Him and to be healed [therapeuo] of their sicknesses.
Normally, we read of people being healed of those sicknesses that did not render them unclean. But when their condition also involved uncleanness, it is said that they were cleansed. We should understand that these were healed in order to be cleansed.
Jesus Touched the Leper
We should also comment on the fact that Jesus touched the leper in order to heal him (Luke 5:13). In the law, touching a dead body or touching a leper would render a person unclean for seven days, and he would have to undergo a cleansing ceremony on the eighth day. But Jesus touched this leper and was not rendered unclean. Why? Because in the act of touching him, the leper was healed.
Men might argue which came first, the healing or the touch. Either way is meaningful to us. If the leper was healed the moment before the touch, it shows the faith of Jesus. If, however, the leper was healed after Jesus touched him, it then portrays clearly that He took upon Himself all of our infirmities (Matt. 8:17), as prophesied in Isaiah 53:4. He paid the price for sin by dying on the cross, but “by His scourging, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The law allowed up to forty stripes in any beating (Deuteronomy 25:3). The normal custom was to give no more than 39 stripes, in case they miscounted, but I believe Jesus received the full forty stripes in order to pay the full penalty of the law. To me, the law is prophetic, and since Jesus fulfilled the law to the letter, He must have received the full penalty of forty stripes. Matt. 27:26 says,
26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.
So Jesus paid part of the penalty for sin even before He was crucified. The death penalty was prescribed for capital crimes, but scourging was for lesser sins that did not involve specific payments of restitution.