Hollywood has produced some really weird films, especially horror flicks. I have to wonder if the idea for those walking dead films doesn’t come from the Bible. In Numbers 12:12 Aaron is speaking with Moses just after both he and their sister, Marion, had spoken out against him. She was struck leprous, and Aaron begged Moses not to let her be as one dead, whose flesh appeared to rot on one’s body during the otherwise normal course of life. One who was leprous was unclean (Leviticus 13:3). The condition spreads over one’s body (Leviticus 13:7-8), and, because contact with others is often contagious, quarantine was necessary (Leviticus 13:46). In the days of ancient Israel, it was incurable (cf. 2Kings 5:7).
Luke records that Jesus cured a man of his leprosy in Luke 5:12-13. In fact, he claimed that the man was full of leprosy! The leper had to rend his garments (Leviticus 13:45) to express his mourning over his condition (cf. 2Samuel 3:31), because leprosy was a condition that spiritually represented sinfulness. This is understood in Psalm 51, David’s great prayer of mourning over his sin. David asked the Lord to purge him with hyssop, and he would be clean (Psalm 51:7). Hyssop was used in the cleansing ceremony of a leper (Leviticus 14:3-4). It was also used to spread the blood over the lintel of the doorway during the Passover (Exodus 12:22).
Two things in Luke’s account are noteworthy as they pertain to this leper. First, strangely enough, the man who was full of leprosy could be pronounced clean by the priest (Leviticus 13:13); so what does the leprous man want from Jesus, according to Luke 5:12, if all he was interested in was to be ceremonially made clean? Ceremonial cleansing would have permitted the man to rejoin society inside the gates of the city. Therefore, it seems apparent that this leper wished to be healed, but how does he know Jesus could heal what only God could heal, according to first century AD understanding? Secondly, he referred to Jesus as Lord, something only Peter had done up to this point in Luke. In other words, this leper believed Jesus was the Messiah (Christ). How should we understand these things?
I believe the man who was full of leprosy represents the sinner, like Peter, who understood his condition (cf. Luke 5:8). Like the leper, Peter told the Lord to “depart” from him, because he (Peter) was a sinful man. The leper was to warn others of his condition by shouting “Unclean, unclean…” whenever anyone approached him (Leviticus 13:45). A leper, whose condition was still in the raw flesh stage, was considered contagious and had to be quarantined. Such a one represents the sinner who condition is denied (cf. 1John 1:8). His righteousness is as the leper’s clothes that must be burned (Leviticus 13:47, 52; cf. Jude 1:23). Just as a leper who is unclean must be avoided, so the sinner who clings to his own righteousness must be avoided (cf. 1Corinthians 15:33). Nevertheless, the one who is full of leprosy is clean (Leviticus 13:13). He is no longer contagious, pointing to the sinner who openly confesses his sin (like Peter in Luke 5:8), not wanting to defile the lives of others.
The fact that the leper addressed Jesus as Lord indicates that he placed himself under his rule. He made no demands upon Jesus; he only said that, if Jesus willed it, Jesus could heal him. His request permitted Jesus the right to refuse, but Jesus didn’t refuse, just as he didn’t deny Peter his presence with him. Such a confession of faith and repentance is acceptable to God, so Jesus healed the man.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ first miracles seems to point to the condition of the Jewish state. They had no freedom, because they were possessed by the demon of fear. They feared the Romans (cf. John 11:48), so they couldn’t put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah. They were in a leprous condition, but rather than admit to their own uncleanness, they rejected Jesus—demanding that he leave their camp and dwell alone, away from them, as though he were the leper (Luke 4:28-29, 34; cf. 5:16). It is interesting that Jesus touched the leprous man (Luke 5:13), doing what the Law said shouldn’t be done (Leviticus 13:46), but in so doing, Jesus not only healed the leper, but he took his leprosy to himself—a picture of how the Jews, as a whole, looked upon their Messiah.