Question: "Why did the man Jesus healed in Mark 8:24 at first see people "like trees walking"?"
Answer: Mark 8 records Jesus’ healing of a blind man at Bethsaida. After the first stage of the two-stage miracle, the man looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:24, ESV).
The man had been brought to Jesus by some men who were begging Jesus to just touch the blind man (Mark 8:21). It seems they had great faith, knowing that Jesus had the power to heal this man who was afflicted with blindness. Perhaps they were aware that many had been healed by Jesus (see Mark 3:10). In answer to their request, Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him outside of the village. Jesus had used this approach earlier when a deaf person had been brought to him to be healed (Mark 7:32). In that instance also, Jesus brought the man away from the crowd. It seems Jesus wanted to interact with the man on a personal level rather than heal the man in an impersonal or showy way (Mark 7:33–35).
Again, similar to how Jesus healed the deaf man, Jesus used His saliva as part of His healing of the blind man. Jesus applied the saliva, laid His hands on the man, and asked him if he could see (Mark 8:23). The blind man at first saw people “like trees walking around” (verse 24). A second time Jesus put His hands on the man, and this time the man’s sight was fully restored, and he could see clearly (Mark 8:25). Jesus then told the formerly blind man not even to go back into the village (Mark 8:26). This instruction is similar to what the formerly deaf man had received. At this early stage in Jesus’ ministry, it seemed He wanted to delay the inevitable trajectory of His popularity so that He could fulfill the entire ministry before Him. Jesus demonstrated His Messianic identity through His healing ministry (see Isaiah 29:18) and by showing great compassion and kindness (Isaiah 61:1). He had much to do before His ministry culminated with His crucifixion.
Jesus often healed with a single word or act, but in this case, He healed the blind man in two stages. After the first stage, the man could only see people “like trees walking.” There is no reason given in the text for the two stages. Perhaps it was to show the man that He was healing him deliberately and personally. Perhaps it was to test the blind man’s faith. After all, Mark doesn’t record that the blind man asked Jesus to heal him. That request was made by those who brought the blind man to Jesus. Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to demonstrate his own personal faith in Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t explain Himself and Mark doesn’t give us any additional insight, we cannot be certain why at first the man only saw the “walking trees.” What we can be certain of, however, is that Jesus healed the man entirely and that as a result of miracles like this many people recognized that Jesus was no ordinary man. Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the One who is worthy of our faith.