Scripture often employs the imagery of blindness to describe the spiritual condition of persons who are either unable or unwilling to perceive divine revelation. The things of God are perceived not by observation and inquiry, but by revelation and illumination (Matt 11:25-27; 1 Cor 1:21; 2 Peter 1:19-21). It is the Lord who "gives sight to the blind" (Psalm 146:8; Isa 42:16).
The figure of blindness is a favorite device of Isaiah, who repeatedly announces to rebellious Israel that God has afflicted them and their apostate prophets, priests, and rules with blindness (43:8; 56:10; 59:10). Zephaniah reveals that this condition is divinely imposed upon the hardhearted (1:17). Appropriately, then, the Messiah's ministry would be marked by opening the eyes of the spiritually blind (Isa 42:7,16,18). At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus lay claim to the messianic office by revealing that he would fulfill Isaiah's prophetic promise to proclaim "recovery of sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18).
Some of Jesus' strongest outbursts were directed at the Pharisees, who masqueraded their superficial conformity to Jewish ceremonial laws as sincere and sufficient righteousness in the sight of God. Jesus follows the form of Isaiah in castigating the Pharisees as "blind guides of the blind" (Matt 15:14; 23:16-26; John 9:39-41). He announces that he will impose judgment on these self-righteous legalists, "so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9:39).
Paul tells the Corinthian believers that blindness aptly describes the spiritual state of pagan unbelievers. He points out that this blindness is inflicted by the "god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). The New Testament reveals that believers are subject to spiritual blindness. Peter deems those who fail increasingly to exhibit diligence in pursuit of spiritual virtue as blind or nearsighted (2 Peter 1:9). And the exalted Lord of the church views the lukewarm but haughty Laodicean church as wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17).
Spiritual blindness, then, refers in some instances to the inability of unbelievers to comprehend spiritual truth, specifically failure to recognize the true identity of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. It is vital, therefore, to conduct all Christian witness in dependence on the Holy Spirit, who works to counteract the cataracts of Satan and to reveal the truth of God. But spiritual blindness can also afflict believers who fail to perceive their true spiritual condition. To avoid the plague of spiritual blindness and escape the condemnation of leading others into spiritual ruin, believers must be quick to appropriate and obey the Word of God.
Ralph E. Enlow, Jr.