The Compassion of Jesus

34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Matthew 20:34 New International Version (NIV)

When I first read this scripture, I didn’t understand the true meaning of the word compassion.

This scripture is one of many that the Bible gives showing us how Jesus performed miracles, but more than that this scripture – whether we realize it or not – is a blueprint for how we as Christians are supposed to live our lives.  

“Jesus had compassion on them”

Let’s look deeper at the word compassion. In English we interpret this word to mean…

Compassion (for somebody) 

a strong feeling of sympathy for people who are suffering and a desire to help them.

Oxford Dictionary

Oftentimes we associate compassion with feeling sorry for someone.  We see someone’s situation (poverty, sickness, or pain) and we feel bad, and on the surface that looks like what Jesus did. 

Jesus saw their blind eyes and felt “a strong feeling of sympathy for” the people and wanted to help them.  

But this isn’t really what is happening at all.  This word compassion is important.  Our English word doesn’t do the word justice.  

By looking at the original context we can truly understand what this word means.

In the Greek (Splagchnizomai )

to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)


to have the bowels yearn, i.e. (figuratively) feel sympathy, to pity:—have (be moved with) compassion.

Strong’s Greek Lexicon G4697

The Greeks believed that compassion was stored in the bowels (or the deep part of your stomach).  They believed that true love came from the pit of your stomach. 

We as Christians would call this true love the agape kind of love stored in our hearts (or our spirits), and Paul talks in Romans about this love being shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) which happens at the new birth. 

So then, a more clear way to translate Matthew 29:34 would be

34 Jesus [moved with love from the very innermost part of his being took action] and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Jesus operates in this kind of love.  The love that was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit.   The God kind of love that takes action when faith is present. Everywhere this word Splagchnizomai is used in the New Testament we see Jesus identifying something that doesn’t line up with God’s word, His spirit (very nature) groaning from the inside in love, and from THAT place He reaches out to change the situation.

Jesus had compassion for…

  1. Lack of a Teacher/Pastor (Matt. 9:36)
  2. Sickness ( Matt. 14:14)
  3. Basic Needs of Food, Water, etc. (Matt. 15:32)
  4. Debts (Matt. 18:27)
  5. Demon Possession (Mark 9:22)
  6. Adultery (Luke 7:13)
  7. Selfishness / Going Astray (Luke 15:20)

In summary, compassion is far more complex than the English word gives credit.  Biblical compassion is an expression of God’s kind of love from our spirit.  

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