By   •   October 5, 2004   •   Topics:


What did Jesus mean when He said to let the dead bury the dead? I've heard it quoted many times, but it doesn't make any sense. It must have a hidden meaning, but I've never heard anyone explain it.


One day Jesus invited a man to follow Him and become His disciple—but the man refused. He said he would follow Jesus later, but first he wanted to go bury his father. Jesus responded, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).

What did He mean by this? Jesus wasn’t saying that people who were physically dead should bury other dead people; as you say, that wouldn’t make sense. Instead He was speaking of those who were spiritually dead—those who were alive physically but dead toward God in their souls. We may be very strong and healthy physically, and yet be spiritually dead—which is far more serious.

To us Jesus’ words to this man might sound harsh—but that is because we don’t understand what the man was really saying. When someone in Jesus’ day said they wanted to go bury their father, it didn’t necessarily mean he was already dead. Instead they really were saying that they wanted to stay with their father until he died—something that might be years away. This man was simply looking for an excuse to avoid becoming Jesus’ disciple.

What keeps you from following Jesus as you should? Almost anything can come between us and God; the devil will make sure of that. But Jesus’ call has not changed: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

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  1. Linda Bailey says:

    Thanks for the explanation. That makes sense.

  2. Gilbert S Aguilar says:

    My understanding of what Jesus was saying is that there’s absolutely nothing that we can do for a person who has died. The spirit returns to the father and the body returns to the dust. To me the body is merely a vessel where the Spirit resides until it’s time to return to the Father. Because of my beliefs, I believe that it’s silly to actually believe that a dead person already in the ground can actually hear you talking.

  3. Prince Lee says:

    Thank you very much for explaining this. I always wanted to know what Jesus meant by this saying. It is like a parable to me but could not figure out its meaning. Once again, thank you!

  4. Ruthie says:

    This is a correct meaning of this text.

  5. Wesbo Kawata says:

    Appreciate your explanation and I totally understand your answer. Thing is without the further research we wouldn’t get the message. Is there a Bible version that has plain English translations?

    1. BGEA says:

      A pastor or someone at a Christian bookstore may be able to help you find a good translation. There are also many study Bibles that explain the text. You might try one of those.

  6. Phillp says:

    Thank you!

  7. Raymond so flores says:

    Just would like to learn more.

  8. Roland Pelchat says:

    Thanks for this answer.

  9. Manuel says:

    Outstanding viewpoint. My take on the verse is that we cannot spend all our time in mourning. There’s a time and place for it, but never at the price of faith. We only have one true life, and the mortal coil isn’t it. Some say we should rejoice that our loved ones are in Heaven, but I don’t so much. Rather, I look at their “going home” as a trip there taken ahead of me. A bit presumptuous, perhaps, but my point is that mortal life is an illusion. We should concentrate on living “mortal life” the way the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit want us to, because the our Heavenly Father is our goal. 🙂