One of the big questions centred around the discussion on healing is whether or not healing is based in the atonement. Those who affirm that the atonement provides for our healing will usually refer to three passages of Scripture:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa 53:4-5)
14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matt 8:14-17)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet 2:24)
There are really two questions to answer here:
- Is Christ’s suffering on the cross the provision for physical healing, spiritual healing, or both?
- Is it the cross, and the cross alone, that provides this healing?
In regards to the first question, the Isaiah context looks as if it speaks of ‘spiritual’ healing, i.e., we read about transgressions and iniquities (vs5). It might also be argued that the passage in 1 Peter is probably more in reference to ‘spiritual’ healing, since it speaks of Christ bearing our sins in his body on the tree (cross).
Yet, when we turn to Matthew’s passage, which actually quotes Isaiah 53:4, we see that Matthew uses these words in reference to physical healing. But, interesting to consider is that Matthew quotes these words in regards to Jesus’ earthly ministry rather than in reference to the atonement. Still, before we conclude anything, let’s move on to the second question.
In regards to the second question proposed, Isaiah’s context seems to be referring to Christ’s suffering for us, in the sense of His suffering on the cross – ‘with his stripes we are healed’ (vs5). Peter is definitely referring to the cross as well.
But, when we turn to Matthew’s words, he quotes the words of Isaiah before the cross-event ever took place. Also, when we read the pages of the Old Testament, as well as the Gospels, there are no doubt many healings that take place prior to Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
Therefore, I believe a balanced conclusion would be this: The cross is not the sole provision of God’s healing. As mentioned, God had been healing people well before the cross. But, what I would suggest is that the cross-event (along with Christ’s resurrection, ascension and seating next to the Father) stands as the great and foundational redemptive act of God on behalf of humanity and the cosmos. Not only that, but, as the great provision of God’s redemption, the purpose of the cross-event was to make available in Christ the fullness of salvation. Though more dualistic thinking tends to separate the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’, this is not truly grounded in biblical theology. So we must note that salvation is not solely about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. God’s redemptive salvation is for the whole self, including the body.
Thus, I believe that this holistic salvation provided for and centred in the cross-event would definitely include not only our ‘spiritual’ healing and forgiveness, but also our physical healing. And, just as with our spiritual healing, it is in this age that we are able to receive tastes of physical healing. But it is in the age to come that we shall receive the full benefits of our salvation, both spiritual and physical.