Is there, or isn’t there, healing in the atonement? Why or why not?
Your question has been the object of much controversy over the centuries, including the present, with the charismatic movement’s appearance and so forth. The focal point of the controversy is Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” The question centers around what we are healed from, according to this passage.
The mistake that many have made in regard to this passage is rather simple. They automatically assume that the passage means physical healing, while they fail to take into account the context and to let other Scripture interpret Scripture.
A study of the context of Isaiah shows us that the prophet dealt with the basic problem with all human beings and the prophecy that the Christ would come to earth to remedy that problem. The core problem with mankind is “sin,” not “sickness.” As verse 6 so dramatically states, every person ever to walk the face of the earth or to breathe its air is a sinner. No one can escape that fact. No one can argue that the sin problem is not man’s main problem, unless he chooses to deny reality and the truth. So we must see Isaiah 53 in that context.
We also go to 1 Peter 2:24, where the apostle Peter answered the question you have raised:
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
Could we find a plainer answer than the one here? Peter was referring to the sin problem again. He pointed out that Christ is sinless. As the sinless Son of God, He could take our place on the cross and thereby provide the way of salvation for the lost soul who comes to Him. Peter dealt with sin here, not sickness.
But what about all the miracles and healings Jesus performed? Those who argue that the atonement brings healing point to other Scripture passages to attempt to bolster their premise. Let’s look at these verses.
Matthew 8:16 and 17 read,
When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias [Isaiah] the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
Now surely that verse would say that the atonement provides healing, wouldn’t it? No. A careful reading and study of this passage indicates just the opposite.
Isaiah was indeed prophesying Jesus’ healing ministry among the people here on earth. But we must see that the Lord fulfilled this prophecy before He went to Calvary. Matthew, the Gospel writer, wrote about the miracles Christ performed during His public ministry in the years before He went to the cross. Christ had not yet gone to the cross when He fulfilled Scripture in His healing ministry.
Couldn’t the atonement provide healing both for the soul and body? Those advocating physical healing in the atonement point to passages such as Hebrews 13:8 as well: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” They maintain that Jesus must still heal through the atonement today because He healed people during His public ministry on earth.
It is true that Jesus Christ never changes. If He did, He wouldn’t be God. But at the same time, His program and purposes for a particular age in time can change. For example, we see great differences in the Old Testament and the New. In our churches today we do not offer sacrifices and burnt offerings as God required in the period of the Law. In the early days of the New Testament church—the beginning of this church dispensation we are still in—the apostles had certain spiritual gifts that identified them as bona fide apostles of God. These gifts included the gift of healing, as well as speaking in unknown languages, discerning spirits, prophesying and interpreting tongues. When the office of apostleship ceased, these sign gifts also ceased, as their usefulness also ceased. We know that apostleship ceased because, among other things, an apostle had to be an eyewitness of the Lord Jesus Christ. All twelve of the apostles eventually died. The early church needed apostleship for the sake of authority. When the canon of Scripture had been completed, its authority (i.e., the authority of the Word of God) replaced the apostles.
So you see the point. God and His Son have not changed. However, the divine program has. One cannot use passages like Hebrews 13:8 to justify a belief in physical healing through the atonement.
The defenders of that view use John 14:12: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
“See,” they say, “miracles such as healings do take place wholesale today because we will do even greater works than Christ.” No. This verse actually indicates the opposite. We believers today have a greater privilege than healing the sick. We have the privilege of proclaiming the message of salvation to the lost. What is better, healing someone or saving someone’s soul for all eternity? The salvation of a soul is far more significant than the healing of a physical illness. In both cases Christ does the work. But we believers have the unique privilege of being His instruments. And I would rather be instrumental in saving souls for all eternity than in curing someone of an illness.
All of this discussion doesn’t mean that Christ cannot heal. Most of us can testify that the Lord has healed us physically at some point in life—through prayer and trusting Him. The Lord also in His grace has provided us with a great deal of medical help these days. We do not need to believe that there is healing in the atonement to believe that God does hear our prayers concerning our physical needs.
People today tend to run from, or downplay, suffering. So much talk of deliverance from sickness, hardship and suffering has made many people put an undue emphasis on healing. Yet people continue to become ill, to die, to face all kinds of problems.
If the atonement provides healing, should these things exist among God’s people at all? New Testament giants like the apostle Paul and Timothy became ill (2 Cor. 12:10; 1 Tim. 5:23). If there were healing in the atonement, what business would these men have being ill? Many believers have been misled in these areas.
We are under the curse of sin; we are going to experience illnesses, heartaches and death. We have no right to expect anything else in this life. Those who believe in atonement healing claim that a lack of faith keeps us from experiencing freedom from these afflictions; actually, we really need to commit our lives to God’s care and will for us. Only then will we have peace and fulfillment in Our lives. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13); in other words, the condemnation of the law, because we could not keep it. We have been delivered from the condemnation of sin as believers, but we still are under the curse of sin. Anyone denying that fact is simply not facing reality (Rom. 8:22; Rev. 22:3). One would only have to go to a hospital or funeral home to find out that sickness and death are still very much with us.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.