Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3


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Healing and Christus Victor

Through the gospels we see Christ dealing with sickness and disease in the same matter he dealt with demonic spirits. We know this because Jesus uses the same harsh Greek word ἐπετίμησεν (epetimēsen) to rebuke sickness as He uses to rebuke evil spirits.

In Luke 4:35 we read “...Jesus rebuked him (the spirit in the man), saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”. Four passages later we read “…and he (Jesus) stood over her (Simon’s mother-in-law) and rebuked the fever, and it left her”

Jesus always viewed illness as an enemy. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers to expect sickness or disease as part of their calling in life. Jesus never suggested that sickness was “a cross to bear.” He honestly told his followers to expect to experience hardship. But the hardship he constantly referred to was persecution, not illness. In Luke 10:8-9 we read Jesus commissioning his disciples to “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The coming of God’s kingdom, in some measure at least, entails deliverance from evil spirits and healing from physical disease.

When we read about Jesus healing the crippled woman in Luke 13:11-17, Jesus asked his critics “should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

We also read in Acts 10:38 a summary of Jesus’ ministry from the apostle Peter. That summary was about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” I think it’s important to note the connection between “doing good” and “healing”.  We see that before being healed, the sick were  “under the power of the devil” . The Greek literally reads καταδυναστευομένους (katadunasteuo). Translated, the word means “I overpower, quell, treat harshly”. Therefore, disease is a satanic evil to resist, not acquiesce to.  It is not a blessing, but harsh treatment meant to overpower us.

We read in 1 John 3:8 that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. The word destroy here is λύω, (luó) which is translated  “loose, untie, release, set at naught, contravene.” If sickness is Satan’s work, then one of the reasons Jesus became incarnate is to release us from it.

Healing is the presence of the Kingdom of God coming to the earth. Sickness, we understand, is Satan working to overpower those whom God made in his image. In Colossians 1:13-14 we read “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Therefore, we’ve been delivered from Satan’s dominion over our lives through Christ’s redemption, and that includes the tyranny of sickness.

One may raise a scientific objection to this scriptural argument. Of course, we have natural explanations for illness that the Bible attributes to evil spirits. This is true. Sickness and disease, on one level, is simply nature taking its course. But there is no intrinsic contradiction with attributing infirmities to spirits on the one hand while also explaining them in natural terms on the other. Death itself is a “natural” process, yet we also see in scripture that the devil is “the one who has the power of death”. (Heb. 2:14) This suggests that the laws of nature as we know them are satanically influenced to some degree. This may sound strange, but we have no trouble saying that we as human beings have ability to use our free will to effect the natural order of things for good or bad. Why is it incomprehensible that spirit beings can do the same?

We see through this series of posts that there is no good scriptural basis to believe that we have to suffer with illness when Christ has already suffered on our behalf. Healing is in the atonement because Satan’s power over the believer has been annulled through the atonement. There is nothing that glorifies God by being under the burden of disease. An overcoming faith, however, does glorify God.  The gospel is about much more than “redeeming souls.”  It’s a holistic gospel that includes healing of our physical bodies, in anticipation of total redemption in the age to come.

I believe the burden of proof that healing is not included in the atonement lies with the objector. Most arguments against this view simply beg the question for a view of meticulous providence; that is the view that God is controlling everything in the world, even evil. On such a view, the will of God is never thwarted. It assumes people are sick because God always gets what He wants, so therefore He must want people to be sick. While this view is popular in western Christendom, I believe its starting points rests upon a distorted understanding of the nature of God’s sovereignty.

In future posts I will defend this view against some of the various objections that have been raised and hopefully I’ll be able to expose them as inadequate on the basis of scripture.

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2 thoughts on “Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3

  1. Erik

    Thanks for this thoughtful series of posts. I admit I did skim a bit and I was wondering this: do you think that Christians who can’t heal/speak in tongues are in some way “lesser” or “less blessed”?

    Also, how are we to go about healing?

    -J.W.

    • Good questions, J.w. I am sympathetic to the concern that if tongues is the evidence for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it inevitably sets up a two-class Christianity. I do not think that is the case, however. Paul says that he wishes that they all would speak in tongues, and that they all may prophesy. So the charismata, I would argue is available to all. In Christ there is no distinction. Just as receiving the gift of salvation is not a work that we merit, (contrary to Calvinists) receiving gifts do not make one more special than the other. The blessing of speaking in tongues, prophesying, or being healed is just receiving a gift, not something that makes one more special. In the case where someone who is given to healing gifts or tongues and interpretation gifts as part of their public ministry, we know from Paul that all the members of the body need one another; there is no superiority.

      God is, however, a respecter of faith. We see often through the gospels Jesus saying “your faith has made you well”. Out of the 31 individual healings of Jesus recording in the gospels, 19 of them, if I counted correctly, demonstrated faith. So how do we get healed? James tells us that the prayer of faith *will save the sick*. We often see the disciples and Jesus lay hands on the sick.

      If we don’t see healing immediately happen, rather than allowing experience change our doctrine, we choose to have the type of faith Abraham had when he “against hope, believed in hope”. God named him the father of many nations before he was a father, so likewise we believe what God says about us regardless of whether or not it has materialized, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised”. While I would not tell someone that they didn’t have enough faith to be healed (unless it was blatant, and I felt they would be responsive if I gave them scripture in a loving way), we don’t want to understate the faith element and leave it purely all “up to God”.

      It’s a big subject, to be sure. I do hope to present a balanced view of the role faith in the near future.

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