Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...
Image via Wikipedia

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.

Related articles

4 Replies to “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?


    1. 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.

      1. Erik,

        I appreciate your knowledge and insight regarding these issues. While I do not necessarily agree with your Pentecostal interpretation of the gifts, I think your interpretation is as good as any.

        Your comments regarding healing are somewhat troubling to me. I may have misunderstood you, so please corret me if that is the case.

        I have two concerns: first your understanding of healing on Earth. This is a touchy issue, and I think it’s clear that God eventually wants all to be redeemed (in their resurrected bodies). However, I think it’s extremely important to understand that this reality is not ever present on earth yet. I fully subscribe to the Christus Victor model of atonement, but no where does Christus Victor say Jesus fully died and conquered all sickness on Earth. Jesus did regain the keys to the kingdom from Satan, but that will not be fully realized until Jesus comes back once and for all. C.S. Lewis is a famous proponent of Christus Victor-when Aslan dies on behalf of Edmund it is to “conquer the deep magic so that death itself may start working backwards.” The deep magic is not fully defeated, it is still in play. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15 as he is looking toward the parousia (coming of Christ) and the resurrected body he will receive.

        As Christians, that is our hope! For the early church, that was their hope. So often we forget the immense persecution the early church faced; they had to carry their cross so to speak. Contrary to what you might think, Jesus did not “die” for their suffering, he did not “die” for the suffering of the 11 apostles who were tortured and killed. The reality is that the “deep magic” is still present, and we must endure or as James says “perservere.” Our hope is in the new heaven and new earth that Jesus will reign over and finally destroy the deep magic. Of course there are times that healings do happen-I have witnessed some myself. Death itself is working backwards, but it is far from defeated.

        Secondly, I take issue to your understanding of faith in healing for several reasons. Biblically speaking, faith is not required or not present in many healings. The lepers-only one has faith-the paralytic-his friend’s faith make him well. Faith is a component of healing, but ultimately who is it who heals? Your interpretation of faith’s role in healing is troubling for two reasons. First, if someone is not healed it is clearly their or the healers fault for a lack of faith (I’m not sure how one could get this idea to begin with). Secondly, this overemphasizes our roles in healing…which is quite minimal.

        Overall, I would agree that everyone ought to be healed, but biblically speaking not everyone will. This side of heaven includes suffering, even the apostle Paul suffered. Before you make the case that it was a messanger of Satan, consider the fact that regardless of what exactly Paul suffered from he still suffered. Also, there are many hints in Acts, and in some of the letters that he did in fact suffer from an affliction. We all have to carry our cross: that includes persecution and suffering. Our hope is in Christ’s return, not in Christ’s taking of our current sufferings.

        Lastly, I would like to briefly address your comment regarding Calvinism. I am not a Calvinist, but I think it’s important to accurately understand their view if you wish to understand soteriology as a whole. Arminian’s and Calvinists both agree that we cannot be saved unless by God’s pursuit. Whether we have the option to respond (Arminians) or are chosen (Calvinists) is the matter of debate. Calvinists and Arminians are actually of the same cut of cloth-the are both Augustinian views on soteriology that directly refute Pelagianism.

        Please don’t take offense to anything I said, I am humbly trying to present the opposing view.

        May The Lord Bless You and Keep You!

        1. I do not deny suffering. All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We all will encounter tribulation, bless is the man who endures it. I just do not believe that we need to suffer that which Christ has suffered already for us. I could suffer persecution, or even by led by the Spirit into difficult places and difficult people. That does not mean I have to suffer with cancer or any other diseases, for Christ took those for me. I understand that there is still the curse and death in the world, and it is the last enemy to be put underfoot. That being said, we have a foretaste of things to come by the Spirit and we do not have to put off all of God’s blessings until heaven and live in total uncertainty here on this earth.

          Faith plays a huge role in what we receive from God. The prayer of faith WILL save the sick, James says. Over and over again faith plays a role in healing throughout the Gospel and Acts. Jesus rebuked his disciples for unbelief repeatedly. God was angry with Israel when they did not have the faith to go into Canaan at Kadesh-Barnea. Jesus could do no mighty work in his own hometown, and he was amazed at their unbelief. We are saved by faith. The just shall live by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Unless we believe we receive, it’s indicated that we will not receive. We have to ask with nothing wavering. I’m not listing scriptures but I’m quoting them. Be careful not to downplay what the scripture calls important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *