A friend writes asks about 1 Pet 2:24-25, where Peter alludes to Isa 53:4-6 – “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” He states: I have always taken this to mean that by His stripes we are “forgiven”, not “physically” healed of some infirmity, though certainly, by being forgiven of something, especially of our sins, there can certainly be a physical healing as well. I have always bounced this verse off the verse in Isaiah 53:5 where it says that “by his wounds we are healed”. I’ve been hearing a lot of teaching where our physical healing comes through His stripes that He bore for us….
Thanks for the question! I know of three perspectives on this question of “healing in the atonement.” I agree with one, partially affirm the second, and wholly reject the third.
First, the option that you mention: indeed, Peter paraphrases the Servant prophecy from Isa 53 and applies it to the forgiveness of sins. Or more broadly, to the overall state of well-being found within the covenant. In Luke 4:18-19, the Lord Jesus quotes Isa. 61:1-2 and applies it to his ministry: “…He has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind.” This could refers either to the healing of literal blindness or to the removal of the spiritual blindness of sin.
Therefore, “healing” can refer to forgiveness. Nevertheless, Peter’s use of the passage is not the only one. Matthew too applies just Isa 53:4 to Jesus, but this time to his ministry of healing the sick: “That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” (Matt 8:16-17). That is, it is appropriate to think of Isa 53:4-5 to forgiveness of sins or to the healing of the sick.
This brings us to a second view, which is associated with A. B. Simpson and A. J. Gordon and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They taught that since Christ died so that “we are healed,” then healing must be seen as part of the atonement. Simpson says in “Divine Healing in the Atonement”:
If sickness has come into the world through sin, which is conceded, it must be got out of the world through God’s great remedy for sin, the cross of Jesus Christ. If sickness is only a natural condition it may be met by natural means, but if it be abnormal, and but a stage of death, which has passed upon all because all have sinned, then its divinely appointed remedy is the atonement of Jesus Christ, which God has set over against all the effects of the fall.
I agree, that healing is ultimately guaranteed in the atonement: Paul taught that because of the death of Christ, he has defeated sin. With sin defeated, so is death and pain. We will experience that victory in the resurrection of the body when Christ returns (1 Cor 15). It is also true that whenever Christ heals us during this age, it is a result of his death for us – but nowhere is full healing guaranteed before the resurrection. Our experience of any healing has its roots in the atonement. Nevertheless, this does not mean that healing is the automatic right, as is forgiveness of sins. There are plenty of blessings that Christ purchased – the resurrection of the body, the destruction of our bent to sin, “perfect” knowledge (1 Cor 13:9-11), being entirely like Christ (1 John 3:1-3), judging the world and the angels (1 Cor 6:2-3), co-ruling with Christ (cp. 2 Tim 2:12 with 1 Cor 4:8-9) – which were long ago bought and paid for, but not taken delivery of before the end of the age.
As you may remember, I strongly believe that the evangelical church has neglected its ministry to the sick, which includes comfort and counsel, but also must include fervent, believing prayer for healing. Although I do not agree with Simpson and Gordon in some areas, their affirmation of the ministry of healing has played a role in my theology.
The third viewpoint is the one I reject entirely and, I confess, with particular vehemence. Modern “Word of Faith” or Rhema teachers, such as Kenneth Hagin, teach that healing is guaranteed right now for any sick person, and that the sick or the poor simply lack faith. Although these preachers claim to follow A. B. Simpson, in fact they distort what he said. I quote Hagin himself:
The Word of God says, “…with his stripes we ARE healed” (Isa. 53:5). Since Jesus Christ has cured us by His stripes (1 Peter 2:24), we have a right to be well! Then why do some people remain sick? Why doesn’t everyone get healed? The answer can be found in Luke chapter 4… [He summarizes:] Why didn’t they receive their healing? It is very simple: They refused to believe.1
In my opinion, the Rhema doctrine (or Word of Faith, or Prosperity Gospel) is the great false teaching of our day, doing far greater damage than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example. It has deceived and harmed millions of people, not only in North America, but on every continent. In Latin America, where I minister, the poor and sick are urged to send their few pesos to one of the Word of Faith teachers, and they are told they are guaranteed healing and prosperity. If they do not become rich or healthy, they might lose any assurance that they are God’s people. I believe that there are some sincere Rhema teachers, but the successful and famous ones are usually those who have no scruple about taking funds from the desperate and using them to build their own personal empires.
PS – I have two other blogs on healing, which you can look up on this site: Rediscovering God in the Age of Therapy, Part I, Part II,” and Will God Heal Us? A Re-Examination of Jas. 5:14-16
1From “The Christ Cure,” Kenneth Hagin. http://www.rhema.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1045:the-christ-cure&catid=45:healing&Itemid=144
“Is there healing in the atonement?” by Gary Shogren, New Testament professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica.