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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Healing in the Atonement?

Our passage from Sunday in Matthew 8:14-17 pointed to Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53.  This chapter in Isaiah is a prophecy regarding the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that is, Christ's satisfying the wrath of God by suffering for our sin in our place.  Because there is this link between the physical healing ministry of Christ and the atonement, some Christians claim that believers should never be sick – “there is healing in the atonement.”  So, if there is healing in the atonement, why do we find that believers still suffer illness and death?
All of salvation history can be summed up in four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  In the beginning, God created a world in which everything was good (Gen1:31).  When man violated God’s command, sin entered into the world, and not only did man fall, but the entire creation was affected.  Paul writes in Rom 8:20 that the “creation was subjected to futility.”  This affect on the creation is seen in several details in Genesis 3, including the appearance of thorns and thistles in the ground and the fact that the woman would experience pain in childbirth.  Because all of God’s creation suffered in the fall, all of His creation would need to be redeemed - set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21).
Of course, Scripture reveals that Jesus Christ was that redeemer.  Through His life, death, and resurrection, He saved man from sin and death.  Not only that, but His saving work provided for the restoration of the creation as well (Col 1:19-20).  But it is important to keep in mind that redemption and restoration are not the same thing.  Redemption has taken place, but the creation has not been completely restored yet.  Occasionally, we talk about the “already, not yet” theme found in Scripture.  In Matthew, we are told that the Kingdom of God has already come (3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28) and that it has not yet come (6:10).  The kingdom has come in the rule of Christ in the hearts of His people, but it has not come in the sense of His literal reign over the earth.  
The same can be said of all the blessings that are ours in Christ.  It is written that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).  So they are currently ours, yet this inheritance is being kept for us to be revealed in the last time (1Pet1:4-5).  It could be said that in one sense they are already ours, and in another sense, not yet ours.
This is also true of Christ’s defeat of sin, death, and disease, accomplished in the atonement.  There is a sense in which those who are in Christ have been saved from these things in this life, yet the fullness of that salvation will not be experienced until Christ returns.  The Lord’s atonement saved us from the penalty of sin, and yet we still live in the presence of sin and still commit sin.  It is only at Christ’s return that we will be removed from the presence of sin and no longer commit sin.  The restoration is yet future – on the last day the church and creation will experience the fullness of redemption.
Jesus’ healing ministry on earth was like a sneak peak at the paradise that would be experienced at the restoration of creation – no sickness, no pain, and no death.  What Christ did in Palestine for a short three years – eradicating disease – He will eventually do in the new heaven and new earth for all eternity (Rev 21:1-4). 
So is there healing in the atonement?  Certainly.  But we will not experience the full extent of it until the Lord returns.  Until that time, we will still know the temporal effects of disease just as we still know the temporal effects of sin.  And that is all the more reason to eagerly anticipate the day when the trumpet will sound and we will meet Him in the air (1 Thess 4:16-18)!
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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