Healing in the Bible
The Bible describes God as the healer of his people. He can make us well when we are sick. More importantly, he also heals us from sin.
Our sinful nature separates us from God because we choose to disobey him. God heals our relationship with him when we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior.
He forgives our sin and gives us eternal life when we die. Jesus gave this same message whenever he healed someone he loved.
Healings got people’s attention so he could tell them about the way to salvation.
Healing In The Old Testament
The Old Testament provides the proper background for a Christian understanding of the concept of healing.
In the Old Testament, God is the healer of his people. In Exodus 15:22-26, after God has delivered his people from Egypt, led them through the sea, and sweetened the water at Marah, he speaks of himself as their “healer.”
This refers primarily to physical sustenance, but it points to a bigger picture as well. We see God sustaining his people in an eternal relationship with himself.
In a similar manner, Deuteronomy 32:39 speaks of God as the one who heals. The context in Deuteronomy implies that this healing power derives from the fact that God is God.
This concept of God as the healer is echoed throughout the Old Testament by the psalmists (Psalm 6:2; Psalm 41:4; Psalm 103:3) and prophets (Isaiah 19:22; Jeremiah 17:14; Hosea 7:1; Zechariah 11:16).
Jesus The Healer: Accounts In The Gospels
The New Testament significantly emphasizes Jesus as the healer.
Mark portrays him as a teacher and healer in his opening account of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum with the healing of the demoniac, Peter’s mother-in-law, the sick brought to him in the evening, and the leper (Mark 1:21-45).
Indeed, healing sickness and casting out demons characterize Jesus’ ministry.
Mark presents in rapid succession Jesus’ healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), the multitudes by the sea (Mark 3:7-12), the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), the woman with a hemorrhage, and Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43).
Jesus then commissioned the Twelve to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and to heal the sick (Mark 6:7-13).
He himself continued with healings at Gennesaret (Mark 6:53-56), casting out the unclean spirit from the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), healing the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37), the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), the boy possessed with an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-20), and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52).
Certainly, healing is an important aspect of Jesus’ ministry. The healings not only expressed his compassion for those suffering but also constituted a revelation of his person.
For example, Jesus healed the paralytic “that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10, RSV). It also seems that Mark intended his readers to understand that the healing of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37) and the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) symbolizes the awakening of spiritual understanding in the disciples of who Jesus is.
Mark has placed the healing of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) immediately after Jesus’ third announcement of his own coming death (Mark 10:32-34) and the disciples’ third failure to understand that his being the Messiah entailed the necessity of suffering (Mark 10:35-45).
How often God must feel that his people “just don’t get it.” Yet with loving compassion, he continues to reveal exactly who he is. Yes, he is the healer. Yet suffering is often equally part of his plan. If God chooses not to deliver us from suffering altogether, we can trust that he will see us through it by his grace.
Matthew also portrays Jesus as teaching, preaching, and healing (Matthew 4:23-25), and parallels the accounts in Mark, except for the healing of the demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1:23-28) and the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26).
However, according to his special purpose and structure, Matthew has placed many of Jesus’ healings together (Matthew 8-9), complementing the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Matthew views Jesus’ healings as directly fulfilling the Old Testament, as he states in Matthew 8:17.
The healings of Matthew 8:16 are spoken of as fulfilling Isaiah 53:4. Jesus’ power over sickness seems to come from his sacrificial death for the sins of the world. God designed the world to be without sickness and disease.
Yet since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the whole world has fallen from its original ideal. Sickness is now a result of sin, yet Jesus is able to heal sickness because of his victory over sin.
It is also interesting that Matthew, in relating Jesus’ healing of the multitudes by the sea (Matthew 12:15-21; compare to Mark 3:7-12), cites Isaiah 42:1-4. This Old Testament passage says God’s servant is anointed with the Spirit to proclaim justice to the nations.
Matthew uses it to explain why Jesus commanded those who were healed not to make him known. Jesus did not want too much publicity about himself to thwart God’s plan for him as the Suffering Servant who was to bring salvation to the nations. T
his action demonstrates that Jesus’ healings tell about who he is. They have an altogether different purpose. Again another quotation from Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) in Matthew 13:14-15 brings out the fact that healing is understood primarily in the spiritual sense of hearing Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Luke, like Matthew and Mark, portrays Jesus as preaching and healing. After the account of the birth of John and Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist, Luke presents Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).
Here, in the synagogue of his hometown, Jesus himself, using a quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2, affirms that the Spirit has anointed him to proclaim the good news and to announce the release for the captives and a recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 4:18).
Luke, as a doctor himself, continues to focus on the healing aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Indeed, Luke has all the healing incidents noted by Mark, except for those in Mark 6:45-8:26. However, Luke’s opening scene in Nazareth seems to underscore the bigger picture of Jesus’ healing ministry.
His healing ministry not only expresses Jesus’ compassion for the needy, but it signals the arrival of the kingdom of God as promised in Scripture.
Luke wrote about the commissioning of the seventy-two disciples (Luke 10:1-12), where Jesus instructs them to heal the sick in any city they enter and announce to the people there that the kingdom of God has come near to them (Luke 10:8-9).
The first three Gospels take up the Old Testament understanding of God as the healer of his people and see this as fulfilled in Jesus. This fulfillment signifies the presence of God’s reign in the ministry of Jesus. It points to him as the one through whom God is at work in the midst of his people.
John’s Gospel has only four healing incidents: the official’s son (John 4:46-54), the man ill for 38 years (John 5:1-18), the man born blind (John 9), and the climactic raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). These incidents, though few, are carefully chosen.
They relate to the accompanying discourses and are clearly intended as signs revealing the person of Jesus. John follows in the footsteps of the other three Gospels, using healings to describe who Jesus is.
Healing Done By The Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles tells how Jesus’ ministry continued through the Spirit at work in his disciples. The primary focus in Acts is on proclamation, as Acts 1:8 indicates. However, the healing of the lame beggar in Jerusalem indicates that the disciples were able to exercise the power of healing in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-16; Acts 4:8-16).
The healing is not just an isolated event or gratuitous display of power. The disciples clearly intended to point to and glorify the person of Jesus and lead the observers to faith in him (Acts 3:12-26).
The balanced, twofold ministry of the disciples may be seen in the prayer of Acts 4:29-30: “O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
The ministry of Philip in Samaria was devoted to proclaiming Christ (Acts 8:5) and healing the sick and those with unclean spirits (Acts 8:7). Peter heals Aeneas and raises Tabitha (Acts 9:34, 40), and many believe in the Lord (Acts 9:35, 42).
Paul is also described as preaching the gospel (Acts 17:2-3), healing (Acts 14:8-11; Acts 28:8), casting out spirits (Acts 16:18), and raising a dead man (Acts 20:9-10). In other words, a physical healing was also accompanied by preaching. The healings served their own purpose within a greater context-telling the world about Jesus.
Healing In The Church Age
The letters of the New Testament say little about healing. First Corinthians speaks of the gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28).
The implication is that such gifts are intended to be part of the ministry of the church, but the context indicates that not all are given such gifts (1 Corinthians 12:30) and that God distributes spiritual gifts for the good of the body.
James indicates that a believer who is ill should request the church to pray for his healing (James 5:14-16; compare to Hebrews 12:13). The clear implication is that God is willing and able to minister to his people for healing today.