There are many prosperity preachers who teach that physical healing—in this life—is part of the atonement. For example, Kenneth Copeland states,
Sadly, many Christians have been falsely accusing God of being the cause of their troubles. They wrongly believe that trials and tribulations are God’s tools for developing and strengthening our character....
This is absolutely against the Word of God. Why? Because the very basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief and poverty on Jesus at Calvary. For God to put any of this on us now to teach us or to strengthen our faith would be a miscarriage of justice. To believe that God has a purpose for sickness would mean that Jesus bore our sickness in vain. What an insult to His love, care and compassion for us!
According to Copeland, Jesus didn’t merely die for your sins. He also died for your sickness and poverty.
Word-Faith teacher Andrew Wommack agrees. He claims,
The Lord redeemed us from sickness just as much as He redeemed us from sin. He would no more want us to be sick than He would want us to sin. Those are radical statements to many Christians because we’ve been taught that forgiveness of sins is what salvation is all about. Well that’s certainly a vital part of salvation, but that’s not all that Jesus accomplished. We were also healed by His stripes. Sickness is not of God just as sin is not of God. Thank You, Jesus!
Those who believe it’s God’s will to always physically heal in this life are quick to quote 1 Peter 2:24–25. It says,
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
No one disputes what this text says. What is under dispute is what this text means. What does it mean by “healed”? Does it refer to physical healing in this life, or does it refer to spiritual healing?
The word itself doesn’t help us since it is used in Scripture to mean both physically healed and spiritually healed. For example, Jesus tells His disciples,
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:15)
Clearly, this passage is talking about spiritual healing—salvation—not physical healing. Yet, it’s the same Greek word used by Peter.
The key to understanding the 1 Peter passage is to look carefully at the context. Peter begins by stating how Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree. He connects Jesus bearing our sins with Jesus’ body being nailed to the cross. Next, Peter tells us why this is so significant. He says this was so that we might “die to sin and live to righteousness.”
So far, this says nothing about physical healing. But let’s continue.
Notice how Peter interjects the quote from Isaiah to back up his claim. Most theologians believe Peter is quoting Isaiah 53:5.
But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
It’s as if Peter is saying, “This is what Isaiah was talking about all along. By His wounds, you have been healed.” The wounds are what Jesus experienced “in His body on the tree.” The healing is the benefit we receive—dying to sin and living to righteousness.
The context of Isaiah 53 also points strongly to a spiritual healing. First, Isaiah describes the spiritual sickness that we’re saved from (i.e. trespasses and iniquity). Second, he describes the spiritual healing that we’re saved to (i.e. peace and healing). These parallelisms in Isaiah cannot be overstated. Just as the trespasses and iniquities we are saved from are taken as parallels, the peace and healing we receive are parallels.
This spiritual healing extends into the eventual physical, emotional, and psychological healing. However, this will not be fully realized until the final resurrection of the physical body.
What about Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53:4? Surely this has to do with physical healing.
That evening they brought to Him many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16–17)
Most people see this as a quote from Isaiah 53:4.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
I believe this text is talking specifically about Christ’s healing ministry, not His atonement. Notice that Matthew tells us this passage from Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry before He ever went to the cross. Therefore, this text cannot be used to guarantee immediate, physical healing at the cross.
The Effects of the Atonement Are Not Yet Complete
Please hear me. I believe there is physical healing through the atonement, but this isn’t guaranteed until the final resurrection. We live between two worlds. The kingdom of God is “already but not yet,” which means we don’t get all of the benefits of the atonement in the present world.
So, the question is not whether our bodies receive healing because of the atonement of Christ, but when our bodies receive healing because of the atonement.
You can see this tension between the “already” and “not yet” in the way the New Testament authors write. John says,
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
Notice the temporal language. We are—in the present—God’s children. But something is missing. John says, “What we will be has not yet appeared.” We have to wait for that.
Paul expounds on this waiting in Romans 8:18–25.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Paul is making a sharp contrast between the “present time” and what will be revealed. We don’t get all of the benefits of the atonement right now.
There are aspects of the kingdom that we get right now. Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Right now, there is no condemnation for anyone who is saved.
However, there are aspects of the kingdom that we have to wait for. Paul tells the Christians in Philippi,
But our citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
Jesus will bring perfect health for every human being who trusts in Christ, but it’s something we wait for. John says,
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
What are the former things? Death, mourning, crying, pain. These will all cease in the new creation. But we’re not in the new creation yet. That is something we eagerly wait for. Sadly, Word-Faith teachers ignore all of the passages of Scripture that talk about waiting.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Word-Faith proponents teach that faith in Christ’s atonement brings salvation from sin and healing from sickness. After all, on their view, both were purchased on the cross. Gloria Copeland claims,
Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner that He bore your sins. You are just as free from sickness and disease as you are free from sin. You should be as quick to cease sickness and disease in your body as you are to cease sin.
However, this teaching creates the untenable idea that someone can have enough faith to be saved, but not enough faith to be healed. But if you don’t have enough faith to be healed, how do you know you have enough faith to be saved?