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When did Christ bear Sickness?

Category Articles
Date January 6, 2005

“Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17)

Some Christians profess to believe that Christ bore the sicknesses of believers on the cross. This theory underlies certain teaching about divine healing.

The Bible teaches that on the cross Christ bore the sins of believers: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). On the cross Christ made atonement for sins. In order that sinners could be forgiven, atonement had to be made for their sins. It was for this reason that “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). But what reason could there have been for Christ to bear sicknesses on the cross? Does the Bible teach that atonement had to be made for sicknesses?

Because Christ has borne the sins of believers on the cross, and made atonement for them there, all believers without a single exception are completely forgiven. Believers obtained this pardon immediately they believed. God is “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). The blessedness of such a person is described in Romans 4:7-8: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” If, as some maintain, Christ bore the sicknesses of believers on the cross, why are those, who are suffering from some physical affliction at the time of their conversion, not healed of their sickness immediately upon believing? Indeed why are all believers not completely free of all sickness? Can the theory that Christ bore the sicknesses of believers on the cross, be reconciled with the fact that all believers do not experience divine healing of the body in this life on earth?

Christ completed the great work of atonement on the cross. There He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But for a sinner to obtain the benefits of that finished work he must believe. To receive forgiveness of sins a sinner must have a personal faith in Christ. No one ever has, or ever will, receive forgiveness of sins through someone else’s faith. But a man may receive divine healing for the body as a result of someone else’s faith. In Matthew 8:5-13 there is an account of the healing of a centurion’s servant. This servant was healed as a result of the faith of the centurion: “And Jesus said unto the centurion, go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Matthew 8:13).

Forgiveness of sins, which comes to sinners on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, is obtained through a personal faith alone. But divine healing of the body may be obtained in some other way.

A sick Christian may call for the elders of the church, and be healed after “the prayer of faith” has been prayed. There is a definite promise that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up” (James 5:14-15). For the procedure set out in James 5:14-15 to be carried out to a successful conclusion, a number of conditions must be fulfilled. The sick person must have a saving faith, and obey the instruction to call for the elders of the church. The sufferer must be anointed “with oil in the name of the Lord” and “the prayer of faith” must be prayed. By contrast, only one of these conditions is required to be fulfilled to obtain forgiveness of sins; namely, a personal saving faith in Christ.

For the promise “they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18) to be fulfilled, two conditions are indispensable, namely, the exercise of the faith of “them that believe” (Mark 16:17), and the laying on of hands. No mention is made here that faith is required on the part of the sufferers, and there seems to be no scriptural evidence for not concluding, that healing of the body could come to a believer or an unbeliever in this way.

If physical healing occurred as a result of the operation of “the gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9), it would be an instance of a sick person being healed through someone else’s gift. Forgiveness of sins was never, is never, and never shall be, obtained by anyone through the operation of a gift in someone else. It is obtained by a personal faith alone, without the laying on of hands, anointing with oil or the praying of “the prayer of faith” by church elders.

If Christ, who bore the sins of believers on the cross, also there bore their sicknesses, it would be logical to expect physical healing and forgiveness of sins to be obtained in exactly the same way, namely, only by personal faith alone; and to the same extent, namely, by every believer without exception immediately upon believing. That this does not happen is obvious, and the reason is surely that forgiveness of sins is obtained on a different basis from that on which physical healing, in this life on earth, is obtained. The scriptures leave us in no doubt that the forgiveness of sins comes to believers solely because Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2: 24), and there made atonement for them. All this argues powerfully against the theory that Christ bore the sicknesses of believers on the cross.

However, in Scripture it is recorded of Christ, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17). When then, did Christ bear sicknesses? Those who accept the theory that Christ bore the sicknesses of believers on the cross, of course believe that it was on the cross that Christ bore sicknesses, and maintain that this is what is meant by the words, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17). A careful examination of these words in their context shows, that this is very clearly not their meaning. To give such a meaning to these words is to wrench them from their context. Matthew does not quote these words in connection with his account of the crucifixion of Christ, which is given in chapter 27 of his gospel. Their context is to be found in chapter 8 of Matthew’s gospel, and reads as follows: “When the even was come they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils, and he cast out the spirits with his word and healed all that were sick, That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17).

Four things are unmistakably clear from these verses:
1. There is no mention here of the cross.
2. The prophecy has been fulfilled.
3. The prophecy was fulfilled before Christ hung on the cross.
4. The prophecy was fulfilled, as Christ cast out evil spirits, and healed the sick during His healing ministry while He was on earth.

That Isaiah’s prophecy, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses”, was fulfilled, when Christ cast out evil spirits, and healed the sick during His healing ministry, while He was on earth, is the scriptural interpretation of the prophecy. It is the explanation of it given by the apostle Matthew, who was infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote his gospel. It is God’s interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy, for “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). God, in His goodness and mercy, ensured that the apostle Matthew gave the explanation of Isaiah’s prophecy, in the earlier chapters of his gospel, far removed from his account of the crucifixion of Christ. Surely, we should take notice of this, and bear it in mind when considering the prophecy. Failure to do this has caused confusion, and led to an incorrect interpretation of the prophecy. When the prophecy was fulfilled, evil spirits were cast out and people were actually healed by Christ.

The Gospel Magazine January- February 2005 with permission

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