The gospels claim that Jesus was a healer of all kinds of diseases. Jesus is constantly called upon to heal, and on several occasions he takes the initiative to heal. His ministry of healing was not at all like modern faith healers – in fact, in several cases the individual healed does not express faith in Jesus (Mark 2:1-12, the paralytic, Mark 7:24-30, the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman). In Luke 22:51 we might even say that the person healed was decidedly anti-Jesus since he was one of the servants of the priests who were arresting Jesus.
Healing was an expected part of the Messiah’s coming. Isaiah 61:1-4 says that the age of the Messiah will bring physical healing and liberation from oppression. This text is spoken by an individual who is anointed by the Lord (a messiah) for the purpose of preaching the good news of the end of the exile. Notice Isa 61:3 describes the reverse Zion’s mourning and 61:4 describes the rebuilding of the ancient ruins. It is this passage that Jesus quotes in Luke 4 as being fulfilled in his ministry. After he announces that he is the fulfillment of Isa 61, he begins healing many (Luke 4:31-37, a demon; 4:38, Peter’s mother-in-law, 4:39-40, many diseases and demons). Similarly, in Matthew 11 Jesus answers John’s disciples by alluding to the Hebrew Bible.
Why would healing be a part of the messianic age? The coming age is a time of the New Covenant, when Israel and Judah will no longer be under the curse of the Law, but under the blessing of the New Covenant. The First Covenant promised a physical curse for breaking the law, but a physical blessing for keeping the Law. The New Covenant will enable the people to keep the covenant, therefore the coming age will be a time when the curse is reversed and people are physically blessed with real health. In the coming age, God will deal with sin, even destroying Death (Isa 25:6-8). God’s representative, the messiah, will initiate that period of health and prosperity.
Mark 2 is a most remarkable healing because it seems designed to reverse contemporary assumptions about disease and sin. If a person had a disease or other serious physical problem, it might very well be an indication of sin (as in Job, for example). When the paralytic was lowered through the roof, Jesus does not heal him, but rather forgives his sin. This provokes a response from the teachers of the Law, since only God can forgive sin. Perhaps they thought that if Jesus really could forgive sin, he would have healed the man. Jesus goes out of his way to point out that he has authority to forgive sin (a divine prerogative) and heals the man to show that his sins have in fact been forgiven.
How are Jesus’ healing ministry related to us today? We are really back to the “already / not yet” of the Kingdom. Jesus dealt with the problem of sin on the cross, but the Kingdom is not yet fully consummated. The future, fully realized Kingdom will be a time when the curse of sin is reversed. Today we have the spiritual blessing of the New Covenant, but not necessarily all of the physical blessings.
Two implications follow from this. First, the Church is not under the curse of the Law – physical illness should never be seen as a direct punishment from God because of your sin (or your parent’s sin). It might be, since sin is usually “punished” by the natural results of that sin. But you cannot say your illness is a result of the curses of the Law.
Second, you cannot say your good health is a result of your positive spiritual life. Again, it might be (guilty conscience could cause an ulcer), but there is not contract with God that guarantees you health if you are living out your Christian life properly.
I realize this runs counter to popular teaching from evangelists about healing, but these teachers seriously misunderstand Jesus’s miracles when they tell people their illness is a result of sin or their success is a result of spiritual maturity.