With Isaiah 53:4,5 ringing in his ears, Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). Does this mean, as some have claimed, that physical healing is as much a guarantee of the atonement as is forgiveness of sins? Yes, but not in this life.
Some hold that if Jesus’ wounds have provided healing, then just as we confess our sins to get forgiveness based in his atonement, so if we confess healing we will get healing based in his atonement. The key is believing it. But there are several things wrong with this line of thought.
One, though people will often quote this verse, “by his wounds we are healed,” it properly reads, “by his wounds you have been healed.” What Peter is describing is a once for all accomplished fact. Some might, however, argue that this means we have an unlimited reservoir of healing to be appropriated, just as we have a reservoir of forgiveness.
Two, a look at the whole verse makes it clear that Peter does not have physical healing in mind at all. He is describing the purpose of Christ’s death as being a way for us to die to sins and live for righteousness. The focus is moral. A look at the broader context shows that Peter’s concern is that Christians facing persecution must not be persecuted for doing wrong, but only because they live holy lives. Why should we live to righteousness? Because Christ’s wounds healed us, cured us of sin’s domination in our lives through radical forgiveness. We were like sheep straying from the safe paths, but Christ’s wounds have brought us back to the Shepherd.
Three, Matthew quotes the same Isaiah passage as fulfilled by Christ when He healed people physically during His earthly ministry (Matthew 8:14-17). This activity of Jesus was a foretaste of the kingdom.
It is true that the atonement is the basis for physical healing in that the sin of Adam and Eve and our subsequent sinfulness is the cause of all sickness and death in our world. But if the atonement guaranteed healing for now, as it does forgiveness, then no believer would ever die. He or she could claim healing for every illness, even that leading to death. But there are aspects of the healing purchased by the atonement that await the kingdom and will not be fully introduced until that day. Then, resurrection will put an end to death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). But until that day illness and death must be a part of our lives. God’s ultimate goal for this stage of our lives is holiness and even that will not be accomplished fully until the kingdom. Only then will He wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4)