It is often claimed by Christians that there is healing in the atonement. A standard proof-text is Matthew's use of Isaiah. What does the prophet teach about sickness?
A Spiritual Condition
Right from the start Isaiah depicts national sin in terms of sickness: the physical is employed to describe the spiritual - keep this is mind as the prophet offers cure!
The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it but bruises and sores and raw wounds: they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil - Isaiah 1:5b-6
A Flexible Translation
'Sick' to us means 'sick', and 'sin' to us is 'sin': not so in Hebrew - the translation of 'sick' is more diverse: sick can mean 'ill, sad, grieved, wounded or injured'. A decisive example occurs in the "Suffering Servant" text of 53:10 that translators struggle with: the ESV reads:
Yet is was the will of the LORD to crush him: he has put him to grief.
On reading the original, however, we are stopped with a jolt: Isaiah literally says ...he has made him sick. This, at very least, should warn us to tread with care - it seems that the issue at stake with 'sickness' is not just so straightforward as some have tried to suggest.
A Guilt-Bearing Retribution
When we come to the suffering of the Servant, it seems clear that this messianic malady is not what we term sickness: rather the promised Son of David is suffering from wounds inflicted as retribution - the wages for our guilt that God imputed to Him:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities ...and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
A Royal Prescription
Just before the Gospel brings comfort to Assyrian-besieged Jews (BC 701) and future-Babylonian exiles (BC 586+), Hezekiah fell sick with a fatal diagnosis. Yet, through a prayer-of-faith, Judah's believing king is healed. An astonishing turn-back-the-clocks sign is given to deepen trust. Decisively, Israel's God has history past, present and future firmly in His grip. No grasshopper superpower can thwart his saving goal. Messiah will come and rescue Jew and Gentile from their sins. The heir of David gets a promise from the LORD: his condition will be cured; his life will be prolonged; and, along with Him, citizens and city will be saved!
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover." Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD ...Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 'Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city. Isaiah 38.1-6
Isaiah records this sickness and cure of the King of Jews as a type of the cure of the future fatality of the Christ - a greater salvation is coming which won't spare THE Son of David: but, having suffered death for sin, being made a spiritually-sick curse, the Servant conquers death, raising a global spiritual seed to be holy to the LORD. New Jerusalem will be redeemed by the King who ever lives to make intercession for them! Here, again, physical is typical of ultimate, spiritual, deliverance from sin - salvation of God's Messianic King together with His People. Note that it is not a private Israelite who receives this miracle cure and sign - it is the king of the Jews who prays and the Jewish people are saved - Hezekiah, after all, is the Anointed of LORD (an 8th century messiah - messiah just means anointed one). To sum up this incident, then, in other words: there is nothing in this text, when read in its proper context, which gives any hint a Christian can claim such healing with this kind of confidence for ourselves!
A Stumbled Mission
Nor can sickness be salvaged by Isaiah's blind or deaf: it is tempting to let the usual Old Testament preference for the physical drown out Isaiah's spiritual voice - yet it must be remembered that the reason the Messiah is needed is because nationally, as God's servant, Israel has failed to bring light to the nations:
Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD. He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open but he does not hear ...Was it not the LORD against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? Isaiah 42:18-20, 24b.
This explains why THE 'messianic' Servant, introduced in 42:1-9, is required - as 'Israel-boiled-down-to-One', Messiah now wins where His people so miserably lost: and what will the effect of HIS faithful, righteous, service be? A forgiven, renewed, nation now equipped and dispersed for mission:
Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears ...You are my witnesses, declares the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He ...I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:8-10, 25.
The point again, I think, is this - it must not be missed: even with specific maladies of the lame, deaf and blind, these secondary physical pictures are used to describe what are primarily spiritual problems. In other words, we misread the prophet if we think he predicts a medical Messiah: sin-sick Israel's cure is a spiritual Savior.
A Terminal Solution
Two caveats will steer us from extremes: first, the Hebraic mind, has a cohesive view of man - body and soul are conceived of as one psycho-somatic unit; second, in Isaiah, the prophetic answer is cosmic - after sin is atoned, Gentile mission occurs, final judgment comes with renewal of the cosmos: the final answer of God is to reverse all effects of the curse - in this consummate sense Messiah sorts out sickness too. And so it is easy to see, with the present Gospel tension of now-and-not yet, why the physical healings that Christ performed are signs of the powers of the age-to-come breaking in.
For behold , I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind ...I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days - Isaiah 65:17-20.
So, in this current age of Gospel ministry, the Cross of Christ does not promise physical cures of Covid-19 either through vaccination or ventilation (cast-iron guarantees of healing named-and-claimed is an tragic error: it has been pedalled and prayed for far too long by charismatics and charlatans who distort the biblical text). Visit NYC or check out Central Park: if you have eyes to see, I think you will realise what is immediately and painfully obvious!
So we do still need hospitals and, heartbreakingly, must continue to mourn at funerals. Yet, in the long run, the atonement of the Servant does deliver believers fully, sooner or later, from all the tragic effects of sin: even I can't wait to get rid of my contact lenses without any further need to provide a solution for keratoconus. My mum, who died last month, is now relieved of the physical suffering and mental anguish of her ALS - one day soon, because Messiah Jesus died and rose (to bear away our sin), again she will speak and, for enjoyment, swallow food (it would be nice to be set near her at Christ's table in God's Kingdom!). For...
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken - Isaiah 25:6-8.
Doubtless, of course, there is much more to be said (I haven't even touched on Matthew's use of the text). Yet, until that glorious day, when shining bodies awake from the dust, if we love truth, if we care for God's flock, there are two things, I think, that are incumbent upon us: first, we must continue to boldly call-out bogus prosperity teachers; second, we must do all we can to relieve confused, tormented, believers, who have been damaged by pseudo-shepherds - how cruel to be told that it is your fault you are sick because of your own lack of faith!
So am I covered for Covid? Are you in Christ? In an ultimate sense we give a thumbs up and cry a joyful "eternal YES!"