Jesus' Miracles: Types of Spiritual Realities
If you put together all the maladies of those whom Jesus miraculously healed during His earthly ministry (i.e. those having to do with eyes, ears, tongues, arms, hands, legs, skin and blood) you would have a perfectly deformed man or woman--both internally and externally. Isaiah used the figure of a person entirely deformed from head to toe to describe our spiritual condition of depravity by nature (Isaiah 1: 5-6). The apostle Paul likened our spiritual condition by nature to that of a physically dead man (Ephesians 2:1-5). This should come as no surprise to us if we understand that the healing miracles--historical though they were--are really spiritual parables for us. They are parables that carry our minds back to Eden and the awful effects of Adam's sin; and, they are parables that carry our minds forward to see the glory of Jesus, the second Adam, and the King of God's Kingdom who came to heal the souls and bodies of His people. Jonathan Edwards captured this idea when he wrote: "The external works of Christ were typical of his spiritual works."1 This is most fully symbolized in the resurrection miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. Here are five observations, drawn from Herman Ridderbos' outstanding book The Coming of the Kingdom, about what the healing miracles of Jesus teach us:
1. God's Kingdom has already arrived, but is also yet to come. Ridderbos made the following observation about the miracles of healing in the Gospels:
Jesus' miracles have an eschatological character as messianic deeds of salvation. This follows from the connection that the gospel points out between the activity of the devil and the diseases, maladies, and disasters that threaten man. It also appears from the fact that the cure of diseased persons, the raising of the dead, etc., are to be considered as the renewal and the re-creation of all things, manifesting the coming of the kingdom of heaven. These miracles, however, are only incidental and are therefore not to be looked upon as a beginning from which the whole will gradually develop, but as signs of the coming kingdom of God.2
The kingdom of God was manifest in the coming of Jesus into the world. The "healing" miracles were signs that pointed to the reality that the Kingdom of God had already come. There was however a suspension of the full coming of the Kingdom until the Gospel is preached throughout the world and Jesus comes again to consummate the Kingdom. It is for this reason that we must understand the miracles to be temporal signs of the eternal reality of what Jesus had come to do. Jesus only healed so many. He often told those whom He healed not to tell anyone about the healing. The only explanation for this seemingly strange response is that Jesus did not come to be a miracle worker--some supernatural entertainment. He was the Savior, come to atone for the sins of His people. Yes, He came to make all things new, but that would only happen in connection with His death and resurrection--and only in the true and full sense in the echaton.
2. Jesus, the second Adam, has come to undo what Adam brought into the world. All of the sickness, sorrow and miseries of this life are directly related to the fall and the sin of our federal representative, Adam. Adam's disobedience brought two things into the world--sin and misery. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains this so well in questions 17-20:
Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery. Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell? A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever. Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery? A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.3
Because the first Adam brought all of the sin and misery into the world, it would take a second Adam to undo what the first had done. This is the clear teaching of Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. Jesus, the Last Adam, "came to do all that Adam failed to do and to undo all that Adam had done."
3. Our need for spiritual healing is more important that our need for physical healing. While it is true that God cares for His people, body and soul, healing from the misery in the world (that is a consequence of the sin of Adam) will not secure for us the ultimate healing of soul and body. The forgiveness of sin and freedom from it's power is the greater need for our souls. Everyone who has their sin forgiven will one day know the complete restoration of both soul and body. Ridderbos explained:
The cures and the raisings of the dead done by Jesus only have a temporary significance. Those cured or revived might again fall ill and would eventually die. In connection with this, Jesus' miracles nowhere serve as a purpose but always as a means in his activities, and always remain subservient to the preaching of the gospel." The fact that the cures were temporary show us that they point beyond themselves to the spiritual healing of our souls. Though one day every sorrow and sickness and misery will be permanently healed, this will only be so for those who have had the souls healed through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.4
A miracle in itself is no safeguard against the last judgment; nor does it necessarily give a share in the kingdom of heaven to those to whom it happens (Cf. Luke 17:17-19: the nine lepers who did not give honor of God); nor to those by whom it is wrought (cf. Matt. 7:22: "Have we not cast out devils in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?"). Therefore Jesus answers those who have returned to him from their missionary journey and reported on their miraculous works in his name: "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your name is written in heaven" (Luke 10:20 ).5
4. Jesus alone has power to heal in the fullest and most lasting sense. We see this principle taught in the helplessness of those that Jesus healed. For instance, we are told of the woman with the unstoppable flow of blood that she "had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse" (Mark 5:26). Every miracle of healing done by the Savior highlights that He, and He alone, has power in Himself to heal the worst miseries of life. Even death itself was no match for the Savior. Ridderbos reflected on the significance of the idea of Jesus' power in the miracles when he wrote:
The name by which Jesus' power to work miracles is indicated and which, therefore, may be considered more or less as a terminus technicus, is δυναμις. Thus Mark 6:14 says: miraculous powers are active in him; Mark 5:30: virtue had gone out of him; the power of the Lord was upon Jesus to cure them (Luke 5:17); he gives commands to the foul spirits with a marvelous authority (Luke 4:36). The miracles themselves are more than once called δυναμεις (Matt. 7:22; 11:20; 13:54),or simply δυναμις (Mark 6:5). On account of the above mentioned significance of Jesus' miraculous works this δυναμις, therefore, entirely assumes the meaning of the divine power of consummation, making Jesus' birth into a miracle already at the outset (Luke 1:35), determining the whole of his action and course of life (Luke 4:14, cf. Acts 10:38). He is the One in whom the glory of God, also indicated as δυναμις (cf. Matt. 26:64), and the definitive coming of God to the world (cf. Mark 9:1; 13:26) attended by the divine δυναμις, is now realized. "This eschatological power is historical power leading the world and history to their goal."6
5. Jesus suffers vicariously to heal us, body and soul. One final observation (that has not often been considered) is that Jesus--in a representative and symbolic sense--took the sickness of those whom He healed upon Himself at the cross. In this way, He was showing that the physical healings represented the need for the spiritual healing of the soul. Additionally, Jesus was taking the sin and the misery upon Himself at the cross, thereby securing the eschatological healing of the souls and bodies of those He came to redeem. Ridderbos explained this so helpfully when he brought together the two pronouncements of Isaiah 53:4 and 53:5 in light of Matthew 6:16-17:
Especially noteworthy is the agreement between Jesus’ via dolorosa and the prophecy of the suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53. Even before this suffering started, this agreement became visible…It is important that in Matthew 8:16-17 Jesus’ manifold cures are called the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4: “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Here we find the thought that in His messianic work, Jesus takes over the burden of disease and suffering from men. It is true that in this passage Jesus does not appear as the one who takes this burden on Himself in His suffering (as does the Servant of the LORD in Isaiah 53:4). But the thought of such a transfer is clearly present and is explained in the light of the prophecy of Isaiah 53.7
For a more detailed unpacking of the idea that Jesus took the sickness of His people upon Himself at the cross, see this post.
1. Edwards, J. (1993). “Types of the Messiah.” In M. I. Lowance Jr. & D. H. Watters (Eds.), Typological Writings (Vol. 11, p. 192). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
2. Herman Ridderbos The Coming of the Kingdom (Ontario: Paidei Press, 1978) p. 115
3. Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 17-20
4. This quote is one that I have frequently heard Sinclair Ferguson say in sermons. It captures the totality of what Jesus does as the second Adam--both positively and negatively.
5. Ridderbos The Coming of the Kingdom p. 115
6. Ibid., p. 120 6. Ibid., p. 69
7. Ibid., p. 165