Healing played an essential part in the ministry of Jesus. Along with preaching and teaching, it was one of the three main things he did. Matthew sums it up like this, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).
Now, teaching and preaching—we get that. But why healing? The answer, actually, is contained in that verse—in the close relationship between healing and the Kingdom of God. Let me explain.
When a first-century Jew heard that phrase, “Kingdom of God,” they associated it with what would happen at the end of the age. When the Kingdom came the Holy Spirit would be poured out, the dead would be raised, new creation would dawn. God’s righteous, peaceful reign would be established and his original plan for creation restored.
So when Jesus arrived on the scene insisting, “The age to come is here, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news,” it was a big deal.
But it’s one thing to preach that, it’s another thing to demonstrate it. That’s why his healing miracles were so significant. They were prima facie evidence that what he proclaimed was true. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear. Indeed, new creation has arrived, the future has invaded the present.
Both Jesus’s words and his deeds confirmed it. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann is right, “after the proclamation of the gospel, the healing of the sick is Jesus’ most important testimony to the dawning of the Kingdom of God.”1
But now, if the Kingdom of God is here, as Jesus said, why isn’t everybody healed? Why is there still suffering and sickness and evil and death in the world? If new creation has dawned, why is there still so much old creation all around us?
This is where Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom was confusing for his first disciples. It messed with their conventional Jewish timeline. They thought the Kingdom would all come at once at the very end. But Jesus said, “Indeed, the Kingdom has come, but it hasn’t completely come.” It’s truly here, but it’s not fully here.
It’s already, but it’s not yet. And so, even though the Kingdom has come, you need to continually pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Have you ever heard a preacher say, towards the end of their sermon, “And now, as I begin to conclude . . . ” Well, at that point, you’re probably wondering how long exactly it’s going to be. You’re hoping five more minutes, but it could be twenty-five more minutes!
That is the uncomfortable place in which we now live—between the beginning of the end and the end of the end. We’re certain we’re living in the last days—the Kingdom of God is already here. But how long, O Lord, how long will these last days last?—the Kingdom is not yet here. That is the mystery of the Kingdom.
Those of us who engage in healing ministry live in this tension, this uncomfortable place all the time. We pray expectantly and boldly for healing because we believe the Kingdom is here and now. But we also pray humbly, not presumptuously, because so often we don’t know what will be already and what will be not yet.
By the way, that is why in the history of the church and in the church today, we have often gone to one extreme or another in our attempts to resolve the tension, the mystery of healing.
For some Christians, they believe the Kingdom is all in the not-yet future. It will happen after we die. Healing happened in the apostolic age to help get the church launched, but it’s not for this present age, only for the age to come.
For others the Kingdom is all in the already present. Healing will happen now if you just pray and ask. And if you aren’t healed, then the problem must be on your end, not God’s. If you just had more faith, or prayed longer, or had the right person pray for you, you will be healed.
But because the Kingdom is already and not yet, healing is too. According to New Testament scholar Gordon Fee, “Sometimes [the Kingdom] is attested by signs and wonders and other times by joy in great affliction.”2 The apostle Paul, in refusing to go to either extreme, expected to see both. Fee calls that the “radical middle” and he says that’s where the first century apostolic church lived.
God is inviting all Christians to live in that place, too.
Author Stephen Seamands draws upon four decades of teaching theology and active involvement in healing ministry to help us understand the essential theological foundations for healing ministry in a way that is accessible to all Christians.
If you’re interested in learning more about healing prayer and healing ministry, Seamands’s new book Follow the Healer: Biblical and Theological Foundations for Healing Ministry is the ideal resource. This will encourage you to engage in simple, faithful healing ministry that is grounded in a holistic understanding of the person. It will also help you appreciate the compassionate optimism of God’s healing power while accounting for the mystery of suffering in our fallen creation. The greatest takeaway is that healing ministry belongs to Jesus, so all of the pressure around results rest on him. Jesus’s faithfulness through the diverse ways he heals invites confidence and participation alongside him.
This resource is perfect for:
- Prayer ministry teams
- Healing ministry teams
- Small group leaders
- Missionaries and evangelists
- Pastors and Students
- Individual study
Learn more and pre-order it from our store here (September, 2023). We have also developed a church kit to help entire communities explore the invitation to participate in Jesus’s healing ministry. Explore the church kit here.
“This excellent and insightful book by Stephen Seamands is a much-needed corrective to both extremes. It is thoroughly biblical, pastorally sensitive, and does an excellent job of tethering the healing ministry of Jesus to the kingdom of God and the already/not yet of life in the present age.”
–Sam Storms, PhD, Enjoying God Ministries
1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, translated by Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1997), 64.
2. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 146.