An Eschatological Prelude: Why Healing and Judgment Come from the Same Kingdom

Once they crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the men of that place recognized Him, they alerted the whole vicinity and brought to Him all who were sick. They were begging Him that they might only touch the tassel on His robe. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well. (Matthew 14:34-36)

When Jesus began his ministry, we’re told that he preached a simple message: “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17). The good news preached by Jesus is the gospel of the kingdom. It is the good news that God has come near, that God reigns, that heaven and earth have met.

In a very real sense, Jesus himself is the gospel. As God-become-man, the one who is fully man and fully God, he is the meeting place of heaven and earth. Within his person, Godhead and humanity meet and are united.

And the first result of this meeting is healing.

In Jesus’s ministry, healing is the clearest image we have of what it means for human beings to be saved. It displays in the human body what Jesus came to do in our hearts, in our relationships, and in the whole of creation (our bodies included).

Physical healing points ahead to the resurrection. It is strength, freedom, renewal, new creation.

In this brief paragraph in Matthew (one of several where he gives us a birds-eye view of Jesus’s ministry), Jesus did not even need to take action to bring healing. He simply needed to be present. Earlier in the gospel of Matthew we saw him touch the sick, speak to them, command them, forgive them. Here, they simply came and touched the edge of his garment, asking for their healing, and they were healed.

I have to imagine they got this idea from the brave woman back in chapter 9 who touched Jesus’s robe in a desperate attempt to be healed of a bleeding disorder. Word must have gotten around. In our day we’re sometimes warned not to make formulas out of God’s unique action in our lives or expect that he will always work in exactly the same way, but in this case they were not disappointed — “And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.”

The healings done by Jesus express many things about him and about God’s plan for the world. They reveal him as God; they reveal God’s will that we should be made whole; they put the life-giving nature and power of God on display.

But they also have an eschatological meaning; that is, they point us to the time of the end. (“Eschatology” means the study of last things. It comes from the Greek eschaton, which means “the last.” In Christian theology, eschatology includes the return of Christ, the resurrection, final judgment, heaven and hell, and the new heavens and new earth.)

As I said, healing points forward to bodily resurrection and ultimately to salvation — to what it means to be entirely, completely saved, not only from certain consequences of sin but from sin itself, and from death, and from the brokenness within our own nature.

In this more comprehensive sense, healing reverses the curse that came upon us at Eden.

In this life, the healing we experience is partial and temporary. We are all still going to die. But the salvation it images is not.

We will, Paul assures us in 1 Corinthians 15, be raised incorruptible and immortal, in the image of our risen Lord. “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2, NKJV).

I wish this was the entire story. Jesus comes into the world, God and people are united, and we are healed. But it isn’t — there is another side to this life-bringing union, another side to the eschatological picture.

This other side can be seen in the second reaction to Jesus.

On the one hand, some people came to him and were healed. On the other hand, some reacted against him. His presence was polarizing: faced with the nearness of God, some repented and were healed by him. Others reacted against him, separating themselves like oil separates from water.

This, too, was part of the plan, and this too is eschatological. John the Baptist warned:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11-12)

From the start, Jesus did not need to call out and condemn anyone. His enemies identified themselves through their opposition to him.

The more evident his goodness and power became, the more perverse their opposition was revealed to be.

We’ve seen it playing out over the last number of chapters: Jesus healed the sick and helpless and was called a lawbreaker; he cast out demons and was called a demon. He called people to a higher standard of righteousness and was accused of leading people into sin.

John’s words in a later gospel are apt: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19, NKJV).

For this next stretch on the blog, as we re-enter the gospel of Matthew together, the eschatological framework of salvation and judgment will inform how we understand what’s happening — from the “now” of Jesus’s healings and the consequent opposition to him, to the “not-yet” of Matthew 24 and 25, where Jesus predicts the future and prepares us to settle in for the long haul and for the final judgment.

Truly, in Jesus the kingdom of heaven came near. In him, it is still near. And our choice of response is the same as it’s ever been: draw near and be healed, or resist and be hardened. In one choice is life and wholeness; in the other, death and dissolution — the final fracturing of who and what we are.

The choice always lies with us. As many as came to him were made perfectly well.

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This is Part 233 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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