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DIVINE HEALING: GODS PROVISION FOR HIS CREATION THROUGHOUT ETERNITY

Dan Morrison Divine Healing 17 July 2009

Introduction Based on information from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, approximately 105 people die every minute on planet earth.1 These deaths result from various forms of sickness and disease some curable, others not. Ever since the Fall of humanity, people have tried their best to overcome sickness, and ultimately death, by every means possible. Individuals seek the help of the scientific community for better health through means of medication. In some instances, people place their loved ones on life support, even when they see no signs of life. Though these actions do not constitute some form of evil action and have been provided by God for the betterment of the human condition, the Bible reveals that humans will never overcome death by their own power. The latest work of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, contains more Old Testament imagery than any other New Testament work. As the Apostle John culminates his work, he does so by describing the restoration of all creation in the New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem. As he focuses on the New Jerusalem, John describes an object which has not been indentified since the early chapters of Genesis the tree of life. In his description, John explains that this tree possesses healing elements. His description raises the question of the need for healing in the new creation. The reemergence of the tree of life in the eschaton seems to reveal some need for healing. The tree of life reveals characteristics concerning healing in the new creation, but given the parallels of the old and new creations, the presence of the tree of life in the new creation provides some ideas regarding healing in the old creation. This writing seeks to investigate the presence of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem and its purpose among the people of God in the eschaton.

United Nations. World Mortality 2007, United Nations Population Division Homepage, http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldmortality/WMR2007_wallchart.pdf (accessed July 14, 2009).

The Tree of Life in the Original Creation In Johns transition to a new creation in Revelation 21 and 22, he notes the tree of life in the New Jerusalem. Observing Johns use of Old Testament imagery throughout his writing, it seems most appropriate to begin a discussion concerning the new creation by taking a moment to observe the place it originally appears, the first creation account. Within this account, the place of the tree of life among the people of God becomes quite apparent. The Trees in the Midst of the Garden In the creation account of Genesis, the tree of life first appears in Genesis 2:9. Here the writer notes it as one of the two trees in the midst of the garden. When the Lord places the man in the garden, he permits him to eat of every tree in the garden, save one the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When instructing man concerning this prohibition, the Lord informs the man of the repercussions of disobedience in this area by stating, in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.2 The Lord permitting Adam to partake of every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gives him access to the tree of life. Such access opens the opportunity and plausibility that Adam partook of the tree of life. This also means that God utilized the fruit of the tree of life in order to sustain Adam and Eve. In order to understand this, one must observe the physical composition of the human body. The Bible clearly argues for a difference between humanity and the animal kingdom. The questions proposed by many address the nature of that distinction. When the Bible discusses the

Genesis 2:17. All quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

creation of animals, it explains that the earth [brought] forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.3 Interestingly, the Genesis account also notes man having the dust of the earth as his source.4 The identical source for humans and animals leads to the understanding that the disparity between them extends beyond physical composition. Unlike the description of the creation of animals, the descriptions of God making humans explains that he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.5 Given the difference between the ways in which humans and animals were created, the distinction between man and beast lies in the immaterial nature of the human being. Numerous Christians hold to the general view that no death occurred prior to the Fall of humans. A more careful reading of the text reveals that plant death must have occurred, as plants served as food for both humans and animals. In his Old Testament Theology textbook, Bruce Waltke argues for animal death as well.6 Since Adam, and later Eve, would need some point of reference to understand death, it would seem likely that they would gain this understanding from observing animal death. Such an approach to the text places the idea of plant and animal death prior to the Fall within the scope of reason. Given the idea that animals died before the Fall, the similarity between human and animal bodies would therefore provide an opportunity for human death to occur prior to sin. Such thought leads to the question of what allowed humans to live while all other forms of life experienced death. The tree of life serves as the only source mentioned in the text which could

Genesis 1:24, Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh. Genesis 2:7, Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh. Genesis 2:7b.

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan), 184.

have perpetually prevented the breakdown and decay of the human body, thereby granting the man and woman eternal life. The tree of life functioning as a continual life source for the man and woman leads to what Millard Erickson refers to as the Pelagian conclusion that humans were created mortal.7 This means that since creation, humanity had a disposition toward physical death, but the provision of God provided in the fruit of the tree of life prevented it. Though physical death possesses some connection with the Fall, the Bible presents no evidence suggesting the material nature of man changed after the original sin. Rather the physical death of humanity results from a lack of access to the tree of life. After Adam and Eve disobey God by partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the words originally spoken to Adam in Genesis 2:17 come to pass; both Adam and Eve experience death. Not only do they encounter spiritual death, but they experience physical death as well. The entire earth suffers from the curse as a result of Sin, including the Garden of Eden. Despite the curse affecting the garden, the Lord sends Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden in order that they might not continue to eat of the tree of life.8 Some commentators, such as Robert Wall, argue that Adam and Eve never partook of the tree of life, assuming that one bite of its fruit would sustain them for all eternity.9 Though this approach is plausible, it seems likely that they partook of the tree of life on a regular basis, until they sinned against God. The statement of the Lord discussing banishing humanity from the garden lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and live forever10 has the potential for an alternate translation.
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Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan) 629. Genesis 3:22-23. Robert Wall, Revelation (Peabody, Massachusetts) 256. Genesis 3:22.

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The Hebrew term for also ( )can be translated again. No matter the translation, this account sadly demonstrates that because of their sin, Adam and Eve become acquainted with their mortality.11 Though God judges them for their actions, he continues to make divine provision for the life and health of his creation. Healing in the Interim Despite the sin of humanity, God provides for the health and preservation of his creation. Along with the judgment of sin, the Lord promises that the seed of the woman would overcome the serpent, but only in the midst of suffering from a bruise himself.12 Such an occurrence plants the seed of hope that the results of what has taken place will be overturned. So often, readers view this passage in terms of spiritual salvation, but the whole of Scripture teaches that God cares for all aspects of the human being and therefore aims to totally redeem humanity. In light of the entire testimony of Scripture, the promise of Genesis 3:15 relates not only to the salvation of the soul, but includes the healing of the physical body.13 Though not using the same terminology as the writer of Genesis, the Prophet Isaiah speaks concerning the protoevangelion. When Isaiah discusses the Suffering Servant, he speaks prophetically concerning one who would be bruised for the iniquity of all humanity. 14 In this discourse, the prophet explains that by the wound the servant experiences, people obtain

11

Yossi Feintuch, The Folly of Impetuous Speech: Four Biblical Incidents, Jewish Bible Quarterly 34

(2006): 16.
12

Genesis 3:15.

The use of the word soul may be used interchangeably with the term spirit in reference to the immaterial aspect of a persons being.
14

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Isaiah 53:5-6.

access to the privilege of healing.15 Some theologians argue that this passage simply uses healing in the metaphorical sense and deals strictly with salvation. As a result, the reader of the Isaianic passage must inquire about what type of healing the writer speaks. A New Testament Hermeneutic Concerning Isaiahs Prophecy of Healing One way of gaining and understanding of what the Bible says about a specific topic is to look for how the Bible addresses the topic in the whole canon of Scripture. Noting the intertextuality of Scripture serves as one of the best ways for gaining an understanding of a specific passage or phrase found in the Bible. Such usage of the text serves as a great advantage to the reader, especially when New Testament writers refer to Old Testament texts and interpret them for the readers. Two New Testament authors address portions of Isaiahs passage. The Spirit-inspired interpretive methodologies of Matthew and Peter help explain to what Isaiah refers when discussing healing. A Matthean Interpretive Approach Functioning as the first of the synoptic gospels, the Book of Matthew serves as an evangelistic tool for Jews in which the author develops a written account explaining that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Matthews historical identity as a Galilean Jewish Christian supports the understanding that he was capable of interpreting the words and actions of Jesus in light of Old Testament messianic expectations.16 Given Matthews interpretive abilities, he includes distinctive literary phrases, appealing to Jesus fulfillment of the predictions found in Old Testament prophetic texts. As a result, the context in which Matthew places the text of Isaiah 53 assists the reader in gaining Matthews understanding of Isaiahs approach to healing.
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Isaiah 53:5. Wayne Grudem, ed. ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway), 1815.

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Matthew 8 records an account of Jesus going to Peters home, where his mother-in-law was ill. While there, Matthew explains that Jesus heals her with the touch of his hand. This miracle led to others, as later that evening, Jesus casts out spirits and heals all the sick. In looking back on this account, Matthew notes, This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.17 Matthews quotation of Isaiah 53:4 directly relates to the healing of physical ailments. The concept of Christ delivering the oppressed from demons may also be used to say that Matthew interprets Isaiahs prophecy in terms of some form of spiritual deliverance. In his writing, Matthew illustrates the meaning of Isaiahs statement concerning Jesus taking our illnesses and diseases. Prior to the account in the house of Peter, Matthew records Jesus healing a leper as he comes down a mountain.18 Shortly after the account, a woman suffering from some form of hemorrhage stretches out her hand and touches Jesus garment in order that she might receive her healing.19 Though the woman touching Jesus garment might not have a significant effect on the modern reader and Jesus touching the leper holds no significance besides functioning as a mode of healing, these actions maintain great importance for those in these accounts. According to the Law of Moses, the leprous and those with a discharge of blood are ceremonially unclean.20 As a result, Jesus having physical contact with these individuals renders him unclean, just as they.21

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Matthew 8:17. Matthew 8:1-4 Matthew 9:18-26. Leviticus 13:45; 15:25. Leviticus 22:4-6.

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A Petrine Interpretive Approach Noted in the canon as the First Epistle of Peter, the apostle writes to Christians dispersed across the Roman Empire in order to encourage them to maintain their faith in the midst of suffering and persecution. Peters background as a Galilean Jewish Christian, like Matthew, supports the idea that he was capable of interpreting the words and actions of Jesus he saw in light of Old Testament texts. Seeing the same events as Matthew, one must observe the literary context in which Peter places the text of Isaiah in order to see how Peter sees Isaiahs approach to healing. In Peters letter to these Christians, he appeals to Isaiah 53:4 and says, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.22 In the same verse, he continues by appealing to verse 5 of Isaiahs passage and says, By his wounds you have been healed. In the history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions, many have appealed to 1 Peter 2:24 in order to argue for physical healing. Some have gone so far as to state that the verb tense Peter uses demonstrates that the healing has already taken place and that believers should look for the manifestation of healing in their bodies. Interestingly, Peters use of this passage maintains no relation to physical healing. Peter notes Christ bearing sin in his body so we might die to sin and live to righteousness.23 As a result of Christs suffering, these Christians have been [spiritually] healed;24 they were saved by the suffering of Christ on the cross. Ultimately, the apostle encourages his audience to continue entrusting [themselves] to him who judges justly.25
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1 Peter 2:24. I Peter 2:24. I Peter 2:24. 1 Peter 2:23.

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The Both-And Nature of Healing in Isaiah The differing explanations of Matthew and Peter have the potential to raise questions from those studying the concept of healing. Matthew appeals to the passage, stating it refers to physical healing, while Peter refers to the same passage discussing spiritual healing (salvation). Interestingly, both writers maintain accuracy in their use of the Isaianic passage. Each simply places his emphasis on a specific aspect of healing. This emphasis rests with the target audience and the point the author attempts to communicate. In an attempt to reach Jews, Matthew appeals to the cultural expectation that the Messiah would bring physical healing. Peter writes to Gentiles who had lived in their former ignorance26 and had no Messianic expectation. Given Peters audience, he focuses on spiritual healing by way of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Allowing both divinely inspired New Testament authors to speak for themselves, readers recognize that Isaiahs prophecy concerning healing deals with both the spiritual and physical aspects of healing. Understanding that God provided physical healing prior to the Fall, and continues to do so during this period in history, begs the question of what healing will look like in the age to come. In order to draw conclusions concerning this, one must refer to the writings of the New Testament. Pauline Perspectives on the Ultimately Healed Body Of all the New Testament writers, the Apostle Paul takes time to discuss the future state of the human. Various writings discuss the future hope of the resurrection of the dead. These discussions of resurrection lead to questions concerning the nature and function of the human body in the age to come. Given Gods care for the whole individual, his work aims to redeem

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1 Peter 1:14.

both the body and the soul. In an effort to correct the behavior of the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explains the future state of the physical body. Toward the end of I Corinthians, Paul explains the significance of what humans do in the body by explaining that the Lord will one day make their bodies eternal. But how is a body that suffers from sickness, disease, death, and decay to be redeemed? Paul explains the mysterious nature of what he refers to in Romans as the redemption of our bodies.27 In discussing the resurrected body, Paul tells the Corinthians that the perishable body must put on the imperishable and the mortal body must put on immortality.28 In 1 Corinthians 15:55, when discussing this transformation of the body, he quotes Hosea taunting death saying, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Here Paul explains that the sting of death is sin the very thing which separates humanity from the tree of life.29 When describing the state of the body in the future age, Paul does not give much of an idea concerning physical characteristics. The totality of this information seems to reside in the hidden knowledge of God until the full consummation of humanitys redemption takes place. At the same time, the Scripture gives some ideas concerning this new body. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains that Christ will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.30 As a result, the descriptions of the first fruits of the Resurrection, Jesus Christ, provide additional clues concerning the post-resurrection body.

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Romans 8:23. 1 Corinthians 15:53. 1 Corinthians 15:56. Philippians 3:21.

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We Shall Be Like Him Of the gospel writers, Luke and John provide great detail concerning the postresurrection body of Jesus. A physician by profession,31 Luke had some understanding of the human body and how it functions. As a result, each of his descriptions concerning Jesus postresurrection actions demonstrates some characteristic of Jesus body. John, a Galilean Jewish fisherman, writes his gospel in an attempt to communicate to others that they can have eternal life through Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the activities of Jesus recorded by John present evidence supporting that the one who provides eternal life is indeed alive. Many eyewitness accounts confirm the bodily existence among his followers. Based on a series of interactions with Jesus, his followers and the readers of the biblical text can understand that Christ possesses physical strength and can move objects.32 On at least one occasion he enters a room where the doors are locked.33 Despite his defiance of the laws of physics, Christ explains to his followers that he is not a spirit, as he has flesh and bones.34 He even partakes of food with his disciples.35 Given the frequency of the Old Testaments relation of breath and life, John notes that in the same way that God breathed into man the breath of life that Jesus breathes on his disciples and commands them to receive the life giving gift of the Holy Spirit.36 Luke and John note that Jesus body was the same as theirs, yet different in some way. The similarities seem to be accounted for in Jesus maintaining his physical nature. Yet the
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Colossians 4:14. Luke 24:30 John 20:19 Luke 24:39. Luke 24:43 John 20:22.

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differences the writers note concerning his body seem to only be understood in terms of the Spirit empowering Christs body. Their accounts provide information explaining that in the eschaton the human body will be the same, but not quite the same, [as] it will be refitted for heavenly existence.37 The Already Meets the Not Yet As the metanarrative of Scripture comes to a close, the Apostle John takes the time to describe what he sees in the new creation. Using language reminiscent of Genesis 1-3, he describes the layout of the city of God in which the Lord once again makes his dwelling place with humanity.38 After describing the river of life, John explains the tree of life is on either side of the river.39 Though difficult to visually and geographically grasp, he explains that the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.40 With the understanding from the Pauline letters of the immortal state of the humans post-resurrection body, Johns inclusion of the tree of life, along with his notation of its healing properties, appears to be an unnecessary aspect of the eschatological hope. In the Garden of Eden, the Lord provides eternal life for his creation by way of the tree of life. The prohibition of consumption of the fruit of the tree after the Fall allows the effects of nature sickness and death to take place. With the resurrection of the body, when the mortal becomes immortal, the tree of life is present for humanity to once again eat of its fruit. Some
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan) 331. Johns writing in his description of the new creation refers not only to the early record of Genesis, but also to Ezekiels vision of the eschatological temple. Given the brevity of this work, the discussion of the parallel language between Johns description of the new creation and Ezekiels description of the eschatological temple were excluded.
39 38 37

Revelation 22:2. Ibid.

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may argue that people will not eat of the tree of life in the age to come but the Lord tells those in the church at Ephesus that he will grant [the one who conquers] to eat of the tree of life.41 This reversal of the effects of the curse reminds believers that they may partake of the tree of life, through which God originally provided eternal life for the physical body. The eating of this tree serves as a constant reminder of the restorative work of God through the atoning death of his Son. The leaves of this tree, which were for healing, show that the ultimate healing, both spiritual and physical has already occurred at the eschaton.42 This revelation therefore serves as a reminder of Gods redemptive work of the past, while reassuring those who partake of the tree of his continued care for them, both spiritually and physically, throughout eternity. Conclusion The presence of the tree of life at the beginning and end of the Bible demonstrates that God is the one who gives life to his creation. In the interim, where humanity finds itself in a world full of sickness and death, God demonstrates his power to heal both the body and soul. Even as salvation is universally available to everyone in this life, God provides healing in this life for both believers and non-believers. These proleptic healings from God, no matter the recipient, should encourage believers to look forward to the day in which God, who has always sustained his creation, brings about the ultimate healing for his children at the eschaton.

41

Revelation 2:7. Grant Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic) 772.

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Bibliography Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. Fee, Gordan, and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003. Feintuch, Yossi. "The Folly of Impetuous Speech: Four Biblical Incidents." Jewish Biblical Quarterly, 2006: 16. Grudem, Wayne, ed. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008. Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002. United Nations. World Mortality 2007. United Nations Population Division Homepage. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldmortality/WMR2007_wallchart.pdf (accessed July 14, 2009). Wall, Robert W. Revelation. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991. Waltke, Bruce. An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Watson, Paul. "The Tree of Life." Restoration Quarterly, 1980: 232-238. Wong, Daniel. "The Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7." Biblioteca Sacra, 1998: 211-226.

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