Did Jesus Come to Heal Our World?

No, Jesus came to do something much greater. Many people today describe Jesus’ ministry and mission in terms of healing. They would say, “Jesus has healed us, and sends us into the world to bring healing.”

It is equally common to describe the fallen human condition as “damaged” or “broken.” 

Of course, there is much truth in these statements. Healing describes one aspect of Jesus’ ministry. But, as the primary description of why he came, it falls far short. Likewise, the description of our human condition is not wrong, it is just inadequate to capture the full extent of our predicament. 

Sin is not simply a disease that needs a cure. It is much more serious than that. We are not merely sick people, we are rebels. Sick people need healing; sinners need repentance. 

There are occasional references to Jesus’ saving work in terms of healing. With reference to the Suffering Servant, the prophet states, “By his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). But even here, the context of “transgressions” suggests that the healing carries the meaning of forgiveness. To be sure, Jesus is the Great Physician. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31). But this is far from being the predominant biblical image used to describe his mission in the world. 

How did Jesus describe his own mission?

Let’s consider two important declarations of Jesus about his mission on earth.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom to many.” (Mark 10:45)

In the first declaration, we are viewed as lost and helpless, even ignorant as to the extent of our lostness. This is illustrated so well in the three lost parables of Luke 15. (1) We had to be found. (2) We had to be rescued. (3) And in his love and compassion, Jesus sought us and found us.  

Secondly, Jesus gave his life as a ransom. This statement speaks of the substitutionary nature of his death. In this case, the image of ransom is used to emphasize that we were in bondage to sin and death and needed to be redeemed from that condition.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, which pictures his suffering and death as a substitution.

“He was pierced for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” (Isaiah 53:5)

It is impossible to understand these statements apart from the idea of substitution. It clearly says that he received the punishment that was due us. This concept is often called “penal substitution.” The entire Old Testament system of animal sacrifice provides the framework for this concept, and it is further developed in the New Testament apostolic letters.

“For he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)

“So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” (Hebrews 9:28)

“We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:24-25)

What is our spiritual need?

To understand the full extent of Jesus’ mission, we must come to understand the full extent of our need and spiritual condition. The Biblical teaching on humanity’s predicament is not simply one of disease in need of a cure. We are not just broken or damaged. We are spiritually dead in sin and need to be made alive (Ephesians 2:1-3). We are alienated from God and, yes, under his wrath, and we need to be reconciled—to be made right with God (Romans 1:18, 3:21-31, 5:1, 5:9-11, Colossians 1:21-22). 

I remember sitting in my office across from a young man who was doing graphic design work for us on a brochure. He seemed so lost and we began to talk about spiritual realities. I felt led to read from Ephesians 2. As soon as I read the words about being “dead in transgressions and sins,” he looked startled and said, “That is exactly how I feel—dead inside.” Over a period of weeks, he came to new life in Christ. 

It is not about our favorite image of salvation

We are not at liberty to choose one image of salvation that is most to our liking. The various images of Christ’s work of redemption are not tools in a toolbox, where we pick one that seems most fitting for our particular situation. All of the rich biblical metaphors of salvation are needed in order to present the full picture of what God has accomplished in saving us. 

The good news of the gospel is that Christ came into the world to save us, to rescue us, to redeem us out of bondage, to die in our place as a sacrifice for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to forgive our sins, to give us life eternal, and to make us a new creation now.

“How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:5)

About the Author
National Theological Consultant
Dan Denk formerly served as the National Theological Director. He and his wife live in Grand Rapids, MI and have four married children, all of whom challenge his theological views on a regular basis. Dan has been with InterVarsity since 1978. He is a life-long follower of that great 20th century theologian, Bob Dylan.