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In Matthew 8:16-17, the gospel writer reports that Jesus “healed all the sick” in order to fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:4, which Matthew paraphrases as, “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

This is an odd Scriptural connection given the circumstances just described. There’s no indication here or anywhere in the Bible that the act of healing “all the sick” around him caused Jesus, in turn, to fall ill or to contract any disease. So what was Matthew talking about?

Most Bible commentators extrapolate this to be a reference to Christ’s upcoming redemptive work on the cross. “It is also important to remember,” says Lawrence Richards on this topic, “that the Jews, and Scripture itself, view all sickness as a consequence either directly or indirectly of sin … [Jesus’ healing] was a witness to his intent, through his suffering and death, to provide a salvation which will ultimately destroy all sickness.”

It’s hard to disagree with Richards’ theology in the broad perspective, but the reasoning seems forced within the context of Matthew 8:17. The gospel writer here appears to be referring very specifically to the healing and exorcisms Jesus had just performed (referenced in Matthew 8:16)—not to the future healings that would result from his vicarious suffering and death. So, again, what was Matthew talking about?

New Testament scholar, A. Lukyn Williams, theorizes that perhaps Christ’s healing ministry did take some unseen toll on the Savior. In commentary on Matthew 8:16-17, he wrote:

The thought is far-reaching, and implies that he [Jesus] bore the ultimate cause of sickness, the sin of the world (John 1:29), and also that each miracle of healing meant for him a fresh realization of what bearing the sin of the world included. In other words, the passage in Isaiah, as interpreted by St. Matthew, refers not only to the Passion as such, but also to Christ’s suffering an earnest and a foretaste of it at each miracle. May not this have been in part the cause of his sigh at one miracle (Mark 7:34), and his deep emotion at another (John 11:33)? Observe that this may be the complementary side of his experience recorded in Mark 5:30 (parallel passage: Luke 8:46), that “power” went out of him. A miracle of healing, though performed in momentary unconsciousness of what was taking place, still necessitated personal contact with sin, which to Christ’s whole nature meant moral effort.

It’s possible that both Richards and Williams are right in their interpretations of Matthew 8:16-17, that one is right and the other wrong, or that both are part right and part wrong.

What do you think?

 

Works Cited:

[NTL, 43; PC15, 326]

 

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