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The Power of the Cross: Old Testament Foundations: Signs, Wonders and the People

The examples of Old Testament outpourings of the Spirit and prophecies of such outpourings, taken all together, strongly indicate that God has always intended kingdom life, life under His rule and reign, in both Old and New Testaments to be “prophetic.”7 On the basis of Rev. 19:10, we can now define the “prophetic” as that which is a “testimony of Jesus Christ.” Old and New Testament evidence connects the prophetic with signs and wonders, and argues that such a prophetic lifestyle includes miraculous healings, deliverances, and other works of power. The democratization of the Spirit from Pentecost onward means that signs and wonders are to be a normal part of kingdom life. So it appears in the Early Church. That is no doubt why God provided lengthy New Testament passages (Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4:7-13; I Thes. 5:19-22; I Pet. 4:10-11) to help his people manage his abundant spiritual gifts.

Jesus not only died on the cross for our sins: he rose and ascended on high and—with the Father—sent his Spirit to enter his people and empower them for prophetic living.

If such was the case in the Early Church, one natural and related question is, to what extent signs and wonders may be expected in our day. A full answer to that question lies outside the scope of this chapter. A starting place for an answer may well be some of Jesus’ comments on what it means to follow him (e.g. Mat. 10:25; Lk. 6:40; Jn. 14:12). One question that can be addressed (at least in a limited way) is that of divine healing. Old Testament prophets did not heal everyone who needed healing, nor did Jesus himself. To what extent may we expect God to heal people today? The question needs to be addressed because it involves an Old Testament passage (Isaiah 53) which has sometimes been misunderstood.


Isaiah 53: The Substitutionary Atonement of Christ and Divine Healing

No discussion of healing and the Old Testament would be complete without a look at Isaiah 53. More than any other Old Testament passage, Isaiah 53 portrays the character, the ministry, the sufferings, the death, and the exaltation of the Messiah—as well as his gifting of the church. On the basis of this chapter alone, Isaiah’s book might well be called the “Gospel” of the Old Testament. Among other things, Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates the healing ministry of the Messiah:

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:4-5)

Old Testament prophets did not heal everyone who needed healing, nor did Jesus himself. To what extent may we expect God to heal people today?

Jesus began to fulfill these verses when he started his healing ministry, as Matthew reports: “He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’“ (Mat. 8:16-17, citing Isa. 53:4a). Matthew applies Isaiah’s words to what Jesus did in his earthly ministry. But, as Luke says of the Lord’s works, these are “all that Jesus began (ērxato) to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1-2). Luke describes the works of Jesus as those that he “began” to do, because Jesus then went on to do similar works in and through the Early Church (I Cor. 12:6; Gal. 3:5). And he is still doing them. Therefore, Isaiah’s words leave room for an understanding that the ongoing ministry of the Messiah includes miraculous healing and deliverance such as Matthew describes.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2006

About the Author: Jeffrey J. Niehaus, A.M., Ph.D. (Harvard University), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), is Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, Dr. Niehaus ministers and lectures in various churches on such topics as spiritual warfare and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Regularly presenting papers on higher critical issues and Ancient Near Eastern backgrounds, Dr. Niehaus’ scholarly interests include biblical theology and the idea of covenant and covenant schemes in the Bible. Faculty page

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