A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:22-28)
Some churches point to this passage to teach that physical healing is meant especially for “the children”—by which they mean believers in Jesus Christ. Let us evaluate this teaching by looking at the immediate context of the incident as well as the overall context of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Notice that Jesus initially refuses the woman’s request because she is a gentile. Jesus was not sent to the gentiles, but rather to “the lost sheep of Israel.” By this Jesus meant the Israelites who at that time were “lost.” According to this, therefore, healing was primarily for those Israelites who had not yet accepted him as their Messiah. The miraculous healings were performed as evidence to them that Jesus was in fact their promised Messiah and to lead them to put their faith in him. Therefore the miracles were not primarily for the “saved” but rather to lead to lost to Christ.
If we consider the overall context of the New Testament, especially the gospels and Acts, we see the same general pattern. The miracles were most often performed as confirmation of the gospel which was being preached to the lost, and not primarily as a blessing to saved believers.
The only specific references to healing for believers are the gift(s) of healing as taught in 1 Corinthians 12:9 and James 5:14-16. The remaining references to miraculous healing in the New Testament are overwhelmingly found in the context of confirming the gospel to the lost—many of whom would then accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
When we teach about healing for believers, then, we should not take individual New Testament scriptures from here and there out of their proper context. For example, 1 Peter 2:24 is often quoted.
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
A look at the context of 1 Peter Chapter 2 tells us that Peter was not at all referring to physical healing, but rather our healing from the spiritual sickness of sin through Christ’s death on the cross. Peter of course was quoting from verse 5 of Isaiah 53. In the same vein Matthew quotes from the very next verse of Isaiah 53, that is, verse 4:
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and 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 bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17)
.Jesus therefore cast out demons and healed the sick primarily to prove to the lost Israelites that He was in fact their Savior the Messiah as prophesied by Isaiah. He was not primarily a healer for believers who were sick, but more importantly our Savior from sin and death.
We are not at all saying that the Lord does not heal sick believers. Yes, of course he does. But it is important for the Church to recognize the priority of saving the lost and fulfilling the Great Commission during these last days by preaching the gospel with powerful miraculous signs as confirmation to the gospel-resistant that Jesus is in fact the only way to the Father. After they acknowledge Christ as their Lord and Savior they must of course be discipled to maturity in Christ.
That in fact is the foremost message and the context of the New Testament in which we should understand healing. Physical healing for saved and born-again believers whose salvation is a settled issue should not be given equal priority. Let us not in our understandable enthusiasm for believers to be healed end up misinterpreting Scripture—for example, the meaning of “the children’s bread.”
A very conservative interpretation might limit the meaning of “children” to the lost sheep of Israel during the time of Jesus. But we see the miracles of healing continuing on into Acts to confirm the truth of the gospel to the gentiles as well. Perhaps the “children” for whom is reserved the bread of healing are those currently lost souls whose names are already written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and who will believe in Jesus Christ after they hear the gospel and experience miraculous healing from him.