During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the list of diseases and impairments that He healed is diverse. Leprosy, paralysis, fever, and unexplained bleeding (see Matthew 8) were cured. Blindness (Matt. 9:27–29), deafness (Mark 7:31–35), and abnormal swelling (Luke 14:1–4), and more were all included in the work done by the Great Physician. When those we love are sick and suffering, we might wish we could find Jesus of Nazareth still walking the earth. But James 5 reminds us that we will always have recourse to the One who forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases (see Ps. 103:3).
In today’s passage, James gives instruction for the church member who is seriously ill, exhorting the elders of the church to intercede for the sick person. Prayer for the sick is first of all the priority of church leaders, but James quickly follows this with a general call to “pray for each other” (v. 16). In some ways, God’s promise in this passage is mysterious. In answer to our intercession for a suffering fellow Christian, He promises to “make the sick person well,” to “raise them up,” and to forgive them (v. 15). It is difficult to tell from these words whether we ought to expect physical or spiritual healing. Many scholars believe that the ambiguity is deliberate. If we are tempted to overlook physical healing in our intercession, James gives us encouragement to ask God for bodily healing. If we are tempted to skip over spiritual healing, James reminds us of the precious gift of spiritual wellness.
Even if we never see physical healing granted to our loved ones in this life, we will certainly rejoice in it in heaven. As commentator Daniel Doriani explains, “The Lord will heal all his people sooner or later.” The Great Physician will one day ensure all His people are whole and well.