Before I share further on this matter, let me be quick to state that I believe in miracles—even miraculous healing. I believe that in answer to the prayers of God’s people, there are times when God may heal those for whom we are praying—and he may do so miraculously. So, can those guns that have been cocked be placed back into the holsters? I am a friend and not a foe.
However, what I am saying is that it is morally wrong to take someone else’s words and make them say what he was not saying just because there is some semblance in the words that he has used. As I hope to show you, Isaiah was certainly not saying that physical healing was included in Christ’s atonement.
Okay, so where do I get the impression that Isaiah did not have physical healing in mind when he wrote, “By his stripes [or wounds] we are healed”? This is a blog post and not a book or an article in a theological journal. So, I will not be exhaustive. All I want to do is to give pointers for discussion purposes. Here are three lines of thought for your consideration.
Firstly, from the type of literature (Hebrew poetry), we know that there is a close relationship between what we read in the first line and second line of each verse. It is called Hebrew parallelism. Although the parallels sometimes get rather complex, with a little closer observation you soon see them. Also, sometimes the parallels are synthetic, but sometimes they are antithetic. It is very easy to see the parallels in Isaiah 53.1-5.
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
“Who has believed what he has heard from us?” is the same as “To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” In other words, what enables people to have faith in what they hear from God's servants is God’s active and immediate self-disclosure to those individuals.
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
Again, “For he grew up before him like a young plant” is the same as “[He grew up] like a root out of dry ground.” In other words, Jesus grew up in a hostile environment and had nothing in himself to protect him from this hostility.
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
In the same way, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him” is the same as “[He had] no beauty that we should desire him.” In other words, as far as his outward appearance goes, there was nothing about Jesus to make him stand out as a great leader worth following.
You will notice from my interpretations of these verses that each time the second line simply restates what the previous line stated, but simply adds a different angle in order to bring in depth of meaning. You can continue seeing the parallel in the remaining verses, but let us proceed to verse 5.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
“He was pierced for our transgressions” is the same as “he was crushed for our iniquities.” In other words, the physical suffering he underwent was in order to atone for our sins. And finally,
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
“Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,” should be the same as “with his wounds we are healed.” In other words, the physical suffering he underwent was in order to cure the breach in our relationship with God. It was meant to bring about spiritual restoration!
The second line of argument is in the use of the word “heal” in the writings of the prophets. Prophets often used concrete words in describing something spiritual. They would often accuse Israel of prostitution when they were really referring to idolatry. If you miss this key you can get into seriously troubled waters. Thus, the prophets often used the word “heal” to refer to spiritual restoration. The context is what would enable you to know the sense in which the word is being used.
For instance, Jeremiah wrote, “Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness” (Jeremiah 3:22). This is clearly referring to spiritual restoration. Another obvious example is when Hosea wrote, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them” (Hosea 14:4). Again, the healing here is referring to spiritual restoration. So, it is wrong to see the word “heal” in the prophetic writings and immediately conclude that it must be referring to physical healing. Let the context determine the meaning!
The third, and final, line of thought is the inspired interpretation of this text. Thankfully, the apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 53:5. Reading the context of the verse, it is clear that Peter understood Isaiah as referring to spiritual restoration, and not physical healing, when he quoted Isaiah. Here is the passage:
Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Need I say any more?