Physical Healing In Isaiah 53?

Many Christians have grappled with the question…Is physical healing for today a part of the blood atonement of Christ?  I have recently listened to a teacher on an audio tape attempt to show that Isaiah 53:4-5 contains the key to understanding that there is really healing for today in the atonement.  As I listened more and more, I discovered that the very arguments that were used to attempt to show healing in the atonement actually proved BY THE SCRIPTURES that if there is healing for today in the atonement, it is NOT in Isaiah 53.

The first issue that was raised on this tape was that if you don’t believe that healing for today is a part of the atonement, then you don’t understand the details about the new covenant.  The problem with this is that the church is NOT under the new covenant.  The covenants were and will be for Israel.  In Romans 9:4 Paul states, “…who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises…..” Peter confirms this further in Acts 3:12 when he addresses the Men of IsraelAs his sermon progresses, he reminds them in verse 25 that “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers…”  We, on the other hand, are the church in this age of grace as Body of Christ believers.  We are in the Body of Christ.  We are not in any covenant.  The Body of Christ receives the spiritual blessings of the new covenant as is explained by the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:27-“…For if the Gentiles have shared in their (Israel’s) spiritual blessings…” and in Ephesians 1:3-“…who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

The gentleman on this particular tape then went on to explain how the term “griefs” in Isaiah 53:4 should have actually been translated “sickness” or “diseases”.  He is right about that.  Every Hebrew dictionary or concordance defines that word in Hebrew as “sickness” or “diseases”.  But, does this mean that this verse therefore proves that healing for today is in the atonement?  I would say a resounding no.  Why?  Isaiah 53 does not state a word about physical healing as part of the atonement.  Let’s examine this thoroughly.

First, let’s take a look at Isaiah 53:4. “Surely our griefs (sickness) He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”  As many will point out, Matthew uses this text in Isaiah to show that Christ healed the many and they always go to Matthew 8:16-17 to prove their point.  “When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:  He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”  The teacher on the tape I heard went to this passage to show that the word “griefs” was actually “infirmities” or “diseases”.  Unfortunately, what is missed is the fact that Matthew is quoting Isaiah 53:4 as being FULFILLED at that moment.  This is Christ’s earthly ministry, not as part of his suffering.  He had not shed His blood yet.  Christ’s earthly ministry of healing had nothing to do with the atoning blood.

Now let’s look even closer at the makeup of Isaiah 53:4.  There is a very small, but important, word that gets overlooked in this verse.  It is the word “Yet”.  This word is in many translations of the Bible and is used here to show a contrast.  The Hebrew Interlinear Bible uses the word “but”.  The second part of Isaiah 53:4 is obviously speaking of Christ’s suffering.  The Jews considered anyone that was killed or sick “Smitten of God”.  Remember the blind man in John 9?  The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned that caused this man to be blind.  Paul writes in Galatians 3 that “cursed is one who hangs on a tree”.  So the term “Smitten of God” is a reference to the sufferings of Christ.  If the first part of Isaiah 53:4 had anything to do with the sufferings of Christ, we would have seen the word “and” or “therefore” or “so” or the words “of course” or even “because of this”.  On the contrary, the word “Yet” is inserted to show a contrast between the first and second parts of the verse.  So let’s paraphrase this verse for the purpose of showing this in very understandable terms.

“Surely our diseases He Himself healed and our sorrows He carried; Yet in spite of all this, we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”

In other words, “Christ did all these wonderful things, but we still considered him cursed.”  Do you see how the word “Yet” changes the whole appearance of this verse?  So, not only does Matthew 8:16-17 place the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4 at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, the grammar used in Isaiah 53:4 shows how the first and second parts of the verse contrast each other.  I believe that this shows beyond a doubt that Isaiah 53:4 does not contain words of physical healing as part of the blood atonement.

A clear reading of Isaiah 53:1-4 will show that verses 1-4a speak of Christ’s walk on the earth and then, with the word “Yet” in 4b, the emphasis turns towards His suffering, His death and His glorious kingdom.

What about Isaiah 53:5?  Whenever reading a portion of Scripture, it is important to always read it in the context it was written.  What does the verse say, to whom, when, and under what circumstances?  Unfortunately, the church has become a group of “verse” readers and not Scripture studiers.  I have noticed this more and more, especially when someone presents a position that might be contrary to what the Scripture teaches.  For example, Isaiah 53:5 will often be quoted as an example of “healing for today” as being part of the atonement.  “And by His scourging (stripes…or literally “stripe” in the Hebrew) we are healed.”  Unfortunately, when the rest of the verse is left out, the reader misses what the healing is directed towards.  “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. What are the Israelites (this is whom Isaiah addresses-chapter 52:1, 2, 7, 12) healed of?  Their transgressions” (sins) and “iniquities” (depravities, perversities).  Not any diseases or sicknesses.  1 Peter 2:24 is also quoted in the New Testament as providing evidence for our physical healing.  Yet, if we look at 1 Peter 2:21-24, the evidence will show once again that this is speaking of being healed of sin and of being made righteous.  “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”  This is a passage about the cleansing of sins and not about any physical healing.

Another example of taking a verse totally out of context is when people take an Old Testament verse meant for the nation of Israel and “claim” it for the church today.  A prime example I have recently heard was Jeremiah 30:17.  “For I will restore you to health And I will heal you of your wounds,” declares the Lord,”This verse was again used to show healing as part of the atonement by the same gentleman who tried to show healing in Isaiah 53:4-5.  The Scripture surrounding this portion of Jeremiah 30 indicates very clearly that the whole 30th chapter of Jeremiah pertains to when God will “restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.” (Jeremiah 30:3).   In fact, Jeremiah 30:12-17 clearly shows that God symbolizes “sins” as “wounds”; and “forgiveness of sins” as “healing” or “restoration”.  This is very similar to Isaiah 53:5.  In many other Old Testament passages, the picture of “sin” as “sickness” and “healing” as “forgiveness” is very evident.  Psalm 107:17-20-“Fools, because of their rebellious way, And because of their iniquities, were afflicted……He saved them out of their diseases.  He sent His word and healed them,”  Isaiah 1:4-6-“Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly!….Where will you be stricken as you continue in your rebellion?  The whole head is sick And the heart is faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds,”.  Isaiah 6:10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.”  Isaiah 33:24-“And no resident will say, “I am sick”; The people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.” Jeremiah 3:22“return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.”  Hosea 14:4-“I will heal their apostasy,”.  These are all examples of God “healing” sin/iniquity.  When Isaiah 53 is looked at in the context of the whole Old Testament, it becomes clearer that there is no physical healing for today in Isaiah 53.  Does God heal today?  Of course He can and He does.  Still, I believe the Scriptures show us that the real physical healing of our corrupt bodies is when we will put on incorruption….our resurrected bodies!  That’s when the physical healing part of our salvation will be realized.  Today, His grace is sufficient for us.  Remember when Paul asked to have a “thorn in the flesh” removed from him.  Paul says that he asked three times and the Lord told him that His grace was sufficient. In the Greek, this word “sufficient” means “enough”.  In other words, Christ answered Paul’s request for healing with a resounding, “My grace is enough, you don’t need anything else.”  What grace?  The grace exemplified at the cross.  Notice, Christ didn’t tell Paul that there was physical healing in the atonement.  The grace poured out to all who believe is to suffice for now.

We also know that Paul left Trophimus, his fellow worker, sick at Miletus and he told Timothy to “take a little wine” for his stomach ailment.  He didn’t instruct Timothy to go confess his sins or have enough faith to pray for healing.  No, he instructed him to take a home remedy…why?  Because Paul understood that the sign gift of healing had passed with the setting aside of the sign people, Israel.  1 Corinthians 1:22 tells us that the Jew requires a sign.  When Israel rejected their risen Messiah in Acts 1-7, God judicially set them aside until the Body of Christ is complete (Romans 11:25).  With the setting aside of Israel, the sign people, the sign gifts went away too.  The evidence of this is Paul himself.

When Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was saved, there was a transition taking place.  God was setting Israel aside with the stoning of Stephen and starting a new organism called the Body of Christ.  But God had to validate Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles apart from the Law, something totally new and not yet revealed (Ephesians 3:1-9 and Colossians 1:25-26).  In order to do that, Paul would have to prove to the Apostles of Israel (Galatians 2:7-8) that God had truly called him with a different message.  How did God do this?  By doing signs and miracles by the hands of Paul (Acts 15:1-4 and Acts 21:17-20a).  In fact, Acts tells of some very extravagant miracles done by Paul where even handkerchiefs were sent out to heal people.  But, by the time Paul writes to Timothy, all of a sudden he no longer is healing or instructing people to heal.  Why?  His message had been received by the Apostles (Galatians 2:9) and he no longer needed to satisfy their need for signs.  They believed that God had sent Him (2 Peter 3:15-16).  With Paul solidly confirmed as the Apostle to the Gentiles and the judicial act of God of temporarily not dealing with the nation of Israel anymore, the need for supernatural signs had gone by the wayside, for now we “live by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

So, are we to expect healing based on Christ’s blood today?  I think not.  Again, God can heal today and we do pray for everything as instructed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6, but the only thing that we are promised is what follows in the next verse…“and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” So, do pray for healing, but don’t count God or yourself as unfaithful if it doesn’t happen.  Today, God is answering prayer, not according to a covenant, but according to His grace and mercy for His purposes.  The ultimate healing will be at the rapture when we receive our glorified bodies (Romans 8:18-23).  Oh, what a happy day that will be!

All Scripture references used in this article were taken from the New American Standard Bible except where noted.  All emphasis in the Scripture was added by the author of this article.

Article written by Paul D. Pedro of Oakdale, MN.