Recently I was asked this question, “Does ‘by His stripes we are healed’ mean physical healing?” This question is in reference to Isaiah 53, specifically verses 4 and 5:
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
This passage is what is called messianic prophesy. In other words, this was prophesy given before Jesus—the Messiah—came to earth to die for our sins. It was a foreshadowing of things to come. So, to answer the question regarding physical healing, we have to consider the time when the prophesy was given.
In this time, the Israelites associated sickness very directly with sin. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17.9 NASB). The issue of sin, in this verse, is given a physical trait in that it is considered a sickness deep within the heart. So, it would be of no surprise that the prophet Isaiah might refer to sin as something which man is in need of healing from.
Now let’s look at this in light of the New Testament. Why did Jesus come to earth? Surely during his ministry, Jesus healed many people of physical ailments. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. He cured bleeding and numerous diseases, both mental and physical. Jesus even raised people from the dead—physically, bodily. So it is not so farfetched that this could be referring to Jesus healing people physically.
But, we have to look at the context. When we look at the whole chapter 53 of Isaiah, we get a better picture (you can stop and read it now if you like). What we have here is a man who is willing to be humbled, neigh humiliated in order to be sacrificed, paying restitution for the sins of those who would follow him. The scourging which Jesus underwent at the hands of the Roman guards are what caused the stripes. What could be more humiliating than a scourging?! What Jesus underwent here is mockery. He was told to save himself, if indeed he were God, yet he chose humiliation at the hands of the Romans for our sake.
I’m not certain I have made this clear yet. Jesus received these stripes because he had to go to the cross. If he saved himself at this point, he would never have been sacrificed and we would live yet in our sins, unable to pay restitution to God for the sins we have committed willfully against Him. In light of the stripes, I would consider the imaginative use of the term ‘healed’ as a healing from our sins—or forgiveness and justification—is a far more reasonable translation.
If you are reading this because you are in need of healing and are seeking hope, take heart, dear brothers and sisters, every breath of life comes from God. He will heal you and allow you to live on earth, or he will not heal you and allow you to live with Him in eternal peace and eternal glory in heaven. All things, even our ailments work together to the glory of God our Father in heaven. We need only to submit to His will and to His power.