"Surely our griefs [lit., sicknessess] He Himself bore, and our sorrows [lit., pains] He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5).
Let's begin by noting what several say about this text.
"The yoke of his cross by which he lifted our iniquities took hold also of our diseases so that it is in some sense true that as God 'made him to be sin for us who knew no sin,' so he made him to be sick for us [emphasis mine] who knew no sickness. He who entered into mysterious sympathy with our pain which is the fruit of sin, also put himself underneath our pain which is the penalty of sin. In other words the passage seems to teach that Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities [emphasis mine]. If now it be true that our Redeemer and substitute bore our sicknesses, it would be natural to reason at once that he bore them that we might not bear them" (A. J. Gordon).
Gloria Copeland agrees with Gordon. She writes:
"Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner [emphasis mine] that He bore your sins. You are just as free from sickness and disease as you are free from sin. You should be as quick to cease sickness and disease in your body as you are to cease sin."
Colin Urquhart concurs:
"When Jesus stood bearing the lashes from the Roman soldiers, all our physical pain and sicknesses were being heaped upon him. . . It is as if one lash was for cancer, another for bone disease, another for heart disease, and so on. Everything that causes physical pain was laid on Jesus as the nails were driven into His hands and feet."
What is being said is that Christ bore our sicknesses in the very same way that He bore our sins. Gordon says that just as God made Jesus to be sin for us he also 'made him to be sick for us.' Again, he writes that 'Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities.'
We know what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." He was declaring that the guilt of our sins was imputed to Christ and that it was because of that guilt that he was punished in our place. But what can it possibly mean to say God made him 'to be sick' on our behalf? Kenneth Hagin says that God 'made him [Jesus] sick with your diseases that you might be perfectly well in Christ.'
But there is no guilt in disease or sickness. Having diabetes or a head cold is not sinful. The Bible tells us to pray 'forgive us our trespasses' and urges us 'to confess our sins', but nowhere does it say that we should pray 'forgive us our arthritis' or 'Lord, I confess that I have the flu.' Sickness is not sin. The Bible never issues the command, 'Thou shalt not commit cancer', or 'Flee the flu'. Nevertheless, many insist that Jesus 'bore the penalty for our sins and sicknesses'. But if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty?
Of course, ultimately all sickness is a result of sin, in that Adam's fall introduced corruption and death into the human race. But that does not mean that every time we get sick it is because of some specific sin we have committed. It does mean that had Adam not sinned, there would be no sickness. Sickness is the effect of sin (just like tornadoes, weeds, and sadness). But that is altogether different from saying that sickness is sin. We do not repent for having kidney stones, nor do we come under conviction for catching the measles. I don't rebuke my seventeen-year-old daughter for coming down with the chicken pox, and I certainly didn't ask my twelve-year-old to ask for forgiveness when she caught it from her older sister.
Jesus was not punished for our diseases. Rather, he endured the wrath of God that was provoked by our willful disobedience of the truth.
So what does it mean in Isaiah 53 when it says that he bore our sicknesses and carried our pains and that by his stripes we are healed? I believe we have in this passage an example of a figure of speech frequently found in Scripture and in everyday conversation. It is called a metonomy. For example, we read in Luke 16:29, 'but Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets let them hear them.'? What is meant is that they have the Scriptures written by Moses and the prophets. Moses and the prophets themselves, obviously, have long since died. The author has put the cause (Moses and the prophets) in place of the effect (the Scriptures), and this is called a metonomy of cause for effect. Had the figure of speech not been used the passage would have read, 'But Abraham said, 'They have the Old Testament Scriptures [of which Moses and the prophets are the cause or authors]; let them hear them.'?
In l Peter 2:24 the apostle writes, 'And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.' This is another example of metonomy where the cause (our sin) is put in place of the effect (penal judgment). Christ 'bore our sins' in the sense that he bore the wrath of God of which our sins were the cause. We use this figure of speech all the time without ever knowing it. Have you ever said to someone, 'Don't give me any of your lip!'? What you really meant was, 'Don't use your lip(s) (or mouth) to give me any backtalk.' Dozens of other examples from both Scripture and everyday speech could be cited (see especially Col. 3:5; 1 These. 5:19).
Then there is the flip side, as it were, in which the effect is put in place of the cause. After having seen the baby Jesus, Simeon declared, 'For my eyes have seen Thy salvation' (Luke 2:30). That is, in seeing the cause of salvation (Jesus), Simeon had seen the effect (salvation). Or again, Jesus said to Martha, 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11:25). The effects (resurrection and life) are put in place of the cause (Jesus' work and ministry).
In the case of Isaiah 53 we have an example of this latter form of metonomy in which the effect is put for the cause. Sin is the ultimate cause of which illness is one among many effects. Jesus bore our sicknesses in the sense that he was punished for the sin that causes sickness. He carried our pains, not in the sense of personally experiencing stomach viruses and ulcers and earaches and gallstones as he hung on Calvary's tree, but by enduring the wrath of God against that willful human wickedness which is ultimately the reason there are such things as pain and infirmity. By his death at his first coming he has laid the foundation for the ultimate over-throw and annihilation of all physical disease, which will occur with the resurrection of the body at his second coming. Thus it is theologically misleading to say that Jesus bore our sicknesses in the same way he bore our sins. Rather he paid the price of the latter (sin) in order that one day, when he returns to glorify his people, he may wholly do away with the former (sickness).
May we conclude that there is healing in the atonement? Of course! Were it not for Jesus making atonement for sin, we would have no hope of healing in any form, either now or later. The redemptive suffering of Jesus at Calvary is the foundation and source of every blessing, whether spiritual or physical.
To ask, 'Is there healing in the atonement?' is like asking, 'Is there forgiveness of sins in the atonement?' or, 'Is there fellowship with God in the atonement?' There is even a sense in which we may say that the Holy Spirit is in the atonement! We are told in John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; and especially 16:7-15, that the Holy Spirit's present ministry is a result of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.
Everything we receive from God finds its ultimate source in what Christ did for us on the cross. Therefore, the question is not whether our bodies receive healing because of the atonement of Christ, but when. We are forgiven of our sins now because of Christ's atoning death, but we await the consummation of our deliverance from the presence of sin when Christ returns. We experience fellowship with God now because of Christ's atoning death, but we await the consummation of that blessed relationship when Christ returns. We profit immensely now from the Spirit's work in our hearts, but who would dare suggest that what the Holy Spirit is doing in this age is all that he will ever do? There is a glorious harvest reserved in heaven for us of which the present ministry of the Holy Spirit is merely the first fruits!
In other words, it is a serious mistake for us to think that every blessing Christ secured through his redemptive suffering will be ours now in its consummate form. All such blessings shall indeed be ours, let there be no mistake about that. But let us not expect, far less demand, that we now experience fully those blessings which God has clearly reserved for heaven in the age to come.
Life for the believer in this present age is a life of tension between the already and the not yet. We already have so very, very much. But we have not yet experienced it all. There is much yet to come. One of the 'not yets' in Christian experience is the complete redemption and glorification of the body. 'For our citizenship is in heaven', says Paul, 'from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself' (Phil. 3:20-21).
Paul tells us in Romans 8:18-25 that the consummation of our adoption as God's children, which he defines as the redemption of our bodies, is something we eagerly and anxiously await; it is a future experience for which we in the present 'groan' (Rom. 8:23) in holy expectation. To insist that this physical blessing is future is not to detract from the efficacy or value of Christ's atoning work, nor to deny that God often heals (at times partially, at times wholly) now. It is simply to recognize, as Scripture does, that God's timing is often different from ours.
We must now take note of Matthew 8:16-17. We are told that Jesus 'healed all who were ill in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled', saying, 'He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases'. Are these healings, performed by Jesus, 'in the atonement' Yes. To whatever degree we experience healing in this life, it is the fruit of Christ's atoning death. But it does not necessarily follow that where there is atonement there is always an immediate healing. This passage in Matthew affirms that whatever healing does occur comes as a result of Christ's redemptive work. But it does not necessarily mean that healing will always occur now as a result of that work.
In the case of l Peter 2:24 we have something different. As we saw earlier, frequently in Scripture the sinful condition of the soul is portrayed as analogous to a body suffering from various wounds. Forgiveness and restoration are therefore described in terms of a bodily healing. The apostle portrays us in our sin as if we were a wounded body in need of physical healing. By his atoning death the great Physician has truly 'healed' our hearts. We were continually straying like sheep, but by the redemptive grace of Jesus we have been enabled to return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Thus the context of 1 Peter 2:24 clearly tells us that it is primarily spiritual healing from the disease of sin, not physical restoration of the body, that the apostle has in mind.
Let us never cease to pray now for the sick to be healed. Let us continually give thanks that there is bodily healing for us in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Let us forever acknowledge that whatever healing and health we experience now is a blessing that flows from Calvary's tree. But let us also remember that there are certain blessings that God intends to bestow in their consummate fullness only when the Lord Jesus returns. Until then we weep, suffer, and die. On that glorious day when the Savior appears, then shall come to pass the words of Revelation 21:3-4, 'and I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.'