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Insight #165 — Did Jesus Die to Heal Physical Ills?

Did you ever have “friends” like Job had? Instead of comforting him in his pain, they accused him of hidden sin. The apostles were little better. They asked Jesus whose sin caused a man to be born blind. I suspect all of us at times are at least tempted to judge someone’s suffering to be a result of their sin.

But Job’s losses and boils, far from being caused by his sin, were caused by his upright life (Job 1:8). The blind man suffered years of darkness so that God could reveal His mighty works in him (John 9:3). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” so he would not be destroyed by pride (2 Cor. 12:7). Who are we to judge the reason a brother or sister is ill?

Yet, there are preachers who claim that God does not want us to be ill, that Jesus suffered for our sicknesses, and that if we get our lives right with Him, He will cure us. They appeal to, among others, Isaiah 53, that great Messianic prophecy. Isaiah 53 does indeed predict relief from physical ailments. Verse 4 says, “Surely he has borne our griefs [footnote: literally sicknesses], and carried our sorrows [footnote: literally pains].” But how?

Matthew 8:16-17 gives the answer: “He cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.’ ” God’s Word is saying that Jesus’ healing ministry was the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. This prediction was fulfilled before the cross.

Isa. 53:5-6 is a different story: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” It says: “with his stripes we are healed.” Healed in what sense? In the context, we read “transgressions” and “iniquities” just before “healed,” and “gone astray,” “turned every one to his own way” and “iniquity of us all” just after “healed.” Surely the context shows this healing to be spiritual.

This is like Psalms 41:4: “Lord… heal my soul; for I have sinned against you.” When 1 Peter 2:24-25 uses the language of Isa. 53:5-6, notice again the context of “healed.” “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” The healing here is all about sin and salvation of the soul.

No, Isaiah did not predict physical healing in this life through Jesus’ suffering. Of course, salvation from sin brings the hope of heaven; and in heaven there are no tears, sorrow, pain, or death (Rev. 21:4). Jesus did die to take away our sicknesses in eternity. Meanwhile, in the present world, sickness is very much with us, even Christians. That’s why Paul did not tell Timothy to repent of his sins. Rather, he gave him a natural remedy: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your often infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23).

The doctrine that Jesus died on the cross to take away sickness in this world is a false gospel. The true gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4) says that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” One of those Scriptures is Isaiah 53.