Humans are opinionated creatures. Anytime the Bible is mentioned, people get really opinionated. People like to find a single verse and use it to support their position.
But when it comes to the Bible, context is everything.
In order to properly understand we must look at the whole picture. We must look at the historical, social, and theological context of the passage. If we are looking for one specific verse, we also need to look at the verse before and after our chosen verse in order to understand it fully. CONTEXT is everything.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, was crushed for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (KJV)
Historical context: This chapter is from Isaiah to the people who lived in the kingdom of Judah. Assyria was expanding its kingdom westward. Their ultimate goal was Egypt. Israel and Aram asked Judah to form an alliance to fight the Assyrians. Rather than forming an alliance, Judah sent an emissary to Assyria asking for help. Assyria destroyed Israel and Aram but they bordered Judah. The Babylonians defeated Assyria and took possession of Assyria’s territories. This meant that Babylon was on the border of Judah. In 587 BC, the Babylonians took Judah into captivity. They were taken into captivity for not following their responsibility to the covenant.
Social Context: The social context is depression and confusion. Everything the Israelites had believed is coming apart at the seams. The Babylonians invaded and captured the Kingdom of Judah. Eventually the Babylonians would destroy the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. They took all the treasures that were essential for Temple worship. What happened to the promises of God? What is going to happen to them? Why is this happening?
Theological Context: The basic message of Isaiah is chastisement. God was chastising the people for their turning away from the covenant that God made with the people. They have rebelled against the God that had made and redeemed them. Isaiah demanded that the people obey God. Their eventual captivity was God’s chastisement for their disobedience. Finally, God revealed that there was a future restoration for a faithful remnant.
The restoration — the healing — is not physical, but spiritual. Isaiah calls for a “Suffering Servant”. You see, the people were not capable of paying the price for their sin. God had to send a servant who was able to pay for the sins of God’s people. He suffered on the behalf of others. The “Suffering Servant” would be struck down by the very people he was sent to redeem.
Of course, this is a prophecy of Jesus. He did not come to heal physically but spiritually. Jesus came to bring all sinners to God. However, he was hated and despised because he did not fit the concept of Messiah that the people had imagined. Even when Peter quotes Isaiah (1Peter 2:24) he is talking to those who are in captivity. We are healed by the stripes of Jesus in order to spend eternity with God.
I was a hospital chaplain in the early 90s. During this time, I witnessed a lot of sickness and sadly a lot of death. One patient I vividly remember brought Isaiah 53:5 to mind. I will call her Mary. Mary was suffering from AIDS and was nearing the end of her life. It was a time when AIDS first hit Birmingham and no one knew much about the disease. She contracted the disease from her unfaithful husband. I visited Mary often and we grew close.
Mary’s mother understandably was devastated at what was happening to her daughter. Mary’s mother would often pray aloud for her dying daughter and would use Isaiah 53:5 in her prayers. When Mary died, her mother was broken hearted and felt abandoned by God. Mary’s mother felt guilty for failing Mary and God and she brought up this verse in our conversations. Mary was a Christian. By his stripes, she was healed.
Sadly, Christians take this verse out of context and are devastated when they think they have been abandoned by God. Mary’s mother was devastated by the loss of her child and nothing can heal such a horrible loss. There is hope, however, in this verse. Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, all Christians will be redeemed. By his stripes, all Christians have hope because we will be spiritually healed.
Joey Aderholt has served as a Pastor and other church positions for 30 years. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He can be contacted for comments or questions at email@example.com.