The mantra “by his stripes we are healed” is repeated endlessly in Christian circles. However, these words extracted from Isaiah 53:5 focus on spiritual rather than physical healing.
First, a quick look at the context makes it clear that Isaiah had spiritual rather than physical healing in mind: Christ “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” (Isaiah 53:5 nkjv, emphasis added). Peter builds on this understanding when he writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added).
Furthermore, while healing for the body is not referred to in Isaiah 53:5, it is referred to in the verse immediately preceding it. Here Isaiah writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4)nkjv. Physical healing here is not only clear in context but affirmed by the Gospels where it is given an important qualification: “When evening came, many who were demonpossessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matthew 8:16–17). Thus, the healing here was during the ministry of Christ and does not guarantee healing today.
Finally, I should note that in a real sense Christ’s atonement on the cross does extend to physical healing. One day, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). However, as Paul points out, “We hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:25,emphasis added). In the meantime, we will all experience sickness and suffering. Indeed, those who live before Christ returns will all die of their last disease—the death rate is one per person and we’re all going to make it!
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1993).