Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds 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.

Isaiah 53:4-6

In my opinion, Isaiah had the most theologically advanced understanding of the work of the Messiah of all of the prophets. Today, theologians call what Isaiah saw as a penal substitution; that is, Jesus took the penalty for our sins on himself, so we don’t have to. He was substituted in our place and took our punishment. What Jesus did went beyond just taking the punishment for our personal sins. Let’s take a look at the various phrases in this passage and see what took place in the suffering of Jesus.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;

Matthew quotes this passage in Matthew 8:17 and gives commentary on how to interpret this passage.

And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Matthew 8:14-17

One hermeneutic rule is that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. The English words “griefs” and “sorrows” don’t express the nuanced ideas in the Hebrew that Matthew clarifies with the words “illnesses” and “diseases.” So what we see through Matthew’s quote is that Jesus took our illnesses and bore our diseases. I have had people try to tell me that this refers not to physical illness or diseases but spiritual illnesses and diseases. The context does not allow for this interpretation.

The context of the quote is the physical healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, followed by the healing of many who were oppressed by demons and many who were sick. Matthew goes on to say that Jesus did this to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Thus, Isaiah was referring to the healing and deliverance from physical illnesses. Why is this distinction important? Because it gives us the judicial basis for praying with confidence for the healing of the sick today.

Verse five speaks of three forms of suffering by Jesus. He was pierced, crushed, and chastised. The piercing was for our transgressions. That is, we are transgressors, those who break God’s law. We deserved the piercing. But, Jesus took it for us. His piercing was for our transgressions, not his own. He had none.

He was crushed for our iniquities. Again, it is our iniquities for which Jesus is crushed, not his own. Exactly what is the meaning of “iniquity?” The basic meaning of the verb is “to bend, twist, distort.” Theologically, it is “infraction, crooked behavior, perversion, iniquity, etc.”1 It was for our bentness or perversion that Jesus was crushed.

A chastisement is a form of discipline. It is punishment meant to teach a lesson or behavior. When we learn the lesson, our lives are better, more whole. In this case, Jesus took the punishment meant for us to discipline us to live as God intended. The result of that discipline is peace. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and denotes much more than our common word, peace. “The general meaning behind the root sh-l-m is of completion and fulfillment – of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship.”2 Thus, Jesus is the Prince of Peace as he purchased our peace by taking out chastisement, our punishment.

The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. This is the ultimate statement of substitutionary sacrifice. Someone else has had the iniquity, bentness, perversion of all of us rebellious humans laid on him. That someone else is, of course, Jesus.

In turn, we learn in the New Testament that there was a great exchange. When Jesus had our iniquity laid on him, he, in turn, gave us his righteousness. The best deal in all eternity.

  1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Volume 2, page 650.
  2. Ibid. p. 930.