Question: You claim that the payment for sins was not through the physical sufferings of Christ inflicted by man, but spiritual sufferings endured at the hands of God. Yet Isaiah:53:5 says “...and by his stripes we are healed.” The NASB has, “...and by his scourging we are healed.” Please admit your error!
Answer: The NASB is wrong. The Hebrew chabburah translated “stripes” occurs six other times (Gn 4:23; Ex 21:25; Ps:38:5; Prv 20:30; Is 1:6)and itnever means Roman scourging. Do you really think (as Mel Gibson’s film erroneously attempts to show) that Roman soldiers’ torture of Christ paid the eternal penalty for all of the murders, rapes, wars, hatred, jealousy, and unimaginable evil committed by billions of people during the history of mankind? Sinful soldiers can’t mete out to the Holy Son of God the righteous punishment for the sins of the world!
Peter specifically says Christ paid for our sins on the cross (1 Pt 2:24), not when scourged. It was during those 3 hours of darkness on the Cross that God laid on Christ the infinite penalty for the sins of the world—and only when He had paid for our sins in full did He cry in triumph, “It is finished!” Not because of His scourging, but as a result of what Christ accomplished on the Cross, the rocks were split, the earth quaked and the veil of the temple was ripped open (Mt 27:51).
First Peter 2:24 indicates that the healing by “stripes” is not from disease (as some teach) but from sin: “Who his own self bare our sins....” That this refers to spiritual punishment is clear: “thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin” (Is 53:10). Like the soul, sin itself, though expressed in physical acts, is spiritual: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness...” (Mk 7:21,22).
Salvation is spiritual and can only be by faith. To receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a gift from God is the greatest spiritual good conceivable. Physical punishment executed by sinful men could never make that gift possible. Thus the physical stripes Christ received in fulfillment of prophecy could not pay the penalty for sin; only God’s spiritual punishment could do that.
Healing from sin and its penalty is what the gospel is all about: “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor:15:3)—not that “Christ died for our physical ailments.” The promise, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts:16:31)clearly pertains to salvation from sin, not from disease. Christians in general are neither healthier nor live longer in this life than unbelievers —but we have eternal life.
The Hebrew noun chabburah translated “stripes”is singular in Isaiah:53:5, indicating one blow from God wounding Christ “for our transgressions,” bruising Him “for our iniquities”—not the many stripes of scourging that were a major focus of Mel Gibson’s attempt to show that Christ’s physical sufferings paid for the sins of all mankind. Do you really believe that what Christ physically endured in the scourging and crucifixion was equal to what sinners will endure for all eternity in the lake of fire?
There is nothing in any of the four gospels (other than crowning Him with thorns and mocking Him as a king) to indicate that Christ’s scourging and crucifixion were any worse physically than that suffered by thousands of others. That “Pilate marvelled if he were already dead” (Mk 15:44)contradicts the idea that Christ was scourged and tortured within an inch of His life. Thus the statement that “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Is 52:14)could not be due to unusual physical beating, but to such intense spiritual agony that His features were so distorted that it was awesome to behold.
The idea that the physical suffering Christ endured at the hands of men paid for the sins of the world is neither biblical nor rational for at least four reasons: 1) Christ didn’t come even close to suffering more physically than any other person. Some men hung in agony for days on crosses, the Assyrians flayed their enemies alive, some victims of the Inquisition were roasted for hours over a slow fire, and the Inquisitors competing to develop the most excruciating torture—sometimes even bringing victims back from the brink of death, letting them heal, and then torturing them again; 2) if the physical “stripes” paid the penalty for sin, Christ’s physical tormenters would have played a vital role in our redemption and would in a sense be our co-redeemers (and what if they failed to torment Him enough to save us?!); 3) the punishment for those who reject Christ is eternal, but those who scourged and crucified Christ were incapable of inflicting eternal punishment; and 4) physical suffering could never adequately cause the moral and spiritual pain which must be involved in the just punishment of sin—in fact, it would obliterate it.
The error that physical scourging paid for our sins is also refuted by Scripture’s declaration that Christ “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col:1:20), not “the blood of his scourging,” which took place before He was led to Golgotha. We are “justified through his blood” (Rom:5:9), which includes His death. Had he merely bled but not died, we could not be saved. The phrase “shedding of blood” (Lv 17:11; 2 Chr:29:24, etc.)always means death, not wounding as in scourging—and this is the only means of atonement: “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb:9:22).
Christ “by himself purged our sins” (Heb:1:3).While this could not be without the shedding of His blood at the hands of others, there was something which He alone had to do to purge us from our sins. That could only have been to endure eternal punishment at the hands of God which no man could exact from Him—something far worse than the “stripes” of scourging.
Christ’s spiritual sufferings for sin are beyond our understanding and Scripture only hints at them: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me...? smitten of God, and afflicted...wounded for our transgressions...bruised for our iniquities...the chastisement of our peace was upon him...the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all...for the transgression of my people was he stricken...it pleased the Lord to bruise him...thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin...the travail of his soul...poured out his soul unto death...he bare the sin of many...he hath made him to be sin for us, [he] who knew no sin...” (Ps:22:1; Is 53:4-6,8,10-12; 2 Cor:5:21), etc.
Christ’s sweating in spiritual agony “as it were great drops of blood” (Lk 22:44) and pleading with His Father in the Garden to be spared “this cup” (Mt 26:39,42)could not have been in dread of the scourging and crucifixion (as implied in the film) which thousands of others also endured. “This cup” from which He shrank could only have been that He would be “made sin for us”—that He would “bear our sins in His own body” and be punished by God to the full extent demanded by His justice for the sins of the entire world. During those three hours of darkness on the Cross, all the “waves and billows” of God’s wrath against the sins of all mankind rolled over Him (Ps:42:7; 88:7; Jon 2:3).
Isaiah declares that Yahweh “bruised [Him] for our iniquities.” It is unbiblical and irrational to suggest that the Roman soldiers were guided by God in each blow as God’s means of punishing Christ for sin. Christ said, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself” (Jn:10:18). It is God’s law which men have broken, He pronounced the penalty and He alone can execute it in righteousness. Therefore, the payment for our sins could only have been through the punishment Christ endured at the hands of God, not men.
Christ had to be more than mere man: He had to be God manifest in the flesh to endure the eternal punishment due for the sins of all mankind in the three hours of darkness. We are told that He “by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb:2:9). That had to include the “second death”—eternity of punishment in the lake of fire which is yet future for the lost. This could not have been at the hands of the Roman soldiers who scourged and mocked Him, but only at the hands of God.