Infirmities or Weaknesses

by Spiros Zodhiates

There has been a lot of misunderstanding regarding Matthew 8:16,17: "When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils: and 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."
There are two kinds of people referred to here: the "demonized," if we translate literally, and "those who had it badly" (kakos échontas), not the "sick." Jesus performed therapeo\ (2323), which means that He took care of their symptoms. He ministered to them. This was a direct fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 53:4. Now, let us examine in depth the key phrases of Matthew 8:17 to see what it really teaches.
"Our Infirmities"
The word "infirmity" can mean either a physical infirmity or a spiritual infirmity. The word is astheneas, which means lack of strength. One of the important principles in word studies in the Bible is to recognize the concept that a word can have more than one meaning, depending on the context in which it is used. A student must not take a word with several meanings and force it to have the same meaning every time it is used.
Romans 5:6 sheds some light on asthéneia. Paul wrote of a time "when we were yet without strength." The words "without strength" is asthenes. Does this refer to physical or spiritual sickness? He continued, "in due time Christ died for the ungodly." The context here clearly shows that Paul was talking of spiritual issues, not physical issues. Asthéneia here means that we were spiritually sick.
There are other passages where asthéneia refers to physical illness or sickness. John recorded the healing of a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:3-18). He wrote, "In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk" (v. 3). The word for "impotent" is asthenonto\n, a form of asthéneia. So we can see that the word asthéneia can be either spiritual weakness, as in Romans 5:8, or physical weakness, depending on the context in which it occurs.
The Suffering Servant
In order to determine whether we should understand asthéneia in Matthew 8:17 as referring to spiritual or physical illness, we should carefully examine the entire chapter in which the quoted verse is found.
Isaiah 53:1,2-which is the frame for Isaiah 53:4 quoted in Matthew 8:17-clearly points to the Lord Jesus Christ: "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." Evidently Jesus was not the handsome person we have pictured for us today!
"He is despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (v. 3). This is a clear description of our Lord Jesus' life here on earth. "And we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not." The vast multitude turned on Him and even one of the Twelve betrayed Him.
Now we come to Isaiah 53:4: "Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." Does this mean that since Jesus took our griefs, we do not grieve anymore? Do you know of any believer, do you know of any saint of God, who is without grief? He identified with, but did not remove our griefs when He suffered on the cross. That is an important point to keep in mind.
Continuing in the passage, "But 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" (v. 5). This verse, which is quoted in 1 Peter 2:24, is often misunderstood because people see the word "healed" and immediately think of physical healing. The Hebrew word is rapha, which refers to a total restoration to the condition in which God first created us.
The emphasis in this verse is on our spiritual sickness. We are sinners. We commit "transgressions" and "iniquities," and so this verse is primarily speaking of our spiritual redemption.
Again, "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" (v. 6). We all do what Adam and Eve did after they sinned. For them, and us, it is primarily a spiritual problem.
In verse 8, Isaiah wrote, "He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken." Jesus was not stricken primarily for our health, but for our sins. Further, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin..." (v. 10). An offering for health? No, for sin.
And verse 11 closes with, "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities." This sounds so much like the Apostle Paul speaking (see Rom. 5:18-19). Sin is the emphasis of this entire chapter in Isaiah. Jesus Christ came primarily to die for sin.
It is not a responsible method of approaching the Scriptures to take Isaiah 53:5 to refer to physical healing while the whole chapter refers to the "infirmities" that Jesus took upon Himself for the sins of the people.
"And Bare Our Sicknesses"
As we have noted, the word for "sicknesses" is nsous, "diseases." The Lord Jesus on the cross took all diseases, and the day will come when there will be no diseases at all. Jesus tasted the ultimate consequences of disease and sickness, which is death, so that one day He can give us a body that cannot be affected by any disease whatsoever.
If Jesus "took" our weaknesses in the sense that we do not have them anymore, why would Paul write, "For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you" (2 Cor. 13:4)? We are weak (asthenes) in spite of the fact that He is in us and we in Him. Paul wrote in the present tense because it is a present, continuing reality. We are still besieged by human frailties. Jesus "took" them-He identified with us-yet we still have them. But someday we will not. Someday we will be incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:54).
The Lord can heal anyone at any time if it is within His sovereign will to do so. When ill, we encourage you to pray to the Lord to be healed. If it is not His will to heal, then we know that someday we will be given a body that no disease whatsoever is going to affect (Rom. 8:23).
So, the first part of Matthew 8:17 ("He Himself took our infirmities") speaks of His identification with humanity in His incarnation. He took a pure human nature and human body to Himself. The second portion ("and bore the sicknesses") speaks of complete liberation from disease for His people when we are changed into His likeness at our resurrection.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad