Question: "What does it mean that Christ was wounded for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)?"
Answer: In the last of Isaiah’s Servant Songs, we have this passage: “But He 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).
The “wounding” spoken of here would result in a severe injury. The Hebrew word literally means “pierced” or “bored through.” The Message brings out the horror of the scene as well as the vicarious nature of Christ’s death: “It was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!” Most modern translations of Isaiah 53:5 use the word pierced. The piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet (with nails), side (with a spear), and head (with thorns) give this prophecy of Isaiah’s a literal fulfillment.
The Suffering Servant pictured in Isaiah 53 is a Sin-bearer. The entire chapter 53 of Isaiah concerns the suffering of God’s Servant, the Messiah, as He takes the punishment for wrongs others have committed. The Messiah had done no wrong. He is the “righteous servant” (verse 11), and “he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (verse 9).
A transgression is a rebellion. Isaiah 53:5 specifically says that Christ was wounded for our transgressions, for our rebellions. He had not rebelled against God; in fact, He always obeyed the Father’s will (John 5:19; 6:38). It was our rebellion against God that caused the trouble. Christ, in His mercy and grace, was wounded to remedy the problem.
When we saw Christ hanging on the tree, we gasped and, in our pride, assumed that He must have done something horrible for God to punish Him in such a way: “We esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4, NKJV). Or, as the Message Bible puts it, “We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.” But we were wrong. Christ was suffering on the tree for our sake. It takes humility to acknowledge that it was our own sin that was laid on Christ and that He was mercifully taking the punishment that we deserved.
The fact that Christ was wounded for our transgressions clearly points to the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. His death was vicarious—that is, He died for us sinners. Christ suffered death as our substitute. He received the penalty our sins deserved, and we received, in exchange, the blessings His righteousness had earned. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s an amazing trade.
The fact that Christ was wounded for our transgressions establishes a direct connection between the passion of Christ and our iniquities. In the wisdom of God, the death of Christ was not only the penalty we deserved, but it was also the remedy we needed. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we are reconciled to God: “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
Finally, it’s worth a mention here of Isaiah’s perspective: he writes, “He was wounded for our transgressions”; not “He was wounded for your transgressions.” That is, Isaiah placed himself among the transgressors who brought about the wounding of the Messiah. The prophet could have listed many sins of which the rebellious people of Judah were guilty, but he doesn’t do that here. Instead, Isaiah places himself in their midst and pictures himself as guilty as they. We are all sinners, and we all need the Savior.