In 1 Peter 2:24, Peter alludes to Isaiah 53:5 when he declares that Christ’s death provides “healing.” He is clearly referring to the death of Jesus on the cross (“he bore our sins on the tree”). But Peter adjusts the wording of Isaiah 53 slightly. In both the Hebrew and Greek versions, the line reads “we are healed,” Peter has “you (plural) are healed.” This may simply be a case of a pastor inserting his congregation into a text for rhetorical purposes.
On the other hand, it is not clear in Isaiah who the suffering servant benefits – who is the “we” in this verse? A common first-century answer was “Israel.” The nation as a whole suffers in order to bring redemption to the world. This could be an example of Peter re-using a text from the Hebrew Bible and applying it more specifically to the Church. It is not the nation of Israel who is healed by the death of the messiah, but rather the ones who follow Jesus.
The verb translated “healed” (ἰάομαι) can easily be misunderstood. While it is often used for physical healing, it is also used for being delivered from spiritual blindness. What is more, it is used in Isaiah 6:10 to describe what might happen if the people of Isaiah’s day turned their hearts to the Lord and really understood the message of the prophet – “they would be healed.” This text from Isaiah is used several times in the New Testament to describe the spiritual blindness of those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry. They were spiritually insensitive and therefore rejected the Suffering Servant when he revealed himself.
John 12:37-44 is a remarkable combination of Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1. This is John’s summary of the ministry of Jesus. No one heard the message of the Suffering Servant, so no one turned as was healed! Like John, Peter is saying that those who follow Christ are healed of their spiritual blindness in a way which separates them from those who heard the teaching of Jesus and failed to respond.
Isaiah 53 forms a foundation for Peter’s Christology, and probably for the Christology of the earliest apostolic preaching. Based on the suffering of Jesus Christ, his followers experience redemption. But there is a pastoral application of Peter’s theology of salvation. If Jesus suffered so intensely so that you can have salvation, then those who follow Jesus ought to suffer in the same way. Look back a few verses: 1 Peter: 2:20 is an ethical statement about servants who are unjustly suffering at the hands of their masters.
In fact, Peter’s point is that how you follow Jesus ought to be based on the way in which Jesus lived, suffered and died. This is not some sort of sugary “WWJD” pep-talk. Peter bases his ethical teachings on the suffering of Jesus, not his “good life” or other moral teachings. It is remarkable that Peter does not say, “Love your neighbor the way Jesus loved his neighbors.” I am sure that is true and that Peter would agree with that sort of a statement. But Peter says, “suffering in silence, the way Jesus suffered.”
My guess is that most people who wore the WWJD bracelets were not thinking about being silent while they were beaten unjustly for their commitment to their Lord and Savior.