Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Before considering the possible reasons why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I want to address a common misinterpretation of the word forsaken. Our English word “forsake” means to renounce or turn away from entirely. However, the Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines the Greek word “egkataleipo” (the word we translate “forsake”) as meaning “to leave behind in some place, i.e. (in a good sense) let remain over, or (in a bad one) to desert:–forsake, leave.” “Leaving behind” could not mean any type of break or division in the essence of the Father and Son. We must be careful in thinking of any type of separation that includes a division in the unity that Jesus has with the Father. The unity between Father and Son could not have been broken at that time, not even for the shortest moment of time, nor could it have been broken. Their union was, is, and always will be eternal and without any type of separation. Since we cannot fully understand the Triune nature of God, it is no surprise that we cannot fully understand what took place when Jesus cried out on the cross. But we must understand that it does not mean a break in the unity of the Triune God.
The Triune God
Each Person of the Triune Godhead is co-existent and co-eternal with the other two. This is a perfect and eternal union. We must understand that the Triune God is One God and yet each Person of the Godhead is a distinct Person (Read “How Can I Understand the Trinity?”). Some try to say that Jesus was separated from God in His humanity only, but, in His incarnation, Jesus was fully man and fully God. On the cross He was still fully God and to suggest His humanity could be separated from His divinity is not biblically supported. Again, since there can never be a separation in the union between Father and Son or the Godhead would have ceased to be eternally triune, Jesus could not have been forsaken in the meaning of being separated. This is true of us also. Just as God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit are eternally united, we are eternally in Christ. We are sealed unto the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). If (and that’s a hypothetical “if”) the Father had been able to separate Himself from the Son, then we also could be separated from God. That’s just not possible, for we have eternal life; life without end and without any (even momentary) separation. Yes, Jesus felt some type of distance from God. There was a turning away from the Son by the Father, but be very careful not to use the word “separation” or imply any type of division in their eternal relationship. I would like to suggest that the Bible presents another possible reason why Jesus might have cried…
“My God, My God. . .”
This is the only time in which Jesus refers to His Father as “God.” The only time! Could this mean that God the Father, at that moment, was no longer His Father? And why would Jesus call His Father, “My God?” We know that the Father is the God of Israel, but is He Jesus’ God? Since Jesus is God, can God have a God? This seems to explain why Jesus always called God simply “Father.” He spoke in terms of their relationship, not of the essence of their being [one God]. So why in the last moments of His life did Jesus call the Father, “My God.”
A Reason to Consider
Remember that Jesus cried out these words at “about the ninth hour” and with a “loud voice.” Even though Jesus was experiencing extreme physical pain and agony, this was not a cry of defeat. Before He was nailed to the cross, Jesus knew exactly what He would be facing and exactly what His death would accomplish (as evidenced by the blood He sweat in the garden before His arrest). Jesus gave Himself willingly in accordance with the wishes of His Father, knowing His Father’s plan was perfect, and that His death would be a victory over sin. I present, for your consideration, another possible reason why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We know that when Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness, Jesus responded each time by quoting Scripture. I believe that Jesus was doing the very same thing here. As Jesus hung on the cross, shortly before He gave up His life, Jesus spoke the first few words of Psalm 22:1. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Psalm 22 is known as the first of the three Shepherd Psalms. When reading this psalm, all the words sound as if they were spoken by Jesus while hanging on the cross. The psalm speaks of a shepherd who dies for his sheep and it points toward the Good Shepherd, Jesus. Most Christians are familiar with Psalm 23, the second of the Shepherd Psalms, that speaks of the Great Shepherd who lives for His sheep. And Psalm 24, completes the trilogy of Shepherd Psalms by speaking of the Chief Shepherd who will return for His sheep. (Read: Following the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd)
“…why hast thou forsaken me?”
The psalms are written in Hebrew and the Hebrew word, translated in English as “forsaken,” is “azab.” Strong’s Dictionary defines it as: to loosen, i.e. relinquish, permit, etc.:–commit self, fail, forsake, fortify, help, leave (destitute, off), refuse, surely. There’s no division or separation suggested by the Hebrew word. I suggest that when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” from Psalm 22, He was continuing to teach and minister to those at the foot of the cross. Perhaps that is why Jesus said, “My God,” instead of “Father.” Perhaps, instead of crying out to His Father, He was simply quoting David’s words. Jesus was still the Good Shepherd, who had come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mat 15:24), and He was still leading His sheep. As Jesus spoke the words of David’s psalm, the people should have recognized the words and realized that what David had prophesied in his psalm was unfolding before their eyes. It was common for Jews to quote a few words from a Psalm, but not the entire Psalm. The words spoken would evoke the remaining words. This was similar to how we quote a few words of a Bible verse and good students of the Bible will recall the entire verse or even the passage that contains the verse. Quoting the first few words of Psalm 22 should have called to mind the remaining words of David’s psalm.
A Plausible Reasoning, But Not Proof
We cannot prove that Jesus was trying to open the eyes of those who stood at the foot of His cross as He cried out the words of Psalm 22, but I suggest, if that was the case, even until His very last breath Jesus was the Good Shepherd who had come to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He came to teach them and to reveal Himself as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Redeemer. If that is what Jesus was doing, and had any of those present remembered the words of David, they would have fallen on their faces knowing the One on the cross was the One sent to save them.
Put Yourself at the Foot of the Cross
Take a few minutes to stand at the foot of the cross and “see” Jesus bruised for your transgressions. Take some time to remember all that Jesus did for you when He offered Himself in your place. Now read the rest of Psalm 22. These are words that the Jews should have recalled, and they are words that we should never forget, when Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
…Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.
But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.
But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.
Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; For there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.
They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.
But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me.
I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.
My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust shall bow before Him, even he who cannot keep himself alive. A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, they will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this.
Jesus entered the awful darkness that I might walk in the light;
He drank the cup of woe that I might drink the cup of joy;
He was forsaken that I might be forgiven.¹
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¹ A.W. Pink. The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross
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