By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: In Matthew 27:36 we read: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My Got, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Did God actually forsake Jesus while he was dying on the cross?
Reply: This statement of Jesus is one of the seven recorded sayings of Jesus on the cross. Jesus said that God had forsaken him and we see no reason for believing otherwise. This utterance of Jesus is taken from Psalm 22:1, and while these words were partly verified in David, they were more fully applied to Christ. Christ applied the word to himself.
Did God actually forsake Jesus while he was on the cross? Some say that Jesus learned the 22nd Psalm while a child and now he was delirious and merely babbled these words. But we deny this; we have every reason to believe that Jesus was lucid every minute. And, if these words of Jesus were spoken in a state of delirium, why could not his other sayings also be attributed to this state? Who would determine when he was rational and when he was not? Some say Jesus was in such pain that these words were forced from his lips. This, however, is contrary to his attitude toward his own suffering and death. Jesus voluntarily laid down his life and gladly endured all the pain for us. He was a perfect example, even while dying (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Others say that Jesus just “felt” that God had forsaken him. No, Jesus knew what it was all about. There is no evidence that Jesus was at anytime self-deceived while he was upon the earth, and there is certainly no evidence that he was in this specific instance on the cross. Then there are some who offer the objection that if God actually forsook Jesus, why did not God turn away the whole six hours that he was on the cross instead of the last three? We do not know how long God forsook his Son. “Hast forsaken” (Gr. egkatelipes) is second aorist, therefore it is past tense. But supposing that God forsook his Son for the last three hours, at least one commentator has suggested that Jesus suffered at the hands of men and Satan for the first three hours and at the hands of God during the last three hours. Anyway, the length of time that God forsook Jesus is not germane to the issue. The fact is that God forsook him. Then it is asked, since Jesus as priest, presented himself before God as our substitute for sin, why did not God turn away then too (Heb. 7:26-28; 8:3; 9:7-9,23-25)? God did not turn away from his Son in his priestly function, but rather in his function as a sacrifice. As we shall see, he became a sin offering on our behalf, and paying the penalty for our sins is why God forsook Jesus, not because he was a priest. Neither did God turn away from Jesus because he was deity, or because he was a man, but because he was a sin offering. No one could ever truthfully say that Jesus our Lord ever did anything wrong (1 Pet. 2:21-23). After almost twenty centuries have passed, we still look upon him as a sinless. He was indeed God-man. We believe that he spoke the truth while he was on the cross, and that he was actually forsaken by God for a period of time.
Why did God forsake his Son? Jesus himself had no sin but he died in our behalf, taking upon himself our sins. We have this beautiful prophetic utterance about Christ in Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He died as if he were a criminal; he took the place of the sinner; therefore, God withdrew his presence from him. Paul wrote: “For he hath made him to be sin, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus paid the full penalty of sin and this is why God forsook him. Sin separates man from God (Isa. 59:1,2). The word “forsaken” is one of the most tragic in human speech. We picture a wife forsaken by her husband, a child forsaken by his parents; but the most tragic of all is for man to be forsaken by God. By paying the full price or penalty for sin, Jesus experienced what man suffers when he commits sin and is separated from God. Jesus endured it all, and he paid it all – the full price. This made the sacrifice for our sins complete. Paul wrote in Romans 8:3, “. . . God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. . . . ” The marginal rendering is: “Or, as an offering for sin.” He took away the sins of the world by being a sin offering.
Jesus, on the cross, was burdened by all the sins of the world; thus, the pure eyes of God could not look upon the scene. For a period of time he turned away from it. It is stated: “Thou that art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that canst not look upon perverseness” (Hab. 1:13). God’s laws had been broken (1 Jn. 3:4) and someone had to pay the penalty. Jesus was qualified to do this because he had no sin. As we sing, “He bore it all.” All the sins of the world were on Jesus – murder, adultery, dishonesty, jealousy, and the list is ad infinitum. As we also sing, “He carried my sins with Him there.” Jesus was actually forsaken by God, and the Bible tells us why.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 5, p. 133
March 2, 1989