Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?

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It is a claim that is heard many times from many pulpits often in during the Lord’s Supper. Matthew 27:45ff says,

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He is calling Elijah.” (TNIV)

It seems pretty clear that Jesus understood himself as forsaken by God. Why else would he make a statement like that? There may be more to this passage than meets the eye. Here in Matthew Jesus is quoting the first line from Psalm 22. Jesus was known to have quoted a line of a psalm but the context of his statement and the content of the psalm he quotes clearly indicated that he was making reference to more than the part he cites. In modern English that is called a synechdoche where one part represents the whole. In John 2:17 Jesus quotes Psalm 69:9 but is clearly making reference to the entire psalm. That sets a precedent for Jesus using that style of speech at other times. But that alone is not significant enough.

Are there any markers in content of the gospels or the content/context of this psalm that might point to Jesus not being forsaken by God?

Gospels:

The gospel is very clear that Jesus and God were unified. In John 10:20 Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” In John 15:10 Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Clearly on the cross Jesus was being obedient to his Father’s commands. It would seem that in doing so Jesus would remain in God’s love.

On the other hand, refer back to the previous post on Galatians 3 to see that in essence Jesus could have been under a curse on the cross that put him outside of the covenant community temporarily but was restored through the resurrection.

Psalm 22:

There is evidence from the psalm itself that Christ was not forsaken on the cross. When you look at this psalm you notice that the the first 21 verses have many parallels to Jesus and his situation on the cross:

  • Being mocked and having insults hurled at him
  • No one to help
  • Surrounded
  • Poured out like water
  • pierced his hands and feet
  • Divide his clothes and cast lots for his garments

But can we say that the parallels between Jesus and the psalmist stop at verse 21? Could it be that Jesus only made reference to these verses but not what follows? Psalm 22:24 says,

“For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”

Could it be that Jesus made reference to this verse as well using the same style of speaking as he did in citing Psalm 69:9 in John? So many have made the claim that God “turned his back on Jesus” or “turned his face from Jesus” but the rest of Psalm 22 states exactly the opposite of the Psalmist, “he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Ultimately through the resurrection we find that God did not forsake Jesus. Is he forsaken if only forsaken for a moment? How does this fit with Galatians 3 and the curse of the law?

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