“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).” – Matthew 27:46
What did Jesus mean when He said those words? Most say that Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God placed the sins of the world on Him – and because of that, God had to “turn away” from Jesus. As Jesus was feeling that weight of sin, He was experiencing a separation from God for the first time in all of eternity.
This happens to be one of the most misinterpreted verse in scripture.
To better understand what happened on the cross, we must first understand who Jesus was.
Jesus was born of the virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit is the eternal Logos (The Word), the second person of the Trinity. When the Logos incarnated in human form two distinct natures were united. Namely the Divine nature and the Human Nature. This union is called Hypostatic Union.
“The two natures of Christ are inseparably united without mixture or loss of separate identity. He remains forever the God-man, fully God and fully man, two distinct natures in one Person Forever. In summarising the hypostatic union, three facts are noted: (1) Christ has two distinct natures: humanity and deity; (2) there is no mixture or intermingling of the two natures; (3) although He has two natures, Christ is one Person.”¹
This interpretation of God turning away from Jesus poses two major theological problem arising from the question: Who was it left on the Cross?
1) If God left Jesus (the Divinity) on the cross, then there hints a possibility that the Triune God can separate himself. Which can further lead to – the Trinity can be three separate independent entities. Why independent? because Jesus was no longer sustained ² by Father as he turned himself away from the Son. This happens if we take the words literally, that God had forsaken Jesus. With this view the Doctrine of The Trinity gets shaken up.
2) If Jesus (the Divinity) left his humanity on the cross, then the sacrificial offering of Jesus is no longer an eternal offering for all generation of mankind – past, present and future. The Old testament gives us the typology of this. The passover lamb which was offered only atoned for the people of that particular time period (cf: Hebrews 10). How do we know this? “Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” – Hebrews 10:2-4. But we know that Jesus’ sacrifice had to be eternal once and for all, for all generations to believe (cf: Hebrews 10:10). There has to be an eternal element in the equation. Without the Divine Logos in the crucifixion, Jesus’ death becomes the same of that of any animal sacrifice.
So…Who died on the cross?
The humanity of Jesus died on the cross, while His divinity eternally lived on and carried His sacrificial death through all of time. “That for whosoever believes in Him will be saved.” – John 3:15
What did Jesus mean when He said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?
In christendom, if I were to say, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want”. Instantaneously most people would recognise that this is Psalm 23. At the time of Jesus the most popular messianic song was Psalm 22. The jewish people of that time were under Rome oppression, and they were looking forward for the coming of the Messiah (Christ). Jesus’s words in Matthew 27:46 is a fulfilment of the prophetic statement in Psalm 22:1.
|Psa. 22:1||“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”||Matthew 27:46|
|Psa. 22:7||They shoot out the lip and shake the head||Matthew 27:39-44|
|Psa. 22:8||“He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him”||Matthew 27:43|
|Psa. 22:9-10||Born the Saviour||Luke 2:7|
|Psa. 22:12-13||They seek His death||John 19:6|
|Psa. 22:14||His blood poured out when they pierced His side||John 19:34|
|Psa. 22:14, 15||Suffered agony on Calvary||Mark 15:34-37|
|Psa. 22:15||He thirsted||John 19:28|
|Psa. 22:16||They pierced His hands and His feet||John 19:34, 37; 20:27|
|Psa. 22:17, 18||Stripped Him before the stares of men||Luke 23:34, 35|
|Psa. 22:18||They parted His garments||John 19:23, 24|
|Psa. 22:20, 21||He committed Himself to God||Luke 23:46|
|Psa. 22:27-28||He shall be the governor of the nations||Colossians 1:16|
|Psa. 22:31||“It is finished”||John 19:30, Heb. 10:10, 12, 14, 18|
As soon as He would say those words, the jews around Him would start to remember the words of Psalm 22 being unfolded in front of their very eyes. One man understood the verse in psalm 22:15 and he went and got wine vinegar on a staff for Jesus to drink (cf: Matthew 27:48).
What Jesus was doing in the final moments of the crucifixion? He was showing that He is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Two of the most unlikely of people heard His message – the thief on the cross and the centurion. The centurion witness the hands and feet of Jesus being pierced as it was written in Psalm 22:16. And he states “Surely he was the Son of God!” Surprisingly this Psalm was written nearly 1000 years before Christ, when no crucifixion ever existed.
Some would still argue that Jesus became sin literally by referring to 2 Corinthians 5:21 and say for that reason God turned himself away. Ron Rhodes, professor of theology at BIOLA University, gives his response to 2 Corinthians 5:21 saying, “Just as the righteousness that is imputed to Christians in justification is extrinsic to them, so the sin that was imputed to Christ on the cross was extrinsic to Him and never in any sense contaminated His essential nature.”³
There is a lot to learn from the crucifixion accounts in the gospel. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Jesus was not left alone on the cross, the Father and the Spirit was with Jesus. There is no point in time that He become less than His divinity. Jesus is yesterday, today and forever the same. He alone is worthy to be the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away our sins.
1. Paul Enns, The Moody’s Handbook of Theology (1989, reprinted 2013),Christology, page 239, Explanation of Hypostatic Union. 2. The Son is sustained by the Father. (John 5:19) 3. Ron Rhodes, How Was Jesus “Made” Sin?