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Was Jesus Forsaken on the Cross  ?
 

 

John 8:28-29  
“So Jesus said ... He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.’ ”
 
Matthew 27:46  
“Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?’ ”
NAB

Some people have contended that Jesus was stating a theological fact that the Father had forsaken Him while He was on the Cross.

However, this Bible quote above in Matthew is a quotation from the Old Testament Psalm 22.  Jesus was not just reciting this passage.  He was praying it, and doing so for our benefit.

Jesus was fully human.  He fully experienced the pain of death and the feeling of separation. 

Please consider the following:

John 11:41-43  
“And Jesus raised his eyes and said,  ‘Father, I thank you for hearing me.   I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ … ‘Lazarus, come out !’ ”

Two things can be seen from this passage.  First, the Father always hears the Son.  Second, Jesus prays out loud for the benefit of His hearers.  Therefore, when he prayed Psalm 22, out loud, from the cross he brings to His followers’ mind’s the triumphal meaning that is revealed at the end of that Psalm.  Jesus knew that His listeners would have been reminded of the rest of that prayer.
 

Psalm 22: 2, 22-25
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? …
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.
… For God has not spurned or disdained
the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out.”
NAB

Jesus was giving us a message of hope when we follow him to the cross.  Luke 9:23-24.
Even though believers in God may feel abandoned when they suffer, in reality God the Father is closer than ever.  What earthly father would not desire to be near his son when he is suffering.  Certainly an earthly father is not more loving than God the Father.
 
If we say that Jesus was “forsaken” in an absolute sense, that would make the Father a schizophrenic God,  One who tells Jesus to do something and then when Jesus obeys, the Father forsakes Him.  Cf. Garden of Gethsemane Matthew 26:39.

In support of the first opinion that Jesus was truly forsaken, cursed and had literally become sin, someone might quote:

Galatians 3: 10-13  
it is written, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” … Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree” ”

Did Jesus become a curse literally or figuratively ?
Again, a person supporting the first opinion may quote :

2 Corinthians 5:21
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The clue as to whether Jesus was literally forsaken and literally became a curse and sin or whether Jesus was just speaking and praying figuratively is found below.

Jesus compares Himself to the image of a serpent.

John 3:14
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up”

But, to understand this we must study the Old Testament passage that Jesus was talking about.

Why Looking at Serpent in OT Brought Healing

Numbers 21:5-9
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? …
 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you ...
8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

The image of the serpent – the snake – is usually associated with the devil.  See Genesis 3.  So why does looking upon it bring healing?  Because the Jews had compared God to the evil one, one who brings death, Satan and, now looking upon this image was a humble acknowledgment of their sin.  They had claimed God was like Satan, the serpent.  This brought about repentance.

Just as the serpent Moses lifted up became symbolic of the insult the Jews made against God, Jesus death was symbolic of our sins.  Jesus did not become literally cursed, but rather His death was symbolic of one who had been cursed.  Jesus could never have been literally cursed because of His devotion and nearness to God the Father.  This is seen below.

 

Hebrews 5:7-9
… he (Jesus)  was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was …
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Because Jesus was fully God, He could never have become sin in the literal sense of the word. St. Paul was referring to how Jesus accepted the suffering that was due to our guilt.

As part of Mankind, He represents us and He dies for our sins.  From the earthly perspective Jesus appeared as cursed and as forsaken, but from the heavenly perspective – the only true perspective – Jesus was glorified on the cross as He tells us in …

John 12:23-33
“And Jesus answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 
 And what shall I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 
28 Father, glorify thy name.” …
 Now is the judgment of this world,
now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I,
when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to myself.”
He said this to show by what death he was to die.”

Jesus was paying our debt for sin.   Jesus died on the cross to restore holiness in Mankind not to just fulfill some legalistic rule.  Certainly, the Father was not just getting His blood’s worth of revenge. 

It was the pagan  “gods”  who punished just for the sake of revenge.  Sin by its very nature always brings destruction and suffering into the world.  By accepting the suffering due to our guilt Jesus enables our hearts to be opened up to having a true faith , so that it will even be open to accepting the suffering of the cross.  Jesus was doing much more than just fulfilling some legalistic requirement, He was enabling us to become truly loving and holy by His grace which works within us.  Even when God inflicts punishment He does so with more love than any human being could imagine. 


Luke 22:37 
“For I [Jesus]  tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked.’ ”

Even though He was counted among the wicked surely He was not wicked since He was without sin.


 

A  FATHER’S  LOVE  FOR  HIS  SON


Jesus was never more glorious to the Father than when Our Savior hung on the Cross.

John 12:23  
“Jesus answered them,   ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ ”

John 17:1  
“When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said,  ‘Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you’ ”
 

Consider,
Isaiah 53:4   
“Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.”

“While we thought of him as stricken …”  seems to imply that He was not really forsaken.  As does the following prophecy.

Psalm 31:23  
“Once I said in my anguish,  ‘I am shut out from your sight.’   Yet you heard my plea, when I cried out to you.”

 
 

JESUS  IS  ONE  WITH  THE  FATHER


John 14:8-11  
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?   …  The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.   Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me … ”

John 8:28-29  
“So Jesus said (to them),  ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.   The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.’

So, it is appropriate to ask, “What was the Father’s plan, His Will, for Jesus ?   And when did Jesus do that ?”

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed,
Matthew 26:39  
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
 

John 10:17-18, 30 
“This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.   No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.  This command I have received from my Father … The Father and I are one.”

John 15:9-10
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you …
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

 

Therefore, Jesus was never more lovable then when he was on the Cross.  It was then that Jesus was doing what was pleasing to the Father, giving His life in love for the Father and His will.  And as  John 8:28-29   points out, God the Father could not have left Him alone at this or any other time.

John 16: 32- 33  
“Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.  But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.   I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.”
NAB

This passage refers to when Jesus will be abandoned by most of the Apostles at the Cross, yet, Jesus informs us that the Father is, and will be, with Him at that time.  Further, He says that this is to give us peace.  He is implying that we will be treated by our Heavenly Father in our time of trial the same way the Father treated Him.  We will not be abandoned or forsaken, it will only appear to be that way.  See the end of the Psalm above.  Christians are called to see the fullness of reality not by natural means but by supernatural faith, hope and love.

 

Image at Top is from : Book of Hours, Paris, 1470 AD

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Original April 1999
Updated February 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Benedict XVI :

“I want to reflect with you on the cry of Jesus from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ... Even though the Father appears to be absent, in a mysterious way his loving gaze is focussed upon the Son’s loving sacrifice on the Cross. It is important to realize that Jesus’ cry of anguish is not an expression of despair: on the contrary, this opening verse of Psalm twenty-two conveys the entire content of the psalm, it expresses the confidence of the people of Israel that despite all the adversity they are experiencing, God remains present among them, he hears and answers his people’s cry. This prayer of the dying Jesus teaches us to pray with confidence for all ... who are suffering, that they too may know the love of God who never abandons them. ”
(General Audience
 Wednesday, 8 February 2012 )

 

Was Jesus Christ Literally Made Sin on the Cross? Did He Suffer the Horrors of Damnation?
Luther and Calvin vs. the Church Fathers
See Early Church Fathers on this subject by Dave Armstrong. 2