the Christian life

Matthew 27:46 -- Was Jesus Forsaken? An Examination in Light of Psalm 22
by Carol Berubee

Perhaps you are under the impression that Yeshua (Jesus) was separated from God on the cross in the sense that He died spiritually. You may have heard it said that God could not look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13) and so He had to utterly turn away from His Son who was made to be sin for us. This paper will help you to understand Matthew 27:46 in light of Psalm 22.

Habbakuk 1:13
"You Who are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and Who cannot look on perverseness, wherefore do You look upon those who deal treacherously, and hold Your peace when the wicked swallows up the man who is more righteous than he...?"

The prophet is seeing evil all around him and wonders why God, who cannot approve of sin, is allowing the evil to continue. "Look" in this verse means looking with approval or blessing. The imagery of God turning His face toward someone means that God is blessing that person. When He turns His face away, it is disapproval or a removal of blessing.

This verse means that God cannot look upon sin with approval because God hates sin, but it does not mean that God cannot view sin at all. With this in mind, we can more easily understand what was occurring on the Cross. 

Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22
Yeshua was pointing the people to Psalm 22 when He quoted the first verse: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It is Jewish tradition and custom to consider the whole passage whenever the first verse is quoted. What Yeshua was doing here was reminding the Jews who stood by at the Cross that prophecy was being fulfilled.

We see here that Yeshua cries out to His God. Right away, we see that there is no separation such that Father cannot even look upon His Son. The use of the term, “Eli” (“Eloi” in Mark), indicates that Yeshua is responding to His God from the standpoint of a Son. He had to come to earth as the Son of Man in order to redeem men. On the Cross, He was the sin-bearer as the Son of Man. While Yeshua was both God and man, His human nature was not subservient to His Deity. And now we see in Matthew 27:46 this emotion as the Son of Man.

What must be noted here is that death on a cross meant public shame as well as excruciating physical pain. Yeshua, as a man, no doubt suffered tremendous pain, as any man would. In addition, it was customary for the Romans to suspend men on crosses naked. Yeshua was shamed in front of His mother and His disciple, John, as well as others. Most profound, though, is the fact that He humbled Himself, came from Heaven where He dwelled in all His glory, and became a man on earth. That, in itself, is remarkable, beyond our understanding. Yet, He continues to the point of suffering and death. In His weakness as a man, God is glorified and the way of salvation is paved. Clearly, He suffered in many ways. Here, we have physical trauma and shame, and certainly that elicits an emotional response, but does that necessarily mean that Yeshua died spiritually in the way that the Jesus-Died-Spiritually (JDS) doctrine is often explained?

It is most instructive to see what else is said in Psalm 22 regarding His cry from the Cross. We see in verse 2 that He cries to the Father, but He does not hear. Yet, in verse 24 it says, “For He [the Father] hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He [the Father] hid His face from Him [Yeshua]; but when He [Yeshua] cried unto Him [the Father], He heard.” Clearly, then, we see that Father did not hide His face from His Son, but heard Him when He cried. Two things stand out.

First, God did not turn away from His Son. We see here that in this Psalm that so accurately describes the Cross, Father did not hide His face from Yeshua. This negates the idea that God could not look upon His Son on the Cross.

But, second, we must look at the seeming contradiction between v. 2 and v. 24 concerning whether God heard His Son. Because we see in the latter verse that Father heard our Lord, we must conclude that the use of the word “hear” in v. 2 refers to something a bit different. Indeed, we find that the “hear” in v. 2 is the Hebrew anah and it means “to respond.” Yeshua cries out and Father does not respond. Father hears Him because there is no separation, yet He chooses not to respond.

In v. 24, the word “hear” is the Hebrew shama, which means to “hear intelligibly with the implication of response.” So, although Yeshua cries out and Father hears Him, we know that Father has a purpose in not immediately responding. In v. 24, we gain the perspective that the passage of time so often gives; we see that the whole time that Yeshua is on the Cross, Father hears Him, but waits just long enough to fulfill His purpose that had been prophetically set forth. In v. 24, it is clear that God did not hide His face from our Lord, nor did He ignore His cries; rather, the cries of Yeshua were heard intelligibly and received the response that Father had determined before time began.

So, what does it mean to be “forsaken?” In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, Yeshua says, “…why have You forsaken Me?” Many have come to believe that this means our Lord was separated from God to the point that Christ was utterly dead to the Father. We see the word “forsaken” and we immediately think of "abandoned," in the sense that Yeshua is seen by God as sinful and therefore must be utterly cut off. But we have seen so far that that is not the case. We have seen that God did not hide His face from His Son, nor did He fail to hear Him (John 11:42). But in what sense was He forsaken?

“Forsaken” in Hebrew from Psalm 22:1 is azab and it means “to loosen, relinquish, or permit.” In the Greek translation from Matthew and Mark, it is egkataleipo and it means either “to desert” or “to let remain over (in reserve).” We often are quick to jump to the conclusion that it means "to desert." Yet, we have seen in this study that Yeshua was not deserted in such a way that Father hid His face from Him or failed to hear Him.

Death by crucifixion usually occurred over a somewhat lengthy period of time, often up to a few days. The fact that Yeshua spent only six hours or less on the Cross before He died is quite remarkable. The thieves on either side of Him were still alive when evening approached and so their legs had to be broken to hasten death (John 19:31-37; Deuteronomy 21:22-23). As horrible as our Lord’s crucifixion was, it could have been more prolonged. Instead, He was on the Cross for a specific amount of time on a specific day so as to fulfill prophecy. On this day of Passover, in the sixth hour, the Lamb of God was crucified. It is interesting to note that at that same time, the sixth hour (which covers noon until 3 PM), the Passover lambs would also be sacrificed in the Temple.

So, here was Yeshua on the Cross and darkness has come over the land. Yeshua cries out to God, apparently forsaken. We saw that forsaken can mean to let one remain in a place. Is that the sense in which we can take this verse? Was He saying that Father was allowing Him to remain on the Cross for a certain amount of time, for a certain purpose? 

Perhaps the clue comes from the question itself, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” We saw that He is not separated from God (in the more extreme JDS sense) and we know that forsaken can mean something other than separation or abandonment. But why would He ask the question, “why?” He knew exactly why He came to this earth. He knew full well that He came to die on the Cross and reconcile us to God (John 6:30-58; 10:14-18; 14:1-6; 19:28-30). He is not without His own answer. He is not asking God “why” because He does not know; He is quoting Psalm 22 from the Cross so the Jews will direct their attention to the prophecy.

How many times did David question God’s faithfulness only to answer his own question by saying that God is always faithful to him? Psalm 22 is certainly about the crucifixion of our Lord, but parts of it can also pertain to David. The first verse pertains to both David and Yeshua. When He utters this verse from the Cross, the Jews would know exactly the passage to which He refers. He is directing their attention to the faithfulness and sovereignty of Yahweh, particularly as was fulfilled in the life of David through whom the Messiah would come. Everything that had been prophesied was coming true. It is not that Yeshua is forsaken, but that He is pointing us to the infinite wisdom of God. The answer is that His ways are higher than our ways and He has not forsaken us. Even when it seems that He is not here, we know that He is our help in time of need. When it seems that He is not working on our behalf, we know that there is a purpose for that seeming silence.

Yeshua was on the Cross, dying as the Passover Lamb, as the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple in the early afternoon. Mark indicates that there was darkness over the land from noon until about 3 PM, at which point Yeshua cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In verse 37, we see that Yeshua dies and in the next verse, we are told that the veil in the Temple was rent in two. We see this same sequence of darkness in Matthew (27:45-50). Here we see God giving His people all the “signs” they needed to see that His Son is their Messiah, their promised Deliverer, their Passover Lamb. As He was being slain, the sacrifices were taking place in the Temple leading up to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

So, what are we to make of our Lord remaining on the Cross during this appointed time? Why does He ask why He is left to remain on the Cross? We can either translate the question as, "My God, why have You deserted Me?" Or, we can translate the question as, "My God, why have You allowed Me to be held over?" In other words, His death, the spilling of His blood, is what satisfied God's justice against sin, so there had to be a reason why Father allowed Yeshua to remain alive and suffering even after His blood was shed.

In Exodus, we learn that the tabernacle was to have a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place, separated by a veil. Only the High Priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place where the Mercy Seat was located. When Jesus was on the cross taking on the sin of the world, God showed us that His sacrifice was making it possible for us to enter the Most Holy Place. By tearing the veil in two, God showed us symbolically that Jesus made a way for us to come to the Mercy Seat. Yeshua was now our High Priest.

In Hebrews, we read that the veil, symbolically, was Jesus' flesh (10:20). In Old Testament times, if one was to make a covenant with someone, the two would slaughter a first born animal and separate it into halves (the long way). The halves would lay side by side on the ground and each of the two men would walk between the two pieces, signifying their covenant. Because Yeshua's flesh is represented by the veil, we can see that the veil (torn the long way) represents covenant; in this case, covenant between Father and Son.

There is always a reason for why God does what He does. Yeshua was not deserted by God, nor did He not understand why He was left on the Cross. He was pointing the people to the Law (the Temple sacrifice) and the Prophets (Psalm 22). He was showing them that He was fulfilling the Law and the Prophets yet again. His entire life was a fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

In John 19:30, Yeshua says from the Cross, “It is finished!” He conquered sin and death -- the power of sin in our lives today and the penalty of eternal separation from God upon death. He paid the penalty for sins by being the Scapegoat, carrying our sins into the wilderness; and as the Propitiation, to provide the meeting place of mercy between God and sinner (Romans 3:25). He conquered the power of sin by getting at sin itself; He died unto sin, the thing itself (Romans 6:10). He conquered death by being raised from the dead.

There was no need for Him to go to Hell and be tormented by Satan in order to pay the penalty for sins (as some dare to teach). He paid the penalty for sins by the shedding of blood (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14), and He conquered death by His Resurrection from the dead. Those in Paradise never tasted the torment of Hell but were raised because He was raised. Those who put their faith and trust in Him today will never taste eternal death because He lives eternally, raised from the dead so that we, too, will never see the corruption of Hell. He suffered physical pain and death, and He endured life on this earth, so that He could be our effectual High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 4:14-15; 7:26-27).