As Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out in a loud voice, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:46)
This verse, and the equivalent in Mark 13:34, has been used to support grossly unbiblical teachings about God—false teachings we may have heard and accepted at some point without truly questioning their validity.
I have heard people reference this verse, and explain that God the Father turned away from Jesus in that moment. Or that the Father abandoned His Son and could no longer look upon Him. It has even been taught that for a split second, Jesus and His Father were completely separated from one another, no longer in unity. (All of which are patently false.)
Is that what Jesus is saying when He cried out? That God abandoned Him and they separated from each other for a moment in time?
Absolutely not. In crying those words, Jesus was giving a reference to a specific Psalm of David. By crying out “My Father, My Father, why have your forsaken me,” Jesus was directly quoting the first line of Psalm 22. We reference the Psalms by their number, but Jews during that time would reference the first words of that particular Psalm. Similarly, we refer to the first book of the Bible as “Genesis,” but Jews know it as the Hebrew equivalent of, “In the Beginning.” In the same way, those listening to Jesus (or reading the account in the gospels) would immediately understand the reference Jesus made.
By quoting the first words of Psalm 22, Jesus both expresses the human anguish he was experiencing at that moment and refers to the prophetic Psalm that spoke of His very sacrifice for humanity. A Psalm that, contrary to the unbiblical teachings we may have heard, speaks to the very fact that God had not abandoned Jesus at all. Rather, God was faithful to Him, even in death.
Psalm 22 speaks so directly to Jesus and His death on the cross, it is a wonder that Jesus’ words have ever been misunderstood at all. Just listen to the words of the Psalm. David begins with the same exact cry Jesus utters on the cross.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
David then speaks of how the Israelites have historically trusted in God, that “they cried out and were saved” by the Holy One. And then we read these prophetic verses. Verses that speak of Jesus being mocked by men as He hung on the cross.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Despite this mocking, David prophetically speaks how Jesus still trusted in God. David goes on, again referencing the crucifixion of Jesus:
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
The trust David has, which is also prophetically seen in Jesus, is only more evident as we read on. There is a plea for God to deliver, followed by a significant declaration of God’s faithful character—that he will respond to this cry for help.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
Did you catch the last verse? David writes that God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one.” (22:24) Not only that, but God “has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
God did not despise Jesus on the cross, in fact, He did not even hid his face. This directly and forcefully contradicts any notion that God turned His face away from Jesus during the crucifixion. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that God has not hidden his face from Jesus at all.
Jesus’ death on a cross was not a demonstration of God’s rejecting those who call on Him. Rather, it is a demonstration of His faithfulness. The Father was faithful to Jesus in raising Him from the dead, vindicating and glorifying Jesus. God was faithful to humanity and the nation of Israel by fulfilling His promises to send a redeemer. He was faithful to His covenant with Abraham in blessing the entire world through Abraham’s seed.
Our God is faithful towards those that trust in Him. He does not turn away from us during our hardest moments, just as He did not turn away from His Son Jesus. When we feel there is no hope, He is our eternal hope.