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Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?

One of the most misleading teachings of Calvinism is that Jesus was forsaken by God while on the cross. While not all Protestant Christians believe this, those who do believe that God required sacrificial blood in order to forgive us for our sins. By this teaching, Jesus became a “propitiation” (propitiate comes from paganism meaning to appease a wrathful deity), taking our place as God took His wrath towards us out on His Son. Because He took our place, Jesus was imputed with our sins leaving Him separated from God. God then turned His face away from our Savior “forsaking” Him.

Those who believe this will often cite Matthew 27:46 for proof, which says “…’Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” However, Psalm 22, which is a Messianic prophecy, or Servant Psalm, directly parallels Matthew 27:46, indicating a very different scenario. The first verse of Psalm 22 begins with nearly the same words that Jesus cries out from the cross in Matthew 27:46, which we’ll see in a moment.

It is hard to understand how these passages become so misconstrued. When reading both chapters—Psalm 22 and Matthew 27—it’s clear to see that Jesus was mistreated, mocked, and crucified by mankind’s evil, jealousy, and denial of God rather than the wrath of God punishing Him. Let’s take a close look at both chapters and try to clarify some confusion, beginning with Psalm 22:

1 O God, my God, attend to me: why hast thou forsaken me? the account of my transgressions is far from my salvation. 2 O my God, I will cry to thee by day, but thou wilt not hear: and by night, and [it shall] not [be accounted] for folly to me.

At first glance, Psalm 22:1–2 may in fact seem as if God has abandoned His Servant. However, if we think about the last hours of Jesus’s life, it was an extremely stressful time for Him. He didn’t say this until the point just before His death. He had endured hours of being beaten and then hanging on the cross, so we can think of it as Him asking God, “Why is this taking so long, please relieve me from this.” Let’s look back through the hours before His death to get a better understanding.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His crucifixion, we get a picture of just how intense the stress of what was about to take place was. Jesus tells His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death…” (Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34). Jesus is completely consumed with an overwhelming amount of stress and sorrow.

Another passage states, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44). There is a rare condition known as hematidrosis in which people literally sweat blood when under extreme levels of stress.

Jesus even asks God, “…if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42, Luke 22:42, Mark 14:36). The emotional toil is so powerful that He is asking God to take it away, but notice here also, even though Jesus is in so much distress He goes on to say, “thy will be done”.

The “will” and the “cup” in the passage many equate to the wrath of God, however it is clear the cup is the agony Jesus knows He will endure from the evil that mankind is going to inflict upon Him that eventually leads to His death. Thus, the will of God was that Jesus go through with this publicly humiliating and agonizing death, so that He will be resurrected, defeating the grave and others will be in awe at the power of God, His love for His Servant whom they crucified, and the Gospel of Christ will go out to all the nations proclaiming the Good News of His resurrection and eternal life.

As the day progresses into the time of the punishment and crucifixion, the agony continues, yet Jesus’s faith never falters. It may seem to Him as though God is far away at times, but He knows that God is still there or else He wouldn’t still have the faith that He displays all the way to the end.

Continuing to verses 3-5 we read:

3 But thou, the praise of Israel, dwellest in a sanctuary. 4 Our fathers hoped in thee; they hoped, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

We know that God does not have the reputation of abandoning those who trust Him. All believers, no matter which denomination or teaching we come from, are taught that God does not abandon those who truly trust in Him. Nowhere in the Bible can a single verse be found that would show that God has abandoned anyone who sincerely followed His will and trusted in Him (See “Other verses to consider” at the bottom of this article for examples).

So if we know that God is faithful and will not abandon those who trust and follow Him, why then do people think He abandoned His Son who was completely and perfectly faithful to Him? In verses four and five, we can see that He delivered those who trusted in Him. Like we saw above, Jesus may feel alone at this time of affliction, but God will not abandon Him because we know Jesus had complete trust and faith in God; throughout His suffering, Jesus still shows His faith in His Father, and He knows that God will deliver Him.

As we move into verses 6-8 of Psalm 22, we begin to see that those around the Servant are the cause of His pain and humiliation, not the wrath of God. This portion of Psalm 22 is almost an exact parallel of Matthew 27:37-44:

Psalm 22:6–8: Matthew 27:39–44:
6 But I am a worm, and not a man; a reproach of men, and scorn of the people.
7 All that saw me mocked me: they spoke with [their] lips, they shook the head, [saying],
8 He hoped in the Lord: let him deliver him, let him save him, because he takes pleasure in him.
39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
40 And saying, ‘Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest [it] in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.’
41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking [him], with the scribes and elders, said,
42 ‘He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.”
44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
See also (Mark 15:16-20, 26-32; Luke 23:34-39; John 19:1-3)

When we place the two passages side-by-side we begin to see the resemblance. In both, we can see that He is mocked, despised, insulted, and the people “shake their heads” at Him; this all occurs because of His faith in God. Jesus consistently said that His message was not His own but His Fathers. He also said that the temple would be destroyed and He would rebuild it in three days (John 2:19). For these declarations, He was mocked, accused, and crucified.

By the time of His crucifixion Jesus had acquired a large following. He was constantly rebuking the Pharisees on their false teachings, which was turning people toward Him and away from the Pharisees, so they sought to prove that He really wasn’t who He claimed. Being Pharisees their thought was He was below them. They didn’t believe He was the Son of God but a blasphemer. Because of all the rebuking He had done towards them, the Pharisees wanted to publicly humiliate Him in order to prove to His followers that He had no power.

Notice that in Psalm, we find the phrase “He hoped in the Lord: let him deliver him, let him save him, because he takes pleasure in him.” In Matthew, we find almost the exact same line, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.” Even in mockery, the Pharisees knew that trust in God would save Him.

So we saw in verses 6-8 of Psalm 22 that He has been scorned and mocked by mankind, however, He continues to keep His faith in God. Let’s take a look at the next couple of verses that verify this.

Jesus continues praising God throughout verses 25-31. He again covers that we are to seek God and allow Him to rule our lives. He will protect us if we seek and trust in Him. Even if we are about to go down into the grave, we are to continue praising and trusting in Him just as Jesus did and He will be there for us. He will resurrect us just as He did the Messiah. And then we, too, will be in His kingdom forever.

9 But thou [art] he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope [when I was] upon my mother’s breasts. 10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou [art] my God from my mother’s belly.

When reading these two verses (9-10), we can easily see that the Servant is completely reliant on God and has been since the very beginning. He obviously doesn’t think that God has forsaken Him while He was on the cross; God has protected Him all His life and will continue to protect Him.

Then the passage quickly transitions from that trusting statement back to the harsh treatment of the people towards Jesus, although, it builds off verses 9 and 10 as we will see:

Psalm 22:11-18: Matthew 27:27-30, 34-35:
11 Stand not aloof from me; for affliction is near; for there is no helper.
12 Many bullocks have compassed me: fat bulls have beset me round.
13 They have opened their mouth against me, as a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are loosened: my heart in the midst of my belly is become like melting wax.
15 My strength is dried up, like a potsherd; and my tongue is glued to my throat; and thou hast brought me down to the dust of death.
16 For many dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked doers has beset me round: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 They counted all my bones; and they observed and looked upon me.
18 They parted my garments [among] themselves, and cast lots upon my raiment.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band [of soldiers].
28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put [it] upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted [thereof], he would not drink.
35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
(See also Mark 15:16-20, 24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24, 28-29)

Remember in verses 9 and 10, we saw the trust in God portrayed by the Servant, and the transition into 11-18 is Jesus saying, “stand not aloof from me,” or the ABP translates it as “do not separate from me.” We have to acknowledge the agony of what the Messiah is going through and He wants God to be as close to Him as possible. It never once indicates that God has abandoned Him.

As for the rest of the verses, they parallel other portions of the crucifixion: casting lots for His clothing, the piercing of His hands and feet, His thirst. These verses also continue to show that those people around Jesus are responsible for what is happening to Him; nowhere does this say that He is being punished by God. It would be hard to imagine from the wording of verses 12-18 that God would participate in the pain and torture of His Son, whom was completely faithful to Him. It is apparent that what Jesus is experiencing is agonizing. Why would God add to His torture, which the text plainly shows has been inflicted upon Him by mankind?

As the passage continues, we see the next section is a prayer for deliverance from those who have inflicted this abuse onto Him:

19 But thou, O Lord, remove not my help afar off: be ready for mine aid. 20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my only-begotten one from the power of the dog. 21 Save me from the lion’s mouth; and [regard] my lowliness from the horns of the unicorns.

Again, we see Jesus saying, “be ready for mine aid.” All these evil men are surrounding Him, making fun of Him, torturing Him, so He wants God to be as close to Him as possible. As we can see He is clearly asking God to help Him from the surrounding tortures of the evil men. It is evident that God isn’t the one torturing Jesus, but that Jesus is recognizing God as the One He needs most, He is the strength and the deliverer. In His time of distress He is calling on God to save Him.

In the next section, we see what happens:

22 I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise to thee. 23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye seed of Jacob, glorify him: let all the seed of Israel fear him. 24 For he has not despised nor been angry at the supplication of the poor; nor turned away his face from me; but when I cried to him, he heard me.

This section is the most important of Psalm 22 in proving that God didn’t forsake Jesus while on the cross. His prayer for deliverance from the abuse and torture has been answered. Clearly, we can see that God hears us when we cry out to Him. Although Jesus may have felt alone at times God was with Him the whole time. God heard His cry for help, did not hide His face from Him, and answered His prayer. Jesus says that He will declare God’s name and praise Him; everyone is to praise God because, as we can see, He is there for us, He is our deliverer and our strength, and He will not abandon us.

The next verses we see, Jesus continues to praise God for the answering of His prayer, as well as reference the resurrection:

25 My praise is of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; and they shall praise the Lord that seek him: their heart shall live for ever. 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he is the governor of the nations. 29 All the fat ones of the earth have eaten and worshipped: all that go down to the earth shall fall down before him: my soul also lives to him. 30 And my seed shall serve him: the generation that is coming shall be reported to the Lord. 31 And they shall report his righteousness to the people that shall be born, whom the Lord has made.

Conclusion

It is obvious from this passage that God neither punished His Son by “placing the sins of the world on Him,” nor did He “turn away” from Him. Christians do not want to take responsibility for their own sins. It is far easier to believe that someone else took the punishment that is due them, leaving all that is required is to acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice by professing faith in His death. Nor does it require the lifestyle change that is required for Christians. However, we can clearly see that this is not the case. Jesus didn’t impute righteousness to us and we impute sin to Him. We also know that God didn’t take out His wrath on Jesus, or forsake Him, while on the cross. Jesus trusted in God throughout His whole life and followed His will all the way to His death. Therefore, God was with Him the whole time and resurrected Him from the grave. The curse of sin and death has been broken by Jesus, and if we follow His example and believe in Him we, too, can have eternal life with God.

Other verses to consider:

Portions of Psalm 31 are also found in the crucifixion of our Messiah.

In the Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, there is a Messianic Prophecy concerning the Messiah’s death:

12 “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. 13 He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. 14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; 15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. 16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19 Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. 20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” (RSVA)

After reading this prophecy, it is clear to see that they (Jewish leaders) were going to despise Jesus. When on earth, He was constantly opposing the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and other Jewish leaders; in the Bible, He even refers to them as “children of serpents” (Matthew 23:33). So as we can see in the Wisdom of Solomon, as well as the Bible and other sources, they decide to mistreat, abuse, and embarrass Him to see His reaction and to see if He really is the Son of God. Which is also very similar to the passage we just read from Psalm and the parallels from the Gospels.

Next we have a few passages from the Bible that indicate that God will never abandon us that were mentioned at the beginning of the article:

Deuteronomy 31:6-Be courageous and strong, fear not, neither be cowardly neither be afraid before them; for [it is] the Lord your God that advances with you in the midst of you, neither will he by any means forsake thee, nor desert thee.

Deuteronomy 31:8-And the Lord that goes with thee shall not forsake thee nor abandon thee; fear not, neither be afraid.

Psalm 9:10-And let them that know thy name hope in thee: for thou, O Lord, hast not failed them that diligently seek thee.

Hebrews 13:5-[Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

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