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A Word Of Desolation

JESUS’S SEVEN LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS:
4. A WORD OF DESOLATION

 

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
(Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

As explained in the introduction to this article, Jesus said His first three statements from the cross sometime during the first three hours of His crucifixion. During this time, the Gospels report that the Roman guard divided His garments (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34b; John 19:23-25), and that various groups of people insulted and mocked Jesus while He was on the cross (Matthew 27:39-44; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-39).

For this reason, the first three hours of Jesus’s crucifixion is sometimes referred to as “the Wrath of Man.”

But after Jesus had been on the cross for three hours, three of the Gospel writers describe that the sky went dark.

“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.”
(Matthew 27:45)

“When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
(Mark 15:33)

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured.”
(Luke 23:44-45a)

Even John, who does not explicitly report about this period of darkness, seems to quietly acknowledge it with the expression—“After this” (John 19:28a)—before describing the final moments of Jesus’s life.

The darkness was ominous and unsettling. Luke says “the sun was obscured” which could mean an eclipse of some sort. The ancient world interpreted these kinds of solar events as divine disapproval and/or a sign of divine wrath.

Jesus’s fourth statement from the cross, spoken near the end of the obscuring of the sun: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) seems to affirm, among other things that we will discuss, this wrathful interpretation and significance of the darkness.

For these reasons, the final three hours of Jesus’s crucifixion is sometimes referred to as “the Wrath of God.”

Matthew and Mark each record Jesus’s fourth statement, making it the only one of Jesus’s seven last words that is quoted by more than one Gospel. It is also the only remark from the cross that their Gospel accounts record. Both Gospels say that “Jesus cried out with a loud voice” and that He said this “about” (Matthew 27:46) or “at” (Mark 15:34) “the ninth hour” (3:00 pm).

Both Gospels quote Jesus with the Aramaic expression He cried out, then follow with a translation of its meaning.

Matthew records Jesus as saying: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46a). Mark records Jesus’s loud cry as: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34a).

Both Gospels translate Jesus’s loud cry for their readers as: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b; Mark 15:34b)

This infers that Jesus, the Messiah, was in unimaginable turmoil when he shouted out these words. Taken in isolation, these words could seem to indicate a cry of defeat. But Jesus’s cry was not in isolation, and it was not a cry of defeat. Jesus’s desperate exclamation was four things at once:

  1. Expression of Anguish
  2. Prophetic Allusion (Psalm 22)
  3. Utterance of Atonement
  4. Humble Question of Faith

 

  1. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as an Expression of Anguish

First and foremost, Jesus’s agonizing question is an expression of profound loneliness and indescribable desolation.

It is a guttural outcry that indicates the unimaginable anguish and isolation Jesus felt when His Father removed His intimate presence from the Son for those three most-terrible hours, as the sins of the world were placed upon Jesus (Colossians 2:14). The magnitude of Jesus’s distress during this period is beyond our comprehension, but the Bible provides some indicators that help us probe the profound mental, emotional, and spiritual pain He endured.

And it is this statement—the question “why”—perhaps more than any other of Jesus’s statements from the cross, that most resonates with His humanity. In other words, this comment reveals and reminds us of the Son of God’s frailty as He was fully human. As a human, He was no more immune to the emotional desolations and hurts of the cross than He was to its physical sufferings. This is why scripture asserts that He was tempted in all things as any of us suffer (Hebrews 4:15).

Both Matthew and Mark introduce Jesus’s desperate outcry (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) by telling their readers that the sky went dark three hours earlier (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33). They apparently do this to connect the darkness with his great heart-wrenching lamentation.

This terrible darkness is generally understood to symbolize the Father’s wrath being placed upon His Son, when Jesus became the sin of the world on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Nature itself quaked at this horrible estrangement. How could the sun not shine forth when the eternal and fundamental relationship upon which the cosmos was created—the Triune Godhead—turned upon itself and God was paradoxically forsaken of God?

For the first time in eternity God the Son was in some mysterious way not in harmonious fellowship with God the Father. The unbreakable fellowship was broken.

It was in dissonant rupture of divine fellowship, that Jesus screamed: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Darkness has multiple meanings in the Old Testament. Among darkness’s metaphorical meanings are:

  • Disorder and Emptiness
  • Evil and Sin
  • Judgment and Wrath

To a considerable degree, Jesus’s lamentation after three hours of darkness—“My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)—evokes all these meanings. We will consider each of these meanings for darkness in light of Jesus’s outcry. But as we reflect upon the psychological anguish Jesus felt on the cross, we must first consider darkness as a symbol of disorder and emptiness.

The Bible’s first reference to darkness describes a lack of order and emptiness of pre-formed creation.

“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”
(Genesis 1:2)

This use of darkness as emptiness (void) and disorder (formless) is echoed in Jeremiah 4:23.

Jesus’s lament—“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)—reveals the symbolic meaning of the darkness to be an experience of overwhelming loneliness and desperate desolation. It was a time of intense existential dread for Jesus.

Jesus’s expression is a response to that existential pain. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; 15:34) is bleak question. And there is no an immediate reply. Jesus’s outcry unveils a glimpse at the profound isolation and emptiness He felt on the cross when He was temporarily forsaken by God.

With God’s back toward Him, Jesus was likely tempted to feel as though He was defeated.

The Messianic Servant Song of Isaiah 49 suggests as much when the LORD’s Servant (the Messiah) says to the LORD: “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity” (Isaiah 49:4). Indeed, the eleventh verse of Psalm 22 suggests this as well:

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.”
(Psalm 22:11)

This sense of futility likely intensified the loneliness, isolation, desolation, and existential pain Jesus suffered.

Perhaps more succinctly, Jesus’s desperate question, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46, 15:34), was in response to the disturbing disorder of spiritual death.

Death is separation. When we think of death, we think of a person’s spirit and soul being separated from their physical body. When this kind of death occurs, we can no longer relate physically with the person who has died as we once did. But spiritual death is not the severance that takes place between a person’s material body and their immaterial spirit.

Spiritual death comes when our soul is separated from God—from life itself. When the Bible describes the consequence or wages of sin as death (Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 6:23; James 1:15), this can include both applications of sin separating us from God (our natural state as fallen humans) as well as sin separating us from God’s (good) design for us, which would otherwise lead us to flourish were we not separated from it.

Jesus died on the cross both spiritually (for the sins of the world) as well as physically.

Like the first Adam, Jesus suffered spiritual death first and physical death second.

Adam suffered spiritual death when he hid from God after he sinned (Genesis 3:7-8) and was exiled from God’s fellowship in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). Later Adam physically died (Genesis 5:5).

Jesus suffered spiritual death on the cross during the three hours of darkness—when God hid from Him. Jesus was forsaken by God as “He bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus later suffered physical death on the cross when He gave up His Spirit (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46).

But unlike the first Adam, Jesus did not suffer spiritual death because of His own sin. Rather, Jesus suffered spiritual death because even though “He knew no sin” Jesus was made “to be sin on our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus died two deaths on the cross—spiritual and physical. God, the Father was the One who killed Jesus spiritually (Isaiah 53:10a). This happened when He forsook His Son during the darkness, placing the sins of the world upon Him (Colossians 2:14). We can infer that Jesus was spiritually dead for three hours (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45). Jesus was the One who laid down His life physically (John 10:17-18). This happened when Jesus cried “out with a loud voice [and] breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Jesus was physically dead for three days (Matthew 17:23, Mark 9:31, Luke 24:7, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

What Jesus suffered on the cross during those hours of darkness can be thought of as spiritual death—separation from God. Having been betrayed and denied by His own disciples (Matthew 26:46-50; 26:69-74) and rejected by His own people (Matthew 27:22, 25; John 1:11; 19:15), the Messiah’s own Father had now turned His back on Him. The perfect Son was separated from His Father’s perfect love. More paradoxically, God had been forsaken of God.

The intense emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual pain this expression revealed is too mysterious and profound for us to fully comprehend. Perhaps the best we can make of it is that what Jesus endured was the worst suffering a human being is capable of experiencing. His anguish was beyond anything anyone before or since has endured.

Even though Jesus clearly understood His mission (Matthew 20:18-19) and He willingly took up His cross out of obedience to His Father (Matthew 16:24; Luke 23:39; Hebrews 12:2), this did not make the emotional pain and existential anguish of spiritually dying to disappear.

It was likely during the darkness of the cross that Jesus endured the uttermost desolation. As far as we can tell, for the only time in eternity, the Son was alone—separated from His Father’s fellowship—and Jesus had to suffer this unfathomable anguish as a frail and tortured Man.

We find great consolation in the simple Gift of eternal life that is beautifully expressed in the words of John 3:16, expressing God’s rationale for this act—love for humanity.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16)

But as we find hope and acceptance in Jesus through these powerful words of scripture, we often neglect to consider that the Father’s giving of His only begotten Son entailed forsaking Him during these three dark hours on the cross as the means to grant the Gift of eternal life to whosever believes in Him. In other words: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

God gave His Son to humanity to be a sacrifice for our sins, to die on our behalf. Without this terrible moment—if God does not forsake Jesus when He became our sin—the Gift of eternal life would not be offered to us through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.

Normally a Father gives a ransom for His Son. But here is the Father giving His Son as a ransom for the world. Such is the Father’s love for us, everyone in the world, that He would give/forsake His only begotten. Jesus endured the cross. Such is the Son’s love for His Father and the world, that He would forsake His own comfort in heaven and undergo such torture and anguish (Luke 22:39; Philippians 2:6-8; Matthew 20:28; John 15:13).

Jesus’s lament is a prayer. But notice, He did not pray to “My Father in Heaven” or His Abba; but with a more distant “My God, My God, why…?” This manner of address reflected a temporary (but nonetheless painful) loss of intimacy between the Son and the Father. (This intimacy seems to have been restored by the time Jesus breathes His last—“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”—Luke 23:46).

The heart of Jesus’s anguishing prayer is the existential question, “Why?”

Jesus’s question—“Why?” was not a cry of defeat, nor an accusation that God was unjust, but it does touch upon the Problem of Evil.

To learn more about the Problem of Evil, see The Bible Says article, “Why Does God Allow Evil?”

In our fallen world, “Why?” is our natural response to the pains we feel—especially when our limited understanding of our circumstances does not grasp the meaning of or reasons for our trials. We are not necessarily wrong to ask this question—if we ask “Why?” in faith (James 1:2-6).

Here on the cross, God too, most profoundly, seemed to ask Himself this same question. Jesus appears to have been asking God why He seemed to have abandoned Him in His most desperate hour on the cross.

Or perhaps He was crying out to God “Why does it have to be like this?” If it is the second, Jesus’s cry would be directly linked to His request in Gethsemane: “if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). Now He may be asking why does “this cup” have to be so bitter and painful? Why does your plan of redemption have to hurt me this badly?

As we can see from the book of Job, God often leads those whom He loves most through great trials. This indicates to us the great treasure we gain from walking through difficulty by faith (James 1:2-3, 12). Jesus said to Thomas that those who believe without seeing gain a greater blessing, meaning that there is an immense blessing for walking by faith (John 20:29). This is so much the case that angels are learning about the wisdom of God from the church, even though they are in God’s presence, likely because those who walk by faith are exhibiting something they cannot learn themselves.

But even as God turned His back on His Son for these three dark hours, Jesus continued to trust God amidst His anguish. Jesus did not succumb to existential despair.

  • Jesus trusted that God in His wisdom and love was working these terrible circumstances for good.
  • (Isaiah 53:10-12; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:2).
  • Jesus trusted that His Father’s scorn was only for a time. He trusted that God would not have His back turned to Him forever.
    (Psalm 85:3-4, 103:9; Isaiah 57:16; Ezekiel 16:42).
  • Jesus trusted that God would rescue Him.
    (Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 22:19-24)
  • Jesus trusted God would vindicate Him.
    (Psalm 35; Isaiah 50:7-9)
  • Jesus trusted that God would bless and reward Him for His faithfulness.
    (Isaiah 53:10-12; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 12:2)

We too can trust God in all our circumstances no matter how terrible or intense they may be. God is faithful. God promises us, that if we believe in Him to give us eternal life, He will never forsake us—even when we forsake Him (2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 13:5b). This divine promise was realized (in part) because Jesus willingly suffered God’s wrath in our place. Out of His love for us, God temporarily forsook and now offers His Son so that He might redeem the world (John 3:16) Out of His love for His Father and His love for us, Jesus suffered terribly on the cross—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus incurred the worst of these things in our place, that we might be redeemed.

Jesus invites us to take up His cross and follow His example of trusting God through whatever circumstances we encounter. Christ promises that if we do this, we will find life (Luke 9:23).

 

2. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as an Allusion to Prophecy

Jesus’s expression is a direct reference to the first lines of Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 begins:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.”
(Psalm 22:1)

By crying out the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus is connecting not only this line to His present isolation and suffering but He is also associating the entire psalm with Himself as well. Jews knew psalms by their opening lines. This is similar to how we may better recognize songs according to their lyrics than their title or listing number. Indeed, many psalms were written as songs, including Psalm 22, which was written as “A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise. For the choir director” (Superscription of Psalm 22).

Again, because He quoted the first line of the Psalm, every Jew who heard what Jesus cried out, or read in Matthew and Mark’s accounts, would have instantly thought of Psalm 22 and its words and themes. Matthew’s Gospel in particular was written to a Jewish audience, and it was filled with many scripture references and Old Testament allusions as a demonstration that Jesus was their Messiah. Matthew’s inclusion of this remark is one of the most powerful and important Old Testament allusions within the Gospels.

It is important because it demonstrates how Jesus’s death on the cross—a death so terrible that it was difficult for many Jews to consider could happen to their national savior—did not disqualify Him as the Jewish Messiah.

Jesus’s miserable end was the exact opposite of the Jews’ expectations of the Messiah. Moreover, the Law of Moses says that anyone who is hanged on a tree “is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23). The fact that Jesus was crucified (hanged) on a cross (tree) demonstrated that He “is accursed of God.” Consequently, the idea that Jesus could be the Messiah sent by God to redeem Israel was unfathomable for Jews since He was crucified and accursed of God.

However, the same scriptures that predict that the Messiah will be a Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18-19), a King like David (2 Samuel 7:12-13), and an everlasting Priest in the Order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), also predict that as God’s Servant, the Messiah, will be misunderstood, despised, unjustly abused, and put to death (Psalm 22; Psalm 31; Isaiah 50, 52:13-53:12). He will be God become man, pierced for our sins (Zechariah 12:10).

Rather than Jesus’s crucifixion disqualifying Him from being the Messiah, Psalm 22 demonstrates how Jesus’s death on the cross proves that He is the Messiah!

This entire psalm is a Messianic prophecy. The first part of Psalm 22 describes the Messiah’s desperate isolation, humiliation, and misery (Psalm 22:1-21). The second part of Psalm 22 describes the Messiah’s spectacular triumph over death and His enemies (Psalm 22:22-31).

The prophecies regarding the Messiah’s sufferings that were fulfilled at Jesus’s crucifixion are too numerous to explain in detail in this article. Therefore, we will provide a superficial listing of some of them.

For a more complete explanation of this psalm and its Messianic fulfillments, see The Bible Says commentary for Psalm 22.

  1. The Messiah will be and/or feel abandoned—even by God.

“My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?”
(Psalm 22:1a)

Fulfillment: Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:36).

  1. The Messiah will be despised and rejected by the people of Israel.

“But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.”
(Psalm 22:6)

Fulfillments: The people called for Jesus to be crucified (Matthew 27:22, 24; Mark 15:12-15; Luke 23:20-25; John 19:15).

  1. The people of Israel will ridicule and mock the Messiah with cutting insults.

“All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
‘Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.’”
(Psalm 22:7-8)

Fulfillments: Jesus was mocked and taunted by the religious leaders in the interim between his second and third religious trial (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65).

Jesus was ridiculed on the cross (Matthew 27:38-44 (especially Matthew 27:42); Mark 15:27-32; Luke 23:35-39).

  1. The Messiah’s friends will abandon Him in His hour of danger.

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.”
(Psalm 22:11)

Fulfillments: Jesus was betrayed by His disciple Judas (Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47; John 18:2-3).

Jesus’s disciples ran away when He was arrested (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50-52).

One of Jesus’s closest disciples, Peter, denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 54-61; John 18:15-18, 25-27).

  1. The Messiah will be surrounded by His enemies to devour Him.

“Many bulls have surrounded me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.”
(Psalm 22:12-13)

Fulfillments: Jesus was abused and slandered by His enemies, the chief priests, elders and scribes (Matthew 26:57-68, 27:1-2; Mark 14:53-65, 15:1-3; Luke 23:54, 23:63-24:2; John 18:12-13, 19-24).

  1. The Messiah will be physically and/or emotionally poured out like water.

“I am poured out like water,”
(Psalm 22:14a)

Fulfillments: Jesus suffered intense emotional distress (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34) and sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).

A mixture of blood and water poured out of Jesus’s corpse when the soldier pierced His side with a spear (John 19:34).

  1. The Messiah’s bones will be pulled out of joint.

“And all my bones are out of joint.”
(Psalm 22:14b)

Fulfillment: Jesus was crucified (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:25; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). When His cross was raised, the force of it coming to a stop and the weight of His body suddenly shifting onto the nails jolted through His body. This violent jolt caused crucifixion victims’ bones to literally be pulled out of joint.

  1. The Messiah’s heart will be broken and/or physically give out.

“My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.”
(Psalm 22:14c)

Fulfillment: A mixture of blood and water poured out of Jesus’s side when the soldier pierced His side after He was dead (John 19:34).

This condition is called “cardiac tamponade.” Cardiac tamponade is a serious medical condition that involves the accumulation of fluid in the protective membrane of the heart. This build-up puts pressure on the heart and impedes its ability to pump blood effectively and can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

  1. The Messiah will be sapped of physical strength.

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd.”
(Psalm 22:15a)

Fulfillments: Jesus was physically unable to bear His cross, so the Roman guard pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to bear it for Him (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).

Crucifixion educes fatigue and severe muscle cramps as its victims must constantly pull the weight of their bodies up by the nails for every breath of air.

  1. The Messiah will suffer severe dehydration.

“And my tongue cleaves to my jaws.”
(Psalm 22:15b)

Fulfillment: Severe dehydration is a common affliction suffered by those who were crucified. Jesus suffered dehydration on the cross (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; John 19:28).

  1. The Messiah will be killed and buried.

“And You lay me in the dust of death.”
(Psalm 22:15c)

Fulfillments: Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30, 33).

Jesus was buried (Matthew 27:59-60; Mark 15:44-46; Luke 23:53; John 19:42).

  1. The Messiah will be surrounded by Gentiles who do Him evil.

“For dogs* have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me.”
(Psalm 22:16a)

*Note: Israel referred to wicked Gentiles as depraved “dogs.”

Fulfillments: Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate, a Roman (Gentile) governor (Matthew 27:11-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:24; John 18:28-19:16).

Jesus was flogged, abused, and crucified by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:27-35a; Mark 15:15-20; Luke 23:33, 36, 47; John 19:1-3, 19-23, 32-34)

  1. The Messiah’s hands and feet will be pierced.

“They pierced my hands and my feet.”
(Psalm 22:16b)

Fulfillments: Crucifixion entailed nailing its victims to the cross through their wrists (hands) and ankles (feet). Jesus was crucified (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:25; Luke 23:33; John 19:18), therefore He was nailed to the cross.

After His resurrection, Jesus offered to show His doubting disciple Thomas the holes in His hands as proof that He was alive (John 20:24-27).

  1. The Messiah’s body will be in distress and/or nakedness will be humiliatingly displayed.

“I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me.”
(Psalm 22:17)

Fulfillments: Rome crucified its victims naked to heap additional shame and degradation upon them. Because Jesus was crucified, He likely suffered this humiliation.

Crucifixion deprived its victims of enough oxygen. Victims had to pull their bodies up to inhale air. This put great stress on their bodies and exposed the bones in their rib cage. Jesus was crucified publicly near a city gate for all to see this (Matthew 27:38-39; John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12).

  1. The Messiah’s garments will be divided among His enemies by the casting of lots.

“They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.”
(Psalm 22:18)

Fulfillment: (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34b; John 19:23-24)

While the first part of Psalm 22 contains these prophecies describing the Messiah’s death, it is important to realize that the remainder of this psalm prophetically describes the LORD’s deliverance of the Messiah from death, and the incredible glory and praise the Messiah will receive for His righteousness and deliverance of the earth and its future generations.

This final and complete victory is equally alluded to by Jesus’s question, because the Messiah’s absolute victory is the climax of Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 not only predicted the Messiah’s suffering and death by crucifixion hundreds of years before the Messiah came or crucifixion was conceived, it also foretells that it is through the Messiah’s enduring of these things that Israel and the world will be forever redeemed. And it is the second part of Psalm 22—Psalm 22:19-31—that reveals that Jesus was the Messiah even though He endured the curse of crucifixion and the rejection of man and God:

  • Psalm 22:19-21 is the Messiah’s prayer to God as He suffered these things. It serves as a transition from the Messiah’s sufferings (Psalm 22:1-18) to the Messiah’s victory (Psalm 22:22-31).
  • Psalm 22:22 is a Messianic boast and praise of the LORD for how He rescued the Messiah from death.
  • Psalm 22:23a is the Messiah’s admonition to those who fear the LORD to praise and glorify Him.
  • Psalm 22:23b-24 is the Messiah’s admonition for Israel to stand in awe that the One who they thought was despised and afflicted of God (Isaiah 53:3-4) was not despised or afflicted by God—rather this One was rescued by Him.
  • Psalm 22:25-26 is the Messiah’s unbreakable promise to redeem those who believe in Him and to give them satisfying food (Matthew 5:6).
  • Psalm 22:27-30 is the Messiah’s account of His endless kingdom. It will be full of faithful people from Israel and from Gentile nations across the ends of the earth. It will include faithful saints from previous generations who died and have gone down to dust and it will include saints from future generations.
  • Psalm 22:31 predicts that people from all over the earth will “declare His righteousness” and the work of redemption the Messiah has performed through His death on the cross and His resurrection, to a people who have yet to be born.

Once again, Psalm 22 predicts the Messiah’s death, resurrection, and kingdom, and it shows that far from disqualifying Jesus as the Messiah, His crucifixion proved He was the Messiah who would reign over all the ends of the earth.

  1. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as an Utterance of Atonement

In addition to Jesus’s question being an expression of anguish and a prophetic allusion, it is also an utterance of atonement.

Jesus’s question provides a glimpse into how Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sin of the world and reveals further meaning of the three hours of darkness that preceded it. And, if we may speak of God in human terms, it provides us a peek into heaven to see what God was doing during these three terrible hours.

The idea of atonement is a central theme of the Bible. The heart of atonement is reconciliation between God and humanity. The relationship between God and man was first broken in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed the Creator’s command to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6-24). The chasm between man and God was perpetuated by the increase of human wickedness and sin. The consequence of sin is death—in the case of Adam this meant separation from God (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23a; James 1:14-15).

In the Old Testament, the Lord gave Israel the Law, which included an elaborate system of sacrifices which entailed the slaughter and death of animals. The death of these sacrificed animals was allowed to serve as a kind of merciful substitution for the sinner who was deserving of death. The sins and guilt of the one(s) offering sacrifice are conferred to the animal which is slaughtered. The substitutionary death of the animal “atoned” for the sins and guilt of the people, and the deadly penalty of sin was considered to have been paid.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”
(Leviticus 17:11)

“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
(Hebrews 9:22)

But as the author of Hebrews points out, these sacrifices were ineffective in and of themselves.

For one, these animal sacrifices only atoned for sins previously committed and therefore needed to be perpetually offered day after day, which meant they could never keep up with the ongoing and future sins and guilt of the people:

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
(Hebrews 10:11)

Moreover, the author of Hebrews plainly states:

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
(Hebrews 10:4)

What was the point of this sacrificial system commanded by the Law of Moses since it was ineffective in its purpose to atone for sin and guilt?

The author of Hebrews explains that the main purpose of these sacrificial rituals pointed to the true sacrifice of God’s Son, who was still to come when the Law was first given,

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.”
(Hebrews 10:1)

Jesus, the Son of God, was the perfect and good sacrifice to come. His offering on the cross was perfect, final, and absolute. It abolished the need for any and all future sacrifices for the purpose of atonement,

“But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God… For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
(Hebrews 10:12, 14)

Paul explained Jesus’s substitutionary atonement when he wrote:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Peter is perhaps even more explicit regarding our atonement through Jesus’s death on the cross:

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
(1 Peter 2:24)

And Paul emphasizes to the church in Rome the reconciliation and restored relationship between God and man when we trust in Jesus.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
(Romans 5:10)

While the grace of Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins reconciled us to God, it came at a terrible price for Him on the cross, where He suffered God’s judgment and wrath when He bore all of the sins of the world.

Isaiah prophesied this terrible event seven hundred years earlier, when he wrote:

“But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him [the Messiah].”
(Isaiah 53:6b)

“But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him [the Messiah] putting Him [the Messiah] to grief;
If He [the Messiah] would render Himself as a guilt offering.”
(Isaiah 53:10a)

Jesus’s lament: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) was loudly said after it had been dark for three hours (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33). In the initial section of this article, we discussed how darkness is a symbol of disorder and emptiness as we described the unimaginable anguish Jesus suffered when His Father turned His back on His Son. But the Bible uses darkness in at least two additional ways that can help us understand what Jesus may have meant when He said that God had forsaken Him.

These additional meanings of darkness in the Bible are:

Darkness as a symbol of Evil and Sin; and
Darkness as Judgment and Wrath.

Both symbolic meanings help us understand how Jesus atoned for the sins of the world during those three hours.

The Bible frequently uses darkness as a metaphor for evil and sin (Job 24:13; Proverbs 2:13-14; Isaiah 5:20). Perhaps the clearest example of this usage was made by Jesus to Nicodemus:

“men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light.”
(John 3:19b-20a)

With this meaning of darkness as evil and sin in mind, it seems as though Jesus, who was both innocent and righteous, became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21) during these three hours of darkness. In other words, it was during the three hours of darkness that Jesus became our substitutionary atonement. The purpose of the darkness was to symbolically convey that the atoning sacrifice was happening when Jesus was crucified.

Similarly, the Bible often uses darkness as a metaphor for divine judgment and wrath.

Darkness was the ninth of the ten plagues upon Egypt when God punished Pharaoh for refusing to let His people go (Exodus 10:21).

And darkness is used by the prophets to describe the day of judgment:

“Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it?”
(Amos 5:20)

“A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness.”
(Zephaniah 1:15)

The three hours of darkness represent the wrathful judgement of the Father upon His Son who has become the embodiment of sin and evil. God’s judgement upon Jesus entailed forsaking Him for a time because He became sin. As previously mentioned in the first section, this is why Jesus, who had enjoyed perfect fellowship with His Father, cried out in anguish: “why have you forsaken Me?” after Jesus became the object of His Father’s wrath and had His Father turn His back on Him.

Finally, according to Matthew and Mark, the timing of Jesus’s lament: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was said “about/at the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This would have been approximately 3:00 pm. This is significant because Jesus not only died shortly after saying this, it also corresponded with the timing of the daily afternoon “Tamid Sacrifice.”

The Tamid Sacrifice took place in the temple each morning and afternoon. It consisted of several elements: an unblemished male lamb; a flour and oil mixture used to make unleavened bread; wine; and incense. This sacrifice symbolized the perpetual covenant between God and the people of Israel. It was offered twice daily to display how God’s relationship was continuous and unwavering. The Tamid Sacrifice was offered as an atoning sacrifice—particularly for sins committed unintentionally (Luke 23:34). Hebrews 10:11 alludes to the Tamid Sacrifice when it says: “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices.”

Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) was not only “our Passover [lamb]” (1 Corinthians 5:7) who was sacrificed for us, He is also our Tamid Sacrifice. The body and blood of Jesus is the sacrifice that sanctifies us once and for all (Hebrews 9:25-26, 10:9-11).

The association of Jesus’s outcry and death occurring at the same time as the daily sacrifice for sin in the Temple further demonstrates how He is our atoning sacrifice of the everlasting covenant.

  1. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as a Question of Humble Faith

Finally, like His ancestor David, who first cried this question out from a position of humility seeking understanding, so too did Jesus ask this from a posture of humility.

When Jesus cried out His desperate question, He was not defiantly shaking His fist at God—accusing Him of being unjust or malicious for forsaking Him. Even alone in the darkness, Jesus never lost sight of the truth that God is always good. Therefore, when He felt abandoned, Jesus humbly sought understanding and true perspective from God through faith, instead of succumbing to feelings and thoughts of despair.

Even though He was God, Jesus endured suffering as a human. Jesus did not rely on His divinity to overcome His suffering—He “emptied” and “humbled” Himself (Philippians 2:6-8, Hebrews 5:8, 10:9). Jesus overcame His suffering as a human the same way that we are to overcome suffering—by faith.

If we take the entirety of Psalm 22 as having Messianic meaning, as is inferred in Jesus’s utterance of its first line, we can conclude that Jesus took the faith journey expressed in Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross.

Throughout Psalm 22, David, the psalmist, maintains a posture of humility before God and faith in His power. The psalmist’s humble faith in God is evident even as the opening verse “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” is still ringing in the readers’ ears. “Yet you are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3—see also Psalm 22:4-5). Moreover Psalm 22 ends in the triumph of God’s miraculous deliverance of the righteous sufferer (Psalm 22:22-31).

From this it is apparent that David, who was a type or foreshadow of the Messiah, was clinging to God and His promises by faith throughout the sufferings he described in Psalm 22. It can be inferred then that Jesus who was the Messiah acted in a similar manner with faith and humility when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) from the cross.

The author of Hebrews is able to refer to Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) because Jesus took the faith journey of Psalm 22 through His ordeal of the cross. As David was bewildered by his sufferings, Jesus too was bewildered by the torturous ordeal of the cross and of being forsaken by His Father during the three hours of darkness.

During His perplexing suffering, Jesus sought God’s perspective (“wisdom”—James 1:2-5) on this horrific experience. Jesus was acknowledging the short-sightedness and finite limitations of His humanity as He tried to reconcile God’s goodness with the incredibly agonizing pain of being forsaken by God on the cross. By faith, Jesus humbly presumed that “the problem” was not with God but His own human ignorance and lack of understanding, wisdom, or right perspective regarding the painful circumstances.

The Son of God’s question on the cross—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)—was not an angry shout hurled at God accusing Him of being the problem, but rather it was humbly recognizing that God and His wisdom and mercy were the only possible solution to the anguish He was suffering.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
(Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

Read about Jesus’s fifth final word from the cross here: “5: A Word of Agony.”




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