When Jesus was hanging on the cross and was about to breathe His last breath, He looked up to the sky and cried out “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me!?” (see Matthew 27:45-46). This is a really odd statement for Jesus to make. And I don’t care who you are, if this outcry by Jesus didn’t strike you as odd when you first read it, you probably weren’t paying attention. The reason phrase by Jesus is so odd is because all throughout the gospels, Jesus appears to have an awareness of why He has to be crucified. Jesus said over and over that He had to die, and He said that it was to pay a ransom for many people.
But here, Jesus doesn’t appear to know why He’s in that situation. Was there was a communications breakdown between God and Jesus? Did God The Son misunderstand God The Father’s intent? Did The Father not lend Jesus the support that he expected? What is going on here? Moreover, doesn’t this imply a denial of Jesus’ deity? If He IS God, then how can He have a God?
There are two different ways I think this Bible difficulty can be answered.
1: Jesus Didn’t Think The Father Abandoned Him, He was Quoting Prophesy.
This is the conclusion I came to all by myself (yes, all by myself, do I get a sticker?). Many Christian scholars think that Psalm 22 is a prophetic passage predicting what the coming messiah would have to suffer through. When you read the passage, the description of what the messiah has to go through appears EXTREMELY similar to crucifixion. Verse 7 says that the messiah is “scorned by everyone”. Well, we know that Jesus made a lot of enemies. He made enemies with many of the Pharisees, the Romans, and some others. Verse 8 says that people will mock Him saying “He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him.” And we see people saying this same thing in Matthew 27:43 “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Psalm 22:15 says “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd” Jesus said “I thirst” while He was hanging on the cross. (see John 19:28). Verse 16 of Psalm 22 says “they pierced my hands and feet” What happens at crucifixion? They pierce the victim’s hands and feet at the crucifixion. The Romans would nail a crucifixion victim’s hands and feet to the cross. What’s noteworthy is that this Psalm was written down before crucifixion was even invented as a means of execution!
There are several other similarities between what the person in Psalm 22 goes through and what Jesus went through at the crucifixion. If you want to know what those differences are, get your Bible (or go onto Bible Gateway if you don’t own one) and read Psalm 22 and the gospels for yourself.
My point is, given the similarities between crucifixion and the events described in Psalm 22, it makes sense for Jesus to cry out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!?” Why would it make sense for Jesus to say that? Because the very first verse of Psalm 22 says “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me!?”
Psalm 22:1 says “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Now, it makes perfect sense why Jesus would say that. He wasn’t doubting who He was or the Father’s plan for Him. He wasn’t unaware of why He had to die. He was quoting Psalm 22:1 in order to get people to realize that He was fulfilling yet another messianic prophesy. Jesus was planning on people realizing that He was quoting Psalm 22:1 so that some of them would think to themselves “Why the heck is He quoting Psalm 22:1? What significance does this verse have that Jesus would go to it instead of any other scripture?” and then later, they would read Psalm 22 in their Tanakh and realize that everything that happened in the Psalm is what happened to Jesus. And then they would go “Oh, hey! Everything that happened to Jesus is strikingly similar to what happened in this Psalm! This must be a messianic prophesy, and Jesus just fulfilled it!”
So no, Jesus wasn’t doubting who He was and He wasn’t ignorant of why He was on the cross. He knew that this was God’s plan all along. He was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 in order to get people to go read that Psalm later in order to get them to realize that He was fulfilling yet another messianic prophesy.
2: Jesus *Felt* Separated From The Other Two Person’s Of The Trinity.
Some have suggested that the reason Jesus shouted this while hanging on the cross was because all of a sudden, He felt separated from God The Father and God The Holy Spirit. From Eternity past, God has existed as 3 persons in 1 divine essence, and the persons of The Holy Trinity have been in a loving relationship with one another from all eternity. Even after the incarnation, God The Son still felt that close connection to the other persons of the Trinity. And why shouldn’t He? They are all persons of the same divine Being. The Father is not The Son is not The Holy Spirit, but they all share the same divine essence. However, I’ve heard some preachers (most recently, Billy Graham) say that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was separated from The Father and The Holy Spirit. Now, that is NOT to say that The Trinity lost one of His members during the crucifixion (I think that would be a heretical thing to say), but it could be that Jesus FELT separated from other two persons…even though…in reality…no actual separation took place.
This makes sense to me…as I hold the same view for ordinary people who are sent to Hell. The Bible says that people who are sent to Hell are separated from God (see 2 Thessalonians 1:9). No one can literally be separated from God since God is omnipresent (see Joshua 1:9, Psalm 139:7-12, Jeremiah 23:24, Matthew 28:20). Nevertheless, they do not feel even the faintest hint of His presence while in Hell. God is there since He is omnipresent but they can’t feel His presence. It’s like a man who has lost all 5 of his senses. He would not be able to feel the presence of another human being even if he were there in the room with him.
In the same way, perhaps Jesus felt this same type of separation from the Father. After all, He was taking on God’s Wrath so that we wouldn’t have to. If this is the case, then that means that Jesus’ suffering went far beyond the physical torture (and that alone was extremely horrific). Jesus wasn’t just physically suffering; He was spiritually suffering as well. Jesus had never experienced the horror of feeling separated from the Father before.
In conclusion, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 27:45-46 poses no theological problems whatsoever. I personally find my first answer to be the most probable (the second one seems more speculative). But either one resolves the difficulty.