Q: Why did Jesus ask the Father why He was forsaken on the cross? What did Jesus mean?
A: On the cross, Jesus made seven declarations, including:
Matthew 27:46 (NKJV)
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, which is a prophetic psalm describing the Messiah’s experience dying on the cross. Consider the following excerpts from the psalm:
Psalm 22:1 (NKJV)
The Suffering, Praise, and Posterity of the Messiah
1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.
7 All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
11 Be not far from Me,
For trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have surrounded Me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.
13 They gape at Me with their mouths,
Like a raging and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
And all My bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It has melted within Me.
16 For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
They pierced My hands and My feet;
17 I can count all My bones.
They look and stare at Me.
18 They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.
Clearly, the psalm is describing the experience of Jesus on the cross. The psalm begins with the statement Jesus spoke on the cross, asking the Father why He was forsaken. Jesus wasn’t asking the question because He didn’t understand what was happening. Rather, He asked the question to draw our attention back to this psalm so that we could know of its fulfillment in Him.
Furthermore, Jesus was drawing our attention to the significance of what was happening on the cross in that moment. The word “forsaken” in Greek means to abandon or to desert, and for three hours on the cross, Jesus was “forsaken” by the Father. At that moment on the cross, the Son of God was abandoned by the Father, spiritually speaking. From all eternity the Father and Son have been One, but in this moment the Son experienced a separation from the Father. Separation from the love of God is the death that sin requires, according to scripture (i.e., the Second Death).
Though Jesus had no sin of His own, He took upon Himself the sin of those He died to save, as Paul explain:
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
As the Father placed the sins of the world on Christ, Jesus experienced separation from the Father for the first time in eternity. This was a moment of great suffering for our Lord, made necessary by our sin. It was accompanied by three hours of darkness on earth:
Mark 15:33-34 (NKJV)
Jesus Dies on the Cross
33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
For three hours Jesus suffered spiritual death though He had not yet experienced physical death. Later, Jesus experienced physical death so that He could descend to set free the captives. This is the same order in which Adam experienced death: first, spiritual death at the moment he ate the fruit followed by physical death years later as a result of the curse on the earth. In this way we see that Jesus was the New Adam.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Father honored Christ’s obedience by resurrecting Him and restoring Him to the Father’s right hand as Christ requested before His death:
John 17:4-5 (NKJV)
4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
As Jesus predicted:
Luke 22:67-70 (NKJV)
67 “If You are the Christ, tell us.”
But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. 68 And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. 69 Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”
70 Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”
So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
And as the writer of Hebrews confirms:
Hebrews 1:3 (NKJV)
3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
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