Did the Father really forsake Christ?
When Jesus was dying a terrible death on the cross, He cried out, just before He died, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Did He really mean it? Did the Father forsake Him at that moment? If so, why? And if not, why would Jesus have uttered those words?
Some, not understanding the significance and deep meaning of Christ’s words, say that He just shouted out these words to fulfill a prophecy from Psalm 22:1. They contend that Jesus repeated the words written down by David in the Old Testament, just to show that He was the Messiah.
Even though Jesus had inspired David to pen down these words, which WERE pointing at the time of His crucifixion, this does not mean that they are not to be understood quite literally, and that the Father did not in fact forsake Jesus at that moment. If He did not, then both the prophecy written down in the book of Psalms, referring to Christ, and Christ’s words, while hanging on the cross, would constitute a lie. If the Father did not forsake Christ at that moment, then Christ was saying something which did not occur–and no “interpretation” to the contrary could do away with the fact that Jesus would have lied at that moment.
This, of course, is impossible, as Jesus never lied, since He never sinned (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15), and lying is sinning (Colossians 3:9; 1 John 1:6; 2:21; Revelation 21:27; 22:15).
Having clearly ruled out the possibility that the Father did NOT forsake Christ on the cross, let us now explain WHY and in what way the Father HAD to forsake Jesus.
This is what we wrote in the last Q&A:
“It is true that for a brief moment the Father forsook Christ on the cross (Matthew 27:46). This happened just before Christ died (see verse 50), because at that time, He was carrying, symbolically, the sins of all of mankind (compare John 1:29), and the Father, being of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13), turned His eyes from Christ, as unrepented sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2)…”
Again, we ask, how and why, exactly, did the Father forsake Christ? God–both the divine Father and the divine Son–cannot look on iniquity. This is not to say that they are not aware of the sins of the world–they most certainly are–but it means that sin separates us from God and that God will turn away from us if He sees unrepented sin in our lives–sins which we are unwilling to repent of.
Notice what we read in Deuteronomy 23:9-14:
“When the army goes out against your enemies [as true Christians, we are today engaged in a constant spiritual battle with Satan the devil, as well as the world and our own selfish and carnal desires], then keep yourself from every wicked thing… you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the LORD your God WALKS IN THE MIDST OF YOUR CAMP [today, both the Father and the Son live IN us through the Holy Spirit, compare John 14:23], to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may SEE NO UNCLEAN THING AMONG YOU, AND TURN AWAY FROM YOU.”
Interestingly, we understand that it was Jesus Christ, as a divine being in the God Family, who spoke these words, but He spoke them in obedience to the Father’s Will (compare John 14:24). As divine God beings, both the Father and the Son are of purer eyes than to behold iniquity–that is why the world is cut off from God, and why only those who repent of their sins can come to God. Of course, this is not to say that God is not aware of our sins, but His eyes can’t stand them. Even in the flesh, the human being Jesus Christ–who was fully man (John 1:14)–cautioned everyone to forsake sin–to sin no more–to repent to avoid perishment. When Peter sinned against Christ, adopting Satan’s thoughts, Christ told Him, “Get behind me, Satan.” When Peter denied Him, Jesus looked at him–not at his sin, but at him–to lead him to repentance. And Peter did repent.
At the time of Jesus’ death, He carried on His shoulders the load of the sins of the world. Think about it! He carried all the terrible crimes, abominations and perversions which the world committed since creation–including the very sins which caused God to bring the flood on this earth and to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as sins which were so terrible that God said He never considered the possibility that man would commit those (compare Jeremiah 19:4-5; 32:35).
Jesus took all of these sins for which man is responsible and placed them willingly on His shoulders. The Bible says that when He did this, He BECAME sin and a CURSE for us.
Notice what we wrote in our free booklet, “Jesus Christ–A Great Mystery“:
“In order to come to the point of DYING for our SINS—to be a perfect sacrifice that the Father would accept—Christ had to fulfill certain requirements, as follows:
“1. He had to become a human being. Galatians 4:4–5 explains that He had to be born of a woman; that is, He had to become flesh and blood, a human being. Spirit beings do not and cannot die.
“2. He had to become sin for us, as 2 Corinthians 5: 21 explains. This does not mean that He sinned while He was human. But it does mean that He BECAME sin, that He personified sin in the Father’s eyes, so that His shed blood could COVER sin and wipe it away. He—the Lamb of God—placed our sins on Himself, and He, in that sense, BECAME THOSE SINS. In God’s eyes, when Christ was killed, all those sins were eradicated with Him.
“3. He had to become a curse for us, as Galatians 3:13 points out. He became a curse for us when He was crucified. In becoming a curse for us, He freed us from the curse that we were under. When we violated God’s law and sinned, the curse of the law—the death penalty—was upon us. Notice that when we sin, we are placed under the curse of the law. Galatians 3:10 tells us: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ James 2:10 adds: ‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.’ When we break one of God’s commandments, we are guilty of transgressing God’s law, and the curse of God’s law—the death penalty for sin—is upon us. If this curse were not removed, we would die the second death—eternal death. Notice this in the sobering example given by Christ in Matthew 25:41–46 where Christ is referring to people who have sinned, because when they had the ability to help others in need, they actually held back and refused to extend the needed help. They apparently sinned willfully and maliciously, so that their penalty—their curse—was eternal death in gehenna fire. But Christ became that curse for us so that the curse CAN be removed from us, IF, and WHEN we repent and claim His perfect sacrifice.
“4. He had to come in the form of sinful flesh, as Romans 8:3 explains: ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh [humans were too weak to keep it], God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.’ Christ was a human being, like you and I. He was exposed to the same human temptations that confront us. He had the same human nature that we have. He was in the form of sinful flesh. He did not sin, but His sinful flesh tempted Him many times to sin. However, Christ overcame His sinful desires, and by doing so, He ‘condemned sin in His flesh,’ that is, He showed that man, with the help of God’s Spirit within him, can overcome sin. He came, as a human being, ‘on account of sin.’ He had to, and did, overcome sin IN THE FLESH.
“5. Christ had to experience being separated from God the Father. Matthew 27:45–46 records that just prior to Christ’s death, while hanging on the cross, He asked the Father: ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Yes, indeed, WHY?
“WHY did God forsake Him? Before we answer that, we need to understand what sin does to us. Isaiah 59:1–2 explains that our sins, unrepented of, separate us from God. God will not hear our prayers if we live in sin. It can be compared with a wall between God and us.
“Habakkuk 1:13 adds that God cannot look on, or accept, wickedness. Good and evil are not compatible, and God, who is good, cannot and will not accept evil. So, God does not regard the prayers of an unrepentant sinner. Deuteronomy 23:12–14 explains the principle that God does not want to see something unclean in a person. If the uncleanness is not taken care of, He will turn away from us and forsake us. Finally, Psalm 5:5 points out that God will not allow a boastful evil person to stand before Him. God will not hear somebody who is proud about his or her sins and who is not willing to repent of them.
“But why did God forsake Christ who never sinned, who was never boastful or unclean or wicked or evil?
“We know already that Christ had become sin for us, that the curse of the law for our sins was upon Him when He was crucified. We also read that at the time of His crucifixion, just prior to His death, something remarkable happened. We are told that it became DARK over all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour. What is the significance of this period of darkness?
“Darkness symbolizes sin, as many Scriptures reveal (Compare Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8–14). When Christ had all the sins of mankind placed upon Him, thereby having ‘become’ sin, in that sense, He had to experience separation from God, the Father! God, the Father saw all of the sins of man placed on His Son and He could not look at them. His eyes were ‘purer than to behold’ those sins. Remember, those sins included mass murders, rapes, terrible wars, tortures, sorceries, demonic idolatries, holocausts, martyrdom of the saints—all of the wicked, evil, rotten, despicable and deplorable abominations man has done, and continues to do—and all of these were placed on Christ!
“Christ was WILLING to offer Himself as this sacrifice for us. And the Father was WILLING to have His Son go through this ordeal, knowing that He would have to withdraw from Him at the time of Christ’s death.
“And what a sacrifice it was! Christ, who had been forsaken by everybody, had always found comfort in the fact that God, the Father, would never forsake Him (compare John 16:32). But at that moment in time, God, the Father, would HAVE TO FORSAKE HIM, not because of anything that Christ had done, but because of what WE had done and would still do.”
The fact that the Father quite literally forsook Jesus Christ has been consistently taught by the Church of God, under its late human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong (who died in 1986). This fact has also been overwhelmingly accepted by biblical commentaries.
The Ryrie Study Bible writes:
“This cry may reflect the desertion Jesus felt as He was bearing the sins of the world (2 Cor. 5:21).”
The Nelson Study Bible adds:
“The duplication of ‘My God, My God’ indicates Jesus’ deep sorrow. The fact that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the tongue of His birth, may be another sign of the extreme stress He was encountering…”
Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, states:
“Upon the cross Jesus was making atonement for the sins of the world, ‘bearing our sins in [His] own body on the tree,’ for upon Him was laid ‘the iniquity of us all.’ He was so closely identified with the race which He came to save, that He felt the burden of its sin, and cried as the Representative of Humanity… The Lord was forsaken, that we might not be forsaken; He was forsaken that we might be delivered from our sins and from eternal death…”
J.H. Blunt, The Annotated Bible, offers the following additional thoughts:
“The cry reveals to us the depth and intensity of Christ’s sufferings [on the cross]… At that time fell upon our Blessed Savior the full burden of the sin which He had come to bear that He might save man from its consequences. [He] was made an offering for sin… [He was made] sin for us Who knew no sin… [He was] being made a curse for us… Who.. bare our sins in His own body on the tree… At that time the chastisement of our peace was upon Him… so that He felt the Divine anger towards sinners… [He] was for a [short] time banished from the Presence of God, as bearing the punishment of sin… At last the anguish of those hours of darkness concentrated itself into the words which, like these, had been spoken prophetically in His name by David… and in which our Lord spoke as the Representative of all sinners, ‘The rebukes of them that rebuke Thee have fallen upon Me’ [Psalm 69:9].”
Note the following remarks by Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible:
“… our Lord Jesus was, in his sufferings, for a time, forsaken by his Father. So he saith himself, who we are sure was under no mistake concerning his own case…Christ was made Sin for us, a Curse for us… Christ’s being forsaken of his Father was the most grievous of his sufferings, and that which he complained most of… when his Father stood at a distance, he cried out thus.”
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible adds:
“He calls him his God, not as he was God, but as he was man… When he is said to be ‘forsaken’ of God… he made not this expostulation out of ignorance: he knew the reason of it, and that it was not out of personal disrespect to him, or for any sin of his own; or because he was not a righteous, but a wicked man… but because he stood in the legal place, and stead of sinners… the heinousness of sin may be learnt from hence, which not only… separates, with respect to communion, between God and his children; but even caused him to hide his face from his own Son, whilst he was bearing, and suffering for, the sins of his people…”
Albert Barnes’ Note on the Bible states:
“This expression is one denoting intense suffering. It has been difficult to understand in what sense Jesus was ‘forsaken by God.’ It is certain that God approved his work. It is certain that he was innocent. He had done nothing to forfeit the favor of God. As his own Son – holy, harmless, undefiled, and obedient – God still loved him. In either of these senses God could not have forsaken him…
“Isaiah tells us… that ‘he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; that he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; that the chastisement of our peace was laid upon him; that by his stripes we are healed.’ He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us… he was made a sin-offering… he died in our place, on our account, that he might bring us near to God. It was this, doubtless, which caused his intense sufferings. It was the manifestation of God’s hatred of sin… that he experienced in that dread hour. It was suffering endured by Him that was due to us, and suffering by which, and by which alone, we can be saved from eternal death.”
To deny the fact that Jesus Christ HAD TO BE forsaken–and that He WAS forsaken by God the Father for a very short time, is tantamount to failing to appreciate the seriousness and magnitude of the Sacrifice of the Father and the Son. It is tantamount to not appreciating what the Father did [forsaking His own Son] and what the Son endured [being forsaken for a short time by His Father]. They did it for us, so that we could have forgiveness of sin. Denying this fact is tantamount to limiting and belittling the Father’s and Christ’s Sacrifice and to perhaps become slack in motivation to overcome sin. It is a dangerous thought pattern that must be repented of immediately.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link