[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching on Matthew 27:46 “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani – My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” by John W. Schoenheit.]
Q: Why Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross? I have heard it taught it was because Jesus became sin for us and God cannot stand sin. Is this true?
A: We do not believe that God forsook Jesus on the cross. The following transcription will cover this question in great detail.
We are going to be looking at one of the more difficult verses of scripture in the Bible. It is one of the things that Jesus spoke while he was being crucified and it is commonly misunderstood.
If we are going to understand the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ, what he did, what he accomplished, his goals, and his heart for God’s people then we need to understand what he said and why he said it and that is certainly the case with this difficult verse in Matthew 27:46.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The ninth hour is our 3:00 in the afternoon.
The Romans calculated time a little differently than we do. They calculated hours by watches in the night. The first watch, the second watch, the third watch of the night and so forth, and during the day they calculated by hours. So the third hour of the day was 9:00 in the morning, the fourth hour would be 10:00, the sixth hour was 12 noon, the ninth hour was 3:00 in the afternoon.
Matthew 27:45 and 46
(45) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
(46) And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani…”
First of all that “Eloi” is “Eli” in some of the Gospels, and it should be that way here. The NIV here in Matthew has the text read like it does in Mark. In Mark it reads “Eloi” which is the Aramaic but here in Matthew it is technically the Hebrew “Eli.”
What I would like to share with you today is that Jesus Christ did not actually believe he was forsaken by God. He did say, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me” but he did not believe in his heart that he was forsaken by God. He was doing something else, and that something else is what we are going to look at.
Keep in mind that Jesus Christ had a heart for God’s people!
Why did Jesus Christ agree to be crucified in the first place?
He said to his disciples he could have had twelve legions of angels, he did not have to be crucified. He went and prayed in the garden, saying “not my will but your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). Christ knew exactly what was going to be done to him, and he went to the cross anyway. He certainly did not think that God had forsaken him in any way. It is often taught that God forsook Christ because Christ became sin.
God does not forsake people because of sin. I can tell you I would not be making this teaching if God forsook people because of sin. Scripture is very clear that God loves sinners and constantly reaches out to them.
Think of your own life, how many times have you been in sin and God breaks through in some way? Either a personal revelation or something He does in the physical world around you like a conversation with a friend that calls you back to Him.
God does not forsake sinners, and thank God for that. If we are going to be imitators of God then we also need to reach out to those that are in sin. We cannot separate ourselves from sinners. Jesus was constantly surrounded by prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners, so much so that the religious leaders of his time where scandalized by it.
Jesus Christ was not forsaken here on the cross but he did say, “why have you forsaken me” and we need to understand why he said that.
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Jesus Christ had just said, “Eli, Eli – my God, My God….” We are going to read later and see that he had been beaten for so long that he was dehydrated, his tongue had swelled, he wasn’t enunciating clearly, and so some people thought he was calling for Elijah.
(48) Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
(49) The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
(50) And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
Jesus Christ gave up his spirit. We need to believe these words. He was not killed by the Romans. They certainly set the process in place, but it was Jesus Christ who when he knew things were finished gave up his spirit for you and for me. That is one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) acts of love that has graced the face of this planet since the creation of mankind.
If we are going to understand “my God, my God why have you forsaken me,” we will need to go to John 19 where Jesus is on the cross.
(28) Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
(29) A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
(30) When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Back in Matthew it simply said that he spoke again after saying “Eli, Eli – my God, My God…” but it did not tell us what he said. However, here in the gospel of John it says that his last words were “it is finished.” When we have “Eli, Eli, lama, Sabachthani,” and “it is finished” in our minds, we are in a position to understand what Jesus Christ was doing in saying these phrases. According to the Aramaic Targum “it is finished” in the Aramaic is exactly the same as the very last phrase in Psalm 22, and “why have you forsaken me” is the first verse of Psalm 22. This is a key point because if you understand that, then you will understand what Jesus Christ was doing when he spoke these phrases from the cross.
Jesus so loved people and so wanted to reach out to them and touch them with his love, his compassion, and he so wanted them to believe in him, that with his dying breath he was still reaching out to them by quoting the first and the last verse of a very famous Psalm, Psalm 22.
Many people would know this Psalm because Psalm 22-24 were well loved and quoted by the Jewish people, just like so many people today know “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The 23rd Psalm is beloved now and it was then too. The 22nd and the 24th Psalm were read along with the 23rd Psalm by the Jewish people. They were all well loved. Many people in Christ’s audience would have known Psalm 22 by heart.
Do you know what happens when somebody quotes the first part of something to you that you are very familiar with? Like if I started to sing “Twinkle, twinkle…” Did your mind keeping going and sing “little star”?
When somebody quotes the start of something it’s natural to follow it through, and what we are going to see in Psalm 22 is that Jesus Christ with his dying breath on the cross was reaching out to mankind to see if there would be people who would notice that he indeed was the Messiah.
I think there is something that is really important here in John that we need to pay attention to.
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
What is so great about that?
What is so great about that is Jesus maintained perfect control of his mind, of his will. He was beaten, he was tortured, yet he never sinned, and he followed the Father’s will right down to the very end when he gave up his life. He was so aware of what was going on around him. He was so in control and so outward focused, but to the outside world he looked so out-of-control. He was the one that had been arrested and beaten, crucified and tortured, and it looked like he was the ultimate victim. However, Jesus was in complete control of what was going on.
Let’s go all the way back to the preparation for Jesus’ arrest because he absolutely knew what was going to happen to him.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—
How did this marring occur? How did this disfiguring occur? Because he was whipped, beaten, and punched. His body was swollen, cut, and bleeding all over.
Isaiah 53:3 and 5
(3) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus Christ knew what was going to happen to him as surely as this prophecy in Isaiah is the Word of God. Furthermore, he tried to teach his Apostles about it. The Apostles had been going to synagogues since they were little kids. They had a very deeply embedded idea of what the Messiah was going to be like, and their picture of the Messiah did not include him being beaten, tortured, crucified, and killed. Remember that Moses wrote “cursed is the man who hangs on a tree” (Deut. 21:23). Something they would not have grown up thinking would happen to their Messiah.
(32) They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.
(33) “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles,
(34) who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Jesus Christ was expecting to be arrested and given to the Gentiles and then the Roman soldiers would mock him, spit on him, flog him, they would whip him, and kill him, three days later he would rise.
This is not the only place where Jesus Christ told this to his disciples. He knew what was coming and he knew what time period it had to come in. He also knew he had to be the Passover lamb that needed to die around 3:00 in the afternoon on the 14th of Nissan to fulfill the Word of God.
John 19 said, “when Jesus knew it was all accomplished, that all the scriptures had been fulfilled….” Now here he is hanging on the cross, it is the perfect time to give up his life. Jesus was in control, but to the world he looked like the ultimate victim.
Matthew 26:1-3, and 5
(1) When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,
(2) “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
(3) Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,
(5) “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
The chief priests wanted to kill Jesus. As they were plotting it and trying to put it together they said, “let’s wait until after the Passover, there are so many people here in Jerusalem for the Passover there is likely to be a riot.”
If this part of their plot had come to pass, Jesus Christ could not have fulfilled the prophecy to be the Passover Lamb because the Adversary would have loved to have broken God’s Word.
We learned from Matthew 26 that Judas was going to the Chief Priest by then or soon after that, and was trying to work things out to have Jesus arrested.
(25) Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
(26) Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.
(27) As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him,
(28) but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.
The words of Jesus have been mistranslated here, and it loses a lot of the impact of what was going on. Jesus knew he had to be the Passover lamb. The priests had said we want to arrest Jesus and hand him over to the Romans but we don’t want to do it during the feast. Now they are at the Last Supper, and Jesus knows that time is of-the-essence. Jesus probably also knew by revelation that Judas had already gone to the Chief Priest (which you can read about in the chronology of Matthew 26). Judas had already started to work with them so that he could hand over Jesus. If you read the commentaries by Linsky or A. T. Robertson, the way John 13:27 should be translated is “what you are doing, do more quickly.”
Jesus was in a hurry to do God’s will. I read this and I have to ask myself, how much of a hurry am I in to do God’s will? If we want to be like Christ, we too need to be in hurry to do God’s will. Jesus knew that he needed to be crucified and die the same time the Passover lamb was killed and so he said to Judas “what you are doing, get it done more quickly” and Judas went out and plotted with the Chief Priest.
Then they arrested Jesus later that very night, and as Jesus went through the process of being tortured (that he had told everybody about) he maintained his control. It did not look like it when they put a bag over his head and started punching him in the face saying “prophecy to us, Oh Christ, who is it that smote you.” It did not look like he was in control, but I assure you that he was. It was not the priests or the other men in that room that were in control – it was Jesus that was in control of the situation.
You and I can be in control in our lives, too. It will take every fiber of your being to maintain control in an evil and godless world, but with God and the example of Jesus Christ it can be done. You and I can do it.
Jesus is hanging on the cross and he speaks the first words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” but did he really think he was forsaken? Absolutely not!
Here is what he said in the garden of Gethsemane when he was being arrested:
(50) Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
(51) With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
(52) “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
(53) Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
(54) But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Christ was not forsaken by God.
In John 16:32, Jesus was talking to his Apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.
But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
Jesus believed that the Father was with him.
How was Jesus so knowledgeable that everybody was going to leave him alone even though they swore up and down “we will never leave you”? He knew because Zechariah the prophet several hundred years before had said so.
The Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 was “strike the shepherd, and the sheep would be scattered,” and Jesus knew that what Zechariah had said was right so he said, “all of you are going to leave me alone, all of you are going to be scattered,” and of course they were.
Now I would like to go to Psalm 22, and we are going to go back and forth into the Gospels and see that Psalm 22 portrays the crucifixion with such clear language.
Jesus Christ was in control on that cross, and he was doing the most loving thing he could do for those around him. Over 900 years before this, God had David record words in Psalm 22 that would be spoken so exactly about the crucifixion that it is hard to believe anyone could have missed it. Jesus Christ in the most powerful way he knew was once again reaching out to the people and saying, “take a look, I am the Messiah.”
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
Lots of Psalms start this way with very human feelings (emotions). There are a lot of times that we talk this way when we know we are not really forsaken. Something really bad has happened, and we might say, “God where are you, you are just not in my life anymore, you never show up for me anymore?” What you are doing is just emoting – expressing feelings and frustration.
The Psalms are like that. Why have the Psalms brought so much comfort to so many people through the centuries? Because they express in such human terms, and with such great accuracy how we actually feel, and how we actually think when things are rough around us. I can see this coming out of David during the circumstances he was going through in his life – “my God, my God why has thou forsaken me.”
There are a lot of Psalms that start this way:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
This is a beautiful capturing of human emotion, and how we actually feel even when we know in our head it is not really true.
Psalm 22 is a Psalm of David and would have been written more than 900 years before the crucifixion.
(1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
(2) O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
(3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
(4) In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
(5) They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
(6) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.
Verse 6 says “I am a worm and not a man….”
There is something buried here in the Hebrew that we are not seeing in the English, and to see it we have to look closer at this word worm.
Exodus 25 is talking about the tabernacle and the building of the tabernacle and the materials.
blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;
The word “worm” from Psalm 22 and “scarlet” here in Exodus 25 are the same Hebrew word. Sometimes when it was translated, it would refer to the actual color and sometimes to the worm that was used to make the scarlet die.
Jesus was scarlet, he had been beaten, he had been arrested Monday night and taken before Annas, then the next day taken before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. He is mocked and taken before Pilate. Pilate questioned him and sent him to Herod. Herod questioned him and he was mocked by Herod’s soldiers, then he comes back to Pilate. It is now 12 noon (John 19:24) and Pilate asks the crowd what do you want to do with Jesus? The crowd shouts out “crucify him, crucify him!” It is already noon and they are not going to crucify him that day, so Pilate hands him back over to the soldiers. They beat him through the afternoon and through the night and then crucify him at 9:00 the next morning.
He had been beaten all night long, he had a crown of thorns driven into his head, he had been whipped over and over again, his whole body was scarlet because it was covered in dry blood. Nine hundred years before Jesus Christ hung on that cross, scarlet and disfigured, Psalm 22 was recorded.
The Psalmist wrote by revelation:
(6) But I am a worm [I’m scarlet] and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.
(7) All who see me mock me, they hurl insults shaking their heads:
(8) “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
These words where so close to what the Scribes, Pharisees, and others said that it is amazing that God could even do that by revelation so far in advance.
(41) In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.
(42) “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
(43) He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”
What David said by revelation that the mockers would say is exactly what they said 900 years later when Christ was hanging on the cross.
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
God was working in the Messiah ever since the Messiah was little, working in the people around him to make him know what he was doing and who he was.
Psalm 22:10 and 11
(10) From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
(11) Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
You do not talk to God and say, “do not be far from me” if you think He has already forsaken you.
Jesus never thought God forsook him.
No one is near him – the Apostles where scattered, the shepherd was smitten, and the sheep were scattered.
Verse 11 says there is no one to help, and there was not, Jesus was on his own with God.
Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Why does it say Bashan? If you go to Israel, the largest, the best, the nicest looking, strongest, most fit cattle come from an area called Bashan. These are powerful animals, and that is exactly what the Romans where – powerful soldiers. They were the power in the world at that time.
I am poured out like water….
Jesus had so many cuts and was bleeding everywhere.
…all my bones are out of joint….
What a phenomenal prophecy to fulfill being the Passover lamb. Back in Exodus chapter 12 it said “not a bone was broken.” None of the Messiah’s bones were broken. They were out of joint but they were not broken.
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the men who were hanging on their crosses by Jesus, but they did not break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead, and they did not break any bones because the prophecy was that not a bone of the Messiah would be broken. This is a miracle when you realize how he was beaten, and smitten, and punched.
It is just amazing that Christ would have the faith to stay inside the will of God and mentally stay in control and know that “not one of my bones is going to be broken.”
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
By the time it was 3:00 in the afternoon Jesus did not have a lot of physical strength left. He was literally living on faith alone.
“My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” – Jesus was so dehydrated. He had been up all day Monday. He was arrested Monday night and beaten. Tuesday he went back and forth between Herod and Pilate. Then he had been up Tuesday night being beaten up by the soldiers. By Wednesday morning he is crucified and here in the afternoon he is still hanging on the cross. So he has probably been up all day Monday, all day Tuesday, he has been up for 48-50 hours, he has been bleeding for hours and hours and hours. He is completely dehydrated, and so his tongue is swollen. That is why he could not enunciate clearly to say “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” and they said, “oh, he is calling for Elijah.”
Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
A dog was the name for a Gentile and that is exactly what the Jews called the Gentiles – dogs.
They pierced my hands and feet. This is a phenomenal statement because they did not crucify people at the time of David. The crucifixion was not invented until the Romans. The Assyrians had a form of crucifixion but what they did was stick you on a stake. They did not nail you to it or tie you to it.
Crucifixion as we know it in the Four Gospels did not exist until the Roman Empire. Yet more than 900 years before the Messiah was crucified, David writes by revelation “they pierced my hands and feet.”
What accuracy we have in God’s revelation. How things that are spoken in the Bible so accurately come to pass. It is phenomenal!
Think about the people that could see this taking place right in front of them at the foot of the cross. As they start to think about and quote Psalm 22: “Let me see – he is scarlet, he has always loved God, he is surrounded by bulls, his strength is dried up, his tongue is sticking to the roof of his mouth, they pierced his hands and his feet…”
Psalm 22:17 and 18
(17) I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
(18) They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
(19) But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
(20) Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
(21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
(22) I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, he went out and declared the name of God.
Hebrews 2:11 and 12
(11) Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
(12) He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
Psalm 22:23 and 24
(23) You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
(24) For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
Did God forsake Jesus? Not at all!
God heard Jesus’ cry through the crowd, he heard every word, he monitored every thought and he listened to every sigh. God was right there with His son, the Messiah, every step of the way. God had to let this play out because it was the only way to legally redeem mankind. Jesus Christ had to give his life for you and for me. God’s heart was broken, but He had to let Jesus die for you and for me – that’s the love of the Father.
(25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
(26) The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
(27) All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
(28) for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
(29) All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.
(30) Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
(31) They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.
“He has done it” in the Aramaic is “It is finished.”
And that is what Jesus did from the cross over 2,000 years ago. He was not the great victim. He was in total control and he knew why he was there. According to the gospel of John (John 19:28-30), when he knew everything had been accomplished, when he knew he could die, and there was not one single Scripture that was left to be fulfilled, when he knew that his death would completely accomplish our redemption, he said, “It is finished!” In that moment, he gave up his spirit for you and for me. He sacrificed his life as the Passover Lamb for us.
Here is Jesus on the cross in so much pain, being mocked, being despised, and crucified with criminals and yet there were so many other things he could have said, but to have the love and the commitment to quote the first and the last verse of Psalm 22 is absolutely amazing – it is astounding!
What an example for me in my life and I hope for you. About the time that he could have given up on mankind he just hung there. All he could think about was, “I wonder how many people I might get to believe if they really understood what was going on.” God in His redemption plan, and in His wisdom, had David write Psalm 22 thinking, “My son will be able to bring people to Me through this Psalm even as he is dying for them.”
Scripture does not tell us whether anybody in the crowd that day made the connection between what Jesus said and Psalm 22. I would hope that some of them did. I would certainly hope that as Christianity spread that men and women of God, powerful preachers like Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, Peter, the Apostles, some of the women that were mentioned in Philippians chapter 4 (Euodias and Syntyche), told people about this record in Psalm 22. Hopefully, when people would come to them and say, “how do you know that this guy, Jesus, was the Messiah?” They would open up Psalm 22 and read it and say, “could it have referred to anyone else?”
I have some confidence that men and women have actually been brought into the family of God because someone shared with them Psalm 22 when they were doubting whether or not Jesus could actually be the Messiah.
I cannot imagine that Psalm 22 could be applied to anyone else.
So let us take a lesson from Jesus, and walk in control of our lives! Knowing what is going on around us, and knowing what we are doing, and why we are doing it. We too are able to run to the Father and do His will, spread His Word, and do our best to add others to the family of God.