Questions From Readers
▪ When on the stake, Jesus cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Did he lack faith, believing that God had deserted him?
Upon reading these words at Matthew 27:46 or Mark 15:34, some have concluded that when Jesus faced a painful death, his confidence in God wavered. Others have said that this was merely Jesus’ human response, an understandable cry of desperation by a flesh-and-blood man in agony. There is good reason, though, to look beyond such human evaluations based on surface appearances. While none of us today can know with certainty all that was involved in Jesus’ crying out as he did, we can note two likely motives.
Jesus was well aware that he would have to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . , and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.” (Matthew 16:21) In heaven the Son of God had observed even imperfect humans experience torturous deaths while maintaining their integrity. (Hebrews 11:36-38) So there just is no reason to believe that Jesus—a perfect human—would be seized with fear over what he faced; nor would death on a stake suggest to him that his Father had rejected him. Jesus knew in advance “what sort of death he was about to die,” that is, death by impalement. (John 12:32, 33) He was sure, too, that on the third day he would be raised up. How, then, could Jesus say that God had forsaken him?
First, he could have meant it in the qualified sense that Jehovah had taken away protection from his Son so that Jesus’ integrity would be tested to the limit, a painful and shameful death. But God’s releasing of Jesus to the wrath of enemies directed by Satan did not indicate total abandonment. Jehovah continued to show affection for Jesus, as proved on the third day when He raised his Son, which Jesus had known would occur.—Acts 2:31-36; 10:40; 17:31.
Connected to the foregoing is a likely second reason for Jesus’ utterance while on the stake, that by using these words he could fulfill a prophetic indication about the Messiah. Hours earlier Jesus told the apostles that things would happen “just as it is written concerning him.” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21) Yes, he wanted to carry out the things that were written, including things in Psalm 22. You may find it revealing to compare Psalm 22:7, 8—Matthew 27:39, 43; Psalm 22:15—John 19:28, 29; Psalm 22:16—Mark 15:25 and John 20:27; Psalm 22:18—Matthew 27:35. Psalm 22, which gave so many prophetic indications of the Messiah’s experiences, begins: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Hence, when Jesus cried out as he did, he was adding to the record of prophecies that he fulfilled.—Luke 24:44.
The psalmist did not believe that his God had simply rejected or abandoned him, for David went on to say that he would ‘declare God’s name to his brothers,’ and he urged others to praise Jehovah. (Psalm 22:22, 23) Similarly, Jesus, who knew Psalm 22 well, also had reason for confidence that his Father still approved of him and loved him, despite what God allowed him to experience on the stake.