232. "Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? (Matt. 27:46-49; Mark 15:34-36)*
The end drew near. Jesus had hung on the cross for precisely
the length of time that David's pestilence had smitten the people (2 Sam. 24:15
Hebrew text). It was now the hour when they began to slay Passover lambs in the
temple court, the very time of day when the angel Gabriel had revealed to Daniel
that "Messiah shall be cut off, and shall have nothing;" and Jesus broke into a
loud cry: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
The words are easily misunderstood. On the strength of one
word here, and for no other reason, it has commonly been assumed that in some
mysterious way the Father utterly and completely withdrew His Presence from His
Beloved Son, so that now for the only time in his life Jesus was altogether
bereft of divine help and succour. Here, it is argued, was the climactic
experience of Jesus bearing the curse of Sin. This was dereliction entire and
complete. He was altogether "without God in the world."
Such an interpretation of the words and experience of Jesus at
Golgotha has commended itself to many, but it faces a not inconsiderable array
of difficulties. Some of these are the following:
In face of this evidence any suggestion that on the cross
Jesus was abandoned by his Father must surely be treated with reserve. It would
perhaps be fairer to say that Jesus, compassed with infirmity, knew moments of a
psychological experience of dereliction which was not true in fact but
which may nevertheless have been real enough in his own mind: "I said in my
alarm, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest
the voice of my supplications" (Ps. 31:22; verse 5 was quoted by Jesus on
the cross); "Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth; hide not thy face from
me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit" (Ps. 143:7) – the
explanation of this low-spirited the prayer is in verse 4: "My spirit is
overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate;" so also Psalm 142:3:
"When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path."
- The very psalm used by Jesus is itself emphatic that there was no
dereliction: "For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the
afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he
heard." (Ps. 22:24). So, whatever verse 1 may mean, these words are explicit
that in his hour of greatest need Jesus was able to rely on his Father's
- Other Messianic psalms are equally clear: "Unto thee will
I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I
become like them that go down into the pit. . . Blessed be the Lord, because he
hath heard the voice of my supplications" (Ps. 28:1,6). "I cry unto the Lord
with my voice, and he hearefh me out of his holy hill" (Ps. 3:4 RV). "As with a
sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where
is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art fhou disquieted
within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him who is the health of my
countenance, and my God" (Ps. 42:10,11).
- Psalm 18 (Study 231) requires
that, far from Jesus being abandoned by his Father during the hour of his
greatest trial, the Divine Presence was more manifest to him (though not to
others) than at any time throughout his life. And the knotty question has to be
faced- If Psalm 18 does not mean what it appears to say, then what does it
- Is it conceivable that the promise valid for the first Joshua-Jesus,
(and for all disciples) was not valid for the second?: "I will never leave thee,
nor forsake thee" (Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:5).
- Jesus seems to have very
deliberately altered the key word "forsaken" which comes in Psalm 22:1. In place
of the azavtani of the Old Testament text, Jesus substituted
sabachtani which really means "(hast thou) entangled me." The meaning is
certainly similar but it is just as certainly different. Jesus seems
deliberately to have switched to a less common Hebrew word in order to make
pointed allusion to Genesis 22:13, where the sacrifice accepted in place of
Isaac was "a ram caught in a thicket"—this is the noun form of the
verb 'sabach' (s.w. Ps. 74:5; Is. 9:18; 10:34; Job. 8:17; Nah. 1:10; Jer. 4:7).
The cry of Jesus which followed very soon after the one under consideration was:
"Father, into thy hands I commend my
Jesus' change of the wording of Psalm 22:1 to "sabachtani"
raises another problem. If the meaning of this Hebrew verb is not "forsaken,"
why is the translation given by Matthew and Mark: "Why hast thou forsaken
The explanation of this difficulty would appear to be that the
writers of the gospels deliberately chose to quote the Septuagint Version of
Psalm 22:1 (and not a translation of the modification actually spoken by Jesus)
because they wished to emphasize in the minds of their readers that Jesus really
did use Psalm 22 —all of it! (Study 234). Evidently some who heard the
Lord's loud cry resented it, and were for expressing their feelings by strong
action against him —stone-throwing, maybe. But others discouraged them,
saying: "Let be! Behold, he calleth for Elias." Such a remark could not possibly
come from a Roman soldier. What would he know of Elias? But neither is it
conceivable that a Jew would confuse a prayer to "Eli, Eli," with an appeal
to"Eliyahu". (But there is the unexplained problem: Why "Eloi, Lioi" in Mark's
There is, however, a phrase in Psalm 22:8 which sounds very
like Eliyahu, and might easily lie confused with it: "He trusted on
the Lord (that) he would deliver him." To a Jew not over familiar with the
now disused sacred tongue, this might well sound like: "He trusted Elijah that
he would deliver him." And the rough joke would follow readily enough: "Let
alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down"-a crude allusion to
the prophet's restoration of the widow's son (1 Kgs. 17:22).
233. Earthquake (Matt. 27:51-53; Mark 15:38)*
When the Lord died, there was a mighty earthquake, and
"behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the
According to Edersheim’s Rabbinic sources, the veil was
40 cubits by 20 cubits and one handbreadth thick. This can only mean that
it was actually 20 by 20 (compare the veil in the tabernacle 10 by 10) and hung
double, a hand breadth apart, over a rail so that the cherubim pattern on it
showed true on both sides. It was woven, says Edersheim, from 24 threads twisted
together, and was so large and heavy that when washed before hanging it needed
300 priests to handle it.
According to the non-canonical Gospel to the Hebrews the
earthquake fractured the lintel of the temple door. This detail, if dependable,
is entirely consonant with Matthew's account of the rending of the veil from top
to bottom. The Gemara mentions that at a Passover forty years before the temple
was destroyed the great gates of the temple were mysteriously flung open. But
this, it says, happened at midnight (in the crucifixion darkness?).
The rent veil
How could the evangelists know that the veil was rent from top
to bottom? If this information was not imparted by divine inspiration, the only
alternative explanation is that someone sow it happen. The burning of incense in
the Sanctuary took place daily at the time of the evening sacrifice, that is,
about the ninth hour. Thus there is explicit confirmation of the timing of this
remarkable occurence, and also explanation why, later on, "a great company of
the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7), The sure knowledge supplied
by priestly witnesses, that the veil was rent "from the top to the bottom" would
strengthen conviction that this was an act of God. The seamless robe of Jesus,
symbol of his high-priesthood, was not rent. The veil "that is to say, his flesh
(i.e. his human nature"; Heb.lO:20) was rent, and with it the inwrought
cherubim, the symbols there of the glory of God in Israel. As a result, the
sanctified believer is now able to see right into the Holy of Holies, the divine
Presence (cp. Rev.4).
At the baptism of Jesus, the heavens were rent (s.w. Mk.
1:10). But now, at another rending of the heavens, the mountains quaked at God's
presence (Is. 64:1). The explanation of this has already been indicated in the
exposition of Psalm 18 (Study 231):
"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God:
he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his
ears, Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved
and were shaken, because he was wroth" (Ps. 18:6,7).
God did well to be angry that day!
This earthquake opened the graves, rolling away the stones
that were sealed, and splitting rock caves wide open. These graves would be
unmolested and even untouched through the next three days, for no Jew would risk
defilement at the Passover. Then on the first day of the week, when Jesus rose
from the dead these "saints which slept" also rose and came into Jerusalem.
Saints are normally spoken of as "sleeping", but Jesus never. He
This remarkable divine phenomenon has puzzled many - to such
an extent that, against all the evidence, suggestions have been made that this
passage is an interpolation in the gospel text. This is an unworthy expedient.
The manuscript evidence in support of these verses is just as good as for any
other passage in the gospels.
Who were they?
Who were these "saints", and why were they raised? It is a
reasonable surmise that they were disciples of Jesus who had died during his
ministry. Disciples of John and devout characters like the aged Anna and Simeon
may also have been among them. If these people were to be evidence of a
resurrection it was needful that they be recognized by some to whom they
appeared. For one to appear in Jerusalem and say that he was (say) Isaiah or
Ezra risen from the dead would be to invite denunciation as an impostor, since
no recognition test would be possible.
It has been suggested that the raising of others along with
Jesus had about it an element of inevitabilty. Such is the character of God and
such His omnipotence that He is incapable of doing things by halves. In the
world of Nature, to produce perhaps one more oak tree He supplies thousands of
acorns; a cod lays millions of eggs; myriads of uninhabited worlds are dotted
about the ocean of space. The overflow of divine energy is so prodigal that all
parts of God's universe teem with multitude and multiplicity. So, also, one may
believe, when divine energy went forth to raise the Son of God from the dead,
the overflow of the Holy Spirit's activity was seen in the raising of others
whose faith had brought them specially near to the Lord's Christ.
The meaning of it.
There is a yet deeper significance: the disciples were being
taught to see in this phenomenon a foretaste of that enigmatic Old Testament
"Thy dead men shall live, my dead body, they shall arise.
Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of lights (the
dawn?), and the earth shall cast forth the dead" (Is. 26:19). Jesus himself had
said: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the
Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (Jn. 5:25). The Lord's cry "with a
loud voice" just before he died was the signal (Mt. 27:50). Those sleeping
saints in the vicinity of Jerusalem heard his voice and lived.
But reflection on this singular occurrence reveals a yet more
important significance behind it. Here was factual demonstration that the merits
of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus are timeless in their effects. Not
only is he powerful for the saving of disciples of the Lord many centuries
later, but also retrospectively the grace of God in Christ will operate to bring
from the dead those who died believing in the Lamb of God long before that great
Passover when His redemption was wrought for men.
Paul says the same: "Christ Jesus whom God hath set forth to
be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness,
because of the passing over of sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of
God" (Rom. 3:25RV). "And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant,
that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that
were under the first covenant..." (Heb. 9:15).
In other words, through all previous ages faithful men knew
the forgiveness of their sins through the (as yet) future offering of the
promised Redeemer. The sacrifices they brought to the altar of the Lord were
merely an expression of that faith.
Thus Daniel and David, Joshua and Moses, Abraham and Noah,
Adam and Eve will find themselves blessed with the Lord's redemption through the
great victory won by the Seed of the Woman, the Firstborn of God's New Creation.
And this marvellous truth was vividly and practically demonstrated when saints
in Christ rose with Christ, saying: "This is the day which the Lord hath made:
we will rejoice, and be glad in it."
The holy city
These risen believers came into Jerusalem after the Lord's own
resurrection and by appearing to fellow-disciples added further conviction
concerning Christ himself. The phrase translated "after his resurrection" can be
read in either of two ways; (a) after God's raising of him; (b) after his
(Christ's) raising of them. The latter reading might imply that Jesus himself
raised these disciples (as he did Lazarus) before his appearances to Peter and
on the Emmaus road; cp. 1 Th. 4:15.
They came into "the holy city," thus suggesting a fulfilment
of Isaiah 52:1: "Awake, awake; put on strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful
garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come
into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean." But believing Gentiles also were,
through Christ, given a place in "the holy city" (see comment on Mt. 27:7 in
It is worthy of consideration whether there is also a
fore-shadowing here of the resurrection in the Last Day when saints will rise at
the call of the Lord and come into Jerusalem (not to mount Sinai) to join their
fellow-believers who are alive. And at that time Jerusalem will be a "holy city"
—made so by the presence of Christ the King (cp. Mt.25:31,32)-a city no
longer the "burdensome stone" and vortex of trouble which it will certainly be
yet again before Messiah's return.