Matt Chandler makes the comment, “Jesus the king is being murdered. The sky goes dark in the middle of the crucifixion. A lot of people say that this was indicative of God turning his back on Jesus. The problem with that is what the Bible actually says. Go read Psalm 22. God does not turn his back on Jesus, ever.” (page 56-57, The Explicit Gospel)
Question – Is Chandler correct that God never turned his back on Jesus?
I believe the key to this question is understanding Jesus’ cry on the cross. We find it recorded by Matthew and by Mark as follows:
NKJ Matthew 27:46 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?” (Mat 27:46 NKJ)
NKJ Mark 15:34 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?” (Mar 15:34 NKJ)
This is a quote of Psalm 22:1…
NKJ Psalm 22:1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? (Psa 22:1 NKJ)
The key word is the verb “forsaken”. What does Jesus mean that God has forsaken him? Does this mean that, as Chandler is concerned, God has “turned His back” on the Son. Instead of using a phrase not found in the Scripture (turned his back), let’s focus on the actual term used – forsaken.
It is clear that Jesus is in anguish over whatever this means in regards to his current relationship with the Father. Whether it is “turning the back” or “abandonment” or “removed to a distance”, Jesus is experiencing anguish from a less than close presence of the Father.
The Greek word is ἐγκατέλιπες (indicative, aorist, active, 2nd person, singular). It has the idea of abandonment, withdrawing oneself, or leaving someone or something.
Paul uses the same word in describing being abandoned by Demas…
NKJ 2 Timothy 4:10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica– Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. (2Ti 4:10 NKJ)
In this instance Demas actually left Paul and departed to another city.
In another example Paul describes how everyone left him when he was defending himself…
NKJ 2 Timothy 4:16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. (2Ti 4:16 NKJ)
They “forsook” him and left him to defend himself.
It is used in the positive sense in Hebrews…
NKJ Hebrews 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 NKJ)
In this instance the negative is used to show God’s constant presence for the believer. However, without the negative, the term means the same thing – abandonment.
Using those clear examples of the meaning of this term, it would seem that God did in fact withdraw from Jesus while he was on the cross suffering for the sins of the world. If Chandler says that the Father didn’t, then we have to ask why the definition of this word would be different in the context of Jesus’ statement than in other places (which of course we know can and does happen with other words. Context always determines meaning and we need to avoid the root fallacy error by always looking to context).
If it doesn’t mean abandonment; then we also have to ask what Jesus did mean by being forsaken (?) Why did it cause him so much grief? Why did this being “forsaken” by the Father cause him to cry out if it means something other than being abandoned.
But, we see nothing in Jesus statement that would convince us that Jesus was using ἐγκατέλιπες in a manner differently than its normal meaning. In his cry, he is expressing the experience of God removing himself from fellowship with the Son on a temporary basis; while Jesus was bearing the sin of the world.
This can be explained by understanding that God is perfectly Holy and does not desire to be in the presence of Sin. As Habbakkuk says…
NKJ You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he? (Hab 1:13 NKJ)
As Jesus was suffering for the sins of the world, it was necessary for God the Father to withdraw because of his holiness.
Chandler doesn’t explain why he has an aversion to this meaning, but it appears that Scripture does not support his view.
Does anyone have other thoughts?