To answer this question we must first look at the passages where this statement occurs. Turn to Matthew 27:38-54, which is also recorded in Mark 15:25-39. During this scene it is important to notice who is present. We have there the two criminals crucified next to Jesus. We have the chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel there mocking at Jesus, watching him die. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and John was nearby as well. And we see from Luke’s account that there were many standing there watching, and some were shouting out various insults. It is also important for us to see that the people who were there watching, which were many, were also listening to the things Jesus was saying while on the cross. Jesus said he was thirsty, and they put a sponge full of sour wine to his mouth. When Jesus makes this statement here, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me, they are listening and believe that he is crying out for Elijah. The text does not say that he says it to God, but simply cried out in a loud voice. I believe this is important background information that we will tie in later to come to an answer about this question.
Jesus said he would not be forsaken (John 8:28-29)
Now we need to look at what Jesus was saying about his death. John 8:21-30: Jesus is only days away from his death, but he is going to teach the Jews about his death and what is going to happen. In particular we zoom into what he is telling the Jews, “when you lift up the son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own.” When Jesus speaks throughout the gospels of the son of man being lifted up, he is referring to his crucifixion. He is predicting his death and teaching his disciples about what was going to happen at the crucifixion. Notice Jesus says, “for where I am going, you cannot come.”
Then Jesus says “the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him.” Jesus says that the Father is with him and has not him alone. This statement is an important piece to our understanding of the question. The phrase rendered, “is with me” is in the present tense Greek, indicating continued action. It is a statement that means he will never be separated from God, because the phrase refers to continued action. The idea in the Greek is that the one who sent me is with me and will continue to be with me. Even further, the phrase “has not left me” is in the aorist tense Greek, meaning that not at any time was he left alone. And so Jesus is emphasizing the unbreakable relationship between himself and the Father. He has never in the past been left alone and the Father will continue to be with him. Again, on top of this, these statements are made with the back drop of Jesus talking about his crucifixion.
I am not alone, the Father is with me (John 16:32)
Here Jesus begins to speak about the coming events to his own disciples. Notice what Jesus says in John 16:25-33. He says that there is an hour coming where everyone was going to scatter, leaving Jesus alone. And that is exactly what we read happening after the arrest of Jesus, all of the disciples fled. But very important, Jesus says though the disciples were about to leave him, he would not be alone. Why would he not be alone? I thought everyone would leave him. Everyone would, except the Father. “I am not alone” is in the present tense Greek. Also the statement, “the Father is with me” is in the present tense Greek. This is the tense of continuing action. Jesus is saying that not only is the Father with him right now but will continue to be with him even when all the discples scattered and left him. Others forsook Jesus, but the Father never did. So we see that Jesus told the Jews and his own disciples that the Father has always been with him and will continue to be with him, even when he is lifted up, even when others will have left him. So what was Jesus saying and meaning when he said “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was Jesus lying?
Quoting Psalm 22
It is generally accepted and recognized that what Jesus was saying on the cross is a quote from Psalm 22. Turn to this Psalm and we will make some observations. Notice the very first verse of Psalm 22, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” What we will see in this psalm is that David is referring to a difficult time in his life, possibly when he was running for his life from Saul, or some other tribulation in his life. But as we read this psalm we see the psalm is a prophesy of what would happen to the Jesus. Open your Bible and read Psalm 22:1-18. Here we see many similarities to what occurred to Jesus there as he was arrested, tried, and crucified.
Take notice of these many similarities:
Verse 6: a reproach of men and despised by the people. Here is a similar statement to what we read in the prophecy of Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
Verse 7: As we have just read in Matthew 27:27-31, Jesus was mocked by the Jews and the Romans who stood before the cross. They were insulting him, putting a scarlet robe on him, placing a reed in his hand, and knelt down before and mocked him saying, hail king of the jews.
Verse 8: Here is a very similar quote to Matthew 27:42-43, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” This is part of the mocking those at the cross made of Jesus. The people mocked Jesus saying if he is the Son of God, let God deliver him now.
Verse 16: Here David says, “they pierced by hands and my feet.” This is exactly what happened to Jesus in his crucifixion.
Verse 18: Here we see what happened to Jesus when they divided his garments and cast lots. Notice Matthew 27:35, “Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” This is the same as the words of David in this verse.
Hopefully these verses conclusively show that Psalm 22 is prophetically referring to what the Messiah would endure. In fact, Jesus may have had in mind the last verse of Psalm 22. Though most translations have the last line of Psalm 22 as “for he has done it,” and it can also be translated “it is finished.” Jesus may have quoted the last sentence of Psalm 22 with his last statement on the cross, it is finished.
It appeared Jesus was forsaken but was not
Now let us read the rest of the psalm. Read Psalm 22:19-31. David says, despite the despair that he was going through and felt that death was near, God had not really forsaken him at all. Notice verse 19 where David says, “but you, O Lord, be not far off.” Notice verse 24, “for he has not despised nor disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Notice how the psalm has changed its tone. The first 18 verses are a cry out to God and David makes the statement asking why have you forsaken me? But as David goes through the psalm he says that God has not forsaken him. It appeared that God had forsaken him because of all the things that were going on. His life was about to be taken. But then he says that God was really right there the whole time. It appeared that God had left him, it appeared that God had despised the afflicted one, but he had not hidden his face.
Putting it all together
Now let us put all of the information together. The Jews and Romans are watching Jesus hanging on the cross. When he said something they were listening. They were there mocking him and insulting him. Remember that for the last three hours, from noon to three in the afternoon, there has been darkness over the land. I believe that Jesus quotes Psalm 22 to show the fulfillment of the prophesy that David made. We have seen that Jesus said that the Father would not forsake him. Jesus had never been alone and would not be alone from the Father. So what is Jesus doing? He is still teaching the people. When Jesus uttered these words, many peoples minds should have thought about this psalm. Their minds should have thought of this psalm of David. And as you go through the psalm you see all the similarities that were occurring to Jesus that David spoke of: the mocking, the pierced hands and feet, the divided garments, and the casting of lots. And the lesson of the psalm: it may look like God has left Jesus because of all the evil that is transpiring, but God is still with him. It appeared that Jesus was forsaken, but as the psalm points out, God had not hidden his face and did not despise the afflicted one.
Where is the scripture?
What is usually taught is that Jesus had on him all of the sins of the world. And because Jesus had all of the sins on him, then the Father cannot have fellowship with sin and therefore turned his back against Jesus. But where do we read that God turned his back on his Son? We do not have any statement that suggests that God severed fellowship with his Son. This has been something that sounds really good and many sermons have done about the Father turning his back on the Son, but where is the scripture for this assumption?
False assumption: Sins literally placed on Jesus
What we begin to see is that this teaching has come from Calvinism, pure and simple. Calvinism teaches that every sin was literally transferred on to the body of Jesus and the righteousness of God has literally transferred upon us. Unfortunately we have accepted some of this Calvinistic teaching. The passage many go to is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Therefore the Father had to separate himself from Jesus because he was made to be sin. I hope some of your Bible have a footnote that state that this word “sin” can also mean he was made to be a “sin sacrifice” for us. Let me show you where the same word is translated sin sacrifice. Hebrews 10:6-8, “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come–In the volume of the book it is written of Me–To do Your will, O God.'” Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law),” Here we see the exact same Greek word, obviously referring to sacrifices for sin. Continue reading through verse 10. What has happened? God has not desired the offerings that were made under the old covenant. Those burnt offerings and sin sacrifices were not sufficient. But the sin sacrifice of Jesus was the way we are sanctified.
Calvinism also misuses Hebrews 9:28 and 1 Peter 2:24 by saying that when the text says that Jesus bore our sins, that this means the sin was literally within him. But that word “bore” means “to carry up or carry away.” And that is what sacrifice of Jesus did: carried away our sins. The truth is that Jesus was a sin sacrifice. Romans 3:25, “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;” It is exactly what Paul taught, that Jesus was a sacrifice of atonement, a propitiation by his blood. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” That sacrifice paid the ransom price, redeeming us from the law and from sin (Galatians 3:13). Through the offering of his body, he carried our sins away from us, so that we can be reconciled to God.
Consequences of Accepting that Jesus was Forsaken
If Jesus was forsaken by the Father, then Jesus is a sinner
You must accept the consequences of the saying that God forsook Jesus. The only reason this is believed is because the doctrine of Calvinism states that Jesus literally became sin. But can we accept that? If sin was literally placed upon Jesus, then he was not the pure and holy sacrifice that Hebrews says he was. Instead, Jesus died with blemishes and sins. He was not holy and died a sinner. But that cannot be the case. We know that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, holy and without blemish and had no sin on him. Therefore God would not have needed to forsake him because of sin for he did not have sin.
Spiritual death is separation from God
To be separated from God is spiritual death. Are we willing to state that Jesus spiritually died because he was separated from God? The implications of Jesus being separated from the Father are too great. How can God be separated from God? Jesus said that they were one (John 17:21-22). Jesus said that the Father was always with him. If Jesus dies separated from God, then the devil wins. It is exactly what he was attempting to do to Jesus by tempting him, to spiritual separate him from God through sin. But it did not happen.
What I believe Jesus was doing was teaching the people. He quotes the beginning and end of a psalm to show that this prophecy spoken of by David was being fulfilled. Jesus is teaching that his crucifixion was according to the determined purpose of God that had been prophesied. Jesus was showing them that though the people thought he was without God, he really was not. Though the people claimed him to be godless, Jesus stated that the Father had not forsaken him, even though it appeared that way. I believe the consequences of forsaking Jesus are too great. Separation from God is death. God forsaking Jesus means that he had sin on him, which violates clear scripture. God forsaking Jesus goes against the very teaching of Jesus, that he would never be left alone by the Father, and that the Father has always been with him and always will be with him. Jesus is not a liar. No where do we read of the Father turning his back on the Son.