Do the Scriptures speak of the Father forsaking the Son on the cross?
This question touches what is perhaps the most profound truth in God’s Word. The Lord told Moses at the burning bush, “Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground” (Acts 7:33). How much more guarded should we be when, on Golgotha’s holy ground, we discuss the cross and its sufferings!
The Scriptures, both the prophetic (Psa 22:1-2) and the historical (Mat 27:46; Mark 15:34), record that God forsook the Sufferer on the cross. The One Who cries to His God in Psalm 22, states, “Thou art My God from My mother’s belly” (v 10), going back to His incarnation. So the Sufferer is a man. We are on Scriptural ground to speak of the man Christ Jesus (1Tim 2:5), forsaken on the cross by God.
But some ask, “Wasn’t the Sufferer the Son of God?” Yes. “Wasn’t the One Who forsook Him the Father?” Yes. The Scriptures, however, do not portray the picture in those words. There must be a reason.
When the Lord was tempted in the wilderness, the tempter said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” (Mat 4:3). The Lord, quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone …” (v 4). The tempter invited Him to do what only God could do, turn stones into bread. The Lord neither asserted His divine power to make bread nor to overcome the tempter. He met the temptation as a man dependent on His God and living by faith in God’s Word: “It is written.” This did not deny that He was God, nor did it suggest that part of Him acted as God and another part acted as a man. At the moment of incarnation, He remained, and will forever remain, fully God: “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9). From the moment of incarnation, He became, and will forever remain, fully man: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14); He “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made (being born, ESV) in the likeness of men” (Phi 2:7). He is seamlessly and eternally both God and man in one unique, glorious Person. Being anointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38) and addressed by the Father as “My beloved Son” (Mat 3:17), He was presented to Israel as the Christ (“the Anointed”), the Son of God (see Psa 2:2, 7). Anointed by God, He is the promised Prophet, Priest, and King. After that presentation, this sinless (in fact, holy) man, perfectly subject to His God, met the tempter. He demonstrated His fitness for those offices. He is “Jesus the Author and Finisher” (Heb 12:2) of the kind of faith that derives its strength from the Word of God. Having demonstrated that the Word of God is sufficient to conquer every temptation (Luke 4:13 JND), He leads the way for the “just [who] shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). Because of the way this man responded to the fiercest temptation, He has moral authority to strengthen the tempted (Priest), bring others into subjection to God (King), and lead them into a greater revelation of God (Prophet).
Similarly, the work of redemption required His humanity. “He bore our sins in His own body” (1Peter 2:24). “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). He “made peace through the blood of His cross … and you … He reconciled in the body of His flesh …” (Col 1:20-22). He was as fully God on the cross as on the eternal throne. He prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34); “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (v 46). Likewise, He was a perfect man, fully dependent on His God, His body being the means by which He expressed His delight to do God’s will (Psa 40:8 with Heb 10:5). He lived “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mat 4:4). He was a man Who never tempted His God by stepping out of His will (v 7). He was a man subject to the law of God, worshiping and serving Him alone (v 10, see Psa 22:3). Only this perfect, holy man could deliver from sin. His body, representing the totality of all that He is (as does the sacrifice of our bodies, Rom 12:1), was given (Luke 22:19) to accomplish God’s will. In that body He suffered (Heb 13:12; 1Peter 3:18) infinitely while the God on Whom He depended “caused to meet on Him (YLT) the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). His cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” expresses infinite suffering in the body of a man. The First Man who dismissed God’s Word (Gen 2:17 with 3:6) in a paradise brought sin into the world (Rom 5:12). The Second Man Who lived by God’s Word even in His deepest sufferings “put away sin” (Heb 9:26). His remaining perfectly submissive while He was forsaken by His God magnifies His peerless perfections. Sin came by a man, but the promised deliverance would come by a man, the woman’s Seed (Gen 3:15). How costly that deliverance was! He was forsaken by His God.
Speaking of God forsaking a holy Man is consistent with the statements of Scripture and expresses volumes of truth. We wonder and worship.
How was the relationship of the Father and Son affected on the cross?
In speaking about the cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” we cannot divide the person of our Lord as though He were part deity and part humanity. The One Who was fully God and truly human was forsaken on the cross. We need care, however, in trying to express what took place there.
God commanded Moses to teach the people, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” God exists eternally as three Persons (“In the beginning … the Word was with God” John 1:1), yet one God. To divide that relationship would alter the very essence of God – an impossibility. So there was no division between the Father and the Son on the cross. Yet, the man Who cried “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” was the Son of God, God manifested in the flesh (1Tim 3:16). He cried to His God and there was no answer and no help (Psa 22:1, 2). Did the Lord Jesus know that His Father was never more delighted with Him than when He was on that cross? Yes. Did He fully share His Father’s hatred of sin? Yes. Did He know why He was forsaken? Yes (Psa 22:3). Did He desire a lessening of the sufferings exacted of Him there? No. Did He feel the infinite suffering of being unanswered? Yes. Was He any less God than He had ever been? Impossible. The relationship could not be altered. But during that time, divine justice suspended the enjoyment and expression of that relationship. Who, but He, can know what that meant?