There is one oft overlooked problem with claiming that the Father abandoned Jesus, and that is that the Gospel narratives do not bear it out. Let’s examine them.
- Was Jesus abandoned by his Father?
John’s Gospel provides us with two very specific statements from Jesus about his coming death – and the shock is that Jesus categorically states says that he would not be left alone by the Father.
Before His crucifixion, in an exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus said to them “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29)
Later, just before Jesus is led away and abandoned by his disciples, he says “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. (John 16:32)
Jesus thus testifies twice that when lifted up on the cross, and abandoned by his disciples, that he will not be alone; the Father will be with him.
In addition, the Gospel narratives reveal Jesus talking to God as Father both before and after the supposed ‘abandonment’ (Luke 23:34, Luke 23:46). The abandonment theory requires Christ to be abandoned unto death i.e. that he die as one ‘rejected’ by God – and yet Jesus knows God as “Father” in his dying breath.
The case for ‘abandonment’ should stop dead in its tracks right here. But let’s continue…
- The Father was always in Jesus, because they are one.
What did Jesus say about his relationship with the Father?
I and the Father are one (John 10:30, 17:22)
I am in the Father and the Father is in me (John 14:10-11, 14:20, 17:21)
It is the Father living in me who is doing the work (John 14:10)
Note that Jesus is never alone because he is one with the Father, the Father is in him, it is the Father living in him that is doing the work.
The Apostle Paul also states that God dwelt in Christ (Col 1:19) and, when Christ was on the cross God was nowhere other than in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19).
Thus we see total consistency between Jesus’ description of his one-ness with his Father and the witness of the Apostle Paul. God the Father was in Christ. He was never anywhere else, even when Christ was on the Cross.
So what are we to make of Jesus’ cry of abandonment?
- What is the Apostles’ teaching?
There is none. The cry is mentioned in only 2 of the gospels. Not only do Luke and John omit to record this ‘indispensible’ piece of the puzzle, but Jesus’ cry is never mentioned again ever in the Bible. The Apostles were taught directly by Christ after his resurrection (Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-45, Acts 1:1-3) and led into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15) and yet they failed even to allude to it, let alone make it part of the gospel message.
- Jesus’ cry was undoubtedly a Prayer
The Gospel records of Matthew and Mark both clearly document that it was at around the ninth hour that Jesus cried out that opening line of Psalm 22. (Matt 27:45-46, Mark 15:33-34). Now the ninth hour was the Jewish hour of prayer (Acts 3:1). We also know that the Jews would ‘pray’ the psalms. Rather than assuming a temporary separation of the Father from the Son, the stronger argument is that Jesus’ cry was the incantation of a (hugely pertinent) prayer.
- Jesus had the whole of the Psalm in mind
All four gospel narratives attest to the casting of lots for Jesus’ garments (Matt 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24). It is such a unique and peculiar event that any Jewish hearer would immediately recognise the reference as Psalm 22:18. The Apostle John, recording the events with a Greek audience in mind, takes the time to explicitly point this out (John 19:24).
So when Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” any Jewish hearer would make the immediate connection – they would unmistakably recognise it as Psalm 22. (See also http://gospelcoalescence.blog-online.org.uk/doctor-foster-gloucester-and-psalm-22/)
Given that the Psalm details so accurately and pertinently Jesus’ experiences on the cross, and that Jesus would have known this Psalm intimately, it cannot be other than that the entire Psalm was on Jesus’ mind. All four gospel accounts point us there. Note also how Jesus’ final words in John’s Gospel “It is finished” (John 19:30) tie in with “he has done it” ending of the Psalm (Psalm 22:31).
Again, there is a consistency which cannot be ignored; note how the Psalm explicitly testifies that God had not hidden his face from the afflicted one (Psalm 22:24).
- But wasn’t the darkness a sign of God’s wrath?
Well firstly, Jesus cries out at the end of three hours of darkness (Mark 15:33-34). If the darkness were attesting to God’s wrath, then the abandonment occurred a whole three hours earlier. Surely it would be at the moment of separation that Jesus would cry out to God in anguish?
Secondly, nowhere in scripture is it ever claimed that the darkness had anything to do with the Father, nor his disposition towards the Son. On the contrary, Jesus own testimony about ‘this hour’ tells a different story.
Just as he is being handed over for crucifixion, Jesus says to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders who had come for him that this was their hour, the hour “when darkness reigns” (or the hour of “the power of darkness“) (Luke 22:53).
Jesus had also testified that the ruler of this world would be coming (John 14:30), that this was the time for the ruler of this world to be driven out (John 12:31), and that he already stood condemned (John 16:11).
Given therefore that a cosmic battle was about to take place between God and Satan, and also that this was also the hour when the power of darkness would take over, it should not take us by surprise that the sky turned dark!
We must also remember that this was also the hour when The Light of the World was dying – what else would one expect?
So did God abandon Jesus? It should be evident by now from Scripture’s own witness that it is not only speculative, but directly contrary to Scripture, to propose that the Father turned His face away and abandoned Jesus on the cross. The Apostles never claim this. Jesus said he would not be left alone. And God is not a man that he should lie (Num 23:19).
If you are interested in explore this issue further, here are some additional resources: