Jesus crying out on the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” means Jesus was not God, or God separated Himself from Jesus.
One of the most famous passages in scripture is Matthew 27:46.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It is also one of the most misunderstood. Many seem to think that the act of Jesus crying out to God some how solidifies the idea that Jesus simply could not have been God or at the very least He was separated from God for a brief moment. Both of these arguments are simply not true. At-least not entirely. Scripture (John 10:28-33) affirms that Jesus claimed to be God, always co-existing with God eternally. (For more on this see the articleDid Jesus Claim to be God?)
What scripture affirms is that Jesus IS God. We also know from the Doctrine of the Trinity that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit make up the one true God and without any one of them we do not have God. So with a solid premise of the divinity of Jesus we can begin to work our way to a firm logical conclusion concerning the crying out of Jesus shortly before death. The only piece that is missing is the humanity of Jesus Christ. The humanity is the second characteristic that makes up the nature of Jesus Christ.
Hypostatic Union of Jesus
The hypostatic union is the term given to describe how Jesus was fully God and also fully man at the same time.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Throughout the bible we see several occurrences of Jesus being subjected to the weaknesses of humanity. The wilderness occurrence showed us Jesus was susceptible to hunger and that He could be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), albeit He resisted falling into temptation. We see in the storm that shook the faith of the disciples in the boat Jesus could become tired (Matthew 8:23-25). In John 11:33-36 we see Jesus weeping as He was moved in the spirit after seeing Mary and fellow Jews weeping over the death of Lazarus. Lastly, we see that Jesus could experience pure agony which was display in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). All of these examples are before the torture and agony that lead up to the painful murder on the cross.
So to reiterate, Jesus was fully God and fully man.
What Happened On The Cross?
From here we must tackle why Jesus even died on the cross. Scripture delivers this answer.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ” (John 3:16-17)
This brings us to the next question at hand. What do we know about sin? Sin separates us from God. Sin is the willful act of rebellion against God. Romans 8:7-8 explains those not in the spirit (submitted unto God’s law) are hostile towards God. John 3:36 explains whoever rejects Jesus Christ as the means to salvation has the wrath of God upon them. Romans 6:23 tell us that the wages of sin is death. The entire point of Christ dying for sinners was to atone for the sins of the world to bring all of mankind back into fellowship with God so we might have eternal life.
So what do we know at this point? We’ve established that Jesus is God and that in His humanity He was able to experience pain. We know Jesus bore the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross. We know that sin places the sinner at enmity with God. We know that God the Son wasn’t at odds with God The Father as that idea is not supported in scripture. We know that Jesus died for mankind and that mankind is comprised of sinners who are the ones at enmity, or “odds” with God. Lastly, we know that Jesus was fully God and also fully man.
The key piece to focus on is that Jesus bore the sins of mankind not just as fully God but also fully man. A man who bore the sins of the world. When Jesus cried out it was in the very same agony that every unbeliever will cry out in when they receive God’s punishment that is justly due. Jesus was crying out in agony from His human nature. The very same nature that experienced tiredness, agony, pain, hunger and weeping. Jesus experienced the total wrath and separation from God as a man. The crying out of Jesus served as the only visual indicator of what sin does to our relationship with God. It separates us. What Jesus experienced spiritually certainly could not have been expressed to an earthly creation. But through His humanity, Jesus could express what sin does to us.
It was for this reason that Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”. Because those at enmity with God and have rejected Jesus Christ as savior will face eternal separation from God as God will cast them out of His sight into Hell.
The Good News is that anyone who repents and puts their faith and trust in Christ Jesus can receive eternal life and avoid this separation.