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In each of the synoptic Gospels, Jesus foreshadows his own execution and suffering. He also makes many statements about how he is the Son of God etc. It seems clear Jesus knew he was no ordinary person and had a direct relationship with God the Father.

But in the Scripture, we seem to get two different views of Jesus' last words.

Anguished Death

Recorded as "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

Calm Death

Contrast this with Luke 23:46 where his last words were "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." John also portrays Jesus' death as calm.

To someone who knows this is their purpose and destiny, I get the "calm death" descriptions, whereas the anguished versions seems very out of character. However, based on principles of historical criticism, showing Jesus as anguished at death, questioning God's purpose, seems very against Jesus being the Son of God, and hence I'd give it more factual/historical weight. This crying out also aligns with a view of him as deeply believing he is someone, but not truly knowing it -- hence a failure of conviction at the last moments before he dies.

How does one reconcile these two views of Jesus's last words? Why would he suddenly be surprised and anguished right before fulfilling what he himself fortold?

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  • Looks like @Annika is not a user of BH.se. Is this something that happens a lot when new users' questions get migrated? Nov 18, 2023 at 17:13

5 Answers 5

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It points to prophecy

One possible reason is that Jesus is quoting the opening to Psalm 22, a Psalm which vividly foretold his crucifixion and resurrection, providing yet more evidence to those there (and to us today!) that he is the Messiah.

Update: I understand some may find this argument backwards or circular but note that 1) Jesus only quotes part of it which should have been enough to call the Psalm to mind for at a minimum the teachers of the Law if not others and they should have seen immediately “hey this is happening!” and 2) in many places in the gospels the author and sometimes Jesus himself states that some action was taken by Jesus or some thing happened to fulfill Scripture. So the concept of the justification for an occurrence being the fulfillment of prophecy is very much a biblical concept.

In addition the Psalm provides more details than are in view during the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, possibly shedding light into how to interpret Jesus’ cry in light of the theological question of whether the Father turned his face away from the Son or not.

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  • This makes a lot of sense!
    – Annika
    Nov 14, 2023 at 15:52
  • This argument got it all backwards and simply does not supply a reason. So it does not answer the question. Also if this fulfilled prophesy is regarded as a true account of facts, it is only that, but does not state a reason itself either.
    – grammaplow
    Nov 17, 2023 at 12:00
  • Why? There are many places in the gospels that say “this happened to fulfill the prophecy…” and Jesus himself even said similar multiple times. So the Bible gives it as a valid reason for things to be done.
    – bob
    Nov 17, 2023 at 21:36
  • then we should answer essentially the same question about the prophecy: why does the prophecy have this cry in the story line, what’s the logic that drives the narrative of the prophecy? Please check my version to see an example of a reasonable explanation hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/87878/44739 (regardless whether you find it convincing or not)
    – grammaplow
    Nov 18, 2023 at 20:00
  • But if you look at Psalm 22 (and I can update to include this) the reason for the despair is obvious: dying on a cross isn’t fun for humans, and Jesus while God was also human. But I think the main purpose of the cry was to link to the Psalm so people would go “Ah-ha!”, something special is happening here, this isn’t just some guy dying at the hands of the Romans!
    – bob
    Nov 18, 2023 at 23:45
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Leading up to his death on a cross, Jesus knew what lay ahead of him even before he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. His prayer then teaches much about seeking God's strength to proceed into the jaws of evil, willingly, because that is God's will. Jesus knew the prophetic scriptures about the suffering servant who would accomplish God's will through obedient suffering (Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 for one example), and indeed he learned obedience through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8) because he was a Son.

From Gethsemane until his death, there was a build-up of torture, ridicule, pain and humiliation. Yet it was none of that which elicited that cry of dereliction from his parched lips. Jesus was, in the hours of supernatural darkness, experiencing the righteous wrath and judgment of the Father as he became sin, although he was without sin. God had to turn his back on his only-begotten Son, for God cannot look upon sin. I'm not citing all the scripture verses here but anyone can look them up in a Bible concordance. Jesus knew the absence of the Father - for the first time in his entire existence. Worse, he knew the wrath of the Father, which he bore in his own body, as he became "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." That is what caused that cry of anguish. But it was never a cry of despair!

The point of the question this answer deals with is this claim (from the OPs point of view) that: "historical criticism, showing Jesus as anguished at death, questioning God's purpose, seems very against Jesus being the Son of God".

Historical criticism so often seems to have as its starting point disbelief in Jesus Christ being the Son of God. Everything is viewed from acceptance that his other title, "Son of Man" is okay, but that there was nothing divine about this unique one. Indeed, he was not unique at all; he was as other men, although a great example of being a good person, setting a fine example. Therefore, historical critics look at the sufferings on that cross as they would any human going through that ghastly, lingering form of death. They would despair, all right. But Jesus Christ, being the only-begotten Son of God, had agreed with the Father to come into the world that had not yet been created by the triune Godhead, in order to accomplish the plan of salvation first uttered in another garden - Eden (Genesis 3:15).

Picking and choosing what bits of the Bible seem reasonable, but rejecting other parts that don't square with human reasoning will prevent anyone understanding just who Jesus Christ really is, and what he really accomplished on that cross. Yet until that is grasped (and it takes divine revelation for that, which is why the Bible must be respectfully approached, not critically approached) the Bible will remain a closed book. And that is the danger of going along with historical criticism instead of grasping this statement:

"Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." Romans 3:4 But let Jesus have the last word, as he uttered in prayer in Gethsemane:

"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? but for this cause came I unto this hour." John 12:27 A.V.

The hour of crucifixion was the whole reason he agreed to come into the world, and he never lost sight of that, which kept him from despair.

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  • "Picking and choosing what bits of the Bible seem reasonable, but rejecting other parts that don't square with human reasoning will prevent anyone understanding just who Jesus Christ really is, and what he really accomplished on that cross." -- I didn't intend to come across this way, its the nature of stack exchange that I need to keep my inquiry focused so I can get nice answers such as these :)
    – Annika
    Nov 14, 2023 at 14:00
  • @Annika Please pardon me if I gave you that impression. I did not mean to do so. I was speaking generally, and the warning applies to me equally as to everyone else. Yes, that is one of the difficulties of being expected to keep an inquiry focused on just one particular point / text. Keep asking such good questions and I trust you will do good answers also!
    – Anne
    Nov 15, 2023 at 7:59
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A prayer may be addressed to God (to God as such or, perhaps, to the Father) which is questioning, which is expressed in adversity, which may have a tome of perplexity, of need, and even of a query as to why the one praying is being treated in the way in which they find their situation.

But that is not 'despair'. Unbelieving despair does not pray at all. Unbelieving despair has already given up hope and cast off relationship with Deity.

Many, many instances can be seen in the psalms of someone crying out to God in the midst of truly terrible circumstances : persecution, battle, affliction, perplexity.

But the psalmists demonstrate a real, a deep, a very experienced, and a believing relationship with their God. And they call on Him because they know He will hear. They know He will listen. They know He will act - if is righteous to do so.

And that is the most important factor - if it is righteous to do so, that is to say if it is a matter of the righteousness of God (not the so-called 'rightness' which humanity commonly addresses).

We are told that the gospel is 'the power of God unto salvation for therein is the righteousness of God revealed, out of faith, unto faith' Romans 1:16. And at Golgotha, we see that righteousness being demonstrated by God upon his own Son.

We are told that 'he suffered for sins in his own body on the tree', 1 Peter 2:24 and, in that situation, God withdrew from the Sufferer in order to exact the righteous response of Deity to the sins which were laid upon the Sacrificial Lamb.

In his humanity, Jesus of Nazareth cried out, in anguish, sensing the departure of the presence of God. And, spontaneously, he quotes from words well known to him, from the twenty second psalm.

Matthew gives us the original Hebrew, 'Eli, Eli etc, of the psalm. Mark gives us the actual words in the Aramaic dialect, Eloi, Eloi etc, which Jesus spoke.

They are the poignant, anguished words of a son, of a worshipper, of a servant.

But there is no despair.

They were uttered in faith, for 'out of faith' was this righteousness of God demonstrated at Golgotha as the sacrifice was made, which, 'unto the faith' of the believer ensures justification from all things which the law of Moses was not able to justify, Acts 13:39.


Keep not silence, O God, hold not thy peace [Psalm 83:1]

Attend unto me and hear me; I mourn in my complaint and make a noise [Psalm 55:2]

Be merciful unto me, O God, for man would swallow me up [Psalm 56:1]

Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy holy spirit from me [Psalm 51:11]

Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord ? arise, cast us not off for ever [Psalm 44:23]

All references are from KJV.

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    +1 -- great answer, thank you! Indeed I never took his cry to be one of "losing faith", but more as perplexity at his situation, which I found confusing because he seemed perfectly aware of why he was there, what the plan of the Father was, etc so that in fact he was not being forsaken by the Father but fulfilling the prophesy (as Jesus also knew).
    – Annika
    Nov 14, 2023 at 14:08
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Just worth pointing out...

Superman was never my favorite superhero. It's easy to be confident when you're indestructable.

Similarly, Jesus' singularity of purpose is easy to imagine if he's got a hotline to God, and can phone home for advice and support at will. His sense of abandonment in this instance shows that he's human in the sense that we've all felt that agonizing sense of being abandoned or ignored by God, and Jesus shares in this. It's important to realize that he's human as well as divine, and he didn't live a blissful life in the hands of God.

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    This is the correct answer. Jesus did feel despair in that moment, because God turned away from him, as God would do to us. In this way, Jesus is more human than any of us ever will be.
    – user2055
    Nov 14, 2023 at 18:32
  • @fredsbend I was torn between this one and the other - but I think the reference to Psalms as a source for the utterance and the plausible rationale for why an author would use it pushed me to the other but this one was very good too.
    – Annika
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:02
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    @Annika Well, hermeneutically, yes, I would accept the Psalms answer. Theologically, I'd accept this one.
    – user2055
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:05
  • @fredsbend nicely put :)
    – Annika
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:13
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I would like to make a case that Jesus's apparent despair on the cross in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and the demand by the Jews to break the legs of the crucified to hasten death, align with the fulfillment of prophecies and the symbolism of the Passover lamb and the ram redeemed for Isaak, emphasizing Jesus's role as the liberator from the Mosaic and Abraham covenant through His sacrifice.

In the Gospels of Mark (15:33-34) and Matthew (27:45-46), Jesus expresses a sense of abandonment, crying out, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "why have you entangled me?" which connects to Genesis 22:13 Abraham finds a ram "left in thorns bush (σαβεκ)" and he redeems Isaak for this ram.

in Greek is as follows: καὶ ἀναβλέψας Αβρααμ τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ εἶδεν, καὶ ἰδοὺ κριὸς εἷς κατεχόμενος ἐν φυτῷ σαβεκ τῶν κεράτων· καὶ ἐπορεύθη Αβρααμ καὶ ἔλαβεν τὸν κριὸν καὶ ἀνήνεγκεν αὐτὸν εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν ἀντὶ Ισαακ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ

So Jesus is fact mirroring the unfinished sacrifice of Isaak by Abraham. This reportedly happens on the exact same mountain too. Here is more on the topic of the word sabachthani

This is to show that there was an elaborate and deep-rooted motivation for Jesus to do what he did. It is much more than "just fulfilling the prophecy". And his self-sacrifice was of course not coincidental, so he wasn't surprised by his impending death. Further explanation of his motivation can be found in the apocryphal book "Ascension of Isaiah".

Yet his expression could be interpreted as despair, aligning with the tense atmosphere created by the impending Sabbath and the demands of the Jewish leaders to hasten the death of the crucified, as described in John 19:31: "Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down."

According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, a body hanged on a tree must be buried on the same day, as it is cursed by God. This Mosaic law, combined with the approach of the Sabbath and a religious holiday when work, including burying, is forbidden, intensified the urgency to break the legs of the crucified to expedite their deaths.

However, Jesus's bones were not broken, as noted in John 19:33-36. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalms 34:20, "He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken," and aligned with the stipulation that the bones of the Passover lamb, as described in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12, must not be broken. Jesus, in this typology, is seen as the ultimate Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice frees believers from the bondage of sin and the old Mosaic covenant, fulfilling the reciprocal role of a redeemer as the firstborn of God.

In summary, the case presents Jesus's despair and the unbroken state of His bones as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and symbolizing the liberation from the Mosaic and Abraham covenant, with Jesus as the Passover Lamb and Isaak whose sacrifice heralds a new covenant.

Bible references: Mark 15:33-34, Matthew 27:45-46, John 19:31, Deuteronomy 21:22-23, John 19:33-36, Psalms 34:20, Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12.

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