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Matthew 27:46
Was Jesus Forsaken?

by Carol Berubee

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Perhaps you are under the impression that Yeshua (Jesus) was separated from God on the cross. You may have heard it said that God could not look upon sin and so He had to turn away from His Son who became sin on the cross. This paper will help you to understand the implications of such teaching and then offer a different understanding of Matthew 27:46 in light of Psalm 22.

In looking at this issue of separation or spiritual death of Christ, there are four aspects upon which we will build our case: The Nature of the God-Man; The Consequences of Sin; Did He Become Sin?; and Where Did He Go? Then we will examine in more detail the words of Christ from Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22.

1. Nature of the God-Man

The apostles had all died by the end of the first century, but they had taught many disciples. Clement of Rome (d. AD 101) and Ignatius (ca AD 35-107) were of the first generation of Christians who knew the apostles’ doctrine. They both taught that Yeshua was fully God and fully man, two natures in one person. Irenaeus (ca AD 130-200) and Tertullian (ca AD 155-240) expanded upon the teaching of the nature of Christ. They both taught that Yeshua had two natures in one person, such that neither of the natures eclipsed the other and the two natures were distinct but unified and inseparable.

Jude 3 says, "...I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." It is clear that there is one correct faith, one correct set of doctrines, and it is this doctrine that was given to the apostles by God Himself. It is this doctrine for which the early Christians so earnestly contended.

But there were several errors that crept into Christianity in the first few centuries of the faith. Apollinarius (ca. AD 310-390) believed that the Word (logos) joined a body and soul to become the Christ on earth, such that Yeshua was a man in body and soul, but God in spirit. He recognized the two natures, but in his view, the deity of Christ obscured the humanity of Christ. Eutyches (ca AD 378-454) taught that Yeshua had only one nature, not two. He thought that the human and divine natures were mixed such that a new, third nature was formed. Nestorius (d. ca. AD 451) correctly believed that Yeshua had two natures in one person, but incorrectly taught that the two natures were not united beyond a mere moral union.

In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon sought to refute these heresies of Apollinarius, Nestorius, and Eutyches. The outcome of the Council was a new declaration reaffirming the apostles’ doctrine that, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same, that He is perfect in godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man…in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably, the distinction of the two natures being preserved and concurring in one person.”

It is to the teaching of Nestorius that we must look when considering Christ on the cross. For us to say that Yeshua was separated spiritually from God when He suffered on the cross, we must believe as Nestorius did, or else face the possibility that the Trinity ceased to exist. To say that Yeshua suffered a spiritual death, it would be necessary to separate Christ's nature into two separate natures that are completely independent of one another such that His human nature suffered separation from God while His deity continued on unscathed, free from spiritual death and free from the severing of the Trinity.

I would hope that we can all agree that Christ, the Son of God, could not have been separated from God and still be a part of the Trinity. God is one, yet in three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, co-equal and eternal, inseparable but distinct. If Yeshua died spiritually, then we must be prepared to say that the Trinity ceased to exist for some period of time. If the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, was no longer one with God due to sin and separation, then God ceases to exist. The only way around that is to follow Nestorius.

If we look at Nestorius’ view in more detail, it will become clear that his view is heretical and, therefore, we cannot support two separate natures whereby the one (God) exerts His will on the other (human), or that one (human) “takes over” for some period of time (on the cross).

John 1:14 says, “And the Word (Logos) was made flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us…” The word “made” is “ginomai” and it means “became” in a metaphysical sense. In other words, the Logos did not simply “take on” flesh such that God simply resided in a man’s body temporarily. Instead, it means that God became a man in a metaphysical way. In the Nestorian view, the two natures are joined in one body, but only in a moral union, the two natures each having a will (with the divine will ruling over the human will). If this were the case, then Yeshua did not become (ginomai) a man but only indwelt, or took on (poieo), a human body.

If God merely took on a human body for the purpose of walking around on earth, then it stands to reason that He (the divine) was separate from the human nature, or could separate Himself at any time. The problem with this view is that, 1) it contradicts John 1:14 as noted above, and 2) we could conclude that His sacrifice could only atone for the sins of the particular man whom He indwelt. If Yeshua was not metaphysically the God-man such that He became flesh, one body with two inseparable natures, then His death could not atone for the sins of the world. It is the very fact of His incarnation that makes His atonement efficacious. If His humanity was separate, or separable, from His deity, His death could not have atoned for the sins of the world. If Yeshua had two separate natures, in union only by will, then He would have been no different than a Spirit-filled man (albeit, a sinless man) dying on a cross. But if Yeshua had two inseparable natures -- if He was a man in every sense of the word, as well as God in every sense of the word, neither nature separating from the other -- then His death on the cross pays for our sin. If Yeshua had two natures such that He was God indwelling, or merely taking on, a man, then the body that hung on the cross was not that of God incarnate but a mere Spirit-filled man.

“So, then,” you ask, “if Yeshua was fully God and fully man, two inseparable natures in one body, what happened when He died on the cross? Did God die? How is that possible?”

2. The Consequences of Sin

The soul and spirit never die. The human body is a temporary dwelling for the soul and spirit and when the body dies, it goes in the grave. Yeshua’s soul and spirit were alive the whole time, of course, because they are eternal. God is spirit, so in that sense, of course, Yeshua God could not die. But neither can we say that Yeshua the man died spiritually. The body died, but the soul and spirit live on. If we were to say that He was spiritually separated from the Father, that would mean His soul and/or spirit were separated from the Father. The argument is that He died spiritually, or was separated from the Father, because sin separates us from the Father.

But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Our sin, then, does not separate us from God in a complete sense while we are here on earth. Complete separation comes at death if we are not in Christ. Hell is eternal separation from God in both the physical and spiritual sense (Luke 16:19-31, Jude 7, 2 Peter 2:4-9, Revelation 20:11-15). (I will use the term Hell to speak of the place of Sheol or Hades and, more specifically, that place where the wicked dead descended at the time of physical death. Yeshua used the term Paradise while He was on the cross and this is the portion of Hades where the people of faith were held as they awaited their Messiah. Both the wicked portion and the Paradise portion are properly within Hades; therefore, I will use the term Hell to speak only of that wicked portion.)

If Christ were separated from God, or died spiritually, does that mean He went to Hell? If Christ were separated from the Father, does that mean that the Trinity was breached? If Yeshua died spiritually, and was separated from Father, for how long? And even if the separation lasted for only a moment, what does that mean for the Trinity and the universe?

If we say that there was a separation from Father, was it Christ's humanity that died spiritually or His deity that died spiritually? Most people would agree that His God nature could not die, so it must have been His human nature that died spiritually and was separated from God. But as we have seen, we must be careful to not separate His two natures.

Let's suppose His human spirit was separated from God because of our sin. Does that mean that those in the Old Testament who had sin were separated from God? In what sense? If God cannot look upon sin, how is it that David can call upon God to search his heart (Psalm 139:23)? How is it that Mary could have been chosen by God to bear Christ if she were a sinner upon whom He could not even look? Of course, when Adam and Eve started this whole mess, who was it who took care of them? It was the LORD Himself who clothed them and continued to talk to them. He then escorted them out of the Garden, but He never forsook them to the point of total abandonment. Adam and Eve were separated from a complete intimacy with God, but they were not spiritually separated to the point that God could not look upon them. In fact, it was Adam and Eve who hid from God; God did not hide from them, He pursued them.

Adam died spiritually when he sinned. From then on, there was (and is now) a recognition that there is no goodness in man and no way for man, in and of himself, to be in union with God. But Adam lived on physically and he still had a soul and spirit, but that spiritual connection that he enjoyed with God in the Garden was severed. In other words, he was separated from intimacy with God. Yet, God continued to look upon man the world over.

Can we say that Christ suffered a spiritual separation as Adam did? We know that Christ was born of the Holy Spirit and was carried in the womb of Mary. He did not have a sin nature as we have. He carried our sins on the cross and took them to death so that we could be set free from eternal death. But His spirit did not have to die because. He did not take on a sin nature as we have. The whole point of Him coming by the Holy Spirit, and not by man (Joseph), is so that He would not have a sin nature, thereby qualifying as a perfect sacrifice.

The soul of a man is separated from God because of his sin nature and simply because he sins. Jesus did not have a sin nature, nor did He acquire one on the cross. And as we have seen, this separation between God and man does not mean that God cannot look upon the sinner.

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