My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?--
The Biblical Timeline of Jesus' Crucifixion Versus The Myth
|Copyright © 2013 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Did Jesus endure the flames of the Lake of Fire (Hell) in order to secure our salvation? If so, when did He go to the torment of Hell and how long did He suffer there? "What difference does it make?" my wife asked, "He died didn't He?"
What difference indeed.
Modern Myth Added to Timeless Gospel
In the last 500 years the doctrine of the cross has changed and continues to evolve from the way it was understood in the first century. Something new has been added. Namely the new addition is that Jesus had to endure the torment of the fires of Hell (i.e. the Lake of Fire) in order to "pay for our sins" and thus win salvation for humanity.
In short the logic behind the myth unfolds something like this:
Numerous are the logic flaws behind that argument, but even more pressing are the multitudinous doctrinal and biblical errors. Each error is built upon a "prooftext" instead of upon valid Scripture. A prooftext is a passage or phrase of Scripture which is used out of its context and so has its meaning changed from what the original author intended for it to communicate.
Four Scriptures Abused To Build The Myth
The four most common Scriptures that are improperly pressed into service as prooftexts for the notion that Jesus paid for our sins by suffering in the Lake of Fire while hanging on the cross are:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NAS, 2 Corinthians 5:21)
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (NIV, Habakkuk 1:13)
At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (NAS, Mark 15:34)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"-- (Galatians 3:13)
These four passages, taken out of their context and supplied with new meanings, are then pressed into service to create a new mythology of the suffering of Jesus. Here is how the myth is developed using these "prooftexts":
Then Jesus' spirit was cursed by the Father , separated from His body while still alive on the cross, and sent to the Lake of Fire to pay for human sin. While His spirit was being tormented in the fire the Father poured out all the full fury of His wrath on Jesus in some invisible and indefinable way because Jesus was now sin. When God released the spirit of Jesus from the fire His body was turned again from sin to sinless flesh and His body was reunited with His Spirit on the cross. Then He uttered, "It is finished."
Thus Jesus paid for all human sin by having suffered for us in Hell.
Diagramming the Myth and the Truth
Most of us grew up hearing that myth, or some variant of it. And there are many variants because the myth is not built on solid theology or upon accurate interpretation or use of Scripture.
The following diagrams show the mythology placed against the biblical timeline of the events of Jesus' crucifixion. Just like any other person on the Earth Jesus was/is comprised of spirit (and soul) and flesh and blood. That corporeal unity is depicted on the diagram (see below) by the circle labeled "Jesus." Every activity on the timeline that is inside the boundary of the pink box are the events that comprise the mythological fable that has been inserted into the biblical story of Jesus' death. As the timeline progresses the myth depicts Jesus' body turning into literal sin, His spirit leaving his living body, going to the fire, being released, and being reunited with His body in time for His body to die and thus once again for His spirit to leave His body.
Biblical Timeline Model
Mythological Timeline Model
Errors of Biblical Interpretation That Drive the Myth
As I noted previously, there are a plethora of biblical and doctrinal errors tied up with the myth that Jesus' spirit was invisibly tortured in fire even while He hung on the cross and that the Father and Holy Spirit abandoned Him during that time.
Error 1: Jesus' Spirit Was Able to Leave His Body While His Body Still Lived
When a spirit leaves a human body it is because the human body has died,
"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).
However, when the myth says that Jesus' spirit was out of His body and was in the Lake of Fire Jesus' body was still on the cross, living, breathing, thinking, talking, and even drinking. Jesus' body (which was supposedly turned into sin) was engaged in such godly activities as :saving a thief, commending His mother to the care of John, and praying for the forgiveness of those who were murdering Him.
The problem should be self-evident. Jesus' spirit could not leave His body while Jesus lived, else His body would have been dead already. It is unusual for a dead corpse to pray, evangelize, and sip vinegar. Even worse for the myth is that Jesus states, "It is finished" (or more literally, "The debt is paid") at the moment His death is imminent. In other words, the price of eternal life for all sinners was paid before Jesus' spirit ever left His body.
Error 2: It was Jesus' Spirit Enduring Hell That Bought Salvation for Humanity
Every Scripture that discusses the topic states that it is the bodily death of the sacrifice that purchases salvation and forgiveness. No passage ever states that it is the torturing of the spirit that buys salvation.
The goal of the Lake of Fire (Hell) is to separate the resurrected body and soul of the unrepentant unbelievers from God and the saints for eternity. That separation is itself a horrible punishment, but it is not designed to expiate sins, to accrue wages toward the entrance price of eternal life, or to reduce the sin of debt which the sinner has on his account.
First, since time in Hell does not reduce the sin debt of any sinner, why would Jesus have had to go there to pay for our sins?
Second, if Hell is designed to separate fellowship between God and the body and soul of the unbelieving unrepentant sinners, how would this work for the disembodied spirit of Jesus? Did He stop having fellowship with Himself? Why was His body not put into Hell when the body of all other unbelievers will be? In what sense could three hours in Hell pay for the world's sins when an eternity in Hell will not pay for one person's sins?
Error 3: Jesus Substituted His Time in Hell for the Time We Should Have Spent in Hell
Time in the Lake of Fire (Hell) never pays for any human sin. This is evident because every unrepentant unbeliever will spend an eternity in Hell, and not even after an eternity will they pay-off their sin debt to God. Hell is the punishment for both unbelief and for not having repented; Hell is not the purchase price for eternal life, nor can time in Hell be applied toward the acquisition fee of redemption.
The only thing that purchases salvation for the believer is the body and blood of Jesus. His sacrificial substitution was valid and efficacious on two levels: 1) he lived a perfect life of holiness which we refused to live (thus His substituted perfection is credited to our account), and 2) He died as the Creator God in bodily flesh and blood, a death He did not deserve because He never sinned; Jesus substituted the eternal life which He should have been able to live here on Earth for our eternal life and credited His eternal life to our account.
Jesus' bodily death was efficacious because He was eternally valuable and sinless as God. Jesus should never have died on this planet but rather, once born into humanity He should have been worshipped by humankind from generation to generation as God on Earth. Instead of living forever on Earth and being worshipped, which He deserved, He deliberately and voluntarily gave that up and took on and fulfilled the curse of Adam (that is, human bodily death) so that we could live forever with Him.
In other words, by allowing His body to die as a sacrifice Jesus gave up an unbroken continuous eternity of being worshipped in human form as He lived on this planet, Earth, and traded it for the eternal lives of all believers. One eternal life was traded or substituted for the eternal lives all humanity. Hell played no part of that purchase price of eternal life. Hell is a penalty and is not the price of admission to eternal life.
Error 4: Jesus' Body Turned into Literal and Actual Sin
This is a logical non sequitur with regard to Jesus’ body supposedly turning into literal sin resulting in the need for His spirit to be punished in Hell. If it was Jesus' body that was turned into literal sin, then why did His spirit get cursed, separated from the flesh of sin, and sent to the Lake of Fire alone? Should not the body of sin have gone instead? And how did time in Hell for His spirit earn salvation for anyone when time in Hell does not pay for any sin at all or reduce anyone's sin debt?
In truth the Bible states that only those human spirits who have been reunited with their resurrected bodies, which is the second resurrection, will go the Lake of Fire for eternal punishment after they have been judged (Revelation 20). In other words, only humans with bodies and spirits experience the wrath of God in the fires of eternal torment. Jesus was a human, He had a body and a spirit. If He was to go to experience Hell then His body would also have had to have gone.
It is serious error of doctrine, theology, and Scripture to assert that Jesus' holy spirit went into Hell so as to pay for our sins which now literally clothed Him in flesh. It is logically and doctrinally flawed to separate a sinful living body of Jesus from His righteous spirit.
Jesus’ body did not turn into literal sin. Spurgeon called the theory that Jesus literally turned into sin a modern heresy of the grossest sort.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NAS, 2 Corinthians 5:21)
As Spurgeon pointed out the expression “Jesus was made to be sin on our behalf” is a euphemism, analogy, or perhaps more properly, a simile. The phrase actually means “Jesus gave up living on Earth as a sinless human for eternity which He deserved so that we might be given eternal life instead and bequeathed the righteousness which He actually earned” (paraphrase mine).
Stated differently, the phrase (that Jesus was made to be sin on our behalf) is a shorthand way of saying that Jesus died the bodily death of a sinner so that we could be credited His righteousness and thus be given eternal life.
To assume that His body literally turned into sin is the same error of force-fitting overly literal language that is applied by some to the passage of the bread and the wine becoming the literal body and blood of Jesus. Language is not that rigid or wooden. Similes, euphemisms, analogies, and metaphors are useful figures of speech.
How can we be sure that Paul was using a simile in reference to Jesus being made sin? By questioning the context and the ordinary meaning it is easy to see Paul was employing a figure of speech. If Paul meant Jesus’ body did become sin, then which sin? Only unbelief earns the sinner an eternity in Hell, so did Jesus’ body turn into unbelief? Can God be an unbeliever?
In the context of his letter Paul was stating that God has given believers the ministry of reconciling others to God. The authority of this ministry, and the reason why people should accept reconciliation with God, is that Jesus was “made to be sin.” The only way such a phrase could be the basis for the reason why people ought to reconcile to God is that it explains that Jesus died and conferred on us His righteousness of perfection, something He could not have done if on His last day He was turned into sin. The natural reading of the text and context demand us to understand Paul to be using a figure of symbolic speech here.
Error 5: God the Father Forsook Fellowship with God the Son
God did not forsake fellowship with Jesus, nor look away from Him while He was on the cross. When Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 ("My God, why have you forsaken me?") He was demonstrating that His death pains were as crushing as were the life worries of David when David wrote Psalm 22. Psalm 22:24 clearly states that God never forsakes fellowship with His righteous children, nor turns His eyes away from them.
In what way did David and Jesus experience a forsaking? David certainly experienced God forsaking him to human anguish and human misery at the hands of his enemies, but David did not experience God forsaking his spirit to Hell.
Similarly, Jesus experienced God forsaking His body to an undeserved corporeal death on the cross, but like David, God did not forsake fellowship with Jesus, did not withdraw His Holy Spirit from Jesus, nor did God forsake Jesus to Hell. Jesus often prayed in public not for His own benefit, but for the benefit of the humans standing by to listen (John 11:42). By publicly calling out to God Jesus was delivering a message to the assembled crowd, “God is forsaking Me to die an undeserved death on your behalf, just as David wrote of Me in Psalm 22.”
Many of the early church pastors from the first century to the fourth century wrote that the only legitimate meaning of Jesus’ crying out and quoting Psalm 22:1 while on the cross was to illustrate the pain of death in His humanity...being forsaken by God to die a human death. Those early pastors were adamant that God never turned away from Jesus nor broke fellowship with Him.
If Jesus had meant to imply that some type of mystical and invisible severing of fellowship occurred between Himself, the Holy Spirit, and the Father then unimaginable doctrinal problems come to light:
The silliness truly begins to mount up when we fail to understand that Jesus meant to apply Psalm 22:1 in exactly the same way that David meant it, "God, this suffering is undeserved and painful, why have You forsaken me to it and not brought it to an end yet?”
Error 6: God Could Not Look at Jesus Or Fellowship with Him because Jesus Had Become Sin
God does look on sin and evil and He fellowships with sinners. The old King James rendering of Habakkuk 1:13 is imprecise, antiquated, and uses obsolete wording as does the NIV in this passage. The New American Standard provides a much more accurate translation.
[God,] Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. [So,] why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? (NASB Habakkuk 1:13)
The prophet, Habakkuk, is complaining that God is permitting evil to run rampant in Israel, the Promised Land. In so doing the prophet notes a biblical truth, that God cannot approve of evil nor be a cheerleader of evil doers.
There is nothing in this passage that indicates that God is incapable of watching evil people do sinful deeds. Moreover, there are numerous passages which state that God sees every evil deed ever done, records it, and will hold every person accountable for every sin.
Since God can and does observe evil on earth, and even keeps records of everything He sees that we humans do, there is no warrant to assert that God had to turn His gaze away or His fellowship away from Jesus as He suffered on the cross. God is well document as communing with evil characters. In fact, God actually allowed the fallen devil, Satan, into His presence and demanded an account from Satan of his activities on Earth (Job 1:6-7). God talked with Adam and Eve about their first sins. God talked to Cain after he murdered Abel.
God not only can look upon evil, but He can talk and fellowship with sinners as well. When Jesus fellowshipped with the lowly sinners and the high class sinners, drinking with them and having dinner with them, He was still God and He was still communing with them.
It is an unbiblical myth that God cannot look at sin or communicate with sinners. There is no scriptural reason to opine that the Father broke fellowship with Jesus while He died on the cross. In fact, God was pleased with Jesus that He made this sacrifice even as it anguished the Father to observe it.
Error 7: The Bible Says Jesus Was Cursed and That Must Mean Cursed to Hell Fire
Jesus was cursed with a human death (katara), not cursed with experiencing eternal damnation (anathema).
Christ redeemed us from the curse [katara] of the Law, having become a curse [katara] for us--for it is written, "CURSED [a form of katara] IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- (Galatians 3:13)
The word curse in the Bible most often means to die a miserable human death. That is the curse given to Adam and Even in Genesis 3. Jesus took on that curse, which He did not deserve, so as to be a sacrifice for our sins. If Jesus had been a sinner he would have deserved the curse of human death, Adam's curse. As sinless man and perfect and holy God, Jesus could have lived on Earth free from the curse forever.
The ordinary curse of human death is the Greek word katara; meaning a human death or something that has little real value. Jesus is said to have voluntarily taken on Adam's curse (katara) for our benefit.
Rarely used in the New Testament is the word anathema; meaning that which is beyond hope of final redemption. To substitute another English phrase, it is the very word "damned." And here is the heart of the matter, Jesus is never said to be an anathema or to have become an anathema. So abhorent is the idea to God that anyone would say that Jesus was ever damned (anathema) or had become damned (anathema) that He directed the Holy Spirit to include this condemnation in Scripture:
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed [anathema or damned]"; (1 Corinthians 12:3)
Jesus did not literally turn into a curse, of course. Jesus always was God and when He was born into humanity He also became a man. A man can be cursed, but cannot change his substance into the idea called a curse. The phrase Paul uses, “having become a curse for us,” is a simile or euphemism. It means that Jesus volunteered to take on the pain and the reality of experiencing the human curse (death) which Adam and Eve earned for all other humans when they sinned. Death is the judgment and sign of God’s disfavor against people who are willingly evil and rebellious.
Though Jesus had not earned death and so was not constrained to ever die, He willingly substituted His right to eternal life on Earth for that of a sacrificial death so that we might be redeemed with eternal life. He took on the human curse of death so that we might live.
It is a truth that cannot be ignored, whoever says that Jesus was "damned" or was subjected to God's anathema is making this erroneous doctrinal statement from the imaginations of his own twisted mind without the aid or benefit of the Holy Spirt. It is not too much to say that the Holy Spirit fights against anyone who would so dishonor and blaspheme against Jesus.
Error 8: There Is No Forgiveness of Sin Without God Pouring Out His Wrath
When God's wrath is poured out on anyone it never pays for or compensates for unrepentant sin. Whether God is angry or not and pours out His anger in vengeful wrath or not never absolves from sin the one with whom God is angry. God's anger is part of His righteous justice of punishment and warning, and it never pays for sins.
Forgiveness of sins always requires repentance to God from the sinner and a propitiating blood sacrifice. God's anger, or even the degree to which God is enraged, is irrelevant to the efficacious nature of that sacrifice. In fact, it is the sacrifice itself coupled with the believer's repentance that assuages God's wrath.
God's anger does not atone for sin. Moreover, God's anger is reserved for two purposes only: a) to call the unrepentant sinner back to holiness while they live on Earth, and b) to commit to eternal punishment the sinner who has never believed and repented.
No Scripture passage states or hints that the full measure of the wrath of God against all the sin of the ages was poured out invisibly and spiritually upon Jesus while on the cross. None.
Jesus was punished with the death of His human body, but that does not mean He took on the full fury of God's pent up rage against sin. It means He was punished to death when He deserved to have never died, being sinless and perfect.
Therefore, given the fact that the Bible offers no Scripture that God was angry or enraged at Jesus while He was on the cross and the fact that God's anger does not facilitate atonement for sin, then it is unreasonable to assume that "the full wrath of God's anger was poured out on Jesus to experience while He was on the cross." Such a notion is a modern day myth.
Implications of the Myth
When all is evaluated, the modern myth, tacked as it is uncomfortably onto the genuine account of Jesus’ crucifixion, simply evaporates. Jesus’ body did not turn into sin, God was not forced to stop looking at Him, the Father only forsook Jesus to the pain of bodily death and did not break fellowship with Him, Jesus’ spirit did not leave His living body while suffering on the cross, Jesus’ spirit did not spend several hours in the Lake of Fire without His body, and the Father did not invisibly pour out the full measure of His wrath onto His dying Son.
If the myth were true then it would indicate that it was not really the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood or His bodily death that saves. The gospel message would be wrong. Instead the gospel would have to be rewritten to state that it is the necessity of someone’s spirit spending time in Hell that redeems a man. There is no Scripture that even hints at such a heresy. Time in Hell never pays for even a single sin.
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)
No, the myth is untrue, a fiction added to the gospel message in the past 500 years. We are better off without it.
Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life, voluntarily agreed to die an undeserved death instead of living on Earth forever, He suffered painfully and died, giving up His spirit to God’s care until His bodily resurrection on that Sunday. Whosoever will may call upon the living Jesus to repent and to receive forgiveness and eternal life. Those who refuse the gift of salvation and will not repent earn for themselves the eternal penalty of Hell, and no amount of time in Hell will purchase even a moment of eternal life for them.
God has called everyone to salvation and those who are His children, His chosen people, will respond. If God is convicting you today, respond today and rejoice in His choice, adoption, and redemption....it came at a great price.
Something from the internet came to my attention, and I thought it significant enough to comment upon here as an addendum.
Randy Alcorn, having had attended a conference with CJ Mahaney and John Piper wrote the following:
CJ [Mahaney] spoke of our Savior's cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" And though I have contemplated that amazing cry often, never did it hit me as hard as in CJ's message, when he referred to it as "the scream of the Damned."
Then there was break and music and announcements, and John Piper stood up to bring his message. Several of us had prayed in a back room that God would anoint John, and pick right up where He left off in the previous message, and wow, did He. John referred repeatedly to the "scream of the Damned," and then moved into Romans 8.
A flood of tears came as God preached the message to me yet again. That Deity would be Damned. That the God who is called upon righteously by the saints and angels in heaven to damn people, and called upon habitually by unbelievers flippantly and unrighteously to damn people, would in fact damn his Son, would (from the Son’s willingness to drink the cup) damn himself…for us. That it could be said of the Beloved One, “God damned Him,” and that He screamed the scream of the Damned….it was too much for me. It is too much for me this moment. And in the ages to come it will continue to be too much for me.
In his sermon, The Scream of the Damned, John Piper opined the following:
Everything exists to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned. That’s the point of the universe.
What we will do forever in heaven is magnify the worth of the scream of the damned.
Calvary will not be forgotten. It is the most-horrible, most sinful, most agonizing event that ever was - it will be the center of heaven forever.
Hell exists, the cross exists, sin exists, heaven exists, you exist, universe exists, in order to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned.
What is the apex of the revelation of the grace of God? And the answer is the scream of the damned on the cross.
John Piper, in his personal blog at Desiring God on March 18, 2014 reaffirmed his commitment to his allegations that Jesus had been damned by the Father. He wrote:
Of course, the doctrine and the theology expressed in the quotes above are not God's doctrine or theology. Jesus was not damned to Hell while on the cross, and He did not scream anything like what the truly damned will scream when they are subjected to their proper fate.
More importantly the Word of God tells us that if anyone ever says that Jesus was "damned" (made to be anathema) then they have spoken without approval, guidance, or input from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Such men are presumptuous and false in their teaching, and if they claim to be speaking as prophets, they are false prophets. Since Alcorn credits both Piper and Mahaney as having delivered these messages as the voices of "God preached the message" we must understand Alcorn, Mahaney, and Piper to be false witnesses who have misrepresented God and to have been false prophets of the Holy Spirit. For this they do need to repent in public.
That cry, "Why have You forsaken me?" is the cry that ONLY believers, secure in their salvation but who have endured suffering, may utter. It is only they, the sons of God, who persevere through trials in the service of the kingdom who were ever in God's good graces and so may rightfully ask why they should continue to suffer here on earth. By way of contrast, the unsaved, the truly damned, will only ever scream back to God, "I hate You, get me as far from Your holy face as You can; I do not want Your fellowship and to be near You is unbearable to me!"
Why must the predestined sons of God endure misery in this world and be forsaken to human suffering while on earth? Because mankind rebelled, sinned, and was cursed. That curse has not yet been rescinded. We, like Christ, have been forsaken to suffer and die on this planet, subjected to the curse of the first Adam. We deserve this; Christ did not but volunteered to take on that curse. We ask, "God, why have you forsaken me to suffer on this planet?" because death and suffering are unnatural curses for the redeemed righteous ones of God's choosing.
The damned will not scream or cry anything like that. They will not feel forsaken by God for they never desired to be adopted or protected by Him. Rather, the damned will scream curses and hatred at God, even as they must bow the knee to Christ in angry defiant submission to their Creator. Those who have hated God now will continue to hate God then.
No, the damned have never truthfully screamed, "My God, why have You forsaken me?" They are not God's adopted righteous ones and they do not deem Him their God nor value His protection, redemption, fellowship, or salvation.
Far from screaming for God not to forsake them from temporary earthly suffering they will be screaming in agony to be let free from God's eternal holy presence. Forsaken? No. Given their hearts' desire to escape into unending darkness from the light of God's holy face? Yes. Sadly, yes.