I recently made a post on Christ’s final cries from the cross and the theological realities which they represent. I was (and continue to be) especially intrigued by the difference in tone between Christ’s fourth cry (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” ) and His seventh and last cry (“Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit.” ) As part of my meditations on those cries, I published a conclusion which wasn’t sufficiently thought out and which had an impossible and unorthodox doctrinal implication. I apologize for that. Sincerely. The last thing I want to do is publish ideas that will cloud readers’ understanding of Christ’s work. I did state that I was looking to have my own understanding sharpened—sort of “thinking out loud”—and I asked for input, but I also made a careless mistake. I’m therefore replacing that post with this one, which focuses briefly on the fourth, fifth, and seventh cries from the cross.
1. As I understand the fourth cry, Jesus was literally forsaken by the Father—”God estranged from God,” as the text of His Robes for Mine puts it. The eternal fellowship of the Trinity was disrupted during at least part (though not all) of Christ’s crucifixion. During that time, our sins separated Jesus from God as surely as they separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2). In drinking the dregs of God’s wrath on sin, Christ bore the worst of sin’s wages: utter abandonment by God. Perhaps coinciding with the time of Christ’s great moral darkness, there was a great physical darkness, as well. The sun disappeared in what Mahaney calls “an atmospheric confirmation of the judgment of God” (Living the Cross Centered Life, 91). Jesus responded to this abandonment with His fourth cry from the cross, a cry of absolute anguish: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34)
2. Nearing the point of death, Jesus uttered two victorious cries: “It is finished!” (John 19:30) and “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit!” (Luke 23:46) It is tempting to see these cries as declarations that propitiation had been entirely accomplished. Indeed, we often speak of the “finished” cry as proof that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was entirely satisfactory to God and cannot and need not be repeated or amended. However (and this was the point of my error), to conclude that God’s just wrath had already been satisfied at these specific times would be to suggest (or at least allow) that Christ’s actual death was not necessary—a ridiculous notion, to be sure. Could He have suffered, uttered these cries, then descended from the cross. Obviously not. Even Christian children know that Jesus had to die to pay sin’s wages.
So what was Christ saying when He spoke of a “finished” atonement and of entrusting Himself to His Father? It seems best to take the cries as anticipations of His impending death which would complete the payment of sin’s wages, and not as claims of having already paid them at those precise moments. So while we may reverently speak of Christ’s “It is finished” proclamation as a statement of propitiation, we must do so with the understanding that what finished the atonement was not Christ’s suffering or even His proclamations, but His impending death.
3. For what it’s worth, it still intrigues me to consider Christ’s prayers to God near the outset and end of the crucifixion (“Father, forgive them” and “Father, into Your hands,” respectively) with His cry of forsakenness. It seems to me that He enjoyed communion with the Father at times during the crucifixion but was bereft of the Father’s fellowship during another part of the crucifixion. It’s certainly worth considering.
By God’s grace, I’m growing in my understanding of the Gospel, albeit imperfectly. I want to know it better and deeper yet, and this has been a profitable process of meditation for me. Some good friends will still take exception to my understanding of Christ’s forsakenness, and it may be that my thoughts need to be sharpened further. I don’t doubt it a bit. To that end, please feel free to chime in with your thoughts. Also, learn from my example that even reverent and well-intended interpretations cast long theological shadows. Be careful. Finally, spend some mental and spiritual energy meditating on Christ’s suffering beneath our sins and His Father’s wrath on the cross.
Filed under: Bible Exposition, Devotional Thoughts, The Gospel | Tagged: Christianity, propitiation, Seven Cries from the Cross, the Crucifixion, The Gospel | 24 Comments »