Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani

A Greater Understanding of What Jesus Meant

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’–which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

This phrase has often been misunderstood because it wasn’t just a cry of agony. It was also a cry of victory…

With the sin of the world upon Him, Jesus experienced spiritual death and suffered complete separation from the Father.  Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” 

For the first time in eternity, the Perfect Son of God was cut off from His Father. On the cross, He became sin and God unleashed the full penalty for our sin on Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He became a curse for us and God turned His face away from His Son. Jesus was completely abandoned, crushed and separated, and for the first time in Scripture, Jesus called out but did not address God as His Father.

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’–which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

When Jesus spoke these words from the cross, He was quoting the first line of Psalm 22. In the Hebrew it reads, “Eli, Eli, lamah azabtani,” but from the cross, Jesus spoke in the common language of the day. He spoke in the language most easily understood by all, the language of the home. To understand this in its full meaning, we first need to reach back to Jewish culture: The great rabbis in Jesus’ day used a technique that later came to be called “remez,” meaning “hint” or “clue.” Remez is when a teacher would use part of a Scripture passage, expecting the hearers to know the rest of the story and thus to deduce a greater meaning of what was being said. 

Knowing Scripture in Jesus’ day was a top priority. Many Jewish children, especially the children of religious leaders, were expect to memoize the entire Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers) by the time they were twelve and to be able to explain it by the time they were thirteen. Large portions of Scripture were memorized, not only by the religious leaders, but by the common people as well. So, remez became a kind of teaching short-hand. A religious leader would quote a short section of Scripture knowing that his audience would know to fill in the rest of the passage. 

For instance, if someone were dying, today one could say, “The Lord is your shepherd.” But in its greater context there hearer would understand that the purpose is not just this one line but the meaning and comfort found throughout the entire Psalm. 

This method of teaching is found inside all four Gospels in different ways. For instance, John begins his Gospel by saying, “In the beginning…” These three words are a “clue” to look back, knowing that Jewish readers would know Genesis 1:1, where the Bible tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He builds from this understanding the foundation of the his Gospel that he is going to share the story of God who came to earth and lived among us. This is one form of remez

A different kind of example comes from Matthew 21:15-16:

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children who were crying in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the son of David!” they were indignant, and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Did you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of children and nursing babies, you have perfected praise?’” (Psalm 8:2)

Jesus quoted  to them the first part of Psalm 8:2. But the religious leaders would have understood His greater message, which comes from the rest of the verse which explains why they are giving praise: “Because of Your adversaries, that You might silence the enemy and make the revengeful cease.” The religious leaders would have realized that Jesus was not only answering their question but also implying that they were God’s enemies.

With this understanding, let’s examine deeper the meaning of what Jesus expressed when He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” and the greater message it would have communicated to those nearby. When Jesus made this quote from Scripture, those of the Jewish faith who were listening would have heard and understood that He was referring to the entire Psalm. 

Here are some glimpses of the bigger picture. 

Psalm 22:1 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:7-8 – All those who see me mock me. They insult me with their lips. They shake their heads, saying, “He trusts in the LORD. Let him deliver him. Let him rescue him, since he delights in him.”

Psalm 22:14-15 – I am poured out like water. All my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax. It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have brought me into the dust of death.

Psalm 22:16-18 – For dogs have surrounded me. A company of evildoers have enclosed me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all of my bones. They look and stare at me. They divide my garments among them. They cast lots for my clothing. But don’t be far off, LORD. You are my help. Hurry to help me!

Psalm 22:23-24 – You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify him! Stand in awe of him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, Neither has he hidden his face from him; but when he cried to him, he heard.

Psalm 22:29b-31 – All those who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even he who can’t keep his soul alive. Posterity shall serve him. Future generations shall be told about the Lord. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a people that shall be born, for he has done it.

The One who is forsaken in verse 1 is the One who will rule forever in the last verses. Jesus used these words to remind the people that while it may appear that God had forsaken him, that this isn’t the end of the story. 

As Easter approached, we praise God that His death wasn’t the end of the story. And now we celebrate the two greatest words throughout all history: Jesus Lives!

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