My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”
Does Jesus, dying on the cross, truly believe that God the Father has abandoned him when he cries out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” which means: “My God, my God why have you forsaken/abandoned me?” (Matt 27:46)
Just prior to these words we read in verse 42 how the chiefs, scribes and elders mocked Jesus and taunted him saying: “He saved others; he cannot save himself… Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him”
Jesus answers: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
You see, Jesus isn’t lamenting his condition. Jesus IS God, he can’t abandon himself. Jesus was in fact answering their taunts by pointing to Psalm 22. In those days, the Psalms weren't numbered. To point to a particular Psalm for others to know which one you were talking about, the Jews would cite the first line of it. And that's why Jesus said what he did and also why the Jews understood what Jesus meant when he said those words.
This Psalm speaks of a suffering servant where his attackers are “casting lots” for his garments (Ps 22:35 ), and “those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads” (Ps 22:8) as well as referencing the mode of death as being crucified: “They have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones” (v.16-17) but most importantly and most clearly Psalm 22 speaks of those who mocked the Psalmist writer and curled their lips that he “relied on the Lord – let him deliver you; if he loves you, let him rescue you.” The exact same statement by the scribes and elders toward Jesus.
The overall message in the Psalm can be seen as the psalmist presenting distress being contrasted with God's past mercy in Psalm 22:2-12. In Psalm 22:13-22 enemies surround the psalmist. The last third is an invitation to praise God (Psalm 22:23-27), becoming a universal chorus of praise (Psalm 22:28-31). While at the same time pointing to those who were taunting him at the foot of the cross that he, Jesus Himself, is the one being referenced in that Psalm.
That is Jesus’ message. Everything is occurring as it should and even though it seems as though his suffering and his impending death is fast approaching, God’s Will shall overcome and all will praise Him.
The chiefs and scribes finally understood this in the end because we see them leaving, beating their chests once Jesus died (Luke 23:48) because now they know that the blood of a truly righteous man is on them (Mat 27:25).