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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Descent Into Hades
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DERELICTION.Matthew 27:46 = Mark 15:34. About three o’clock in the afternoon, when Jesus had hung for six hours on the cross, the bystanders were startled by a loud cry from the meek Sufferer: Eli, Eli, lama ‘ăzabhtâni,* [Note: Psalms 22:1אלִי אלִי לָמָח עוַבחָּנִי. For עֵוִ״ Mt. gives Aram. שׁבַקחָּני (σαβαχυανει), D [α]ζαφυανεί, being a reminiscence of the original. Mk. further aramaicizes אִלָי into אלָהִי. Cf. Dalman, of Jesus, p. 53 f.] ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ It was a sentence from that psalm which, says Tertullian, [Note: Marc. iii. 19.] ‘contains the whole Passion of Christ.’ What was it that wrong from His lips that exceeding bitter cry? The Evangelists have not drawn the veil aside and revealed what was passing in the Redeemer’s soul, and it becomes us to refrain from curious speculation, and recognize that there is here an impenetrable mystery. Yet it is right that we should seek to enter into it so far as we may, if only that we may realize its greatness and be delivered from belittling thoughts.

An explanation has been sought mainly along two lines. (1) Jesus was standing in the room of sinners and enduring vicariously the wrath of God. This opinion is at once unscriptural and irrational. It was indeed possible for God to inflict upon Jesus the punishment which is due to sinners; but it is inconceivable that He should have transferred His wrath from them to Him—as it were saying, ‘I will be angry with Him instead of them.’ Jesus never endured the wrath of God. ‘We do not suggest,’ says Calvin,* [Note: ii. 16. § 11.] ‘that God was ever His adversary or angry with Him. For how should He be angry with His beloved Son in whom His mind rested?’ At every step of His progress through the world He was the beloved Son, and He was never so well pleasing to the Father as in that hour when He hung a willing victim on the cross, ‘obedient even unto death’ (Philippians 2:8). His sacrifice for the sin of the world was not merely His death; it was His entire life of unspotted holiness and vicarious love (cf. Hebrews 9:14). His death was not the whole of His sacrifice, but the consummation of it. He bore the sin of the world from Nazareth to Calvary, and, if God was angry with Him at the last, He must have been angry with Him all along.

(2) Jesus was not really forsaken by God, but His soul was clouded by the anguish of His flesh and spirit, and His faith, hitherto victorious, gave way. ‘We have here,’ says Meyer, ‘the purely human feeling that arises from a natural but momentary quailing before the agonies of death, in every respect similar to that which had been experienced by the author of the psalm.’ It was a ‘subjective feeling,’ and there was no ‘actual objective desertion on the part of God.’ This explanation is very inadequate. At the ninth hour the worst was over, and the end was at hand. It is incredible that He should have faltered then after enduring the sharpest pangs with steadfast fortitude. Whatever His dereliction may have meant, it was no mere subjective feeling, but an objective reality, and it came from God.

According to the Wolfenb. Fragm., the cry of Jesus was a despairing confession that His cause was lost: God had failed Him. But He had foreseen the cross all along. See Crucifixion. According to Renan, it was wrung from His lips by the ingratitude of men: ‘He repented suffering for a worthless race.’ The logion is indubitably authentic; it is one of Schmiedel’s ‘absolutely credible passages’ (Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Gospels,’ § 139).

If Jesus was indeed the eternal Son of God, ‘bearing our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24), it is in no wise strange that His experience at that awful crisis should lie beyond our ken; but some light is shed upon the mystery by the profound truth, so often reiterated in the NT, that it was necessary for Him, in order that He might redeem the children of men, to be identified with them in every particular of their sorrowful condition. That He might ‘redeem us from the curse of the law’ it was necessary that He should be ‘made a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13); ‘it behoved him in every respect to be made like unto his brethren, that he might prove a merciful and faithful High Priest’; and it is because ‘he hath himself suffered, having been tempted,’ that ‘he is able to succour them that are being tempted’ (Hebrews 2:17-18). The uttermost strait in human experience is the passage through the valley of the shadow of death, and nothing but the sense of God’s presence can relieve its horror (cf. Psalms 23:4). Had Jesus enjoyed the consciousness that God was with Him in that dread extremity, He would have been exempted from the most awful experience of the children of men, and His sympathy would have failed us precisely where it is most needed. And therefore the sense of the Father’s presence was withheld from Him in that awful hour.

It was not necessary to this end that the Father should be angry with Him. When the eternal Son of God became man, He was made in every respect like unto His brethren; and what differentiated Him from them was the closeness of His intimacy with God and the singular graces wherewith God endowed Him. He had a unique acquaintance with the Father’s purposes, but He had this because the Father showed Him all things which He did (John 5:20); He had marvellous wisdom, but it was the Father’s gift (John 7:16-17): ‘the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s that sent me’ (John 14:24); He wrought miracles, but of Himself He could do nothing (John 5:30): ‘the Father abiding in me doeth his works’ (John 14:10). ‘God,’ says St. Peter, ‘anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power,’ and ‘he went about doing good, and healing all that were under the tyranny of the devil; became God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). Had the Father at any moment refrained from His ministration and left Him alone, Jesus would have been even as the rest of the children of men. And thus is revealed something of the mystery of the Dereliction. That He might be one with the children of men in their uttermost strait, the communion of God was withheld from His beloved Son, and He passed through the valley of the shadow of death alone, without that presence which had hitherto cheered and supported Him (cf. John 16:32).

Literature.—Bruce, Humiliation of Christ, Lect. vii.; Dale, Atonement, Note G; Wendt, Lehre Jesu [English translation ii. p. 249 f.]; Meyer on Matthew 27:46; Expos. Times, iv. [1893] 511 ff.; Fairbairn, Studies in the Life of Christ, ‘The Crucifixion’; Mrs. Browning, Cowper’s Grave.

David Smith.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dereliction'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/dereliction.html. 1906-1918.
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