I’m intrigued with a subtle but significant difference in a five-word phrase we find in Mat. 27:43 in contrast with its OT parallel, Psalm 22:8. It’s the difference between the words “since” and “if.” And I believe that this terrified Jesus on the cross.
In Psalm 22, the “Psalm of the Cross,” we find the words, “He trusted in God, let God deliver Him, since He delights in him” (verse 8). This is the Psalm Jesus Himself quoted while hanging on the cross. But note how the religious demoniacs who crucified Him twisted Christ’s words of confidence by throwing them back into His face with taunting doubt: “He trusted in God, let God deliver Him, if He delights in him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Mat. 27:43). “If” instead of “since” is the difference between fatal doubt and persevering faith.
“If He delights in him”—what five words could have been more vexing to both Father and Son at that particular moment? Ponder the trauma of that demonic taunting.
For the Father, how much those words must have tempted Him to zip down from heaven and zap the tormentors of His beloved Son, rescuing the One of His eternal delight from that (literally) hellish experience.
For the Son, how much those words must have intensified His fear on the cross of eternal separation from the Father (having “become sin for us,” [2 Cor. 5:19], “a worm and not a man” [Ps. 22:6], cursed while hanging on the tree [Gal. 3:13]). At that crucial moment, picture Jesus hanging there with that terrifying taunt flung in His face in stereo—wicked clerics from below, thieves on either side (Mat. 27:44).
Just ponder how the word “if He delights in Him” (verse 43) perverts the confidence built into the Psalm of the Cross. That this doubt may have afflicted Christ’s soul is suggested three verses later when Jesus cries out in despair, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (verse 46)—reciting the same Psalm from which the devil was deriving those five fearful words.
In a real sense, we know that Jesus on the cross was indeed forsaken by the Father, so God could accept us sinners. But Christ’s cry may have reflected even more than that fundamental fact of salvation. It may have conveyed fear that the Father had rejected Him to the point that He (the Father) no longer even desired Him (“if He would have Him”). Had Jesus so fully identified Himself with fallen humanity that He had become too cursed to redeem from the tomb at the appointed time Sunday morning?
As Ellen White says in Desire of Ages (p. 753): “Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb…. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.”
So it was that five demonic words comprised a spear that pierced the heart of God at Calvary: “If He would desire Him.” Satan’s twisting of Psalm 22, I believe, intensified the suffering and thus the sacrifice of both Father and Son while Jesus hung on the cross.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!