Knowing that He would be deserted by the disciples during His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus found comfort in the fact that He would not be entirely alone. The Father, Jesus said, would be with Him (John 16:29–32). Yet that raises a question about Jesus’ cry of desertion on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). How could Jesus cry out to the Father with that question if the Father did not leave Him alone?
To answer this question, we must briefly consider what it meant for Jesus to be abandoned on the cross. Our doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement tells us that Jesus endured the wrath of God at Calvary, that He was given over to the judgment sinners deserve. Certainly, according to His humanity, Jesus did experience such abandonment, for the Father did not prevent Him from dying. When our sins were imputed to Him—placed on Him—in order that we would be declared righteous in Him (2 Cor. 5:21), He lost the sense of God’s favor that He enjoyed during His ministry. But we must not think of this as the Father’s being opposed to Jesus as the Son of God. The Father and the Son are fully united in the work of redemption, and the Son is divine, so He endured suffering and the wrath of God not according to His deity but according to His humanity. The Father was with Jesus in His deity even as in His humanity Jesus was abandoned by the Father. Moreover, even in crying out in His forsakenness according to Psalm 22, Jesus was cognizant that the Father would ultimately be with Him, for Psalm 22 also predicts the suffering Messiah’s vindication, which Jesus enjoyed in the resurrection.
Jesus’ confidence that the Father would be with Him, we see in today’s passage, led Him to encourage the disciples that their upcoming failure to stand with Him would not be the end. Jesus was about to overcome the world, so He called the disciples to “take heart”—be confident and encouraged—in the midst of tribulation (John 16:33). When they would fail, they would be able to repent and return to God and be pardoned, for Christ would have overcome the world. When the world would assault them mercilessly, they would be able to escape total despair, for Christ’s overcoming the world would mean that nothing would finally be able to destroy them. The same is true for us today. When we face tribulations because of our own sin or the hostility of others, we are sustained by knowing that Christ has overcome the fallen world, including our own fallen selves.