The Messianic Psalms: The Savior’s Script 206
Years ago, we were observing the Lord’s Supper when the communion tray was accidentally dropped. Cups filled with grape juice were scattered, with their contents soaking into the carpet. It was a most awkward time for the one who was holding the tray at that moment. Marvin Ball was in the audience at the time, and I shall never forget the words he spoke in response to this accident. They went something like this:
What we have just seen was an accident. The grape juice, representing the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, was spilled. Sometimes I hear people refer to the shedding of our Lord’s blood in the same way. They say His blood was spilled. It was not; it was poured out. A spill is an accident, and the shedding of our Lord’s blood was no accident. It was His purpose to die, so that His shed blood might atone for our sins.
I’ll never forget the impact Marvin’s words made on all of us who witnessed that accident. Our Lord’s death was not an accident. This is Resurrection Sunday, and there will be those who will choose to look upon our Lord’s death as an accident, as though Jesus somehow underestimated the opposition. They think of the crucifixion as the unfortunate result of something that went very wrong with our Lord’s plan to become Israel’s Messiah.
Most Christians know better than this. They understand that those who think of Jesus’ death as an accident are wrong. But in my opinion, their thinking still falls short of the mark. Most Christians seem to think that God the Father caused all the events of our Lord’s life to turn out in such a way that they fulfilled the Scriptures. But in thinking this, they see our Lord as passive in the process of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. I believe Jesus was an active participant in the divine process of bringing the Old Testament prophecies concerning His passion to fulfillment. When I was teaching about the final week of our Lord’s life in the Gospel of John, I referred to this section as, “Jesus, Lord at Thy death.”207 Jesus was not a “victim” in the sense that He was unable to save Himself from death; rather, Jesus purposefully orchestrated the events leading up to His death in a way that fulfilled prophecy.
It is very important for us to see how much our Lord was in control of the events leading to His death. It is especially apparent in the Gospel of John, where our Lord carefully wages His attacks on the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. The first of these “attacks” is our Lord’s initial temple cleansing during the Passover season, as recorded in John 2:13-25. During His earthly ministry, Jesus made several other visits to Jerusalem, each of which led to even greater animosity on the part of the Jewish religious leaders. The religious leaders were already determined to kill Jesus208 when He returned to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus (John 11). After the raising of Lazarus, the peoples’ hopes and expectations that Jesus might be the Messiah were at an all-time high (John 11:45; 12:9-11, 42-43). The Jewish religious leaders were virtually forced to take action against Jesus:
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him (John 11:47-53).209
The Jews were determined to kill Jesus, but they fully intended to do it in their own way and according to their own schedule. Jesus was not bound by their schedule, but by a divine schedule, by a divine script, which had been determined long before Jesus came to this earth. Let me remind you of just a few of the ways Jesus forced the religious leaders to “change their plans” in order to fulfill biblical prophecy.
(1) The Scriptures required that Jesus would die by crucifixion, but the Jewish method of execution was stoning. The Jews charged Jesus with blasphemy on several occasions, including at His trial before the high priest (see Mark 14:64; Luke 5:21; 10:33). The penalty for blasphemy was stoning (Leviticus 24:11-16). The Jews attempted to stone Jesus on several occasions, but they were never successful (see John 8:59; 10:31). The Messiah must be crucified, however:
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:13-14).210
(2) In order to fulfill prophecy, the Messiah must die publicly during Passover, as the Passover Lamb (see, for example, John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The Jewish religious leaders had specifically instructed that Jesus not be killed during the feast, and that He be arrested and put to death secretly:
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there won’t be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5, emphasis mine).
Jesus prevented His enemies from arresting Him before Passover by keeping His whereabouts a secret, from the Jews, and even from Judas. Judas was looking for the right time to hand Jesus over to the religious leaders privately (Matthew 26:14-16), but Jesus did not even let Judas know where He would be observing the Passover:
17 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had instructed them, and they prepared the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19).
While gathered in the Upper Room for Passover, Jesus indicated to His disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them. When Judas asked if he were the one, Jesus indicated to Judas that he was the traitor:
21 And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They became greatly distressed and each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself” (Matthew 26:21-25).211
This virtually forced Judas to flee from our Lord and His disciples in the Upper Room to the Jewish religious leaders. From that point on, how could he look Jesus in the eye? How could he take the risk that the other disciples would understand what Jesus had said and know he was a traitor? What would Peter and the others have done to him if they knew he had agreed to hand Jesus over to His enemies? (It would not be long before Peter would use his sword on one of those who came to arrest Jesus.) If he was going to hand Jesus over to the Jewish religious leaders, it would have to be now and not later. Judas knew very well that Jesus and His disciples would likely spend the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He had done before. Jesus had set the stage for His own arrest, at the place and time of His choosing, so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
(3) I do not believe that the Jews wanted to involve the Romans in their plot to kill Jesus, but our Lord forced them to change their plans and to set aside their preferences and prejudices. There were some very strange alliances made by the enemies of our Lord. The scribes and Pharisees did not like the Sadducees, but they found it necessary to cooperate with them. Neither did the Jews wish to cooperate with the Romans in putting Jesus to death. They had hoped for a Messiah that would come and overthrow Rome. But it was necessary that all segments of Judaism take part in the rejection of Messiah, including the Gentiles as well. Because this was the Passover, extra Roman soldiers were present (along with Pilate and Herod) to prevent an uprising. Thus, the Jewish religious leaders could not avoid involving the Romans. In their previous efforts to arrest Jesus, the religious leaders had embarrassed themselves (see John 7:45-53). They did not intend to fail this time. They would use Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus, and they would seek Rome’s permission to put Jesus to death.
(4) Even in His death, the Lord Jesus was in complete control. We will look at this more closely in a moment, but let me remind you that that the Romans normally broke the legs of those they crucified. This was to hasten the death of the one being crucified. While the legs of the two thieves beside our Lord were broken, the legs of Jesus were not broken, because He was already dead:
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe. 36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” 37 And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:32-37, emphasis mine).
I have pointed these things out to you to underscore the fact that Jesus was no mere victim, who found Himself overcome by His circumstances. Jesus was in complete control of every aspect of His life and of His death. He was truly, “Lord at His death.” Even the hardened centurion, who stood guard beside our Lord’s cross, had to confess that the death of Jesus was unique:
Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27:54)
This lesson is a part of a series that traces “the unfolding drama of redemption” from creation to the consummation of all things at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our last lesson, we took a very general look at the Book of Psalms. In the providence of God, this is Resurrection Sunday. It therefore seemed appropriate to devote our second and final lesson in the Book of Psalms to the messianic psalms – those psalms which speak of the coming of Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this lesson, I want to begin by demonstrating how much our Lord was conscious of prophecy and of His duty to fulfill it. I am attempting to show that the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament (and, in this lesson, the messianic psalms in particular) are viewed as our Lord’s script, of which He was deeply aware, and which He fulfilled in detail. We shall then look at some of the characteristics of the messianic psalms. Then, we will look at Matthew’s account of our Lord’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion to show how our Lord meticulously fulfilled the messianic psalms concerning His death. We will also look at the sermon in Acts 2 to see how Peter interpreted our Lord’s death and resurrection as the fulfillment of two messianic psalms. In all of this, it is my intention to underscore the fact that our Lord’s death was no accident, but it was rather the result of His obedience to God’s plans, purposes, and Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah’s saving act on the cross of Calvary and His victorious resurrection from the dead.
Throughout our Lord’s earthly life and ministry, He made it clear that He was intent upon doing the Father’s will. We see this from the time that our Lord was 12 years old discussing the Scriptures in the temple:
46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” 49 But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 Yet his parents did not understand the remark he made to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. But his mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2:46-51).
Does anyone doubt that a portion of the things our Lord discussed with the teachers pertained to the coming Messiah?
In His temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12), Jesus refused to act independently of the Father. Especially in the Gospel of John, we find our Lord expressing His commitment to do His Father’s will. He refused to speak and to act independently of the Father; He did and spoke only what the Father gave Him to speak and to do:
So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:30).
Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me” (John 8:28).
49 “For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds” (John 14:10).
I believe that the Scriptures are very clear fact that Jesus was conscious of the prophecies concerning His death and that He very carefully saw to it that they were fulfilled:
3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) (John 18:3-5)
27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!” 29 A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth (John 19:27-29).
I must therefore conclude that, while everyone else failed to grasp the fact that most of the messianic prophecies were, in fact, prophecy, Jesus knew them as such and was careful to fulfill them. The messianic prophecies of the Old Testament served as the script, which Jesus performed in obedience to the will of His Father.
Our focus in this lesson is with the messianic psalms. There are far too many messianic prophecies in the psalms for us to consider in this one lesson, so I will limit myself to only those messianic psalms referred to in Matthew’s crucifixion account (Matthew 26:20—27:66) and in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (specifically Acts 2:22-36). But first, let us look at some of the characteristics of the messianic psalms.
(1) Most of the messianic psalms are written by David.212 David’s experiences as Israel’s king, and as one who suffered and was often opposed as king, made him a kind of “kindred spirit” with the coming Messiah. Since the Messiah would be the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, it was appropriate that David would be the one to prophesy concerning His coming.
(2) Generally speaking, the messianic psalms were not recognized as prophecy at the time they were written, nor until after the resurrection of our Lord. The messianic psalms were not understood as prophecy by their authors, nor by the Old Testament Israelites who read them. In large part, this was because the Jews were not inclined to look for a suffering Savior:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory (1 Peter 1:10-11).
20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. 21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you” (Matthew 16:20-22).
The messianic psalms, like much Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah, were not understood as prophecy until after the resurrection of our Lord. Looking back, we know they are messianic psalms because the New Testament writers tell us so.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44-48).
(3) Most of the messianic psalms speak both of David’s experiences and of the Messiah’s experiences at the same time. Psalms 22 and 69 are good examples of this. Neither psalm actually identifies David’s experience, which prompted the psalm. In Psalm 22, David is obviously in deep distress as he cries out to God. He is, at the moment, suffering greatly, but God does not appear to be answering his prayers. It would seem that God has forsaken him (22:1). In spite of this, David knows that God has always come to the aid of His people in their time of distress in answer to their cries. His description of his own physical and mental state, as well as that of his enemies, is exaggerated by the poetic descriptions he employs. Nevertheless, it falls well within the acceptable range of poetic language.
What neither David nor his ancient readers seem to have known is that this psalm goes far beyond the psalmist and his times to speak of the Messiah who will come to the earth centuries later. The descriptions, which were poetic exaggeration when speaking of David, are pure (and often literal) prophecy when applied to our Lord’s suffering on the cross of Calvary.
What takes place in these messianic psalms is something like the description of Satan in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.
3 When the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and anxiety, and from the hard labor which you were made to perform, 4 you will taunt the king of Babylon with these words:
“Look how the oppressor has met his end!
Hostility has ceased!
5 The Lord has broken the club of the wicked,
the scepter of rulers.
6 It furiously struck down nations
with unceasing blows.
It angrily ruled over nations,
oppressing them without restraint.
7 The whole earth rests and is quiet;
they break into song.
8 The evergreens also rejoice over your demise,
as do the cedars of Lebanon, singing,
‘Since you fell asleep,
no woodsman comes up to chop us down!’
9 Sheol below is stirred up about you,
ready to meet you when you arrive.
It rouses the spirits of the dead for you,
all the former leaders of the earth;
it makes all the former kings of the nations
rise from their thrones.
10 All of them respond to you, saying:
‘You’ve also become weak like us!
You’ve become just like us!
11 Your splendor has been brought down to Sheol,
as well as the sound of your stringed instruments.
You lie on a bed of maggots,
with a blanket of worms over you.
12 Look how you have fallen from the sky,
O shining one, son of the dawn!
You’ve been cut down to the ground,
O conqueror of the nations!
13 You said to yourself,
“I will climb up to the sky.
Above the stars of El
I will set up my throne.
I will rule on the mountain of assembly
on the remote slopes of Zaphon.
14 I will climb up to the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High!”
15 But you were brought down to Sheol,
to the remote slopes of the pit.
16 Those who see you stare at you,
they look at you carefully, thinking:
“Is this the man who shook the earth,
the one who made kingdoms tremble?
17 Is this the one who made the world like a desert,
who ruined its cities,
and refused to free his prisoners so they could return home?”’
18 As for all the kings of the nations,
all of them lie down in splendor,
each in his own tomb.
19 But you have been thrown out of your grave
like a shoot that is thrown away.
You lie among the slain,
among those who have been slashed by the sword,
among those headed for the stones of the pit,
as if you were a mangled corpse.
20 You will not be buried with them,
because you destroyed your land
and killed your people.
The offspring of the wicked
will never be mentioned again.
21 Prepare to execute his sons
for what their ancestors have done.
They must not rise up and take possession of the earth,
or fill the surface of the world with cities” (Isaiah 14:3-21, emphasis mine).
12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
the ruby, topaz, and diamond,
the beryl, onyx, and jasper,
the sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;
and your settings and engravings were made of gold.
On the day you were created they were prepared.
14 I placed you as an anointed cherub which guards;
you were on the holy mountain of God;
you walked among the stones of fire.
15 You were blameless in your conduct from the day you were created,
until iniquity was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence,
and you sinned;
so I threw you down like a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor.
I threw you down to the ground;
I placed you before kings, that they might see you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade,
you profaned your sanctuaries.
So I brought fire from within you; it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you;
you have become terrified and will be no more forever’” (Ezekiel 28:12-19, emphasis mine).
In both of these texts, God is speaking against human, earthly kings, the “king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4) and the “king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:12). Soon, the description of these kings shifts to a description of Satan. These men had taken on Satan-like qualities. Behind these cruel and arrogant kings is Satan, whose cruelty and arrogance has corrupted the human race. The focus shifts within each of these texts so that at one moment the human king is in view, and the next moment Satan is in focus.
I believe that this is similar to what happens in the messianic psalms. The psalmist describes his suffering in bold and dramatic poetic language, and then suddenly the words seem to go beyond anything an earthly king can experience. In these moments, the psalm is messianic, and yet in a way that was not immediately apparent to the reader. This was especially true, since no Old Testament reader was inclined to think of a Messiah who was a Suffering Savior.
(4) The messianic psalms were understood as such by Jesus, and they became His script. As we shall see, Jesus understood the messianic psalms as such, and He responded accordingly. He grasped what others failed to see. These psalms governed and guided the words and actions of our Lord. Let us look to Matthew’s account of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of our Lord to see how the messianic psalms played a role in our Lord’s final hours.
When we come to the account of our Lord’s last hours in Matthew’s Gospel, we find that our Lord is very conscious of the fact that the Scriptures are being fulfilled in the events of His death. Three times attention is drawn to the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Matthew 26:
“The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24, emphasis mine).
“How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” (Matthew 26:54)
“But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled (Matthew 26:56, emphasis mine).
Our Lord was more than aware that the time of His death had come; after all, this was what He had been actively bringing about for the three years of His public ministry. When Jesus was at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume. This was the “last straw” for Judas, who soon thereafter made his bargain with the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 26:14-16). But what interests me here is our Lord’s response to the disciples’ protests because of the extravagance of this act:
10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:10-12, emphasis mine).
It should come as no surprise to us, but let me underscore this fact anyway: Jesus knew that the time of His death had come. This fact is further emphasized by our Lord’s words to His disciples as they were eating the “last supper”:
27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29, emphasis mine).
Jesus had just told His disciples that one of them was going to betray Him, and when Judas pressed Jesus to be more specific, Jesus let him know that he was the traitor (26:20-25). He went on to inform them that they would all forsake Him, fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 13:7. He further spoke of His resurrection (26:32) and of Peter’s denial (26:34).
After Jesus had been arrested, they brought Him before the high priest, who asked Jesus under oath to declare whether or not He was the Christ, the Son of God. When Jesus answered this question, He employed the words of a messianic psalm:
63 But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63-64, emphasis mine).
Our Lord’s response, under oath, combines the words of Psalm 110:1 with those of Daniel 7:13.
Consider for a moment the words of this messianic psalm:
1 Here is the Lord’s oracle to my master:
“Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!”
2 The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle.
On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you.
4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:
“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.”
5 O sovereign Lord, at your right hand
he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes his anger.
6 He executes judgment against the nations;
he fills the valleys with corpses;
he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield.
7 From the stream along the road he drinks;
then he lifts up his head (Psalm 110:1-7).
Jesus is not only telling the high priest that He is the Messiah, but that He will judge His enemies when He returns to the earth to possess His throne. Here was a psalm that the Jews might well have believed to be messianic, but they never expected it to be used as Jesus did.
Matthew’s account of our Lord’s death is filled with references to prophecy. Judas’ remorse and suicide is shown to be a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Matthew 27:3-5; Zechariah 11:12-13). While not indicated as the fulfillment of prophecy, our Lord’s silence before Pilate certainly fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7.
When they crucified Jesus, they inadvertently fulfilled yet another messianic psalm:
33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”) 34 and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink. But after tasting it, he would not drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat down and kept guard over him there (Matthew 27:33-36, emphasis mine).
Compare Matthew’s account with these messianic psalms:
They put a poisonous herb into my food,
and to quench my thirst they give me vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21).
They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;
they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:18).
As the crowds mocked our Lord on the cross, they fulfilled another prophecy:
39 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law and elders—were mocking him: 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the king of Israel! If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him! 43 He trusts in God—let God, if he wants to, deliver him now, because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!” (Matthew 27:39-43)
7 All who see me taunt me;
they mock me and shake their heads.
8 They say,
“Commit yourself to the Lord!
Let the Lord rescue him!
Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him” (Psalm 22:7-8).
Perhaps the most striking fulfillment of a messianic psalm is found in the cry our Lord uttered from the cross:
At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, emphasis mine).
How strange it is to realize that no one even recognized what Jesus was saying. They did not grasp the fact that Jesus had just cited the Hebrew text of the first line of Psalm 22:1. In so doing, Jesus was identifying Himself with the psalmist and, more importantly, with the Messiah of whom this messianic psalm spoke. He was thereby indicating that He was the fulfillment of this psalm, that He was the promised Messiah.
The messianic psalms, pertaining to the suffering of our Lord, have much to teach us. If the psalmist’s suffering was a prototype of the Messiah’s suffering, that gave meaning and purpose to the psalmist’s suffering. For saints today, just the opposite is true. It is our Lord’s suffering and agony that is a prototype of the suffering we are called and privileged to endure for Christ’s sake:
18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may leave sin behind and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25, emphasis mine).
The apostles picked up on this, as revealed by their attitudes toward suffering as saints, and by their teaching on this subject:
8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death (Philippians 3:8-10).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you and I fill up—for the sake of his body, the church—what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The good news is that the messianic psalms do not leave us with a dead Messiah, but with a Messiah who triumphs over death and the grave. It was only after the resurrection of our Lord that the disciples grasped the significance of the messianic psalms:
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44-48, emphasis mine).
But once this truth was grasped, the messianic psalms are used as a vital part of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this in Peter’s first sermon after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, as recorded in Acts 2:22-36:
22 “Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says about him,
‘I saw the Lord always in front of me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced;
my body also will live in hope,
27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades,
nor permit your Holy One to experience decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of joy with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22-36, emphasis by underscoring mine).
Peter now understands and proclaims that the messianic psalms not only foretold the suffering and death of our Lord, but that they also required His resurrection from the dead. God had promised David an “everlasting kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:13). This can only take place if Israel’s king is free from the bondage of death. No merely human king could ever have an eternal kingdom. Thus, Peter proclaimed to his audience that it was necessary for Messiah to be raised from the dead, never to die again. Since David’s tomb was nearby, and so also the tombs of Israel’s other kings, it must be fulfilled by someone other than David. It must be fulfilled by Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only did men reject Jesus, as the Scriptures foretold, but God raised Him from the dead, as the messianic psalms foretold. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost began with a reference to the prophecy of Joel, which explained the significance of the tongues speaking the crowds heard. But from this point on, Peter’s proof texts are found in the psalms. He turns first to Psalm 16:8-11 to show that the resurrection of Israel’s Messiah was prophesied by David. It was not impossible for a man to be raised from the dead – Jesus had demonstrated this by the raising of Lazarus. It was impossible for Jesus not to be raised from the dead. He was the Son of God, and God would not abandon His Son; He would not allow His flesh to undergo decay in a grave. He made known to Him the way of life.
The point of Peter’s sermon has not yet been declared; the bottom line is yet to come. And come it will, using the words of another messianic psalm, Psalm 110, verse 1, the same psalm to which our Lord earlier alluded when He stood before the high priest:
32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36, emphasis mine).
Let me paraphrase Peter’s message for you:
“I’ve got some good news for you, and I’ve got some bad news. The good news is that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The bad news is that He has been raised from the dead so that He can return to this earth and deal with His enemies. Now just who might those enemies be? Well, it was you who cried out for His death. It was you who said, ‘Let His blood be upon us, and upon our children.’ It is you whom He is soon to deal with as His enemies. The solution is for you to repent of your sin, and to acknowledge Jesus Christ to be God’s Messiah, and your Savior. Admit that He did not deserve to die, but that you do. Trust in His death, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins. In this way, you will receive the promised blessings of God through His Messiah.”
There will be many sermons preached today about the resurrection. Some will be so bold as to proclaim that Jesus was literally and bodily raised from the dead. Many will promise that because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can have the assurance of eternal life. For some, of course, this is true, but Peter’s sermon at Pentecost should underscore the fact that, for others, it holds only the assurance of future judgment. I will come back to this in just a moment.
The implications of the resurrection of Christ are staggering; its importance for the Christian can hardly be overestimated. Let me summarize a few of the consequences of the resurrection of our Lord.
First of all, we should understand that Jesus staked everything He said on His ability to rise from the dead:
38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:38-40).
Even if His disciples had forgotten this, our Lord’s enemies had not. They knew that the absence of our Lord’s body from the tomb would give credit to His claims to be the Messiah:
62 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “Take a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone (Matthew 27:62-66).
Second, the resurrection is God’s seal of approval on our Lord’s ministry, including His atoning death at Calvary.
[Christ Jesus] who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).
Third, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the completion of His saving work (Romans 6). By faith in Christ, we die to the penalty for our sins. In Christ, we are raised to newness of life.
Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means and the assurance of living a life that is pleasing to God. When Paul agonized over the fact that sin was more powerful than his flesh, he cried,
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
The solution to his struggle with sin (and ours) is found in Romans 8:
“Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
Sixth, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means that our believing friends and loved ones who have already died are waiting for us, on the other side. During the past several years, death has taken some of our congregation from us. The truth of our Lord’s resurrection is also our assurance that we will be reunited with our believing loved ones again:
13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord always. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Let me add just a few summary thoughts for you to consider:
The magnitude of Messiah’s suffering is the measure of the magnitude of our sins.
The magnitude of Messiah’s suffering is the measure of Christ’s obedience to the will of the Father.
The magnitude of Messiah’s suffering is the measure of God’s grace and love toward us in the cross of Christ.
These truths are a part of the blessed hope of the Christian, but I dare not allow you to leave this lesson without warning you that the “blessed hope” of eternal life in God’s presence is not the destiny of all. Peter’s sermon puts the matter as plainly and as strongly as possible. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary does not automatically save every human being.
I must be faithful to the Word of God and tell you that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most frightening truth of all for the person who has never come to a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ. The resurrection message that Peter preached at Pentecost was the most terrifying word his audience could have heard. Jesus had been raised from the dead, something that the Scriptures required. Jesus, now raised from the dead, is waiting on His Father’s instruction to return to the earth to punish His foes. Who else would His foes be except those who called for His death on the cross of Calvary?
Don’t feel at ease because you did not live in Jesus’ day and because you were not there to cry, “Crucify Him!” “Crucify Him!” You and I were as good as there, and we are as guilty for His death as they were. His death, burial, and resurrection can mean the forgiveness of your sins, and the assurance of eternal life. It can also mean that Jesus Christ has become the victor over sin and death, and that He will soon come to defeat and to destroy His foes. Now is God’s graciously provided window of opportunity for you to acknowledge your sin (particularly your sin of rejecting Jesus as the Son of God) and to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
Whether you believe it or not, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a biblical necessity – the messianic psalms required it. Whether you believe it or not, Jesus was raised from the dead, and there were literally hundreds who witnessed this (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11).
3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).
Whether you believe it or not, Jesus is coming again, either as your blessed Savior and Lord, or as your Judge. The truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not incidental to the gospel; it is at the heart of the gospel. To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ was the sinless Son of God, who died in the sinner’s place at Calvary, and who arose from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ your blessed hope, or is it your greatest dread? You can settle this question once and for all, as you confess your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for the gift of eternal life.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).
206 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on April 15, 2001.
208 The disciples feared that they would die when they returned to Jerusalem – see John 11:16.
209 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
210 It should be noted that the events described in Psalms 22 and 69 would not have been fulfilled by a stoning, but only by crucifixion.
211 The parallel account in Luke 22:7-13 makes it clear that Jesus sent Peter and John to make these preparations for their Passover celebration.
212 I am looking at Psalms 2, 16, 22, 40, 41, 68, 69, 109, 110, and 118 as messianic psalms. Psalms 2 and 118 are not designated as Davidic psalms in the superscription or introduction. In Acts 4:25, Peter indicates that Psalm 2 is written by David. This leaves only Psalm 118 as a messianic psalm not designated as having been penned by David.