Shortly before his ascension, Christ reminded the disciples concerning some of the things he had taught them. He brought to their attention the truth that “all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me” (Lk. 24:44).
From Genesis to Malachi, one can see the progressive message of the coming Savior, the Anointed, the Seed of David, the suffering Servant, the Prince of peace. As the remarks of the Lord reveal, the book of Psalms also previewed his coming and his work.
What are the criteria for classifying a psalm as Messianic? First, Jesus said the Psalms spoke of him (Lk. 24:44). Second, specific psalms are designated as Messianic by inspired New Testament writers.
The Nature of Christ
The nature of Christ is one area the Messianic psalms preview. The name for deity, God, is applied to Christ by none less than the Father himself. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Psa. 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8-9).
Jesus is also called the Son of God. “Thou art my son. This day have I begotten thee” (Psa. 2:7; Heb. 1:5). As one who possesses the nature of God, Jesus is worthy of worship. “And let all the angels worship him” (Psa. 97:7; Heb. 1:6).
Likewise, the prophetic Scriptures recognize his humanity. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels? But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus?” (Heb. 1:6-7,9; cf. Psa. 8:4-6).
In addition to the nature of Christ, the Psalms also anticipated his work. “I come to do thy will, O God” (Psa. 40:7-8; Heb. 10:7). The roles of both king and priest would be an integral part in his work. “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever. A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of your kingdom” (Psa. 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8-9).
David wrote, “Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Jehovah will send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies” (Psa. 110:1-2; Mt. 22:43-44; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13; 10:12-13).
Christ’s atoning work as priest is observed in the following prophetic declaration: “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa. 110:4; Heb. 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:17,21).
The Rejection of Christ
As the Gospel records indicate, Jesus Christ was rejected by the Jews. This was no surprise to the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. The fact of his rejection was noted in Messianic psalms centuries before (as well as other passages like Isaiah 53). In opposition to the popular theory of dispensational premillennialism, which views the Jews’ rejection as an unexpected ordeal, the Scriptures had declared: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner” (Psa. 118:22-23; Mt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10-11; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:7).
In connection with this foreknown rejection, the Psalms displayed an awareness of the Lord’s betrayal. Christ quoted from Psalm 41:9, saying: “I speak not of all of you: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, he that eateth my bread lifted up his heel against me” (Jn. 13:18).
Interestingly, in this quotation Christ omits the phrase, “in whom I trusted” (vs. 9). The situation of the Psalmist typified the Lord’s own circumstances; however, while the picture of a friend’s betrayal was generally appropriate, the one element which the Lord excludes was not characteristic of his relationship with Judas. He knew in advance that Judas would betray him; it could not be said that the Lord “trusted” him (Jn. 6:64).
Psalm 41:9 illustrates how the experiences faced by the psalmists were often types of the kinds of ordeals that Christ would experience. A type involves similarities, not an exact duplication.
Psalm 69 contains a great deal of Messianic material, but the entire Psalm is not Messianic. In view of the flawless character of Jesus, verse five was obviously applicable only to the inspired composer, for he said: “O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.” The correct interpretation of Messianic psalms is known by the light of the New Testament and its usage of them.
Jesus’ Suffering and Death
No passage in all of the Bible predicts the suffering and death of Christ in the way Psalm 22 does. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psa. 22:1; Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). The antagonism and malice of the crowd is observed. “Commit yourself unto Jehovah, let him deliver you” (Psa. 22:8; Mt. 27:43). Details relating to his death were previewed. “They pierced my hands and my feet” (Psa. 22:16; Jn. 20:25). “They part my garments among them” (Psa. 22:18; Mt. 27:35; Lk. 23:34; Jn. 19:24).
One of the most remarkable features of the Messianic psalms is found in the prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection.
“I have set Jehovah always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall dwell in safety. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption” (Psa. 16:8-10).
This Psalm does not portray some experience of the writer which finds its fulfillment in the life of Christ. To the contrary, it is a prediction by the prophet David which has nothing to do with his own death.
The New Testament commentary of the inspired Peter is this:
“Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne, he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:29-31).
Anthony Ash comments on Psalm 16:10 in the following way:
“In Acts 2, Peter, quoting from the LXX, applies this verse to Jesus’ resurrection. Pit has the same consonants as the word for ‘corruption’ (the LXX translation), which lends itself to Peter’s argument (see also Acts 13:35). However Peter may have been guided by God in applying this text, the psalmist is not teaching resurrection here” (75; emphasis added).
The problem is: Peter’s language does not lend itself to Ash’s argument. Ash implies that even though the psalmist was not teaching the resurrection, God could have guided Peter to say that the psalmist was speaking of the resurrection.
Peter, by the Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13), affirmed that David was a prophet, and that he foresaw, and spake of the resurrection of the Christ (Acts 2:30-31). It is incredible that one should claim: “The psalmist is not teaching resurrection here.” Peter does not suggest that the language of Psalm 16:10 is simply a fitting way to speak of Christ’s resurrection. He argues, in the clearest terms possible, that David was prophesying about the resurrection of Jesus when he wrote Psalm 16:10. Paul makes the same point in Acts 13:35-37.
Ash’s statements contradict the inspired commentary of the New Testament. His thoughts must be rejected. Interestingly, the gentleman says elsewhere: “If the New Testament use of the Old Testament does not suit our conditions of understanding, it is we who must change” (29). We might say to him this parable, “Physician, heal thyself.”
The book of Psalms provides a thrilling study of Christ. His nature, work, rejection, betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection are all previewed there.
“Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way. For his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him” (Psa. 2:10-12).