Apostle Barbara Childress
A promise from the Psalms
It may seem strange to call Psalm 22 a promise, or a prophecy, a cross of Christ. We think of Psalms as hymns of praise, but this psalm is obviously more, much more. Here David lifts up his eyes, looks down the long corridor of time and sees in striking detail the crucifixion of the Messiah.
We have to call this a psalm of prophecy - in the same way that the apostle Peter referred to Psalm 132 as a prophecy (Acts 2:30-31) - because, on the one hand, we can find no experience in David's life that would fit the language he uses in these verses while on the other, we find that the cross of Christ corresponds to detail after detail of the psalm.
Some have suggested that this prediction of the cross is so exact that it makes us think it had to be written by one who had stood at the foot of the cross. But this is not a psalm by an observer reporting an event. It was almost a thousand years before the event took place, and it is in the first person. Here we have someone telling about his own experience. We have to say, therefore, that this psalm is the result of the Spirit of God taking over the pen of David in a strange and marvelous way so that he, David, was able to write the very words of the Messiah himself.
The psalm falls into two easily discernible sections. The first is the Messiah's description of the crucifixion (verses 1-21a). The second is his description of the results of the crucifixion (verses 21b-31). We might say the psalm is divided between the Messiah's experience on the cross and his exultation in the results of the cross.
The experience of the Messiah on the cross
The description in these verses leaves us in no doubt that the crucifixion of Christ is in view here.
The words Jesus spoke from the cross
First, some of the words Jesus spoke from the cross are either stated or suggested here. The abrupt opening of the psalm takes us to the very words Jesus spoke when darkness shrouded the land: 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' (Matthew 27:46).
The reference to the speaker's tongue clinging to his jaws (verse 15) makes us think of Jesus' cry, 'I thirst!' (John 19:28).
The very last words of the psalm, which are probably best translated, 'He has done it!' foreshadow Jesus' triumphant cry: 'It is finished!' (John 19:30).
The reason Jesus was on the cross
After the opening cry of this psalm, the psalmist takes us to the reason for it. We find it in the phrase: 'But you are holy...' (verse 3).
Jesus cried out, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' for a very simple and obvious reason. He was forsaken by God while he was there on the cross. And why was he forsaken by God? Because he was taking the place of sinners. He was 'made' sin for the love-gift that the Father gave him before the foundation of the world (II Corinthians 5:21). He was bearing their penalty.
The ultimate penalty for sin is to be forsaken by God forever. It is to be separated from God in that place of eternal destruction called hell (II Thessalonians 1:9). In order for Jesus to bear that penalty he had to be forsaken by God.
We have never begun, even in our moments of keenest insight, to understand the depths of Calvary. There the Lord Jesus Christ bore in his own person an eternity of the wrath of God. He, being infinite, suffered in a finite amount of time what we, who are finite, would suffer in an infinite amount of time. Eternity was compressed upon him.
Why did he do it? The holiness of God demanded it. The prophet Habakkuk was right. God is of 'purer eyes than to behold evil' (Habakkuk 1:13). In that awesome period in which Jesus actually became the sin-bearer, the holy God withdrew from him. God forsaking God - that is the essence and the unfathomable depth of the cross. And it is all clearly foretold in this psalm.
During that time when Christ was forsaken by God, a deep darkness fell over the land (Matthew 27:45). One is tempted to see in the psalmist's phrase 'in the night season' (verse 2) a prophecy of that deep darkness.
The sufferings Jesus endured on the cross
The mockery and ridicule Jesus received are foretold here. The psalmist says:
How exactly this corresponds to what we find in Matthew 27:41-43: 'Likewise the chief priests, also mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he is the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he will have him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
In addition to the mockery, this psalm, as noted above, predicts the thirst of Christ. In his description of the crucifixion, the apostle John notes that this thirst was a fulfilment of prophecy (John 19:28).
We even find the word 'pierced' in this psalm (verse 16), a word that is associated with crucifixion. (The Geneva Study Bible points out that the traditional Hebrew rendering, 'like a lion', which is given as an alternative reading in some versions, probably reflects a copyist's error. The Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the word 'pierced'). The significant point is that David wrote this psalm long before crucifixion was even adopted as a means of execution.
This psalm also prophesies the dividing of Jesus' garments (verse 18) - a prophecy that Matthew notes was minutely fulfilled (Matthew 27:35).
Those who crucified Jesus
Who was it that crucified Jesus? The Roman soldiers? Yes. The Sanhedrin? Yes. But pre-eminently it was God who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ.
Psalm 22 contains hints of the involvement of the Romans (the word 'dogs' in verse 16 was the Jewish way of referring to Gentiles) and the Jews ('the congregation' or 'assembly' of the wicked in verse 16 may very well refer to the Sanhedrin). But the hand of God is not merely hinted at in this psalm; it is explicitly stated in these words, which are addressed to God: 'You have brought me to the dust of death' (verse 15). The precision of this statement is borne out by other Scriptures. The apostle Paul says God 'set forth' his Son as a 'propitiation' for our sins (Romans 3:25). It was God who refused to spare his Son, but rather 'delivered him up for us all' (Romans 8:32). It was God who was 'pleased' to 'bruise' the Lord Jesus and 'put him to grief' (Isaiah 53:10). Yes, it was God who sent his Son to the cross.
All these things amount to a mere scratching of the surface, but they should convince us that this psalm is indeed saturated with the cross of Christ.
The Messiah's exultation in the results of the cross
Verse 21 brings us to a turning-point in the psalm. The darkness lifts and the sun shines brightly. The storm of wrath has subsided and all is peaceful and calm.
In the verses that remain the Messiah rejoices that his death on the cross was not in vain, but that it has achieved its purpose. Because of that death he now has 'brethren' to whom the name of God can be declared (verse 22). The author of Hebrews relates this portion of the psalm to all those who know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. He says Christ is 'not ashamed' to call those who know him his 'brethren' (Hebrews 2:10-12).
Furthermore, because of his death on the cross the Messiah rejoices that the poor are able to eat and be satisfied (verse 26). What a marvelous picture this is of sinners coming to know the crucified Redeemer! Because of his death they can eat of the gospel feast and be satisfied with the knowledge that their sins are forgiven and they can, therefore, stand without fear in the presence of the holy God.
The Messiah also rejoices that 'all the ends of the world' shall turn to him (verse 27). His death on the cross was not just for one nation, but for people of all nations, and it will finally issue in the redemption of a multitude 'out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation' (Revelation 5:9).
Yet another cause for rejoicing is the fact that his death will also issue in the final vindication of God. He says, 'And all the families of the nations shall worship before you' (verse 27). This certainly brings to mind the words of the apostle Paul: '...At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Philippians 2:10-11).
Finally, he rejoices in the knowledge that 'a posterity' will serve him. There will be in every generation those whom he purchased with his own blood to tell those who come after them of what he has done (verses 30-31).
So Jesus did not die on the cross hoping that what he was doing would somehow accomplish something. That cross that he and the Father agreed upon before the world began would be effective in redeeming the Father's love-gift. That cross was adopted in eternity past as the only means of salvation. It was announced in Eden and, as Psalm 22 clearly reveals, the Father and the Son never lost sight of that cross throughout the Old Testament period, but ever kept it in view and worked to its fulfillment.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.