In this conclusion of this series about Christ in the psalms, we ask the question to what extent many more psalms point to Jesus. Choosing psalms that point forward to Christ is somewhat subjective. Of some psalms, such as Psalm 22, it is very clear. Details of this psalm are fulfilled around the cross. There are also psalms, however, that describes the situation of the psalmist, which Jesus thinks of in his battle. The last words of Jesus, before he dies, "Father, in your hands I lay my spirit", are a quotation from Psalm 31 (verse 6). The psalmist trusts that he is safe in God's hands and that God will save him from death, where Jesus trusts through death to be saved. Through this quote, we first see how Jesus, even in a time of unbearable suffering and dying, is with his thoughts in the Scriptures, and secondly, the psalm shows us what Jesus thinks, something we would not learn from the new testament. By reading the whole psalm against that background we learn something about his thoughts, although obviously not all the verses apply. That is why some call the psalms "the fifth Gospel."
Which psalms are Messianic?
The question of which psalms to apply to Jesus is therefore not easy to answer. Some will want to see much as a prediction where others are much more reserved. Yet Scripture gives us some indications. We see an important indicator when a psalm is quoted in the New Testament. At least 60 psalms are quoted in the New Testament, but the boundaries are blurred too. Sometimes a verse is literally quoted with the mention that it is a psalm, but sometimes we only find a phrase repeated or just a few words. Is it a quote then?
In Psalm 16 we see a psalm where we ourselves would not notice any connection with Christ at first. We then see how both Peter and Paul use this psalm as evidence that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Peter says that David spoke this as a prophet:
"But because he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him under oath that one of his descendants would ascend his throne, he foresaw the resurrection of the Messiah and said that he would not the realm of the dead would be delivered up and that his body would not dissolve "(Acts 2: 30-31).
The small deviations between what is in Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:31 and 13:35 are because of Peter and Paul quote the psalm. So we can now go back and read the whole psalm against the background of what happened to Jesus. For the writers do not quote verses from their context. And then the following verse of the psalm also takes on another meaning:
"You show me the way to life: abundant joy in your presence, forever a lovely place by your side" (Psalm 16:11).
We can also do this with other psalms that we see quoted in the New Testament, such as Psalms 40 and 91.
We can see from this how the apostles quote from the psalms as the foundation of their argument without ever explaining why they assume that the psalmist would have written this with a view to Jesus. That is remarkable, because they do not only do that with psalms that we also see as a prophecy about Jesus, but also with psalms of which we would not say so. Some of these psalms have been discussed earlier in this series (including the Psalms 34, 41 and 109).
There we could indeed see how the psalm, besides its original meaning, could also be applied to Jesus. On the other hand, there are also psalms that are not quoted in the New Testament, but which say something about the Messiah. As an example, earlier in this series the Psalms 18 and 72 were looked at. Now we do not have the authority of the apostles when it comes to scripture interpretation. Yet we may also follow their example in this and see whether certain psalms can also refer to Jesus. We can then read a random psalm in the light of what we know about Jesus and see if it applies anywhere.
Types of prophetic psalms
In the psalms that have been dealt with in this series, we see three topics where psalms, which turn out to have an application to Christ, pass. Those are:
- His trust in God during his earthly life, especially when he is rejected.
- His victory and kingship, both now and in the future.
- A call for revenge over the enemies.
Especially the latter is a difficult subject because it does not fit into the image of Jesus who sought forgiveness for his enemies and prayed for them. We, therefore, see a number of different aspects. On the one hand, we see a contrast between the normal human reaction of the psalmist and the reaction of Jesus to love his enemies. On the other hand, we see Jesus' horror of hypocrites and especially of people who prevent others from worshiping God. If he wipes the temple, his performance is not gentle. But he is also very harsh in his judgment about some of the spiritual leaders. He calls these people, among other things, whitewashed graves, completely unclean.
Try reading Psalm 101 and applying the words to Jesus. It is initially about the kingship of David but is also applicable to the kingship of the Messiah. During Jesus' life on earth he healed and forgave, but his second coming also brings judgment. He expects us a sinlessness, not because we are without sin from ourselves, but because we truly repent of our faults and then ask for forgiveness with which our sins are removed by grace. That was the difference between Peter and Judas. Both have denied their Lord. Peter sought forgiveness; Judas assumed that he would not receive forgiveness. And that is why Peter is not proud when he quotes from two psalms when he says of Judas:
"In the book of the psalms is written: 'Let his residence become a wasteland and let no one stay there'. And also: 'Let another take over his task'. "(Acts 1: 20).
Here too we can not assume that Peter is tearing these words out of context. In the psalms that are absolutely prophetic, such as Psalm 2 (about the messianic king) we also come across verses about his actions against the nations "You can break them with an iron staff, break them like an earthen pot". So we can take these two aspects into consideration when we try to apply a psalm to Jesus, where we can not assume that Jesus will condemn everything.
Trust in God
Some psalms describe one who puts his trust in God with a fully devoted heart. They are often applicable to Jesus. At the beginning of his life, before his mistake with Bathsheba, David wrote psalms against the background that he served God with a perfect heart. He puts his trust fully on God. Such words are then often applicable to the true "Son of David". But there are also other examples. Psalm 116 is in the series of 'the Egyptian Hallel', which was mainly used at Easter. When the disciples prepared the final Passover, they would think of the past, the redemption from Egypt, while Jesus looked forward to the redemption that was to come. In the Gospels, we only read about the battle in the court. But would not that have been in his mind already in the upper room?
"Ties of death pinched me, fears of the realm of the dead grabbed me, I felt fear and pain. Then I called the name of the Lord: Lord, save my life! "(Psalm 116: 3-4).
But when we read later in the psalm, we see the realization what death will bring:
"I will lift the cup of deliverance, call upon the name of the Lord, and redeem my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. With pain the Lord sees the death of his faithful. Ah, Lord, I am your servant, your servant I am, the son of your servant: you have broken my bonds. I want to offer you a thank-offering "(Psalm 116: 13-18).
These words get a special meaning in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus.
As the king of the world
The third category of the psalms is those that can be read against the background of Jesus' victory and kingship. Such psalms are often written as a prayer for the king. At first, it was about an earthly king, often David or Solomon, but complete fulfillment will only take place in Christ. Psalm 20 describes the victory of a king:
"Let us rejoice for your victory, the lifting of the banner, in the name of our God. May the Lord fulfill all your wishes. I know this for sure: the Lord gives victory to his anointed one, he answers him from his holy heaven with the victory by his mighty hand. Others trust in horses and chariots, we in the name of the Lord our God "(Psalm 20: 6-8).
If we then realize that the word anointed here in the psalm is the word Messiah or Christ, then we can easily read the victory over sin here. Of course the psalm had a first application in the life of David, but he still gets a further meaning against the background of the victory of Christ. Psalm 21 can also be read against the background of Christ's kingship.
David possessed much less writing than we did. But he thought deeply about that and learned to know God better. We now have more scripture, including the psalms. When we read a psalm, we can also try to read it against the background of Christ, his life on earth, his victory and his kingship. And when we think about it deeper, we find more psalms that help us to get to know our Lord better.
Let the words of my mouth please you, the contemplations of my heart please you, Lord, my rock, my redeemer. (Psalm 19:15).
Thanks for reading.
To understand more about this series, you can read:
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 2
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 18
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 22
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 34
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 41
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 45
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 69
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 72
Christ in the Psalms - Psalm 118