The Messiah in the Psalms
By Paul Robison

Our Bible reading schedule has begun with the book of Psalms.  This book is Israel's hymnbook.  We need to read hymns somewhat differently than we read most other books in the Bible.  Why is this?  Well, first of all, psalms are songs, and there are a great variety of these songs: many are praises, some are prayers, some are laments, some express thanksgiving, some express adoration, some express frustration, some teach wise living, some provide a history, some extol Israel's king, some confess sins.  So there are many types of songs.  Songs also have another characteristic; they are usually written in poetry.  The Psalms also are written in Hebrew poetry.  Now when we think of poetry, we usually think of words that rhyme and sort of a rhythmic flow for the words.  Well, in Hebrew poetry it wasn't word rhyme but thought rhyme that counted.  This kind of poetry likes to repeat thoughts (to say the same idea in different words), to contrast thoughts (the word "but" is often used to introduce the contrast), and to expand thoughts.  Now that's different from English poetry, but it sure is a whole lot easier to translate into another language!  Poetry has a way to express ideas that differs from prose because it is trying to communicate more than information.  Poetry doesn't usually just state something directly, but its often indirect.  It stirs our imaginations, but we kind of have to fill in some of the details.  There are all kinds of figures of speech, and images, and feelings coming through.  And lastly, since poetry does involve feelings, it usually talks about experiences and emotions involved with them.  Many people like the Psalms because they show such a wide range of experiences and emotions.  "They take the reader to the depths of despair and to the heights of exhilaration because of their [great] intensity" (Gray/Woodruff).  So when we read Israel's hymnbook, let's remember that we are reading songs, poems, and emotional experiences.

Having made that general introduction to the Psalms, here's a a more specific introduction to our lesson for today.  A person who was serving the Lord's supper one Sunday, somehow lost hold of the communion tray for the fruit of vine, and there was grape juice all over the carpet.  One of the elders immediately sprang up to the pulpit while others were cleaning up the mess, and he said something like this: "We have just witnessed an accident here.  You know, some people say that Jesus spilled His blood for us.  This is an inaccurate statement.  A spill, as we've just seen, is something accidental.  Jesus did not spill His blood accidentally.  No, the Bible usually says that His blood was poured out.  His death was no accident; He knew exactly what had to be done.  So He poured out His blood to atone for our sins."  Some people mistakenly think that Jesus' death came about as an unfortunate outcome because other plans that He had to become Israel's glorious political Messiah failed.  But here's yet another error that some Christians make: they seem to think that God caused all the events in Jesus' life to turn out in such a way that they fulfilled the Scriptures.  But when we think this way, Jesus just becomes sort of passive pawn on the chess board of life.  The Gospels show us, however, that Jesus was an active participant in the divine process of bringing the Old Testament prophecies to fulfillment.  In reality, Jesus lived on a divine schedule and had something of divine script in mind that He followed.  That script came from the law, the prophets, and from Israel's hymnbook.  Luke 24:44ff states: "Then He [Jesus] said to them [His disciples]: 'These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Me.'  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures."  Wouldn't you like to have been in on that Bible study?  But, in a way, we see the fruits of that study as we examine the Gospels and listen to the apostles' preaching.  What do the Psalms have to say about the Messiah?  They have a lot to say!  There are many more passages from the Psalms  that could be cited in this lesson, but time will not permit.  Let's see what the Psalms have to say about the Messiah's life, about His death, about His raised life, and about His glorified present life.  Jesus saw many of His actions foretold in the Scriptures.  The main point to take with you today is that we too must follow God's Word!

First of all, let's notice what is said about the Messiah's life.  First of all, the Messiah's life would be zealous.  Note what John 2:16-17 state: "And He said to those who sold doves, 'Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!'  Then His disciples remembered that is was written: 'Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.'"  This passage comes from Psalm 69:9 where David describes himself as one who was enthusiastic for the temple, but he also had his enemies: "Because zeal for your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me."  You see, Jesus' cleansing of the temple was no accident.  Next, the Messiah would be devoted to doing God's will.  Look now at Hebrews 10:4-10: "For it is not possible for that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.  Therefore, when He [Jesus] came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, You had no pleasure.  Then I said, "Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God."'"  The author of Hebrews then makes an application with this passage in verse 9 to show that a second covenant has replaced the first.  The animal sacrifices have now been superseded by Jesus' definitive sacrifice!  As verse 10 affirms: "By that will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all."  In Psalm 40, David was focusing on giving his life to the Lord, and now we see how Jesus, the Messiah, devoted Himself to doing God's will, even to the point of giving His life as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, despite the horrible suffering that it entailed!  Thirdly, the Messiah would be hated by the religious leaders without cause.  Jesus affirmed in John 15:24-25: "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.  But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law: 'They hated Me without a cause.'"  Several passages in Psalms could be applied, but 109:3-4 fits very well, where David laments his enemies' behavior and defends his own behavior: "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without cause.  In return for my love, they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer.  Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love."  Jesus must have felt very much the same way in His efforts to reach the Jewish leaders.  So we've seen that the Psalms show us that the Messiah would be zealous toward God, devoted to doing His will, and hated by the religious leaders without cause.  Since all of these psalms were written by David, these actions in the Messiah's life were being foreshadowed by David's life about 1000 years earlier!  Several other actions foretold in psalms about the Messiah's life include the following: He would come in the name of the Lord (Psalm 118:26; Matthew 21:9), he would teach using parables (Psalm 78:2; Matthew 13:35); He would give life to the world (Psalm 78:24-25; John 6:31-36); He would bring deliverance (Psalm 106:10; Luke 1:71), but time will not permit us to into more detail on these.  We see clearly that the Psalms had much to say about the Messiah's life.

Next, let's notice what some Psalms say about the Messiah's death.  First of all, they state that the Messiah would be betrayed by a close friend.  In John 13:18-19, Jesus affirms: "I do not speak concerning all of you.  I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled: 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted his heel against Me.'  Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He."  In Psalm 41:9, David once again laments how badly he has been treated by his enemies.  One wonders if David has his own son Absalom or someone else in mind who worked against him.  David closes this psalm by thanking God for His favor and blessing God for His nature.  Jesus' sharing bread with Judas was no accident.  One commentator made this good remark: "In this, as elsewhere, Jesus saw in the experiences of David the pattern, in small print, of His own calling" (Kidner).  Besides the betrayal, Psalm 22 powerfully speaks about Jesus' crucifixion while also vividly describing the sufferings of David.  Verses 7-8 refer to the fact that Jesus would be scorned: "All those who see Me ridicule Me. They shoot out the lip; they shake the head saying: 'He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him since He delights in Him!'"  Now also note verse 16: "For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all my bones."  When David used the word "pierced," it was probably a metaphor to describe his intense pain, but Jesus' apostles saw this being literally fulfilled in the crucifixion.  We see in Luke 23:35 how the Jewish rulers taunted Jesus to save Himself with words very similar to those in Psalm 22, and in John 20:27 how Jesus challenges Thomas to touch His pierced hands!  All of these events in the Messiah's death came to pass, exactly as the Psalms had foretold!  Thirdly, Jesus even uses a couple of the Psalms for words that He spoke while on the cross.  In Luke 23:46, we read: "And when Jesus cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.'  Having said this, He breathed His last."  Psalm 31 might be classified as a song of trust.   David states his complete dependence upon God in verses 4-5: "Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength.  Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth."  So, we've seen with regards to the Messiah's death, that the Psalms said He would be betrayed, He would be scored and pierced, and He would commit His spirit or His life to the Father.  Some other aspects about the Messiah's death that the psalms foretell include: having false witnesses (Psalm 35:11; Mark 14:57); being given vinegar and gall to drink (Psalm 69:21; Matthew 27:34); none of His bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20; John 19:33-37).  The Psalms again provide much detail concerning the Messiah's death.

Next, the Psalms foretell the Messiah's raised life or His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation.  In Psalm 16, David once again expresses His trust in God, and he concludes by stating some of the particular blessings of the "good inheritance" mentioned in verse 6.  These blessings include: guidance (v. 7), stability (v. 8), resurrection (vv. 9-10), and endless bliss (v. 11).  Let's begin reading in verse 8: "I have set the Lord always before me because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.  Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh will also rest in hope.  For You will not leave me soul in Sheol, nor will you suffer Your Holy One to see corruption.  You will show me the path to life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  In the first gospel sermon preached on the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter uses this passage to show that it foretold the Messiah's resurrection.  Acts 2:22ff states: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  For David says concerning Him, [and then Peter quotes the passage in Psalm 16 that we just read.  Now listen to Peter's reasoning]: "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ [or the Messiah] to sit on His throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ [or the Messiah], that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses."  Peter affirms clearly that a prophecy made around 1000 years earlier has now come to fulfillment!  With regards to the Messiah's ascension, check out Psalm 68.  This psalm is a praise song to the power and greatness of God.  Verse 15 begins to talk about God's savings works, and verse 18 states: "You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, even from the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell there."  It looks here like "God has won His war, entered His capital, and put the rebellious under tribute.  The next verse then shows the people sharing in the benefits of the conquest" (Kidner).  Now the apostle Paul applies this scene to Christ's victory over Satan, and the church's members are sharing in the benefits of His conquest.  God's ascension is now applied to Christ's ascension too.  Note Ephesians 4: 7ff: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.'  (Now this 'He ascended—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also He who ascended far above the heavens, that He might fill all things)."  Jesus ascended, and Christians share the benefits of His conquest too!  The Psalms foretell Jesus' exaltation in Psalm 118:22.  This is a praise song that was usually sung at Passover time.  Listen to verses 21ff: "I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation.  The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  This was the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."  Peter applies this passage in an interesting situation in Acts 4:8ff: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit,  said to them, 'Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man here stands before you whole."  Then Peter quotes the passage from Psalms to underscore that Jesus was the rejected stone that has become the chief cornerstone!  So we've just seen that the Psalms told about Jesus' resurrection, ascension, and exaltation!   The Psalms foretold Jesus' raised life.

Now let's look at what the Psalms predicted about Jesus glorified present life!  It foretold that the Messiah would be Lord.  In Jesus' day, all the pagan gods had the title "Lord" attached to their names to show that they were authoritative: Lord Zeus, Lord Serapis, Lord Mithra, for example.  Psalm 110 is a song that extolled Israel's king.  In the first verse, we find a very interesting statement which Jesus also used in His ministry: "The Lord [that is God] said to my Lord [King David's superior, who is the Messiah]: 'Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool."  The apostle Peter again makes use of this in the first gospel sermon in Acts 2:34ff: "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'  Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord [the authoritative God] and Christ [the glorious Messiah]!"  In the Bible, angels are depicted as standing in God's presence, but here we see that Jesus is enthroned and sitting at God's right hand, the only Being in all creation ever given this privilege!  He is the Lord of lords (the authoritative God of all the pagan gods), and He rules over everything!  Not only is Jesus Lord, but also the Psalms foretold that He would serve as a Priest.  In Psalm 110 again at verse 4, we find this affirmation: "The Lord [or God] has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek [who was priest during Abraham's time]."  The writer of Hebrews shows how this passage applies to Jesus in 6:19-20: "This hope we have as anchor of th soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence [of Almighty God] behind the veil [or in the heavenly holy of holies], where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."  Here is the fulfillment of what was predicted in Psalm 110—Jesus is now our High Priest who continually intercedes before God on behalf of all Christians!  The Messiah is also predicted to be the Diving King who will rule forever.  Look at Psalm 45, which is a song which celebrates a royal wedding, but this just isn't any old wedding.  My version, the NKJV, has word "king" in verses 1 and 5 capitalized.  Verse 3 also has the expression "O Mighty One" in capital letters.  What's going on here?  Well, verses 6-7 reveal the reason for all this: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.  You love righteousness and hate wickedness.  Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions."  Verses one to five have been talking about a king, Israel's king, but  then in verse 6, the king is addressed as God, and verse 7 asserts that God, His God, has anointed him!  So the king on the throne must not be an earthly king, but a heavenly king, and this is why we see all the capitalization in the passages above, and here we are talking about a heavenly wedding that is taking place between Christ and His bride.  Now look at Hebrews 1:8-9 where the writer applies this passage to Jesus: "But to the Son [Jesus] He [God] says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom, ..."  Jesus is being called God, and His reign will endure forever!  One commentator made this good remark: "It is undoubtedly an address to the 'king' here referred to as God—as one to whom the name God may be properly applied; and, as applied to the Messiah by the author of the epistle of Hebrews, it clearly proves that Christ is Divine" (Barnes)!  So, we see that the Psalms also predict what the Messiah would be doing in His glorified present life.  Jesus is Lord (the Authoritative God), High Priest (a Holy Intercessor), and Eternal King (the Divine Ruler forever)!

Jesus' ministry and death were no accidents.  The book of Psalms provided Jesus much guidance in understanding what the Messiah should do.  We see that He was not a passive pawn but was an active king on the chess board of life who took His cues from what the Law, the prophets, and the Psalms had to say about His life, His death, His exaltation, and His glorification.  His was something of scripted life, and yours can be too.  Scripted does not mean that Jesus had no free will.  Jesus definitely had choices to make—Satan offered Him options, His culture's view of a political Messiah offered Him possibilities, and His struggles with the cross presented Him temptations.  Jesus could have sinned too, but what kept Him on course?  It was God's Word, the scripts about the suffering Messiah found in the Old Testament!  What can keep your life on course today?  It is God's Word, the scripts for a Christian to live by found in the New Testament!  God has revealed how we can have an abundant life here and an eternal life in the hereafter!  You'll still have free will, but God has provided you a compass to help you make good decision that will keep you going in the right direction!  A psalm of David, Psalm 37:23-24, provides a fitting closing: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.  Through he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down for the Lord upholds him with His hand."   The scripted life is a secure life!   Won't you follow in Jesus' footsteps taking your cues from God's Word?   Won't you steer your life according to His compass?   Won't you confess Jesus as the Lord, the High Priest, and the King of your life?