The Psalms – Praising and Pointing to Christ

Posted: December 1, 2012 in 99-Uncategorized

One of the valuable lessons of an in-depth study of the Old Testament (OT) is the fact that the OT is not the unused two-thirds of the page volume of the Bible. It is the necessary beginning of and prelude to the New Testament. Bernhard Anderson once wrote, “The relation of the Old Testament to the New…is a question that confronts every Christian in the Church, whether he be a professional theologian, a pastor of a congregation, or a layman. It is no exaggeration to say that, on this question, hangs the meaning of the Christian faith.”[1] Therein lies the beauty of the OT in that it points forward to the New Testament (NT). The divine inspiration of the NT writers allowed them to see that Jesus was the fulfillment of what the OT was pointing toward. As a result, the NT writers quoted from the OT quite frequently. Their quoting of the OT is nowhere more pronounced than from the Book of Psalms. According to Kirkpatrick, various Psalms are referenced over 130 times in the NT.[2] If the overall theme of the Psalms can be found in Psalm 8:1, “Our Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth”, then the New Testament writers saw that that Jesus was the subject of the Psalms. They saw that He was the incarnate God, the promised Messiah of the OT. Although Kirpatrick’s analysis identifies all Psalmic references in the New Testament, we will limit our discussion to the messianic psalms. These messianic psalms are the psalms that refer to an anointed ruler from the line of David who will rule over his kingdom with justice and compassion. They speak of a perfect ruler that was anticipated for Israel in light of the failures of the previous and current kings of the Jewish kingdom(s).[3] The NT writers understood Jesus to be that perfect ruler – the answer to the anticipation of these messianic psalms.

 

PSALMS 2 – The Messianic King and Son of God

Psalm 2 integrates both divine (messianic) and human (royal) kingship. The NT frequently alludes to psalm because Jesus is seen as the fulfillment of the promise to David. In this psalm, God counters the plotting of earthly kings by pointing to the establishment of His Son as the Messianic King. Verse 7 makes this a messianic psalm because God is addressing his Divine Son. With David as a witness (David is assumed to have penned this psalm), it reflects the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7:14 that the ultimate king would rise from his line. However, until that time, the earthly kings of Israel are to reflect the qualities of the promised Messianic King. NT references to this Psalm include Acts 4:23-26, 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, Revelation 2:27, 12:5, 19:15.

 

PSALMS 8 – Majestic God

This psalm speaks of the majesty of God as displayed in the universe and the world around us. It also praises God for making man in charge of or having dominion over the earth. This psalm describes the status of man as the head of all creation. Unspoken though is the fact that due to sin, man is not the perfect ruler of creation, the agent of God, that he was intended to be. It is somewhat messianic in its reference to the son of man in 8:4. However, it is a royal psalm as well in that earthly Israelite rulers were to be wise in the use of the resources of the earth that God had bestowed upon the nation of His chosen people. The particular power of this psalm as messianic is when the author of Hebrews makes direct quotation of 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:6-8 in relation to Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that all things will be restored to their original Edenic order.

 

PSALMS 16 – The Resurrection of the Messiah

This psalm is purely messianic and not equally a royal psalm. This Psalm in verse 9-11 is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:25-28 and by Paul in Acts 13:35-36 and can only apply to Jesus Christ because only his body was not corrupted by the decay of death. The immediate sense of this psalm is that David is specifically asking for deliverance from the threat of death hanging over his head.

 

PSALMS 22 – The Crucifixion of the Messiah

Jesus repeats Psalm 22:1 from the cross. Jesus felt the abandonment of God in becoming the curse of sin on the cross. David writes of the abandonment he felt at the hands of his enemies. Other verses in this chapter describe His mockings (vs. 7-8), the piercing of His hands and feet (vs. 16) and His garments being parted (vs. 18). This psalm is referenced numerous times in the NT – Matthew 27:35-46, John 19:23-28, Hebrews 2:12.

 

PSALMS 40 – Submission of the Messiah to the Father

Psalm 40:6-7 is directly quoted by the author of Hebrews in 10:5-10. Here we see Jesus as the obedient servant in the flesh who accomplishes his Father’s goal of being the final, once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. David writes of the vanity of people offering meaningless sacrifices and looks forward to a time when sacrifices are made from not a proud but an obedient heart. Jesus is the fulfillment of this desire who became the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

 

PSALM 41 – Betrayal of the Messiah

Although David is responsible for many of his troubles in his life, David firmly believed in God to deliver him even from his own mistakes. He trusted that the Lord has a purpose for everything that he endured. John invokes Jesus’ complete trust in all things to His Father when Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 (Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me) when he predicts who will betray him in John 13:18 (I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’).

 

PSALM 45 – The Messiah Rules

This psalm is both a royal psalm and a messianic psalm. According to Craigie, this psalm was probably used in royal weddings during monarchy period of the Jewish nation. This psalm is messianic in that it anticipates the relationship between Christ and his church as described by Paul in Ephesians 5:25-32.[4] In Hebrews 1:8-9, we see a direct quote of Psalm 45:6-7. Just as the psalm recognizes that the earthly king David commands armies and should use them only for righteous purposes in 45:4, Ephesians 6:10-20 is a parallel in how Christ leads the church against the forces of evil. Jesus is the Messiah, the great and righteous ruler sitting on throne descended from David.

 

PSALM 68 – The Victory in the Messiah

In the New Testament, Paul quotes 68:17-19 in Ephesians 4:8-9 in reference to Jesus Christ. In a victory procession in ancient times, the victorious military leader would receive and give gifts to those conquered. Jesus in his ascension is welcomed as victor. On earth, as the just ruler, Jesus provides gives gifts, similar to a victorious military leader, but rather in this case it is because he cares for his people. Jesus himself is the gift. He is the “God of Salvation” in this psalm in that he saves his people from death. In Jesus, we have victory over death through His resurrection. We are rescued from our enemy, death and destruction, by the Messiah.

 

PSALMS 110 – The Exaltation of the Messiah

This psalm is quoted by NT writers the most. Peter sees the messianic qualities of this psalm when he quotes Psalms 110:1 in Acts 2:34 to prove that Jesus had taken His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. He scolds his Jewish audience in their inability to see all the messianic qualities of Jesus. If they had only understood Scripture, they would not have crucified Him. In Matthew 22:44, Jesus trips up the Pharisees by questioning whom David was talking about in Psalm 110. They could not answer how David could be talking about himself in the psalm. Thus, the NT makes it clear that the psalm is referring to Jesus when David says, “my Lord.” The promised Messiah is descended from David but yet He is greater than David. Other NT references to this psalm include Mark 12:36, Luke 20:43, Hebrews 1:13, Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 7:17-21.

 

PSALM 118 – The Messiah as Cornerstone

This Psalm speaks of Messiah as the cornerstone that was rejected by many but honored by the Lord and His people in 118:22-26. The Apostle Peter in Matthew 21:42, connects the meaning of this Psalm to Jesus Christ, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Jesus also quoted 118:22-23 when referring to himself in Mark 12:10-11, in Matthew 23:29, and in Luke 13:35. Jesus says what is considered low and insignificant by his contemporaries, referring to Himself, will be exalted to the chief place. In Ephesians 2:20, Jesus is the cornerstone cast away on the cross by earthly rulers trying to preserve their position (who cannot in the end preserve them) while Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. In his exaltation, the supposed defeat at the grave has been reversed turning a day that would have been a day of despair into a day of celebration. Like the Psalms triumphant praise, Christ has gained victory on the cross.

 

The NT writers understood the OT. These men knew the OT Scriptures well. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered them to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of the OT. There is no separateness of the OT from the NT. The OT points to Jesus. The NT points back to the OT to say that Jesus is the One. The NT writers understood Jesus was the One and they have testify forward to us that those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah promised by the OT we will have everlasting life in Him. We respond by singing praises to Him we know as Messiah just as the Psalms were songs singing praises to Him they longed for.


[1] Bernhard Anderson, ed., The Old Testament and Christian Faith (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1963), 1.

[2] A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1902), 544-549.

[3] Grisanti, Michael A., “The Book of Psalms” (Chapter 40) in Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: an Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN.: B&H Academic, 2011), 518.

 

[4] P.C. Craigie, “Psalms 1-50” in editors, [general, Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Word Biblical Commentary, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 339-340.

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