Psalm 22 Prophesies Much about Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

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David wrote Psalm 22 centuries before Jesus' death and resurrection. In it, he gives many prophecies about what will happen that first Easter.

The New Testamement reveals that the Old Testament is wholly about the coming Messiah, whom the gospels indicate is Jesus. Many times New Testament authors point out various passages and festivals Jesus fulfilled, but they did not outline every single one. If they had, the Four Gospels alone (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) would be longer than the entire Bible.

Many Christians today can read various parts of the Old Testament and recognize the prophetic nature of a verse or story with relative ease. We learn, however, that it’s not merely a select few passages that prophesy about Jesus, but that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus (Luke 24:27). That means there are passages that reference Messiah (or “Christ” in Greek)—who is Jesus—that we may overlook at we read through the Old Testament.

Psalm 22 is one of those passages! At least it was for me.

As I read through this psalm, written by David about a millennium before Jesus’ death and resurrection, I noticed the three or four verses that I believe many Christians would recognize immediately as prophesies of Christ. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the entire psalm references events related to Jesus’ death and ressurection!

In this article (along with it’s accompanying video below) I will highlight many, but not all, of those references. As I do, I’ll show you what aspect it references and how it was fulfilled by Jesus and is still being fulfilled today by Jesus’ followers.

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The Forsaking

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
22:1a

David’s opening line is likely familiar to you. It opens a psalm of anguish in which David cries out in desperation seeking solace from his turmoil. Saul was chasing David, seeking to kill him for crimes David did not commit, and so David cried out to God, pouring out his emotions and suffering to his Creator.

While hanging on the cross, Jesus said seven things, including quoting this opening line from David’s psalm (Matt 27:46).

Scholars debate the reason Jesus asked why God had “forsaken” him. I believe there are two reasons.

1. Jesus was the recipient of divine wrath and thus was in anguish.

This was a cry of suffering and pain because God the Son, for the very first and only time, was the recipient of God’s wrath. Jesus took the sin of mankind—you and I—upon himself and bore the punishment we earned. As such, he was in anguish.

2. Jesus revealed that all of Psalm 22 is about him.

By quoting the opening line of David’s psalm, Jesus revealed to those present at his crucifixion and to all who would later hear of and read about his death that every line of Psalm 22 is about the Messiah.

The Anguish

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
22:1b

This line describes David’s emotions at the time he wrote the psalm as well as prophesies about the suffering Messiah will undergo on behalf of others.

When Jesus cried out to God, both in anguish (“Why have you forsaken me,” Mark 15:34) and in prayer (“Father, forgive them,” Luke 23:34, and “Into your hands,” Luke 23:46), he groaned in excruciating anguish and pain.

The Reason

they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
22:4b-5

In these lines, David prophetically gives the reason why Jesus died on the cross: to save (or “deliver” and “rescue”) people. Jesus accomplished this by shedding his blood for the forgiveness of the sins of you and I.

Jesus’ death delivered people from death and hell and delivered them to life and heaven. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, there is forgiveness of sins and there is salvation (John 3:16).

Not only did David reveal the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice, but also who will be saved: those who put their faith in Christ Jesus. David says,

  • “they trusted” (that is, they had faith)
  • “to you they cried” (that is, they called out to God)
  • “in you they trusted” (they put their faith in Messiah)

The New Testament emphasizes that we are saved through Jesus alone. Jesus said that no person comes to the Father “except through me” (John 14:6), and the apostles declared that there is “no other name,” referencing Jesus, by which a person is saved (Acts 4:12).

Thus, David’s psalm reveals, even before Jesus was born, that a person would be saved only by putting their faith in Messiah.

The Rejection

scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
22:6b

David was feeling scorned and despised by the people: the king wanted David dead! Dr. Thomas Constable put it this way: “David was expressing his feelings of worthlessness, vulnerability, and contempt in the eyes of his enemies. The figure pictures feeling less than human.”

Jesus, too, experienced scorn and was himself despised. The people—prodded by the religious leaders—called for Jesus’ death after Pilate asked what he should do with him. Rather, the people demanded Pilate release the known criminal, Barabbas (Matt 27:15-23).

The Mocking

All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
22:7

they stare and gloat over me;
22:17b

David was the recipient of mocking and ridicule for his faith in God despite being hunted by the King rather than rescued by the Lord. To an arguably greater extent, Jesus was the object of much ridicule and mocking.

After his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and his beating at the hand of the Romans, the soldiers spat on Jesus and mocked him by saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They added insult (and more torture) to injury when, as part of their mocking, they dressed him in a robe and shoved a makeshift “crown” made of thorns deep into his bloody skull (Matt 27:27-31).

The mocking didn’t only come from the Romans. While Jesus hung on the cross, the Jewish religious leaders—those who boasted of their supposed righteousness and religious superiority—mocked the the Messiah as he hung dying on a cross (Matt 27:41-42).

The Quote

“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
22:8

Interestingly, the self-professed guardians of God’s Word (the priests) didn’t merely mock Jesus, they quoted this verse as part of their mockery.

When David wrote this, he knew the people attacked him because of his faith in God. At Calvary, the priests used this same line against God the Son, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God'” (Matt 27:43-44).

The Helplessness

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
22:11

David felt as if nobody was around to help him. Wherever he went, people betrayed him, reporting to Saul regarding David’s location or in which direction he traveled (1 Sam 21-23). This line prophesied about Jesus’ lack of support among the people.

Jesus faced a sham (and even illegal) trial, a “kangaroo court,” where he was falsely accused by the religious leaders of heresy, blasphemy, and treason against Caesar, and ultimately sentenced to death by the Romans. Meanwhile, his disciples abandoned and denied him (Mark 14:50-52; Luke 22:54-62), and it was even one of his chosen twelve, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Luke 22:47-48).

The Encompassing

Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
22:12-13

For David, it seemed wherever he attempted to hide, someone came against him or turned him in. During his shame trial, Jesus, too was surrounded by people out to kill him. The religious court, the Sanhedrin, falsely accused Jesus of heresy and blasphemy, but he was guilty of neither one. The priests then took Jesus to Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea) and accused Jesus of attempting to overthrow the Roman Empire. After the illegal Sanhedrin trial and his hearings before Pontius Pilate and King Herod, Jesus was deemed innocent of all charges.

Nevertheless, the plan they hatched to kill Jesus after seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead had finally come to fruition (John 11:45-53). The Pharisees and other religious leaders viewed Jesus as a threat to their religious and political power, and killing him was their way to eliminate a perceived problem.

The Water

I am poured out like water;
22:14a

What David meant poetically of himself, was also a prophecy regarding an event at Messiah’s death. When a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear in order to confirm he was dead, blood and water poured from him (John 19:34).

The Bones

and all my bones are out of joint;
22:14b

I can count all my bones—
22:17a

The Romans wanted to ensure that the Jews being crucified were able to be buried before the Sabbath began. This wasn’t out of respect for Jewish law or tradition, but a way of preventing another Jewish uprising like that of the Maccabean Revolt. As such, to hasten death, soldiers would break the legs of those being crucified. That was, except when it came to Jesus.

When the soldier arrived at Jesus’ cross, he noticed that Jesus was already dead. Thus, he did not break Jesus’ legs (John 19:31-33), but the crucifixion would have dislocated Jesus’ joints.

The Dehydration

my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
22:15a-b

With these lines, David is describing suffering caused by extreme dehydration. While he was hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out “I thirst” (John 19:28). This indicated that Jesus, too, suffered and that his suffering was exacerbated by extreme dehydration.

The Death

you lay me in the dust of death.
22:15c

Although David wrote this is as a single poetic idea, this line contains two prophetic parts: dust and death. Jesus fulfilled both. After completing the atoning work for which he came, Jesus gave up his spirit and died (Luke 23:46, cf. “lay me in . . . death”). After his death, Jesus was laid in a borrowed tomb (Mark 15:46, cf. “lay me in the dust”).

Atypical of how burials work, Jesus’ tomb was literally borrowed because he only needed it for a few days. On the third day, Jesus physically rose from dead, came out of the tomb, and later ascended to heaven on a cloud, from where he will one day return to judge the living and the dead.

The Encircling

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
22:16a-b

At his crucifixion, Jesus was indeed surrounded by—or encompassed by—evildoers. The Roman soldiers were there: it was the Romans who sentenced Jesus to death and nailed him to the cross (Matt 27:27, 32-37). While he hung on the cross, to each side of Jesus hung convicted criminals who were being crucified for their crimes (Luke 23:32-34).

The Nails

they have pierced my hands and feet—
22:16c

What David meant metaphorically, Jesus suffered literally. When the Romans crucified someone, they drove nails through the hands (or the wrists, which were considered the lower parts of the hand) and the feet of the one being crucified.

Days later, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had physically risen unless he saw the wounds inflicted by the nails and the spear. When Jesus showed up, he told Thomas to touch his wounds and believe (John 20:24-27).

The Clothes

they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
22:18

Many Christians would immediately recognize this as a prophecy regarding the death of Jesus, though as you can see, it’s not the psalm’s only prophesy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, John records that this very verse was fulfilled by Roman soldiers.

After nailing Christ to the cross and raising it up into the air, the Roman soldiers cast lots (their version of drawing straws) to determine who would possess the garments worn by Jesus. This is recorded by all four gospel writers (Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24).

The Assistance

O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
22:19b-20

Upon a cursory reading this may not seem like a prophecy regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus. A closer look, however reveals that with these words, David prophesied about Jesus’ resurrection.

In the psalm, David is crying out to God not only to be rescued (“deliver . . . from the sword . . . from the power of the dog”), but for his help to “come quickly.” After Jesus gave up his life on the cross, he was quickly rescued from death.

Three days after he died, early on Sunday morning, Jesus physically came back to life by the power of God, and walked out of the tomb, and presented himself to hundreds of witnesses (Matt 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8 [9-13]; Luke 24:1-43; John 20:1-21:14; 1 Cor 15:3-8).

The Resurrection

Save me from the mouth of the lion!
22:21a

This line is fascinating in that it contains a double prophecy: it prophesies about Daniel in the lion’s den and about Jesus’ resurrection. Even more fascinating is that Daniel’s incident is also a prophecy about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. In essense:

  • A prophesies about B
  • B prophesies about C
  • A is also a prophecy about C

A = David; B = Daniel; C = Jesus

In Daniel 6, we learn that Daniel was brought before the King Darius by the religious leaders to be sentenced to death. The priests believed Daniel to be a threat to their power and influence, so they devised a plan to secure his death.

They first looked for some sort of crime for which Daniel was guilty, but they found none. Thus, they chose to make one up “in connection with the law of his God.” In other words, they needed to find a way to use the law of God against Daniel.

The priests convinced King Darius to pass a law forbidding people from praying to any person or deity except Darius. Those who violate this would be sentenced to death in the lions’ den. Darius issued the order.

Daniel, aware of the ordinance, continued to pray to God, violating the law. Aware of this, the religious leaders brought Daniel before King Darius and accused him of blasphemy (praying to a forbidden deity), violation of the law (breaking the King’s ordinance), and treason (rejecting the authority of the King).

By the way, the priests accused Jesus of the same things.

Because the ordinance was irrevocable, King Darius, contrary to his personal wishes, sentenced Daniel to death in the den of lions. The King had a stone rolled over the mouth of the den and then he placed his official seal on the stone. The next day, however, the King checked on Daniel and discovered that God had protected Daniel in the den of hungry lions, so he had Daniel pulled out of the den.

This both fulfills David’s double prophecy in verse 21 and—along with the psalm—prophesies about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus was seen by the religious leaders as a threat to their power and influence. Thus, they devised a plan to use the law against Jesus in order to have him killed. After arresting him, the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of heresy and blasphemy, and then told Pilate that Jesus broke the Roman law and rejected Caesar’s authority.

Pilate, though declaring Jesus innocent and against his personal wishes, believed he had no choice but to have Jesus killed. After Jesus died, a stone was rolled over the entrance of the tomb and Pilate’s official seal was placed on the stone. On the third day, however, Jesus physically rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb (Matt 27:57-66).

The Proclamation

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
22:22a

David declared that he would tell others about God’s person and work. Jesus also told others about the work and person of God. He appeared to his disciples—his brothers—and hundreds of others and told them he was alive (Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Cor 15).

He then told his disciples and us to tell the world—to tell our brothers—about the work and person of Jesus (God the Son). We are commanded to share with others the gospel of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8): that Jesus died, rose again, and all those who put their faith in Jesus and repent of their sins will be forgiven and saved.

The Response

and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
22:24c-d

Despite what I’ve heard people teach over the years, God the Father did not turn away from Jesus and ignore what he said while he hanging on the cross. Rather, the Father heard and answered Jesus’ prayers.

  • Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” → God forgives sinners (Heb 10:12-17)
  • Jesus said, “You will be with me in paradise” → God saves those who put their faith in Jesus (Rom 10:8-13)
  • Jesus declared “It is finished” → God affirmed the completion of Jesus’ atoning work (Heb 10:8-14)
  • Jesus proclaimed, “In your hands I commit my spirit” → God received Jesus (Heb 1:3-4)

The Mission

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
22:25-31

In these final verses, David talks about people being saved, about the gospel message of salvation being proclaimed to future generations, and about the entire world bowing and worshiping God. We see in the New Testament that the fulfillment of these began at after the resurrection and will continue until the Second Coming.

We are to proclaim the gospel message to all generations, and that fulfillment began in the book of Acts. Jesus told his followers to go out and proclaim the good news (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), and we see in the book of Acts that the disciples and first Christians began evangelizing those around them beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to the rest of the world. We also see in the New Testament that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord—that Jesus is God (Phil 2:1-11).

Bringing It Home

The prophecies mentioned so far are only the beginning; Psalm 22 says even more about events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, it’s clear that a millennium before Jesus, David prophesied many things regarding Messiah, even if he didn’t fully realize it at the time.

God, in his sovereignty, led David to write a song of anguish and pain that also prophesied about the suffering Messiah would undergo as he atoned for the sins of others. As a result, we have a beautiful psalm that not only conveys David’s heart and situation, but also reveals what Messiah will go through and what he will accomplish.

As Christians, we are called to know, show, and share the gospel of Jesus. We are to have a growing relationship with him (i.e., “know”). We are to serve others as Jesus served others (i.e., “show”). We are to proclaim the good news of what Jesus did in his death and resurrection (i.e., “share”).

God, through David, gave us this prophetic psalm. Jesus gave us himself. The Holy Spirit asks us to submit to him as we live out our faith in Jesus.

About John L. Rothra
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