A Case that Psalm 98 Includes a Christmas Prophecy about Jesus

Psalm 98:1-3 includes a prophecy about God revealing his salvation to the world. That prophecy was fulfilled at Jesus' birth.

If you’ve never read this psalm before, I’m sure you’re at least familiar with its overall themes because it’s the psalm that inspired Isaac Watts to write the carol, “Joy to the World.”  Although the Watts’ carol is less about Christmas and more about when Jesus returns as the King and judge, the psalm talks in part about Christmas.  I would go so far as to say that the psalm prophesies Jesus’ birth!

To better understand this, let’s first look at the psalm’s overall organization.  Psalm 98 has three main thematic parts:

  • God revealing his salvation (vv. 1-3)
  • A call to joyous praise (vv. 4-8, this is the main theme)
  • God judging the world (v. 9)

The imagery used of God generally points to things associated with Jesus’ Second Coming, when he will return to judge the living and the dead (e.g., “his righteousness” in v. 2 and “he comes to judge the earth . . . with righteousness” in v. 9).  However, this psalm actually references both the First and Second Comings: verses 1-3 talk about God revealing his salvation (i.e., Jesus’ First Coming), and verse 9 talks about Yahweh coming to earth to judge (i.e., Jesus’ Second Coming).

Thus, the psalm includes multiple messianic prophecies.  While the second one (v. 9) is quite obvious, the question remains whether Psalm 98:1-3 is prophesying about the Incarnation (Christmas) or the Atonement (Easter).  As I stated earlier, I believe it’s about Jesus’ birth.

Psalm 98 prophesies Jesus’ first and second comings: verses 2-3 address his birth and verse 9 talks about his return.

In order to make this case, I’ll first show how the psalm’s prophecy points to Jesus.  Second, I’ll show how Scripture indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled that first Christmas.

Christ in Psalm 98:1-3

98 Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98:1-3

There is an easily overlooked phrase that tells us that this psalm is about Messiah.  In verse 1, God providentially had the psalmist write, “His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”  The “right hand” and “holy arm” are one and the same and refer to the means of salvation—or more specifically, to the person who is salvation.

We have further indication that these verses are a Messianic prophecy because we see this same prophetic imagery in the book of Isaiah: “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10).  Thus, the “holy arm” who is also the “right hand” is the means—the person—of salvation.

In the New Testament we see many statements that reveal that this “right hand,” this Messiah, is Jesus himself.  One such passage is Hebrews 10:12, which says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (emphasis added).

Psalm 98 and Isaiah 52 each prophesy that Messiah is the salvation that God revealed to the whole world.

In other words, after sacrificing himself as the propitiation for sin (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2), Jesus—who is God the Son—sat down at the right hand of the Father.  Many other passages also tell us that Jesus is at the Father’s right hand: Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 12:2; and 1 Peter 3:22.

Thus, based on Scripture, we know that the “right hand” that worked salvation refers to Christ Jesus.  As we read further in the psalm, we’ll see that the prophesy in Psalm 98:1-3 of revealing God’s salvation was fulfilled at Christmas.

Christmas in Psalm 98:1-3

Three times in two verses, the psalmist talks about God revealing his salvation, that is, of revealing Jesus who is himself the salvation of God:

2 The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98:2-3 (emphasis added)

While the psalmist in his immediate context was looking back to God’s provision and salvation as seen in events like Noah and the Flood, Joseph in Egypt, and the Exodus, God used the psalmist’s words to look forward to the time when God’s salvation—Jesus himself—would be revealed.

This occurred at the birth of Jesus, which is the very first Christmas.  We know this because of what Simeon prayed in Luke 2.

God revealed his salvation to the world at the birth of the Messiah who is Jesus.

Following Jesus’ birth, and according to the Law of God, Joseph and Mary brought the newborn Jesus to the Temple “to present him to the Lord” and offer the required sacrifice (Luke 2: 22-24).  Simeon, a man faithful to God, had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until “he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).  When Joseph and Mary arrived, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and immediately offered a prayer to God:

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32

Although Simeon was likely referencing and then quoting Psalm 98 in verses 30-31, he made it clear that God, through the birth of Jesus, had now revealed his salvation to the world.  Simeon’s statement verifies that Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of Psalm 98:1-3, making these verses a prophecy not about the method of salvation (i.e., Jesus’ death on the cross), but the person who is salvation: Jesus the Messiah!

Simeon’s prayer in Luke 2 verifies that Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of Psalm 98:1-3.

The fact that Jesus is the salvation of God is further shown in what Simeon said to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hears may be revealed” (Luke 2:34b-35).

John the Baptist later further reveals that Jesus is the salvation of God when, seeing Jesus come to him, John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).  The “lamb” refers to the Old Testament practice of a lamb being sacrificed to God to atone for the sins of Israel, which itself is a type and shadow—a prophetic image—of Jesus (Heb 10:1-14).

Thus, the words of the psalmist, written under the divine inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16), prophesies the birth of Jesus as the event in which God revealed his salvation to the world.  The method by which Jesus saves is through his death and resurrection during Passover about 33 years later.

Christ in Christmas

Jesus’ birth was foretold in at least eleven Old Testament prophecies.  In a previous article (and associated sermon), I outlined how Jesus broke the odds by fulfilling these and other prophesies.  Psalm 98, I believe, is just one of many such prophesies.

While many Christians often say, “Keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas,” we must ensure that we apply that saying to our own lives.  It’s very easy to get swept up in the Hallmark-esque depiction and materialistic nature of the holidays: music, baking, decorations, snowball fights, and presents.  However, as believers, we must make sure we remember that Christmas really is a celebration of Christ—a celebration of God’s salvation revealed to mankind.

As you celebrate this Christmas holiday, make sure you do two things:

  1. Praise Jesus for coming to earth, becoming a human, and revealing the salvation of God, and
  2. Tell others about the salvation of God who is Christ Jesus the Lord.

May the Lord bless you this holiday season as you know, show, and share the gospel of Jesus.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Helen

    Wow! I had been searching the internet to write a background on the Christmas carol, Joy to the World, when I came across your website.

    You gave an outstanding explanation of the messianic prophecy in Psalm 98. It makes perfect sense and explains in part why Watts included the line, “let every heart prepare him room,” which is the theme of our church’s advent devotion booklet. So thank you for an excellent blog post on this beloved Christmas carol and related psalm.

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