The Testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Prophets
The Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter informs us, “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This means that the prophets of the Old Testament, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bore witness to either the sufferings of Christ or the glories which would follow His sufferings. Psalm 22 is a perfect example of this very thing by predicting both the sufferings and glories of Christ in one psalm.1 The psalm is divided in two distinct parts: verses 1–21 taking up Christ’s sufferings, then verses 22–31 looking at the glories of Messiah’s Kingdom which come after that. The Church period however, is entirely passed over because it is not the subject of prophecy.2
The Sufferings of Messiah
Psalm 22 opens with the words of the Lord Jesus from the cross as we learn from the fulfillment found in the Gospels (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). These opening verses of Psalm 22 present to us Messiah as the “sin offering.” He is suffering under God’s holy wrath against sin and is forsaken (v. 1); He cries but is not heard, yet He justifies God for His holiness and faithfulness (v. 2–5). “You are holy” is the key to this (v. 3); sin could not be passed by and it must be judged. Christ voluntarily bore the judgment of God against sin on our behalf.
The expression: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” is a great mystery for us; it should cause us to bow and worship rather than to be explained or analyzed with human minds. The apostle Paul says that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). We who were sinners have “been made the righteousness of God in Him!” Blessed reality for all those which have believed in Him! What an exchange! The sinful ones made righteous, the sinless One judged for our sin.
God could not pass the sinner by, Justice demands that he should die;
But in the cross of Christ we see How God can save, yet righteous be.
The judgment fell on Jesus’ head, ‘Twas in His blood sin’s debt was paid;
Stern Justice can demand no more, And Mercy can dispense her store.
Peter tells us that Christ “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). He counted on God’s faithfulness toward the righteous, and in Psalm 22:4–5 we read: “Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed.” How touching that in the midst of such deep suffering and forsaking, though personally innocent, He still justified the righteous dealings of God!
In verses 6–22 there is a different emphasis in that we read of the Lord’s sufferings on the cross but as they were inflicted by the hands of men. These amazing prophecies were fulfilled in detail by the Lord Jesus: He would suffer reproach and mocking from the people of Israel and the Gentiles (vv. 6–12); the power of Satan would come against Him (v. 13); the intense sufferings of crucifixion are detailed, including that His hands and feet were to be “pierced” (v. 14–17); men would part His garments and cast lots for His vesture (v. 18). These verses are revealed in the New Testament as being fulfilled at the cross, for example: Luke 23:35–36; John 19:24. One cannot read this section of Psalm 22 and not think of the crucifixion scenes recorded in the Gospels.
The resurrection is predicted with the expression that He would be “saved from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen” (v. 21). He declares God’s name unto “my brethren in the midst of the congregation” (v. 22), this was fulfilled on resurrection morning! The Lord told Mary of Magdala to “go tell my brethren” (Jn. 20:17–19). He then appeared in the midst of the gathered disciples on that first Lord’s Day. The “assembly” mentioned in verse 22 should not be understood as the New Testament Church (“the assembly which is His body” Eph. 1:22), but as His Jewish disciples who eventually would come to form the nucleus of the Church. The Church was not constituted until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and was yet a mystery hidden to the Old Testament prophets (Eph. 3:5–9).
The Glories of Messiah
We now come to a major division in the Psalm which predicts Messiah’s millennial kingdom (vv. 23–31). The sufferings of Christ must occur before the glories of His kingdom—the disciples had been confused about this and the Lord often corrected them. The light of this slowly began to dawn upon them after His resurrection (Lk. 24:21, 25-27; Acts 1:6–7).
The section begins with the blessing of Israel, “the seed of Jacob” and expands to include all the Gentiles, “All the ends of the earth shall remember … all the families of the nations shall worship before Thee” (v. 27). The nations indeed will remember Him in the “kingdom.” They will come up to Jerusalem and worship the Lord at the festive seasons (Zech. 14:16–21; Isa. 2:2–3).
But what a privilege it is for us now in the day of His rejection, to “remember Him” in His Supper, announcing His death “till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). The church, though made up of both Jew and Gentile, is largely constituted by a remnant called out of the nations. It is our privilege to worship Him in the day of His rejection when He is hidden from the world at large.
However, as wonderful as our portion currently is, this part of Psalm 22 focuses on the time when the kingdom will be revealed in power and glory. This ever expanding kingdom perfectly fits with Daniel’s prediction that Christ’s Millennial kingdom will be like a stone that becomes a great mountain filling the entire earth (Dan. 2:34–35). The expansion of the glory of Messiah seen in this part of Psalm 22 has been described as a pebble tossed into the middle of a pond and the ripples become larger and larger extending to the very banks of the pond.
Psalm 22 concludes with the prediction that each generation in the kingdom will be told about “His righteousness”—the righteousness of the King will be declared. And as for the kingdom itself, and the work that founded it, it will be said “that He has done it.”3 Christ’s cross work will be discussed in the kingdom to come.4 Indeed, from the cross the Lord Jesus declared “It is finished!”5
1. Usually the prophets will focus on one of these aspects of Christ or the other. However Psalm 22 is somewhat unique in that it is equally divided between these two wondrous themes: the sufferings and glories of Messiah.
2. See Ephesians 3:3–9. The Church as the body of Christ was a “mystery” meaning it was not revealed until the death of Christ but only to the New Testament apostles and prophets, it was hidden to the Old Testament prophets. Prophecy has been described as having two mountain peaks: one is the cross and the sufferings of Christ, the other mountain peak is the coming kingdom and glory of Christ. In-between the two peaks is the hidden valley of the church age.
3. “What He has accomplished” (NET Bible).
4. We may see a picture of this in the Transfiguration of Christ. Moses and Elijah, representing the glorified saints, were speaking to Him about His death which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Lk. 9:31).
5. “It is finished” is one word in the Greek: Tetelestai. It is in the perfect tense meaning it is a thing accomplished in the past but has ongoing results or impact.