Psalm 22: Prophecies of Jesus' Crucifixion

Lea Sylvester

As we approach the Holy Days, when we remember the sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb that took away the sin of all who believe, and we celebrate His three days and three nights in the grave and His victorious resurrection at the end of the third day, it is appropriate and perfect to look at particular Scriptures that relate to that day.

We find that very much of the Old Testament is prophetic, speaking of the then-future Messiah, as well as of the Messianic Kingdom. For example, Isaiah 52 and 53 speak of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 52:14 says that the Messiah would be disfigured, and Isaiah 53:1-12 presents a description of the suffering Messiah and the atonement He offered through His sacrifice. These prophecies are shown fulfilled in Matthew 8:17, Luke 18:31-33, Mark 10:34, 15:38, John 1:11, Romans 5:18-19, and I Peter 2:22-24.

Psalm 22 is an important prophecy of the torture and death Jesus experienced at His crucifixion. It poignantly describes the feelings, emotions, and physical condition of our Lord as He experienced the horrific beating, mocking and death for us. A verse-by-verse examination show that the psalm points with great fullness and precision to Jesus' death on the cross.

Psalm 22:1-2

Of the seven utterances Christ gave while hanging on the cross, it is this one that shows His torment: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Here, He is actually quoting Psalm 22:1, the outcry of a righteous man who is suffering severe torment unto death.

This is a man going through extreme anguish made worse by God's seeming refusal to help. Why did Jesus apply the opening words to His own case? Because while He bore the heavy burden of all sin, God indeed turned His back upon Him. A gulf of alienation divided the Father and the Son for the first time in all eternity. The painful rejection described by the psalmist is exactly what Jesus endured on the cross.

As His death approached, Jesus remembered the psalm that was prophetic of His own brutal death. He cried out the opening words for all to hear, then kept mostly silent while the psalm continued to pass through His mind. As His torment went on, His further meditation upon the psalm occasionally prompted Him to speak again.

Psalm 22:3-5

The psalmist/writer/speaker's confession of God as the God of His fathers (Psalm 22:4), reveals that He belongs to the nation of Israel. Jesus was and is, of course, a member of this nation. He is a member of the Tribe of Judah.

Psalm 22:6-8

The psalmist/writer/speaker's circumstances become clear here. He is a righteous man in distress (Matthew 27:23), and His sufferings have made Him the reproach [disgrace] of evil men (Psalm 22:6). They have gathered to mock Him (Psalm 22:7).

The plight of the speaker in Psalm 22 corresponds perfectly to Jesus' as He hung on the cross. He was a spectacle in the midst of many enemies, including the Jewish leaders who called out, "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God" (Psalm 22:8; Matthew 27:43).

Psalm 22:9-10

Here we can clearly discern that this psalm describes no ordinary man, for He can boast that He trusted in God when He was only an infant (Psalm 22:9). Before birth, He knew God (Psalm 22:10). The possession of God-consciousness so early in life is surely proof that the speaker has a uniquely exalted nature. To have enjoyed such fellowship with God, He must be God's Anointed One, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ).

Psalm 22:11-13

These passages demonstrate that this man has no ordinary enemy. He sees some of the mockers around Him as "bulls of Bashan" (Psalm 22:12). Bashan, east of The Galilee, was famous for its rich fields and pastures. Its teeming herds of well-fed cattle no doubt supplied many of the bulls sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem. So, it is likely that the epithet "bulls of Bashan" expresses how the dying Messiah would perceive the chief priests who stood jeering Him as He hung on the cross (Matthew 27:41).

The Temple where the priests worked was essentially a slaughterhouse. Perhaps their hands and clothes smelled like the blood and burning flesh of bulls. Jesus may have perceived them as bulls for another reason also — because like bulls they were dangerous, mean-tempered, and ignorant. Although He was dying for these wretched examples of humanity, though He desired their repentance and salvation, He saw them realistically. As God, He knew what they were.

However, the chief priests were not the principal movers behind the Crucifixion. They were simply pawns of another creature, "a ravening and a roaring lion" (Psalm 22:13).

This expression refers to the devil, who appears under the figure of a lion in other texts (Psalm 91:13; 1 Peter 5:8). As Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) was suffering on the cross, He saw the destroyer of souls as the controlling intelligence behind the men who had brought Him to His death.

Psalm 22:14-15

These verses begin the graphic description of Jesus' crucifixion. The first two describe His chief sensations on the cross:

I am poured out like water (Psalm 22:14) — The dominant sensation was pain, especially the pain caused by the nails piercing His hands and feet. The continuing battle between the upward pull of the nails and the downward pull of gravity gave Him an unrelieved sense of falling, of being poured out. It was natural to compare Himself to water, because His ordeal [merciless disfiguring beatings included] had reduced Him to total exhaustion, and He felt watery. Yet the imagery is complex. The pouring of water is also a figure for the spilling of His blood.

All my bones are out of joint (Psalm 22:14) — "Out of joint" is better translated "spread apart." The grotesque stretching of His arms and cramping of His legs as Messiah hung on the cross must truly have produced a sensation of extreme pressure on His joints. It is possible that in a typical crucifixion, the victim's arms were attached to the patibulum before it was lifted onto the stipes. It is likely that the pull on His arms as He was yanked off the ground actually dislocated His shoulders.

As the hours wore on, He sensed approaching death. He perceived three threats to His vital functions:

My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels (Psalm 22:14) — He became conscious that He was on the brink of heart failure. Overexertion and lack of oxygen had so weakened His heart that it had become more like soft wax than hard muscle. Moreover, the wax was melting. The wall of the heart had ruptured, and blood had begun to seep into the heart cavity.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd (Psalm 22:15) — The long hours of bleeding and unbearable pain had completely sapped His strength. He was now aware that His body was no longer stronger than death.

My tongue cleaveth to my jaws (Psalm 22:15) — From loss of blood and other causes of diminished blood flow in His upper body, He was suffering from acute physiological shock, a life-threatening condition. One symptom of the condition is a profound thirst. These words from Psalm 22 may have prompted Messiah Yeshua to utter His fifth saying on the cross, "I thirst."

Thou hast brought me into the dust of death (Psalm 22:15) — The next statement summarizes Jesus' condition as He neared the end of His ordeal. In other words, His body had reached a nonviable state. He continued to live only by His own divine power.

Psalm 22:16-18

The next verses show more of the scene about the cross:

Dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me (Psalm 22:16) — "Dogs" was a Hebrew term of insult for Gentiles, alluding to their habit of eating unclean food. Jesus Himself once compared Gentiles to dogs (Matthew 15:26), although, with characteristic kindness, He turned insult into endearment by His choice of words. The label He put on Gentiles signifies a family pet. The term "dogs" here in Psalm 22 probably refers to the Roman soldiers who gawked with pleasure upon the spectacle of Jesus' death.

The assembly of the wicked (Psalm 22:16) — This comprehends all of the onlookers who hated Him — the soldiers and religious leaders, as well as the profane Jewish mob (Matthew 27:39-40; Luke 23:35). The psalmist/writer/speaker of the psalm evidently conceives of this hostile assembly as the antithesis of the "brethren," the "congregation," who would later rejoice at the deliverance of the righteous victim.

They pierced my hands and my feet (Psalm 22:16) — Could there be clearer proof that the psalm describes a crucifixion? In what other mode of execution does the victim suffer a piercing of his hands and feet?

I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me (Psalm 22:17) — "Tell" means "count exactly" (see Psalm 22:22, below). Another peculiar feature of crucifixion is that before the executioners hoisted the victim into the air, they confiscated at least his outer garments. Jesus also suffered this indignity (John 19:23). A further account of Jesus' garments comes next:

They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (Psalm 22:18) — It was customary at a Roman crucifixion for the attending soldiers to divide the garments of the condemned man among themselves. Accordingly, the garments of The Messiah were apportioned into four shares (John 19:23). The soldiers determined who would take His outer coat by casting lots (John 19:24; see also, Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:34).

Psalm 22:19-31

I will declare thy name (Psalm 22:22) — the word "declare" is derived from the Hebrew caphar, a primitive root, meaning, "to score with a mark as a tally or record, i.e., by implication, to inscribe, and also to enumerate; intensively, to recount, i.e., celebrate" (Strong's Concordance). This is a prophetic reference to Yeshua. As part of His ministry He declared or announced His Father's Name to His disciples, Hebrews 2:12.

And none can keep alive his own soul (Psalm 22:29) — This may be the inspiration behind Jesus' utterance "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

He hath done this (Psalm 22:31) — "It is finished" (John 19:30) was unquestionably His victorious restatement of the psalm's conclusion. The saying and the psalm's conclusion are each a single word. In Greek, tetelestai, in Hebrew, asah. The former is a close Greek translation of the latter, which carries the sense, "He has acted with effect." In other words, "He has accomplished the purpose of His action." What did Jesus mean by His last utterance? He meant that He had finished the work of our salvation. We find this, as well, in Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.

Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) was obviously near death when He recited the concluding verses of Psalm 22. They look forward to the time when Jesus will be "governor among the nations" (Psalm 22:28) and when "all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him" (Psalm 22:29; compare with Philippians 2:9-11). Everyone will then recognize that no man can live forever except through Jesus' power, for He is the Lord of Life.

An uninformed reader of Psalm 22 might suspect that the writer is knowingly describing a crucifixion. The facts prove otherwise, however. This method of punishment was not widely used until approximately the sixth century B.C. This was long after any plausible date for Psalm 22. So, what we have in this psalm is supernatural knowledge of the future. This Psalm describes future event not fulfilled until Messiah Yeshua was crucified. Psalm 22 prophesies in great detail the horrific torture and subsequent death of the Lamb of God.

Published 4-10-17