Psalm 22 Part 1 - Prophecy of the crucifixion and the wrath of man

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Bible Studies on the Messianic Psalms

Psalm 22 Part 1 - Prophecy of the crucifixion and the wrath of man

by I Gordon


In this study we are entering into the holiest of grounds in relation to the cross... Psalm 22. This is the Rolls Royce of Messianic prophecies concerning what happened at Calvary 2000 years ago. This Psalm, along with Isaiah 53, gives the greatest detail of not only what Jesus went through physically, but also, and more importantly, what he went through spiritually. But before we begin looking at this critical prophetic passage I want to start with a passage about prophecy in general.

A few months back I was in correspondence with an Atheist who wanted to know why I believed. This man's motive was to try and convince me that God doesn't exist, and well, that Jesus never existed either! Good luck with that! So how do we know that God exists and that Jesus was who He said He was - the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? If a non-Christian said to you 'What proofs have you that what you believe is true?' what would you say?

The God of Prophecy

Let's look at one passage where God declares how we can know. The statement I want to start with is Isaiah 41:21-23

Isaiah 41:21-23 Present your case, says the LORD. "Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. (22) Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, (23) tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.

In the days of Isaiah, everyone had 'a god'. All the nations and their inhabitants were religious in that sense. The question was who is right? So the God of the Bible issues a challenge here to any who would claim to be 'gods'. It is a simple two fold challenge: Tell us the former things and the things still to come. In other words, if you think you are worshipping the true God then tell us how this planet and life began. Man can't do it. Evolutionists can't do it. [1] What about what is still to come? If a so-called 'god' is actually 'God' then He would know both, right? Now a person may be able to make something up about how things began because we weren't there to verify it. But the truthfulness or lack thereof is abundantly exposed in trying to declare what is still to come! [2] Predicting what is to come is not so easy. Man-made future predictions are about as accurate as the weatherman who said 'I'm 90 percent right - 10 percent of the time.'

Yet the entire Bible is made up of approximately 28-30% prophecy of what is still to come and it is 100% accurate! Our God knows the end from the beginning. When new news is revealed each day, God hasn't learnt anything new. He knows it before it happens. When a political party reveals some great new policy, God hasn't learnt anything new. Well, we are none the wiser either for that matter! Yet with Bible prophecy we have recorded predictions made hundreds and even thousands of years before they came to pass. Yet they have been proven true. So we are going to look at one such chapter this morning.

Psalm 22 - Overview

Let's start with a simple overview of this chapter. It was written by King David around 1000 BC. Yet it goes far, far beyond anything that happened to him. It has 31 verses and about half of those have a direct reference and fulfilment recorded in the New Testament. It begins with 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' and ends, in the original, with the expression 'It is finished'. And if you know the words that Jesus spoke from the cross then you will know that those are two of the most important statements that He made. This chapter describes in amazing detail the process and results of crucifixion 500 years before crucifixion was first introduced or practised. [3] While popularised and perfected (if you can call it that!) by the Roman Empire, the Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that the first historical record of Crucifixion was about 519 BC when "Darius I, king of Persia, crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon.'

Now the Psalm itself can be split as follows:

1) Wrath from God (verses 1-6)

2) Wrath from man - both verbal and physical (verses 7-21)

3) Blessing of God for Messiah & believers. (verses 22-31)

We'll look at this Psalm in the order of how it played out at Calvary, starting with the wrath of man.

The wrath from man - Verbal Mental.

(7) All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: (8) He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him. (9) Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast. (10) From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. (11) Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Leading up to this, Jesus had been arrested during the night before and had trials before the Jewish High Priest and Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. He had been scourged, has a mock purple robe put on with a crown of thorns and is lead away to be crucified. So our passage begins with the wrath and taunts of man. Jesus was placed on the cross at 9am in the morning and was on the cross for just over 6 hours. Commentators often split those hours between the wrath of man for the first three and the wrath of God for the last three because of the great darkness that enveloped the land from 12-3pm. Verses 7-8 record basically word for word what is later stated in the Gospels concerning the mocking and taunts from mankind when Jesus was on the cross. Here is how Mathew records it:

Matthew 27:39-44 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads (40) and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" (41) In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. (42) He saved others, they said, "but he can't save himself! If he's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (43) He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' " (44) In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Let's look at the group mocking Jesus: First you've got the general masses; the average Israelite passing by and wanting to have a gawk at the latest crucifixion... they're shaking their heads at him as if they are His superior and have a go. Then you've got the religious echelon: The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. They still remember the day when Jesus rightfully pointed out, in public, that they were 'the blind leading the blind', 'whitewashed tombs' and 'snakes and a brood of vipers'... Not sure Jesus had read 'how to win friends and influence people' when it came to the religious leaders of His day. So they're there enjoying this moment. And then you've got the criminals... the robbers. There was one crucified on each side of Jesus and both of them, at least at the beginning, are hurling insults at Jesus. Thankfully one turned.

How would you have responded at such a time to all the insults? Possibly with a little spite and venom? 'Go take a running jump...' may have been getting close to the tip of your tongue. How did Jesus respond? Peter tells us:

1 Peter 2:22-23 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. (23) When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.'

And that is what we see in this passage in Psalm 22. In the face of the insults He reminds Himself of how the Father has been there for Him since He was in the womb. He has trusted in God since being on His mother's breast. God was always His rock and strength.

(12) Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. (13) Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

In a later verse He also adds that 'dogs have encircled me'. So this psalm likens three groups of those around Jesus to three different animals: Bulls, dogs and lions. The Believer's Bible Commentary (Big Blue) notes: 'Bashan, east of the Jordan, was known for its rich pasture-land and for its strong, well-fattened animals. Amos later referred to the luxury-loving Israelites as cows of Bashan.' So this reference is likely pointing to the rich powerful religious leaders of Israel who lived off the fat of the land. 'Dogs' is a well know term for Gentiles and in this case would have spoken of the Roman soldiers and leaders who carried out the crucifixion. Finally the lion is used as a metaphor for Satan so this reference may be speaking spiritually of the warfare and circling going on in the demonic realm.

So here are the groups circling: Religion, the world and Satan...It is worth noting that these three are persecuting Christians with greater urgency and in greater numbers today than ever before. And as a passing comment it should be noted that persecution will come to the west. We should never think we are immune.

From Man - Physical Wrath: Crucifixion.

Let's move on to the physical aspect of man's persecution in verses 14-19:

(14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. (15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. (16) Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. (17) I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. (18) They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (19) But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

Remember: This is describing crucifixion in detail 500 years before it would be invented, 900 years before the Romans began using it and 1000 years before Jesus would be crucified [4] . This was not a Jewish method of capital punishment - that was stoning. The psalmist is describing something entirely foreign to the Jews in this prophetic Psalm. In view of this, let's examine the description of crucifixion given here:

I am poured out like water: Jesus is at the point of complete and utter exhaustion! He has nothing left. His life has been poured out through the hot beating sun and the agony of continually trying to lift Himself up to breathe.

All my bones are out of joint: Ever had a dislocated bone or joint? The ligaments hold our bones in joint. They are like strong rubber bands but when they are stretched too far or break, the bone is forced out of its joint. You can only imagine the intense pressure on the bones and joints and ligaments as the victim hung from the cross which is being described here.

My heart has turned to wax: The heart, under immense shock and sustained pressure as described above, is giving way.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth: Extreme dehydration is setting in. He compares Himself to a piece of broken pottery. A broken clay vessel completely dried out by the furnace of God - Physically and spiritually. It was at this point that Jesus spoke from the cross saying 'I thirst'.

They have pierced my hands and my feet: That of course is exactly what a crucifixion does. The nails to hold the victim to the cross are driven through the wrist area normally and through the feet. This word 'pierced' is important. This is the first of three highly significant prophetic scriptures using it. This one in Psalm 22 describes the actual physical act of crucifixion: They pierced my hands and my feet. The second describes the reason why:

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The third prophetic passage is in Zechariah and describes a coming day when the nation of Israel's eyes will be opened and they will see what they did:

Zechariah 12:10 ...They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

I can count all my bones: Like most victims crucified by Rome, it is likely that Jesus was naked. All His bones were visible and, as his bones were out of joint, they would have been prominent. But in fulfillment of another Psalm (34:20) none of his bones were broken. Thus when the soldiers came to break the legs of the victims to bring about a quicker death (as the victim wasn't then able to push themselves up to breath) they found that Jesus had already died and didn't break His legs. And all the while that this happened, houses around Israel prepared their Passover lamb in strict adherence to the Biblical command that, among other things, the lamb should not have any bones broken. (Ex 12:46) And yet they were willfully blind to the fact that the real Passover Lamb was being sacrificed at that same time upon a cross.

Finally; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. This is exactly what the Roman soldiers did. All four gospel writers record this act. John writes:

John 19:23-24 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (24) Let's not tear it, they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.


We are only halfway through this Psalm but I want to draw a few conclusions from what we have read so far:

  1. My sin put Him there
    Jesus didn't go through this for Himself. He had no sin to pay for. Someone once said 'Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.' As I read through this Psalm again I couldn't help think of my own life - not just as a non-Christian but also as a believer and realize that that alone was enough to put Jesus on the cross. As we read from the prophet Isaiah: 'But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities...'

  2. For a good part of our life we were likely no different to the crowds mocking Jesus
    We like to think of ourselves, had we been there in that day, standing with Jesus, supporting Him and opposing the angry mocking crowd. Yet most of us spent a long part of our life just going along with the flow of the crowd thinking and acting as they do.

    Our Daily Bread: When you study the painting of the crucifixion by the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt, your attention is first drawn to the cross and to Jesus. Then, as you look at the crowd around the cross, you are drawn to the faces of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes drift to the edge of the picture and catch sight of another figure - almost hidden in the shadows. This, we are told, was a self-portrait of Rembrandt, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus there!

    Someone has aptly said, 'It is a simple thing to say that Christ died for the sin of the world. It is quite another thing to say that Christ died for my sin! It may be an interesting pastime to point fingers at those who crucified Jesus, but it is a shocking thought that I can be as indifferent as Pilate, as scheming as Caiaphas, as calloused as the soldiers, as ruthless as the mob, or as cowardly as the disciples. It isn't just what they did - it was I who nailed Him to the tree. I crucified the Christ of God. I joined the mockery!'

  3. The wonder of the Substitution
    Vernon McGee writes: 'My friend, He went through it all, [striped and] crucified naked, that you might be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and so be able to stand before God throughout the endless ages of eternity.'
    He was and is the substitute for all those that believe. An example story might help:

    During the war between Britain and France, men were conscripted into the French army by a kind of lottery system. When someone's name was drawn, he had to go off to battle. There was one exception to this, however. A person could be exempt if another was willing to take his place. On one occasion the authorities came to a certain man and told him he was among those who had been chosen. He refused to go, saying, "I was shot and died 2 years ago." At first they questioned his sanity, but he insisted that this indeed was the case. He claimed that the military records would show that he had been conscripted 2 years previously and that he had been killed in action. "How can that be?" they questioned. "You are alive now!" He explained that when his name came up, a close friend said to him, "You have a large family, but I am not married and nobody is dependent upon me. I'll take your name and address and go in your place." And that is indeed what the record showed. This rather unusual case was referred to Napoleon Bonaparte, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free. He had died in the person of another!

    And so it is with us. Christ was our substitute and died in our place. But God sees all believers as having died in Him; the justice of the law and the punishment for sin have already been met. It has no further legal claim on us... we are free! That's why Paul writes:

    Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...

    Why boast only in the cross? We don't boast in the hangman's noose, the guillotine, the gas chamber or the electric chair. But we do boast in the cross of Christ. Not because of the suffering and death but because of the victory won! Because He took the place we deserved so that we, for all eternity, could be free.
  4. Someone took the time to tell you about this truth...
    The last thought that I was thinking about as I went through this is that someone told us about this truth. Just about every salvation involves other people telling them the truth and praying for them. Think of your own salvation for a little while. Who was praying for you? Who spoke to you about Jesus or gave you books or Dvd's to watch to hear the truth? For me, my sister and my Mum played a big role. My sister gave me a Bible on my 18th birthday. Worst present I ever received! Or so I thought as know-it-all teenager! And they, and many others, prayed! The truth of the cross is a wonderful truth and we are not called to keep it to ourselves. On the one hand, we live in a difficult age where many hearts in the West are hardened to the truth of the Gospel. On the other hand, we live in an age where events and changes in this world start to make some to wonder what is happening and to seek for an answer outside of them. So I encourage you, if you are not already, to pray for those you know who don't know the Lord and to look for opportunities to share the Gospel, the 'Good News' where the Lord leads and the door is open.

We will continue next time with the second part of this Psalm where we go back to the initial verses and look at what Jesus experienced spiritually - both in being forsaken by God and the glories that would follow!

[1]  In an interview with Atheist Richard Dawkins in the documentary 'Expelled: No intelligence allowed' Ben Stein asks Dawkins how life began on this planet. You'd think Dawkins could answer that due to his profound love of evolution but he can't. He admits he doesn't know before finally suggesting that it may have come here from some alien seeding. God..? No, no, can't be Him. Aliens...? Yeah, could be, could be!. The fact is they have no idea. The 'simple' cell is so complex it is far beyond anything man has ever come up with. So they have no real idea about how things began... and that's just about things that have already happened!

[2]  For example, consider the following:

Ellen G. White , a so-called prophetess and spiritual founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, spoke as a prophet of God in declaring that anyone who had not accepted the Adventist message by October 22, 1844 had no hope of eternal life. (Robert D. Brinsmead, 'Judged by the Gospel: A Review of Adventism', 1980, pp. 130-133.)

Joseph Smith , founder of Mormonism, prophesied that Jesus would return before 1891 and that all nations of the world would be involved in America's civil war.

Charles Taze Russell , founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, predicted the return of Jesus in 1874. When that didn't happen, he set his sights on the date 1914 for the return. When nothing happened there he said that Jesus did return but that it was an invisible, spiritual return. Nice twist there...!

[3]  Ray Stedman gives the following, interesting, modern- day example. He writes: 'the entire world knows that on November 22, 1963, President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, while riding down a Dallas street in a motorcar. Suppose there had been in existence a document which predicted this event and which we knew to have been written in A.D. 963. That was about the time of the height of the Byzantine Empire, when most of the Western World was ruled from Constantinople, much of Europe was only sparsely inhabited by barbarian tribes, and America was not yet discovered.

Suppose that a document had been prepared in that ancient day which predicted that a time would come when a man of great prominence, head of a great nation, would be riding down a street of a large city in a metal chariot not drawn by horses, and would suddenly and violently die from the penetration of his brain by a little piece of metal hurled from a weapon made of wood and iron, aimed at him from the window of a tall building, and that his death would have world-wide effect and cause world-wide mourning. You can imagine with what awe such a document would be held today. Such a prediction would be similar to what we have in Psalm 22. That hypothetical prediction would have been made even before the invention of the motorcar, or of firearms, and five hundred years before the discovery of America. It would be regarded as fantastically accurate. Yet we have that very sort of thing in this psalm.'

[4]  In his book 'The Case for Christ', Lee Strobel interviewed Alexander Metherell, M.D. In response to a question concerning the effect of crucifixion upon its victim, Metherell responded 'Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones. After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he would have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore... Even before he died, the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion... John probably had no idea why he saw both blood and a clear fluid come out - certainly that's not what an untrained person like him would have anticipated. Yet John's description is consistent with what modern medicine would have expected to have happened.