The Christology of the Psalms in Brief Compass (1)

Everyone knows that from an evangelical perspective that there are a number of psalms that are designated “Messianic.”  The main “Messianic Psalms” are Psalms 2, 22, 69, 110, and 118.  These are so-called mainly because they are employed by the NT writers to relate in some way to aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry.  Psalm 8 might also be treated, though debate over its OT Messianic overtones usually debars it from inclusion as a Messianic Psalm.  But there are other psalms which, although they are not directly cited by the NT, are yet understood by God’s people to speak of Christ.

In this article I am going to attempt to see what can be found out about the doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ from the Book of Psalms.  I want to ask how clearly the Psalms paint for us a portrait of the Second Person of the Trinity.

A. Preview

Psalm 2 speaks first in v.2 of the Lord (Yahweh) and His Anointed (Meschiach) in the context of rampant and universal antagonism.

Psalm 22 describes the terrible suffering of the Messiah; His isolation in the midst of His enemies.

Psalm 69 is used by John to refer to Christ’s feelings when He cleansed the Temple.

Psalm 110 contains statements which cannot be applied to any other but Jesus.  This includes a special priesthood and kingship.

Psalm 118 is a Hallel Psalm which speaks among other things of Jesus’ rejection and eventual exaltation.

So right off the bat from these briefest of descriptions of just six “Messianic” Psalms, the following Christological facts:

  • Messiah is the chosen One of God and is hated by the nations.  There is a special relation to God and a corresponding reaction to that relation from the world.
  • Messiah is to suffer at the hands of His enemies.  This means that God’s enemies will be permitted to take God’s Anointed and make Him suffer for having this special relationship with God.
  • Messiah will be zealous for pure worship.  This implies an impurity and hypocrisy in the prescribed worship of the religious leaders of the day.
  • Messiah will triumph over His enemies and will rule the nations.  One day all political concerns will be placed in one hand!  There will be many who exercise limited authority, but these will do so as service for the Lord of Lords.
  • He will also supply a necessary intermediary function between His people and God.  As there will be no High Priest from the Levite line Jesus Himself has taken the role but as representing the Melchizedekian line.  Spiritual and political realms will come together in Messiah Jesus.
  • Messiah will first suffer rejection, but this rejection will result in the destruction of those who reject Him, while insuring His adoration and praise.  Messiah’s humiliation and exaltation are connected with God’s judgment and God’s restoration of mankind to a fully appreciative and worshipful relationship with their Creator.

B. Do the Psalms Provide Us with a Picture of Christ?

Without exploring every detail of these Psalms I now want to fill in the portrait of Christ with which the NT makes us familiar from data gleaned from within the Psalms.  I shall not trawl through each psalm individually.  Rather I want to draw from the Book in much the same way one might draw from, say, Romans, to teach Bible doctrine.  We expect to see Jesus in the Psalms, because He has Himself gone there; for example, when He expounded things concerning Himself to the men on the Emmaus road in Luke 24:44.

The basic categories into which we shall divide a presentation of the Person and Work of Christ are these:

  • Pre-existence
  • Deity
  • Humanity
  • Sinlessness
  • Threefold Office
  • Sacrificial Death
  • Resurrection and Ascension

Christ’s Pre-existence is an often overlooked teaching of Scripture.  It is taught very clearly in e.g. Jn. 1:1-3; 6:62; 8:58 and 17:5 in the NT, and strongly implied in Mic. 5:2 and Prov. 8:22-23.  Wrapped up with this doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ are a number of vital truths: His deity; His glory, His condescension, and His kingly rights.

The Psalms too reflect this teaching.  An example is in Psalm 8:7.  As it is applied to Christ in the NT it implies His pre-existence.  This is certainly the case in the context of Hebrews 1:1-8.  But I think it is made even more plain in other statements in Hebrews which rely upon the Psalms:

  • In Hebrews 2:7, which quotes Psalm 8:5, we read, “You have made him a little lower than the angels.”  The Psalms passage is used in such a way as to require an interpretation that views Christ as having previously held a status equal at least to angels.  He comes into the world from a superior sphere in order to come as a man.  This way of seeing Him increases when one reads Hebrews 2:14, 17 and its implication of pre-existence in the words “He…shared in the same”, and, “He had to be made like His brethren.”  Both statements rely upon Psalm 8:5.
  • Again, the author of Hebrews helps us see an allusion to Christ’s pre-existence when   he compares Jesus to Melchizedek in Hebrews 7.  If we turn there (7:11-25), we read about “the power of an endless life”; that “He continues forever,” and that, “He always lives to make intercession.”
  • There is an interesting quotation in Hebrews 10:5 concerning the pre-existence of Christ: “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.”

What is interesting is that the writer of Hebrews has here followed the Greek OT (i.e. LXX) rendering of Psalm 40:6.  As a recent book on Christ’s pre-existence by puts it: “The language of the passage appears most consistent with that of personal preexistence, with the one receiving the body already in some other form.” – Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith, (IVP, 2005), 132.

I should say that in establishing His pre-existence one also establishes His deity and humanity.


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