The Old Testament book of Psalms is a collection of poetic writings made by several writers over a lengthy period of time. Most Psalms are attributed to David for authorship, and this David was king over the nation of Israel about 1000BC (probably BC1010–970 as king). Psalm 22 is attributed to his authorship. One or two of the Psalms are from a much later period, as shown for example by Psalm 126, which was written by the captives returning from Babylon to Palestine about BC450. But all had been written and compiled by the time of Nehemiah, about BC430. Certainly, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, about BC250, the completed book of Psalms was an integral part of the Hebrew Scripture. There can be no doubt whatever, then, that Psalm 22 was written well before the time of Jesus Christ—at the very least 250 years, but I believe more like a thousand years before the time of Jesus. We emphasise this because of what the Psalm says.
But before looking at that Psalm, let us first consider what a New Testament writer, Peter, records,
“Concerning this salvation [the subject that he is addressing in that portion of his letter], the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” 1 Peter 1:10, 11
Peter speaks of “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow”, and it is exactly this that the Psalm we shall consider, predicts. Verses 1 through 21 tell of Christ’s sufferings, and verses 22 through 31 tell of his glory. One of the remarkable features of this amazing Psalm is that while the first part has been fulfilled in amazing detail, the second part has not yet been fulfilled.
Let’s look at the first part:
- in verse 1, we have the cry of Jesus.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:6; Mark 15:34
- in verse 6 we have the scorning of men and despising of people.
“They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him ¼ They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.” Matthew 27:29–31
- in verses 7 and 8, we have the mockery of the bystanders.
“ ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him.” Matthew 27:42,43
- in verses 14, 15 & 17, the agony of the crucifixion.
- in verse 16, the piercing of the hands and the feet, indicating the exact method of killing that was practiced by the Romans.
- in verse 18, the disposing of the garments.
“When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Matthew 27:35
Of course, this may have all been coincidence—or perhaps the later Gospel records were contrived to look as if they were fulfilling what was expected from Psalm 22. Before we examine those possibilities, let us note two factors of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion that don’t appear in the prediction of Psalm 22.
- The fact that his side was pierced with a spear. The narrative is recorded in John 19:33, 34.
“But when [the soldiers] came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
- The fact that an earthquake followed his death. Matthew records what happened the precise moment that Jesus died.
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.” Matthew 27:51
Now if we look again at Psalm 22 we can appreciate why these two events of the crucifixion have not been recorded. The whole Psalm has been written in the first person. It is describing the feelings of a person actually experiencing crucifixion. And here is the remarkable thing—it stops relating the events surrounding the crucifixion at the immediate point of death! Jesus was unaware of the earthquake —he had just died! Jesus was unaware of the spear piercing — he had been dead for quite a while.
Isn’t it remarkable that this Psalm, while accurately revealing the action ‘blow by blow’, omits the actions that took place when the participant was dead!
But then, couldn’t the writers of the Gospels have contrived all this?
There were four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They would need to have collaborated in order to put forward a story that is so compatible and consistent between the four Gospel records. But more than this, their stories must have been credible to their readers; else they would have been rejected by their readers, and would have never made the grade for inclusion in the New Testament.
Bible critics are keen to establish that the Gospel records were written well after the events, when memories have become tarnished, and no-one is able to verify the true facts because any eye-witnesses have long since died, and even friends of eyewitnesses have died as well.