Are the Psalms about Jesus Christ?
Some say yes, to a great extent, while others limit their yes to specific “Messianic” verses quoted in the New Testament and labeled as such.
Among those who limit their “yes” are those who say that the original verses most likely referred specifically to some king in Israel’s past and down through a line of succession became applied to Christ. They might say that Christ “quoted” a psalm, such as Psalm 22:1 while hanging on the cross. By saying “quoted,” they mean that Christ appropriated the psalm and made it apply to himself. In other words, Christ did not originate the psalmic words at the moment he spoke them. By whatever means they may have entered his mind at the moment, he repeated what had already been written about someone else on a different occasion and then applied those words to himself and his own situation. This is quite different than saying that the original psalm meant Christ all along, even from the beginning.
Among those authors who say “yes!” unreservedly are those who may feel that the original words as first written were always prophetic utterances by the psalmists, which from the beginning point forward to the life and prayers of the Son of God during his incarnation. I fall into this category.
Most of the authors who write academic books and have good academic reputations, no matter what their opinions on the matter, build good biblical cases to support their views. Therefore, this author–myself, has come to the conclusion that whether or not any given reader perceives Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Son of God, in the psalms as written is a personal, subjective matter representative of the faith of that reader and the activity of the Holy Spirit in that reader’s heart. In other words, one’s belief occurs first, and the academic rationale follows. This means that for the most part, academic arguments will convince very few to change their minds.
For example, reading many academic arguments against my own point of view on this topic has never changed my mind that Christ in his incarnation is why God willed the psalms to be written. Does this indicate that I am close minded? No, it simply means that I continue to believe that I correctly heard God speak into my heart through the Holy Spirit via certain psalms that these words are the voice of Christ prophetically spoken through the psalmist. Yet because I do have an academic awareness, I simply kept searching until I found some academic arguments that match my own presuppositions, or in my case, experiences. (I am not saying that those who think differently than I do not believe in God or do not have faith in Christ.)
Because faith comes by believing and by the Holy Spirit, academic arguments perhaps most often fall short of leading one to either salvation or devotion. And because my great interest in Psalms is devotional, this blog presentation will be for the most part devotional. I am not seeking to build an academic argument. I am seeking to share what I have discovered and to lead others who may be so disposed to seek God in prayer to ask him to reveal Christ to their hearts through the Old Testament, and in particular through Psalms. The Holy Spirit can open to eager heart what Jesus himself opened to his disciples shortly after his resurrection:
Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 14: 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Quotations from Authors Who Find Christ in Psalms
According to the witness of the Bible, David is, as the anointed king of the chosen people of God, a prototype of Jesus Christ. … And he is not unaware of this, but “being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30 f.). David was a witness to Christ in his office, in his life, and in his words. The New Testament says even more. In the Psalms of David the promised Christ himself already speaks (Hebrews 2:12; 10:5) or, as may also be indicated, the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7). These same words which David spoke, therefore, the future Messiah spoke through him. The prayers of David were prayed also by Christ. Or better, Christ himself prayed them [the prayers of Psalms] through his forerunner David [emphasis added]. (Bonhoeffer, Psalms, 18-19.)
The emphasized portion of the above quotation perfectly expresses my own perception of very many of the psalms, a conclusion I arrived at independently of Bonhoeffer. He goes on to explain how we as believers can pray the same prayers because and only because Christ prayed them first.
Not just those psalms that directly mention the king or aspects of his reign and kingdom are Messianic psalms. The New Testament implies that all psalms have a relationship to Jesus Christ [emphasis added]. Thus Psalm 31, which in its Old Testament context does not seem to have a Messianic emphasis, is messianic in the sense that it refers to the person or work of Jesus Christ, as is clearly shown in its use in Luke 23:46. This does not mean we are dependent on the New Testament for which psalms are Messianic because a broader principle is at work, a principle rooted in Jesus’ statements in Luke 24:44-47…this principle, which is the basis for the view that all the psalms relate to the person and/or work of Jesus Christ. (Belcher, The Messiah and the Psalms, 30.)
The psalter is the book most often quoted in the New Testament, with the same status as the prophets. David is given there the role of a prophet (Acts 2.30; 4.2). For their part, the rabbinical writings recognize the prophetic inspiration of David and the psalmists. This is clear from the Targum on the psalms: Ps. 14.1, ‘To praise, in the spirit of prophecy, through the intervention of David’; (Tournay, Seeing and Hearing God with the Psalms, 31). [Tournay cites many more examples.]
The greatest evil people can suffer is loneliness. But God has taken the initiative in overcoming this: thanks to the psalms, we can directly see and hear God (Tournay, Seeing and Hearing God with the Psalms, 32).