Peter confessed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah in Matthew 16:16-20. As soon as He was recognized, Jesus revealed His destiny to the disciples. Notice verse 21, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” The rejection by the Jewish leadership and Jesus’s crucifixion were a foreseen inevitability, one that Jesus reiterates both in Matthew 17:22-23 and 20:17-18. Jesus did not predict these developments by Himself. God had long predicted through the prophets the crucifixion of His Son. In Luke 18:31, Jesus “took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.’” Following His resurrection, Jesus “opened [the disciples’] minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’” (Luke 24:45-46). Peter informed the culpable Jews a few weeks following, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). Both Jesus and His apostles believed prophetic scripture forecast the Messiah’s crucifixion.
Matthew and Mark’s accounts record Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” during His crucifixion (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, a thousand year old song written by His forefather David. As one reads the psalm, one cannot help but notice definite connections between David’s portrayal and the crucifixion of Jesus.
David expresses his faith in the ode’s first five verses. He recalls the Lord’s past faithfulness to His people and is confident God will deliver him in this desperate hour. He suddenly shifts in verse 6:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’
While the Lord responded to others in their desperate hour, David recognizes no one will come to his aid. Instead, his enemies will mock his faith in God. David likens them to a stampeding herd or a threatening pride: “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” David felt isolated in the midst of a company that delighted in his suffering and wished to see him torn limb from limb.
Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus asked God to “remove this cup from Me.” Three times He asked and three times God responded with silence (Matthew 26:39-44). The Hebrew writer tells us Jesus was heard because of his reverent submission (“not as I will, but as You will,” Matthew 26:39), but His destiny could not be altered (Hebrews 5:7-9). Others were saved in their desperate hour, Jesus was not. Thus He cries, “My God, why have you forsaken Me?” As He hung on the cross, Matthew tells us:
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 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!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! 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, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Matthew 27:39-44).
God could not grant His Son’s request leaving Jesus alone in the midst of a hostile crowd. They mocked His power, His majesty, and His faith. He was ridiculed by the powerful and the commoner alike. Amazingly, David glimpsed through the prophetic eye what his heir would one day suffer.
David continues in Psalm 22:14 with an intimate description of suffering:
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. 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. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Once again, the experience of Jesus on the cross parallels His ancestor’s psalm. “I am poured out like water…my strength is dried up…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” evoke images of waning strength and severe dehydration. Scripture does not record Jesus taking in any fluids from the moment He instituted the Lord’s Supper on. The Roman soldiers would show their prisoner no such pity as they beat and crucified Jesus. As He hung on the cross drained and dehydrated, He knew:
that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28-30).
Earlier, Jesus refused the sour wine mixed with gall; the gall would have relieved the Lord’s pain and deadened His mind, calling into question the integrity of His offering. But just before His body expired, Jesus requests a drink, “knowing that all things were now accomplished”. All that remained was the fulfillment of Psalm 22, “And My tongue clings to My jaws.”
Psalm 22:14-18 predicts several elements of death by crucifixion. “All my bones are out of joint…I can count all my bones,” figuratively describes a person deeply troubled in spirit. But if this Psalm predicts the crucifixion of Jesus, the imagery would be literally consistent with the natural pulling apart of the joints and ligaments experienced by the one suffering crucifixion. David also says, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.” Again, this could represent a heart desperate in the face of hostile enemies. However, this description strongly favors what Jesus literally experienced while crucified. In his dissection of the crucifixion, Dr. C. Truman Davis observed:
Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins — a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart…. Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. The 34th verse of the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John reports: “And immediately there came out blood and water.” That is, there was an escape of water fluid from the sac surrounding the heart, giving postmortem evidence that Our Lord died not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.
As His body pulled apart, Jesus slowly suffocated. He died not from the beatings, or the nails, or the crown of thorns, or the ridicule. He died of heart failure.
David includes one other interesting detail, “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” Some Hebrew authorities dispute whether our English Bibles accurately translate this particular passage. For instance, the Jewish Publication society translates verse 16, “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed [sic] me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet” (JPS, Psalm 22:17). However, Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint translates verse 16, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” The Greek word for pierce is ὤρυξαν (oruxan) which means to dig or burrow. Jesus uses the word in both the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33, Mark 12:1) and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:18). In the parable of the talents, the man who received one talent, “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Since piercing is akin to digging or burrowing, Brenton’s translation seems accurate. Furthermore, it is not inconsistent with the JPS translation. Though a more literal translation, the context suggests the hostile audience likened to dogs and lions intended to rend their prey. Nails driven through one’s hands and feet would be like driving the teeth of dogs or lions into one’s appendages. The figurative language is consistent with Jesus’s experience on the cross.
The predicted piercing of Jesus’s appendages is this Psalm’s most astounding prediction. David knew nothing of crucifixion. This form of capital punishment was apparently devised by the Persians. The Greeks adopted it as did the Carthaginians. The Romans learned it from the Carthaginians and perfected this brutal form of execution. That David forecast his descendant’s death by it remains one of the great wonders of Messianic prophecy.
Psalm 22 depicts the gruesome death Jesus experienced for the sins of the world. Composed a millennium before His birth and death, it stands as one of the great pieces of prophetic evidence. The Psalm not only predicts the events of the crucifixion, it also grants us insight into the sensations and thoughts of Jesus. It is both convincing and convicting.