Voices: When prophecy doesn’t seem like prophecy

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A friend of mine met me for a cup of coffee one day.

“Rich, I know you love studying prophecy,” he said, “but honestly, I really don’t get into it. I just don’t have time to devote myself to it. In truth, I’ve read very little prophecy and honestly, I’m not that interested when others start talking about ‘end times’ and all that.”

“You mean, you haven’t studied the prophets in the Old Testament?” I asked.

“Not really.”

I shrugged. “You’ve studied more prophecy than you realize.”

He looked at me, puzzled.

“Ever read the Psalms?” I asked.

“Of course! I love the Psalms. They’re comforting and encouraging.”

“Well, then,” I said, “you’ve studied prophecy. The Psalms are full of prophecy.”

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I opened my Bible to Psalm 22 and read to him.

David’s frustration with God

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1).

Psalm 22 was written by David at a time when he was frustrated by God’s apparent lack of response to his plea for help. God seldom responds as quickly as we think he should.

David was pursued by King Saul. God had anointed David to be the next king, and Saul—the current king—wanted him killed to protect and prolong Saul’s own reign on the throne. Saul’s soldiers closed in on David.

David felt worthless and vulnerable. His enemies surrounded him and taunted and mocked him as they tightened the circle around him. From the words of his poem, we feel and even taste David’s misery and the fear that gripped him.

David’s enemies were certain they were going to catch him and began dividing his clothes among themselves. They cast lots to see who got first dibs.

But even in these dire circumstances, David never lost his faith in God. “You are my strength,” he declared. “Come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19).

And God did. We know from history David survived and eventually escaped. Saul was defeated, and David became the new king of Israel.

After sharing this with my friend, I turned to Matthew 27 and read to him.

Jesus’ Davidic prayer

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46).

“Sound familiar?” I asked my friend. “Hanging from the cross, Jesus precisely quoted the first verse of Psalm 22.”

Jesus knew well why God the Father was forsaking him. It’s the reason why Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth in the first place. He was the Lamb of God who must be slain for the forgiveness of sins.

At that moment, the sins of the world—all the sins of people alive then, ever had lived or ever would live in the future, throughout all the ages—at that very moment the sins of all the world were accredited to Jesus.

Your sin, my sin, our sins. All were transferred then from our accounts to the account of Jesus, the one who never sinned.

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

But if Jesus knew that, then why did he cry out from the cross? Perhaps, emotionally he was overwhelmed. But more than that, this was Jesus’ way of telling the world Psalm 22, written 10 centuries earlier, is all about him.

Jesus’ crucifixion foretold

Written 1,000 years before the cruel form of capital punishment called “crucifixion” even was invented, Psalm 22 describes in detail the physical death of Jesus.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth (Psalm 22:14-15).

That describes what happens to the human body when it is nailed to a wooden cross with iron spikes.

Psalm 22:7-8 also describes the events of Jesus’ crucifixion as Matthew recorded them (Matthew 27:39-43).

“You see,” I told my friend, “when you read Psalm 22, you are reading prophecy. It just doesn’t seem like prophecy.”

David wrote:

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment (Psalm 22:16-18).

Matthew recorded these very things happening to Jesus (Matthew 27:34-37).

The interesting thing about the charge against Jesus is, though it certainly is true—Jesus was and is King of the Jews and the whole world, for that matter—never once did he claim to be so, though he did not deny it when Pontius Pilate asked him (Luke 23:3).

“And what’s more,” I told my friend, “the prophecy you read in Psalm 22 doesn’t end with the death of Christ. He prophesied about you, too.”

“Me?” My friend was shocked when I said that.

“And me, too. David prophesied:

Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it (Psalm 22:30-31).

“You serve Jesus, don’t you?” I asked my friend.

He nodded.

“And don’t tell me when you have grandchildren—that ‘generation yet unborn’—you won’t be declaring to that grandchild what Jesus has done for you. I know you will.”

Jesus has done that which no one else could do. Jesus paid the penalty for your sin, so you may spend eternity with him.

“So, you see,” I said. “You’ve studied prophecy when it didn’t seem like prophecy at all.”

Rich Mussler is an author and Bible teacher at First Baptist Church in Lewisville. He also produces a weekly videocast on YouTube. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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