5 Allusions to Psalm 22 at Christ’s Crucifixion

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Psalm 22 stands out among the Psalms in its depiction of the psalmist’s agony and suffering. It is no wonder that Jesus quoted the psalmist’s anguished cry of “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” as he died on the cross. However, this is not the only reference to Psalm 22 in the gospel accounts of Christ’s death. In fact, there are five possible allusions. None of these allusions refer to Jesus’ physical suffering; instead, they focus on the rejection and contempt He experienced while paying the penalty for our sins.

  1. Psalm 22:18“they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  The psalmist says this to portray how close he is to death. His enemies are anticipating his death so much that they have already divided his clothes among themselves. All four gospels describe this event with John taking it further by describing it as a fulfillment of Scripture (Jn 19:23–24; Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34).
  2. Psalm 22:7—“they wag their heads.” The psalmist’s description of people’s reaction to him indicates their scorn and derision. Both Matthew and Mark allude to this: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads” (Mt 27:39; Mk 15:29). Just like the psalmist, Jesus experienced rejection and ridicule by people. How difficult it must have been for the Son of God to endure such contempt for those he was sacrificing himself to save!
  3. Psalm 22:8—He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him . . .  for He delights in him.” In Psalm 22 the psalmist wrestled with God’s silence. Despite his cries, God did not answer or deliver him (Ps 22:1–5). Because of God’s apparent absence, this taunt would have especially stung. Only Matthew includes a reference to this verse as he describes the crowd mocking Jesus for His trust in God: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Mt 27:43). Jesus also prayed to be delivered from His suffering, while still submitting Himself to God’s will (Mt 26:39). To be mocked for His humble submission to God’s must have been particularly painful for Christ.
  4. Psalm 22:1—“my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The opening line of Psalm 22 beautifully expresses the anguish of the psalmist. He is suffering greatly, but his chief concern is that God—the source of his trust and deliverance—appears to have abandoned him. Matthew and Mark both attribute these words to Jesus (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). Jesus’ physical sufferings pale in comparison to the trauma of being forsaken by God as he takes the weight of our sin upon himself
  5. Psalm 22:31—he has done it.” Psalm 22 ends, not with suffering, but with praise as the psalmist worships God for delivering him (Ps 22:25–31). He enthusiastically proclaims God’s act of salvation and deliverance throughout the world and to all generations. The final line—which consists of one word in Hebrew—can be translated either “he has done it” or simply “it is done.” Jesus may be alluding to this when he says—with one word in Greek—“it is finished” (Jn 19:30). Christ’s dying words carry many implications: God’s plan of salvation has been completed; our sin is paid for; Christ’s work on earth is done. Perhaps it is also a shout of praise like the psalmist’s words in Psalm 22:31. It is finished. God’s ultimate deliverance has been carried out. Just as the psalmist proclaimed God’s deliverance of him, so should we proclaim Christ’s work of salvation on the cross to the ends of the earth and throughout all generations.

What crucifixion imagery impacts you the most in the gospel accounts? Leave us a comment and let us know, then take a look at our special Holy Week resources.

Comments

  1. T. Christian Nelson says:

    I believe the image that truly presents itself to the Church today is that of the temple curtain being torn in two, from top to bottom. With our Lord’s death, the barrier between man and God had been destroyed. No longer is any intermediary, other than Christ, necessary. Sadly, the “altar guild” at the time was quickly despatched with the task of sewing it together again.

    Wherever the sacrifice of Christ’s offered-up-death is not assented to as the only one acceptable to God for the remission of our sin, that curtain remains intact and so does that portal to God that Jesus’ death opened for all the world. It’s a haunting vision. We peer through the opening, seeing the glory, all the while struggling with our flesh which is pulling the needle and thread through, one more time. We still think our strength, our knowledge, our contribution, our service, our love, our devotion … will save us. Peter wept bitterly when his heart melted to that one, single prophetic truth: “You [with all your boasting] will deny me”! Lord, save us … from ourselves.

  2. Dave Tadlock says:

    My favorite verse of Ps 22 is verse 24 “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him;But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” It reminds me that in my times of distress, God’s presence, support and protection are not dependent on my emotions or opinions, but, on His love and committment. I am so greatful that when I was totally sinful and unacceptable to God, He not only looked upon me, he gave me grace enough to be able to turn to him, repenting and be justified, regenerated, and adopted.