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.
- 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).
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?