Jesus in the Psalms
Jesus’ appearance in the Psalter begins with Psalm 2. God the father responds to rebellious kings and nations by stating that he has setup his Anointed, his king and his son, over them. The son, Jesus, goes on to explain that God has given him authority to judge the nations. Given this, the psalmist then pleads with the kings to take refuge in him, and a Gospel call is given at the beginning of the Bible’s largest book.
Jesus’ activity in the psalter does not stop there. The author of Hebrews tells us that David is referring to Jesus in Psalm 8 when he says, “You [God] have made him [Jesus] a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor.” Paul tells us that David is referring to Jesus in Psalm 68 when he says, “You ascended on high leading a host of captives in your train.”
But Jesus is not just a topic of discussion in the psalter. He prays and speaks in the psalms, sometimes in accord with the voice of the psalmist. Jesus sings at least the first verse and possibly the whole of Psalm 22 from the cross because his voice was in it prophetically when David wrote it. This means that as we hear David lamenting about his experience, we hear Jesus lamenting from the cross at the same time. The purpose of David’s suffering was fulfilled by his savior.
Sometimes Jesus’ voice is distinct from the psalmist. In Psalm 41 David laments to God, “Heal me for I have sinned against you.” In verse 9 Jesus appears, saying, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me . . . raise me up that I may repay them!”
The first-person voice has not altered in the psalm giving us no warning as to the change of person. We know it from two things. The office of vengeance belongs to God’s Anointed, Jesus, not David. And while David’s role as a king typifies Jesus’ role in that same office, we know from David’s character that he did not seek personal vengeance. Finally, we know this because Jesus refers to this psalm in the upper room in reference to Judas.
Why does Jesus live this way in the psalms? One way to view the psalms is as Jesus’ pre-incarnate ministry, guiding the prayers of his people and fulfilling them perfectly in his ministry on earth. He shows us what a faithful heart is when he pleads with God about his mission to the cross (Ps. 69.5-8), he shows us how to believe in God’s promises with humility (Ps. 91, Mt. 4.5-7), and he gives us the hope of his eternal reign (Ps. 24).