The Psalms are powerful, enduring songs from ancient Israel that still inspire us today. They praise the character of our heavenly sovereign, giving thanks for what he has done. They lament when things aren’t working out as they should under God’s reign. That’s the power of the Psalms: in joy and injustice, they refocus us on the one who rules. The heart of the Psalms is the refrain, The Lord reigns!
When Christians read the Psalms, we’re faced with a puzzle: Should I see Jesus in Israel’s ancient songs? Or should I read them as Israel understood them before Jesus’ time? Are the Psalms intended to be prophetic, about the one who was to come?
The Psalms were not written to make predictions about Jesus. They’re more the voice of David, the royal family who represented God’s reign on earth for 400 years. But eventually other nations invaded, so the sons of David ceased reigning. All the wonderful poems of God’s reign through David fell in a hole. For 600 years.
Then Jesus came, announcing the restoration of the kingdom of God. This son of David was anointed by God to restore divine kingship to the earth. All the regal statements about David in the Psalms are restored — fulfilled — in Jesus, God’s anointed (Christ).
It’s not that Israel’s poets set out to make predictions about Jesus. It’s that all the wonderful things they said about God reigning through David are finally restored and fulfilled in Jesus.
That’s what the New Testament writers are saying when they quote the Psalms seventy-seven times. They’re not claiming that Israel’s song writers tried to predict Jesus; they’re claiming that Jesus is the one anointed by God to reign, to restore his kingship on earth, the kingship that had not been represented for 600 years.
To understand how Jesus fulfils the Psalms, we must first understand how David represented God’s reign and how that representation had failed. We need to ask these questions, in order:
- What did this Psalm mean for Israel?
- What does it mean when we re-read it in light of Jesus?
- What does it mean for us today?
Psalm 2 is one of the most quoted Psalms (Acts 4:26; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5; Revelation 2:27; 19:15). It uses tantalizing language: Messiah (anointed/Christ) in verse 2, son of God in verse 7, nations under his kingship in verse 8.
Yes, Jesus fulfils the Psalms. Like Aslan ending the interminable winter, the Christ ends earth’s oppression under evil, restoring divine kingship to the earth.
That’s what the Psalms say: the Lord reigns! His Anointed restores his reign.
What others are saying
Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988), 70:
As we read the Psalms as Christians, two errors need to be avoided. The first is that we neglect a psalm’s original setting. Messianic psalms, in an exclusively narrow sense, do not exist.
The second error, though, is to miss the anticipation, the expectation of the Psalms. The New Testament transforms our understanding of the Psalms as we read it in the light of the coming of Jesus Christ.