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Seeing Christ In The Psalms #2 - Principles Of Interpretation PDF Print E-mail

As Reformed believers, we need to approach the Psalms, as we would any other part of Scripture, with sound historical/ grammatical/ spiritual principles of interpretation. That will keep us in the objective truth as it is in Jesus. It is important that we do not resort to spiritualizing and allegorizing the Psalms. That would be to “insert” a Christ of our own imagination into the Psalms. Nevertheless, that every Psalm has some relationship to Christ is the teaching of our Lord himself – Luke 24:26-27, 44-47. The evidence for this position is compelling. Here is a list of the direct New Testament quotes from the Psalms with reference to Christ:

Psalm (King James Version; KJV) New Testament Reference (KJV)

Psalm 2:7
7I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Acts 13:33
33God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

Psalm 8:2
2Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
Matthew 21:16
16And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Mark 14:62
62And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Psalm 8:4-6
4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
Hebrews 2:6-8 
6But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
7Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

Mark 14:62
62And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:27 
27For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

Luke 20:42-43
42And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
43Till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

Psalm 16:8-11
8I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
10For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
11Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
Acts 2:25-28, 34-35
25For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
26Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
27Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
28Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.
34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35Until I make thy foes thy footstool.

Acts 13:35
35Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Luke 22:69
69Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.

Psalm 22:1,18,22
1My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
18They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
22I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
Matthew 27:46
46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Hebrews 1:13
13But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

Mark 15:34
34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Psalm 40
1I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
4Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
6Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
7Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,
8I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
9I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.
10I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
11Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
12For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
13Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me: O LORD, make haste to help me.
14Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.
15Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha.
16Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified.
17But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.
Hebrews 10:5-7
5Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

Psalm 45:6-7
6Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
7Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
Hebrews 1:8-9
8But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
9Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Psalm 68:18
18Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
Ephesians 4:8
8Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

Mark 12:10-11
10And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
11This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

Psalm 69:4,9,25
4They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.
9For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
25Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
John 15
1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17These things I command you, that ye love one another.
18If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
21But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
22If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
23He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
24If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.
26But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
27And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

John 2:17
17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.

Mark 11:9-10
9And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
10Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

Romans 15:3
3For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

John 12:13
13Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Acts 1:20
20For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.

Psalm 89:20
20I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
Acts 13:22
22And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.

Luke 19:38
38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

Psalm 110:1,4
1The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
4The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Matthew 22:44
44The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?

Hebrews 1:5
5For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

Hebrews 5:5
5So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

Matthew 26:64
64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Psalm   118:22-23, 25-26
22The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23This is the LORD's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
25Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
26Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.
Matthew 21:42
42Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

1 Peter 2:7
7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

Matthew 21:9
9And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

Matthew 23:39
39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Psalm 132:11
11The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.
Acts 2:30
30Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;

Furthermore, there are Psalms that we might have thought had no observable connection, had they not been quoted in the New Testament in direct reference to Him.

Psalm (KJV) New Testament Reference (KJV)

Psalm 31:5
5Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
Luke 23:46
46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

Psalm 35:19
19Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
John 15:25
25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

Psalm 41:9
9Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
John 13:18
18I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.

Psalm 78:2
2I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Matthew 13:35
35That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

Psalm 102:25-27
25Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
Hebrews 1:10-12
10And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
11They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
12And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

Still the references are not exhausted. There are also many partial references and allusions to the Psalms in the New Testament. To mention just a few, we see Psalm 6:3 in John 12:27; 7:9 in Revelation 2:23; 10:16 in Revelation 11:15; 17:15 in Matthew 16:27;  34:29 in John 19:36, 38:11 in Luke 23:49 – and many more besides.[1] 

When we take all these things into account, we can see that there is a principle at work in the New Testament’s use of the Psalms; namely, all the Psalms have reference to Christ in one way or other. “All things must be fulfilled which were written in … the Psalms concerning me”  (Luke 24:44).

This being the case, there are observations and exegetical principles (read - rules for rightly interpreting Scripture) that can guide us when it comes to seeing Christ in the various types of Psalms.  Broadly speaking, we can observe that the Psalms fall into one or more of three groups/types:

  1. There is a small group of Psalms that relate to Christ directly and exclusively.
  2. There is a larger group of Psalms in which Christ is represented typically - in the person of David or some other type.  These can be called the typically messianic Psalms.
  3. There is the book of Psalms in which the person who speaks is Christ mystical , the whole church, both Head and members together.

Let’s give an example of each type of Psalm, and an indication of how we can see Christ in each.

First, there is a small group of Psalms that relate to Christ directly and exclusively.  These directly Messianic Psalms are distinguished by the fact that their content can only refer to Christ, and not to an historical/ typical figure. Psalm 110 is perhaps the clearest example of this sort of Psalm.  Please read the Psalm through.  Now note, that David cannot be the one referred to in the Psalm, because the first line reads: “The LORD said unto my Lord…”  David is not speaking about himself, he is speaking of Jesus Christ directly and exclusively. That fact is insisted upon by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:33-36), who applies the Psalm directly and exclusively to the resurrected and ascended “Jesus, whom God has made both Lord and Christ.” The Psalms that fit in this class include 2, 22, 45, 72 and 110. 

Second, there are the typically Messianic Psalms, e.g. 18, 33, 41, 55, 69, 89, 118, 119, 132.   The distinguishing characteristic of this group is the evident setting forth of Christ by means of a type.  We can illustrate from Psalm 18: 49-50.  If you read those verses it is evident that David wrote those words in the context of his own life and experience as King of Israel. At the same time, it is evident that David, in his office as King of Israel and in all his life, was a remarkable type of Christ. That is the spiritual reality.  And when you read what he writes in Psalm 18, it is evident that he writes as one who exactly prefigures Christ. This produces a Psalm that is as applicable to Christ as it is to David. That is why the Apostle Paul (Romans 15:9) can reference verses 49 and 50 directly to Christ and his intention to publish his name among the Gentiles. 

The nature of a type produces this relation. A type is like a man’s shadow cast before him on the ground.  Christ is the substance and David is the shadow He casts into this world as he is coming.  Therefore, as we look into the typical Psalms and faithfully describe the shadow, we will able to discern the Messiah who casts the shadow – and that is how we see Christ in the typical Psalms. 

Through the typical Psalms we can look through the type to Christ himself –  and we can do that in the full light of the gospel age in which we live. It is a remarkable thing, that in the typical Psalms there is a comprehensive description of Christ and his work as a prophet, priest and king, both in his estates of humiliation and exaltation, second coming, and eternal blessedness.  

There are other types of Christ in the Psalms also; for example, in  Psalm 8, Christ is set forth under the type of Adam/Man. This typical representation of Christ is applied as a description of Jesus Christ in Hebrews 2, and also in Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 where Christ is called the 2nd Adam). 

Third, as we noted previously, there are Psalms in which the person who speaks is Christ mystical Psalms; that is, the whole church, both Head and members together.  This is the only explanation for the intermingling of Christ and the church in Psalms like Psalm 40.  Hebrews 10:4-10 applies verses 5-9 of Psalm 40 directly to Christ. But verse 12 is a personal confession of “my iniquities” that are “more than the hairs of my head…”   That cannot be Christ, our sinless Saviour.  How then, is it to be explained that in the same Psalm such seemingly contradictory things are said?  The principle that guides us in these Psalms is this:  “Our Lord has taken His people into a union with Himself, more intimate than that even of body and soul. He and they constitute one Christ. And of that one Christ the Psalter is the Voice.”

God willing, we will look at how this key principle should be applied in our next bulletin.

But before we go… please note that the three groups of Psalms we have identified are not mutually exclusive. Typical Psalms often include direct references to Christ (see Psalms 16, 40 etc).  And Christ mystical Psalms cannot be excluded from any Psalm. If the Psalm represents Christ typically, then that is possible only because the typical person (and his life) is united to Christ as part of his mystical body. That is true also of the directly Messianic Psalms – the Christ so exclusively identified is always and necessarily the Head of his mystical body, the elect church.  Each Psalm will fit most readily into one or other of these three groups, but we can anticipate the need to employ the principles from all three groups as we read the Psalms.   

Pastor Connors


[1] Richard P. Belcher, The Messiah and The Prince, p. 31ff.

Psalm 110
1The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
2The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
3Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.
4The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
5The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
6He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.
7He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
Acts 2:33-36
33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.


Psalm 18: 49-50
49Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
50Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
Romans 15:9
9And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.


Psalm 40:5-9
5Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
6Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
7Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,
8I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
9I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.
Psalm 40:12
12For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me. Hebrews 10:4-10
4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.


 
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