Christus Victor/Psalm 22


This psalm contains one of the great Old Testament portrayals of the Gospel. Along with Isaiah 53, we learn here that the death of Christ for the sins of the world was no afterthought. The Lamb of God was indeed slain from before the foundations of the world.


My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent . . . (Psalm 22:1-31).


Christ cries out, forsaken by His Father (v. 1). He receives no answer (v. 2), and yet He knows that God, the one who inhabits Israel’s praises, is holy (v. 3). Our fathers cried out to God, and they were heard (vv. 4-5). But the Lord, at least for the present, is in a different place. They despise Him (vv. 6-7), and they taunt Him for His faith (v. 8). The response of the Lord Jesus is to remind Himself of His life-long faith in God (vv. 9-10). He then renews His request for God to deliver (v. 11, 19). Between these two verses, we see how desperate his circumstances were—he was surrounded by threatening bulls (vv. 12-13), he was poured out like water and his bones were out of joint (v. 14), his heart is like wax (v. 14), his strength is dried like a potsherd and he is brought down to the dust of death (v. 15), dogs have surrounded him, and his hands and feet are pierced (v. 16), he can count his bones (v. 17), and gamblers compete for His clothing (v. 18). His cry for deliverance resumes—He cries out to be saved from the lion and the unicorn (vv. 20-21).

The second half of the psalm is the triumphant cry of faith, which is what follows His great despairing cry of faith. He will praise God in the congregation (v. 22). All who fear God are summoned to join in the praise (v. 23). Why is this? God answers the prayer of the faithful, including this one (v. 24). Christ shall praise God in the great congregation (v. 25). The meek (who will inherit the earth) shall also eat and be satisfied (v. 26). All the ends of the earth shall be converted and turn to the Lord, and they will worship Him (v. 27). The Lord has conquered the world through His faithful despairing (v. 28). Rich and poor alike shall serve Him (v. 29), and the Lord shall have a seed (v. 30). And they will testify, as we are doing here today, that the Lord has done this (v. 31).


An ancient Christian tradition held that Christ on the cross began quoting the 22nd Psalm here, and He did not stop quoting the Psalter until He came to Psalm 31:5—”into Thine hand I commit My Spirit.” Although we cannot assert this dogmatically, this certainly accords with what is happening here. This moment on the cross is the fulfillment of all God’s purposes, expressed so clearly throughout the entire Old Testament, and most particularly here. A man would have to be blind (and sadly many are) to not see how all these ancient words are coming to a glorious fruition.


The words of this psalm were written about a thousand years before Christ. That is, chronologically David was to Christ what William the Conqueror is to us. And one thousand years before it all happened, David saw, through the Spirit, that Christ’s hands and feet were to be pierced (v. 16), that He would die at the hands of His enemies (vv. 12-13, 16), that his clothing would be gambled for (v. 18), and that He would die in agony (vv. 15, 17). And for those of us who stumble in our faith, we are told that all of these things, taken together, will conquer the world (v. 27). Further, all these details of Christ’s death were itemized in prophecy, and wicked men blindly fulfilled all of it, thinking themselves to be lords of the earth (1 Cor. 2:8; John 12: 32).


There are many reasons to take malice seriously. They are described here as raging (very powerful) bulls. They gape with their mouths in a terrifying way. The dogs are set loose, and the image is that of a hunted animal, like a stag, at bay. Ravening dogs surround the Lord’s victim. And they do more than threaten. The Lord falls into their hands—everything is going their way. They mock Him, but they also pierce Him. They win, and they taunt as though they have won. They have the power of bulls, of ravening dogs, of a rampaging lion, of vaunting unicorn. They exult as they hang the Messiah of God upon a gibbet, and lift Him up . . . and accomplish the salvation of the entire world. Their murdering malice was the instrument of my salvation, and yours, and not ours only, but also the salvation of all the ends of the earth.


We here see Christ forsaken by the Father. This is not to say that the Trinity unraveled, but rather that the unbroken fellowship between God and His incarnate Son This is not a cry of despairing faith, but rather a cry of faithful despair. When Christ experiences this abandonment by the Father, He quotes Scripture, it is still, “My God, my God,” and the psalm moves on to express Christ on the cross had the glorious postmillennial vision right in front of Him. The ends of the earth will turn, and the joy set before Him was glorious (Heb. 12: 2).

What is it that accomplishes this? “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, Christ’s despairing faith threw down all despair, sin, rebellion, and wickedness. Christus victor.

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