The Psalms Reveal Christ in His Sufferings and Glory
Though written under the old covenant, the Psalms are extremely relevant for God’s new covenant people. Of the many times that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, over 40 percent of those quotations come from the Psalms—116 direct quotations.7 The epistle to the Hebrews alone quotes ten different psalms (2, 8, 22, 40, 45, 95, 102, 104, 110, 118).8 Added to this are the many indirect allusions to the Psalms throughout the New Testament.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that the Psalms are about Him. Luke 24:44 says, “He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Though we are no longer under Israel’s civil and ceremonial laws in terms of their details, the Old Testament is not an obsolete document. The Old Testament testifies of Christ (John 5:39; Rom. 3:21), and “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4).”
What does the Old Testament teach us about Christ? Our Lord sums it up in Luke 24:46–47: “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Therefore, when we turn to the Psalms, we should expect to find the themes of Christ’s sufferings and death, His resurrection and exaltation, and His triumphant work of saving sinners from all nations in the world. As Luther wrote in his preface to the Psalms in 1531:
Yea, the Psalter ought to be precious and dear, were it for nothing else but the clear promise it holds forth respecting Christ’s death and resurrection, and its prefiguration of His kingdom and of the whole estate and system of Christianity, insomuch that it might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into an enchiridion or Hand Manual. [ Martin Luther, Standard Edition of Luther’s Works, ed. John N. Lenker (Sunbury, Pa.: Lutherans in All Lands, 1903), 1:9–10.]
The Psalms are full of Christ. There are statements that refer plainly to the glorious Son of God, such as Psalm 2 where God calls Christ His anointed Son set on His “holy hill” and Psalm 110 which says, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (v. 1; cf. Matt. 22:41–46; Heb. 1:13). There are poignant prophecies of Christ’s unique person and earthly ministry, of His natures and states, and especially of His death, as in Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (cf. Mark 15:34).10 This psalm also speaks of the success of His redemptive mission in verse 27, heralding the time when “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” Moreover, the laments in the Psalms not only help us in expressing our own grief under trials but also assist us in meditating on the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would be revealed.
Furthermore, as David Murray says, it is not just the plainly messianic psalms that point us to Christ. In the Psalms we sing to Christ whenever we praise God as our rock, our shield, our king, and our Redeemer. This is because Christ, as the Son of God and the blessed Second Person of the Trinity, is the only Mediator of God’s saving works. The Psalms teach us to sing with Christ, for in His human nature the Lord Jesus was a faithful Israelite who grew up with the Psalms—a point to which I will return in a moment. And they lead us to sing of Christ. God sovereignly shaped the life of David so that in many of his experiences he was a type or pattern of Christ.11 The Psalms are not just the spiritual meditations of an everyday Israelite; they revolve around the Lord’s anointed King.12 Thus even David’s prayer in Psalm 31:5 becomes Christ’s dying prayer: “Into thine hand I commit my spirit” (cf. Luke 23:46).
The Psalms reveal Christ in the whole of His person, natures, offices, states, and glory. Therefore, it is suitable for Christians to sing them, for they express our faith, hope, and love in the Lord Jesus. At this point, however, someone might object that while Christians should study the Psalms, there is no reason or warrant for us to sing them. Answering this objection leads to the next reason to sing psalms.
Why Should We Sing Psalms?
Joel R. Beeke