Psalms 22 – Catch 22 of a Crucifixion Prophecy
Psalms 22 is retrospectively viewed by Christians as a foreshadowing or a prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Some say it is neither, rather a falsehood. Is Psalms 22 a prophecy depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah?
Prophecies are challenging due to many factors. Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until a full realization that it did, in fact, occur. In some cases, it may be clarified by other prophecies.
To be prophetic, Psalm 22 would need to predict details about a crucifixion that are precise enough to avoid conjecture. Written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist, it is more challenging because a Roman-style crucifixion was not yet invented. Crucifixion was a well-honed execution process designed to extend death as long as possible while inflicting maximum pain and humiliation.
Rabbi sages do not considered the Psalms as a book of prophecy; however, renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi twice identified Psalms 22 verses as having futuristic implications involving David and the Messiah.
Jewish historian Josephus described an occasion where he was traveling with the Roman military when they came upon three of his Jewish acquaintances among many others being crucified along the road to Thecoa, not far from Bethlehem. Struck with compassion, he pleaded personally to Titus Caesar to have mercy on them. Titus commanded them to be take down from their crosses and treated by Roman physicians, but still only one survived.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.”
Not quoted by a crucifixion victim known by Josephus, nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. The description was written by King David in Psalms 22 centuries earlier, yet the depiction is wholly consistent with that of a Roman-style crucifixion.
Raising the bar for prophetic difficulty are two more very distinct actions in Psalms 22 – a quote and an unusual, explicit activity. Since both were by persons other than the victim, they could not be replicated by the victim:
PS 22:7-8 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”(NIV)
PS 22:18 “They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.” (NIV)
Inflicted extreme suffering, specific actions, and spoken words in Psalms 22 are remarkably similar to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. A montage of Gospel verses reflects those similarities:
JN19:17-18 “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
MT 27:36 “And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”
MK15:24 “Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”
LK 23:35-36 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him.” (NIV)
A second quote, “Why have you forsaken me?” opens the first verse of Psalms 22. These words were also uttered by Jesus when he was dying on the cross:
Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)
MT 27:45-46, MK 15:33-34 “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (NIV)
Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in the chapter, verse 26, the Rabbi commented “The humble shall eat” meaning “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.” In Rashi’s words, Psalms 22 referred, at least in part, to the Messiah.
By the time Jesus wailed these words, he had already endured severe flogging, exposed raw flesh, severe blood loss, acute dehydration, exposure to the weather, hanging by nails from the cross, labored and painful breathing and in state of shock. In his excruciating misery and naked humiliation, he would have seen and heard the gawking and sneering crowd with their taunts and insults.
Under these most severe conditions and near death, if Jesus was a fraud who still had the presence of mind to seize the moment in the face of his enemies by quoting from Psalms 22 to advance a false Messiah legacy, it would have been fully dependent on the prophetic nature of Psalms 22.
In order to perpetrate a fraud, Psalm 22 had to be a Messiah prophecy. Even more remarkable, Jewish participants said and performed actions in precise detail that matches Psalms 22.
Factor in one other piece of the scenario. Jesus would have to know in advance before he was arrested that the opportunity would present itself in order to perpetrate a fraud – his arrest, trial, and execution by crucifixion at the hands of Jews in the most unlikely collusion with their hated Roman enemies.
Psalms 22 contains at least five precise details that had to be met if it were to become a 100% fulfilled prophecy. If true, when applying the Doctrine of Chances, the likelihood that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just a prophetic coincidence. The alternative is that the Psalm is no more than a multi-fold coincidence to the crucifixion of Jesus. What are the odds Psalms 22 was just a coincidence to the crucifixion circumstances of Jesus of Nazareth?
Updated June 7, 2023.
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 Green, James. Psalm 22: Is it a Prophecy about Christ?” CultoftheLivingGod. n.d.<http://www.cultofthelivinggod.net/islam/Psalm%2022%20-Prophecy%20about%20Christ.htm> Berkovitz, Abraham J. The Torah. ““My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” — Jesus or Esther?” 2022. <https://www.thetorah.com/article/my-god-my-god-why-have-you-forsaken-me-jesus-or-esther>
 Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm> Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html> “Plaster Miodu. Psalm 22: Na krańce ciemności.” (translated: “Honeycomb. Psalm 22: To the ends of darkness.”) YouTube. image. 2015. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/rUjYzzjEHfw/maxresdefault.jpg>
 Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Thecoa.” Bible History Online. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/thecoa.html>
 Psalms 22:14-17. NIV.
 The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Online English translation of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) with Rashi’s commentary. n.d. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true