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The Twenty-third Psalm as a Messianic Prophecy

The Twenty-third Psalm is one of the most familiar, famous, and loved passages in the entire Bible. There is no greater picture of the relationship that God has with His people than the picture in the Twenty-third Psalm—the picture of the shepherd and his sheep. Psalm 23 has comforted many heavy hearts, dried many tears, bandaged many wounds, given courage to the living, and comforted the dying. It is the most famous of all the psalms. Even nonbelievers are familiar with David’s masterpiece. 

However, most people are unaware of the prophetic significance of the Twenty-third Psalm. Psalm 23 is set in the middle of three messianic psalms that prophesy the coming work of the Messiah. Psalm 22 presents the Messiah as the Savior. Psalm 23 presents the Messiah as the Shepherd. Psalm 24 presents the Messiah as Sovereign. The focus of Psalm 22 is the cross. The focus of Psalm 23 is the crook. The focus of Psalm 24 is the crown. 

The Cross

Psalm 22 has come to be known as the “Psalm of the Cross.” It is an amazing prophecy. One thousand years before Jesus went to the cross of Calvary, David described in graphic detail the crucifixion as if he, himself, hung on the cross. The Twenty-second Psalm opens with, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Do those words sound familiar? They are the same words that Jesus cried from the cross. In Matthew 27:46, we read, “And 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?” When Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself so that those sins could be judged and justified through His sacrifice, God in His holiness had to turn away. God gathered every sin that had ever been committed or would be committed by man and placed it upon His Son. Jesus died and He took away sin, by the sacrifice of Himself.

In Psalm 22, David described Roman crucifixion hundreds of years before the Romans even came on the scene. In the days when Jewish executions were accomplished by stoning, David described the sufferings of the cross. He described the people beneath the cross gathered to laugh at Jesus: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn” (Psalm 22:7). He described the profuse perspiration caused by intense suffering: “I am poured out like water.” He described His bones as being “out of joint.” He described the action of the effects of the crucifixion on the heart: “my heart is like wax; it is melted” (Psalm 22:14). He described Christ’s exhaustion: “My strength is dried up. He described the Lord’s extreme thirst: “my tongue cleaveth to my jaws” (Psalm 22:15). He described Jesus being nailed to the cross: “they pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16). He described the shame as the crowd gawked at the Messiah’s unclothed body… I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me (Psalm 22:17). He described the soldiers gambling:
“They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture”
(Psalm 22:18). David wrote these descriptions a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus. 

Jesus said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” When the Lord said those words, He spoke of His coming substitutionary death on the cross. This is the picture of Jesus in the Twenty-second Psalm. He is the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep.

The Crook

Psalm 23 is the “Shepherd’s Psalm.” It is a beautiful picture of the Shepherd who cares for His flock, leads us through the meadow, feeds us in green pastures, comforts us with His staff (crook), and quenches our thirst beside still waters. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear because our Shepherd is there.

The writer of Hebrews described the Shepherd of Psalm 23 when he wrote, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). The Good Shepherd of John 10 is now called the Great Shepherd. Notice also that the writer of Hebrews referenced the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the picture of Jesus in the Twenty-third Psalm. He is the Great Shepherd, raised from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant, who tenderly cares for His sheep.

The Crown

Psalm 24 is also known as the “Psalm of the King of Glory” and it describes the coronation of the Messiah. The final verses of this psalm describe the triumphant return of Jesus Christ. In Psalm 24:9–10, we read, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.” The Twenty-fourth Psalm foreshadows the establishment of the Millennial Reign of Christ when Jesus will return and enter Jerusalem as the “King of Glory.” It is a prophetic psalm that will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus Christ returns to earth in power and in great glory. 

The Apostle Peter wrote to encourage faithful church leaders with these words, “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4). Here, Peter assured faithful ministers that they will be rewarded when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The Great Shepherd of Hebrews 13 is now referred to as the “Chief Shepherd.” This is the picture of Jesus in the Twenty-fourth Psalm. He is the Chief Shepherd, who owns the sheep. When He comes, He will establish His throne. We who have served Him will rule and reign with Him for a thousand years. 

Psalm 22 speaks of our past—of our sins being forgiven on the cross. Psalm 23 speaks of our present life on earth. Psalm 24 speaks of our future in the coming Millennial Kingdom of Christ. 

Psalm 22 takes place on Mount Calvary in the past where they crucified the Lord. Psalm 24 takes place in the future on Mount Zion where He is coming back to rule and reign. Psalm 23 takes place in the present in this life in the valley in between the two mountains.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you live, right now, the Psalm 23 life. Today, your life may be filled with darkness. From one sheep to another, I want you to know that you can trust the Shepherd to get you through the valley.

The benediction which closes the New Testament letter to the Hebrews brings full circle the picture of the Shepherd. 

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen
—Hebrews 13:20–21

The Shepherd is coming back soon. Are you in His flock?

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James Collins

James Collins is the former Staff Evangelist for Southwest Radio Ministries. He previously served in various pastoral positions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, and California. Before being called to SWRC, James was a Chaplain in the United States Army and served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve. He and wife share their home with three extraordinary children, three dogs, and a lifetime collection of books.

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