The Messiah would be the righteous sufferer

The Messiah would be the righteous sufferer

Reference: Psalm 69
Fulfillment: Matthew 27:33–34, 48; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28–30

Like Psalm 22, this is also about a righteous sufferer. Psalm 22 impresses us in its very graphical fulfillment in the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus. Psalm 69 impresses us by being the most-quoted psalm in the New Testament applied to Jesus.

In Psalm 69:4 (Hebrew, 5), David says that “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause,” while in John 15:25, Jesus says regarding those who oppose him, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” It is interesting that Jesus uses the term “fulfill” in regard to a psalm, not to one of the prophets. Evidently, he regarded all of Scripture as pointing to himself even if was not from the mouth of a prophet (see Luke 24:44). Here the fulfillment is that Jesus turns out to be the ultimate righteous sufferer.

Verse 9 (Hebrew, 10) of the psalm reads: “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” After Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2, we read that “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17). The psalmist speaks of his zeal for God’s “house,” the Jerusalem Temple, which he maintains in spite of his opponents’ actions. He intends to be faithful to God no matter what others may do or think. In John 2, the disciples are reminded of this verse as they see Jesus purifying the temple precincts even while others objected to his actions.

The second part of this verse is also quoted by Paul in Romans 15:1–3:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” Here the point is that as Jesus suffered in the eyes of others for doing good, so we should do likewise, in order to serve the community of believers.

Then we have Psalm 69:21 (Hebrew, 22): “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Here John also calls what happened at the cross a fulfillment of Scripture:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28–30)

Compare this with Matthew 27:33–34: “When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” And Matthew 27:48: “One of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.” While the psalm may have been speaking metaphorically, as with Psalm 22, we see a rather startling and literal fulfillment in the events surrounding the cross! One commentator notes that although offering the sour wine may have been a merciful act, “Sour wine was usually a remedy for thirst, and it may have been an attempt to revive him to perpetuate his suffering.”[1] If so, that would further connect with Psalm 69, in which the verse on sour wine is preceded by the psalmist’s complaint about a lack of comforters.

As with Psalm 22, Psalm 69 also ends on a note of triumph: “For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it” (Psalm 69:35–36 [Hebrew, 36–37]). In the midst of suffering, Jesus the Righteous Sufferer was vindicated by God. We who believe in him can likewise be assured that our sufferings will end with a positive outcome.

[1] Craig Keener, IVP New Testament Background Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), see under Matthew 27:48.