During these weeks leading up to Good Friday, I am writing about the apostle John’s references to fulfilled prophecy. John points to several details about our Lord’s crucifixion which were prophesied in the Old Testament.
Of course anti-Christian antagonists deny this. I remember the publication of a controversial book by Hugh Schonfield in the mid-1960s. In The Passover Plot the author claimed that Jesus was a fanatical genius who thought himself to be the Jews’ Messiah. He brilliantly and subtly organized his ministry to make it appear that everything he did was a fulfillment of biblical prophecies.
According to Schonfield, this involved a plot to fake his own death. He included his disciples in this audacious strategy. They conspired with him to try to make it appear that he had died on the cross and to contrive an artificial “resurrection.” According to Schonfield, Jesus did not claim to be the divine Son of God, and he did not rise from the dead. He was merely a mortal man who believed himself to be the Messiah. His supposed death and resurrection were to bring about the launch of his reign as king of the Jews.
There are too many problems with this far-fetched theory to answer them all. One of the most obvious is how a group of uneducated Galileans could have persuaded Jesus’ enemies to go along with such an elaborate scheme. The powerful religious leaders of Israel were the very ones who wanted him dead and who turned him over to the Roman authorities!
John, in fact, was writing as an eyewitness to the events he described in his gospel. He was present at the crucifixion of Jesus, along with the Lord’s mother and a few other faithful women. What he wrote has the ring of truth. He recognized that these events fulfilled what the ancient Hebrew scriptures had prophesied.
He personally witnessed what he described in John 19:23-24: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.'”
Then John adds this telling word: “This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, ‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ So this is what the soldiers did.”
Are we to believe that the dying Jesus would have contrived in advance for his Roman torturers to gamble for his clothing? These were people who had no knowledge of the prediction of this event in Psalm 22:18. They had no idea they were fulfilling a prophecy written hundreds of years before. Their actions showed contempt for the dying prisoner, not cooperation with his followers.
Psalm 22 is one of several Messianic psalms. It is the psalm which is quoted the most in the New Testament. It’s author is probably King David who was a prophet as well as a poet. The psalm begins with words Jesus spoke from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 1, Matthew 27:46). Surely one cannot read the opening words of Psalm 22 without thinking of Jesus.
This psalm, in verses 14-16, prophetically describes crucifixion. This was unknown as a method of execution at the time it was written. It graphically pictures a dying man who is being shamed by mocking, tortured by thirst and asphyxiation, an object of horror to all who look on his emaciated frame and nail-pierced hands and feet. Yet unlike other psalms, this one contains no prayer for retribution or confession of sins by its speaker, facts which align with the Lord’s righteous character and forgiving spirit.
Three spiritual lessons have been advanced based upon John’s citation of Psalm 22:18. First, fulfilled prophecy is evidence for the truth-claims of Christianity. No false pretender could have devised a plot which involved controlling other people’s reactions. The betrayal, false accusations, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus were all prophesied in scripture and were carried out by hostile actors, not co-conspirators. This includes the precise detail about his clothing being taken by the executioners. This happened as prophesied in Psalm 22:18, according to the apostle John.
Second, in dying on the cross for the salvation of sinners, Jesus endured public humiliation. E.A. Blum has written, “That Jesus died naked was part of the shame which he bore for our sins. At the same time He is the last Adam who provides clothes of righteousness for sinners.”
Third, The seamless tunic which the soldiers valued may have been the type of garment worn by the high priests of Israel. If this is true it suggests the priestly ministry of our Lord on behalf of his people as he now prays for us continually as our defender, advocate and friend at the Father’s right hand (1 John 2:1-2; John 17:20).
Pastor Randy Faulkner