Lesson 1 | September 4, 2016
Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD
The Psalms have been widely used as devotional literature, giving comfort and hope to those who are in difficult circumstances. Many people have favorite psalms they love to quote or to meditate on, like Psalm 1, 8, 23, or 91. The beautiful words and well-timed cadences of the Psalter sooth troubled hearts. They assure us that we are walking on a path others have trod before us and that, if we trust in our Lord, there is the promise of a better day.
But there is something in the Psalms that goes far beyond this. According to Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the consistent use of the psalms by the New Testament church, the Psalter is first and foremost a book about the Messiah. This doesn’t mean only that there are a few “messianic” psalms scattered throughout the book. The entire Psalter, from beginning to end, testifies of the Messiah. When read as a messianic book, Psalms takes on a dynamic dimension beyond that of devotional literature. It is no longer a section of the Bible that we turn to only when we are searching for encouragement or wisdom; it is a book we turn to in order to know Jesus better. This does not eliminate its devotional value; it enhances it. Now we see that the one with whom we identify in suffering and victory is not just David or other human authors; it is our Lord Jesus Christ.
For many years the first century church existed without a New Testament. Until the first New Testament book was written, which was at least about fifteen years after the church was founded on the Day of Pentecost, the only Bible Christians had was the Old Testament. From the time that the books that now make up our New Testament began to be written, it was almost another half century before the last book was completed. How could the New Testament church exist without a New Testament? This was possible because the gospel message is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first apostles found everything they preached in the Old Testament.
During His final days on earth, Jesus explained to His disciples everything in the Old Testament that concerned Him. (See Luke 24:27.) He said, “[A]ll things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). By explaining the Christ-centered content of the Old Testament, Jesus “opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). He taught them, from the only inspired Scripture that existed at that time, about the sufferings of the Messiah, His resurrection on the third day, “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s Bible was the Old Testament. He quoted extensively from Joel and Psalms to explain the events of that day. Twelve verses of Peter’s Pentecostal message were either direct quotes from Psalms or explanations and applications of those quotes. It was Peter’s use of Psalms that led his hearers to ask, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
To read the Book of Acts is to recognize the fundamental place of the Old Testament Scriptures in the mission and message of the first century church. For example, to explain his message and ministry that led to the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate, Peter said, “Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days” (Acts 3:24). Since Peter had already identified David as a prophet (see Acts 2:30), this means that Peter believed David foretold the events that were occurring in the life of the early church. This understanding was not limited to the apostles. The church at large understood that the Book of Psalms foretold the treatment of Jesus by Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Romans. (See Acts 4:24-28.)
Paul declared that what he believed was that which was written in the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14). He had done nothing offensive against the law of the Jews or the temple (Acts 25:8). He was called before Agrippa “for the hope of the promise made by God to [the] fathers” (Acts 26:6). In a very clear appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures for his message, including the inclusion of Gentiles equally with the Jews, Paul told Agrippa that he said nothing other than those things “which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). Rather than claiming innovation for his message, Paul insisted that he said nothing new. After arriving in Rome, Paul told the Jewish community there that he had done nothing against the Jewish people or the fathers (Acts 28:17). Instead, he was bound “for the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). He “explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (Acts 28:23).
The New Testament quotes from, alludes to, or paraphrases the Old Testament in nearly 800 verses. The book most frequently appealed to is Psalms, which is referred to 206 times in the New Testament. Psalm 110:1 is the verse most frequently referred to out of the entire Old Testament; it is quoted, alluded to, or paraphrased twenty times in the New Testament. Jesus Himself quoted Psalm 110:1, confounding the Pharisees. (See Matthew 22:43-44.)
In the Book of Psalms, we discover that Christ, the promised Messiah, is the Son of God. He is, at the same time, the Son of Man and, specifically, the Son of David. The fact that He is the Son of God does not mean that He is in any way less than God. The Messiah is God Himself in human existence. The psalms foretell the Messiah’s birth, important events in His life—including things not found in the New Testament, His betrayal, His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His Second Coming, and the Millennium. The Psalter foretells the proclamation of the gospel, the Messiah’s bride, and the gifts given to the New Testament church upon His ascension.
When our eyes are opened to the primary focus of the Book of Psalms, we begin to understand why this book was such a major part of the preaching of the first century believers. And we come to know that through the reading of the Psalter, we will “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).
The videos and study guides for this class can be accessed at http://www.danielsegraves.com/blog.
 This introduction is from Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 9-12.