Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places Lesson 8

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

Psalm 91

After His baptism by John, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).  In his second temptation, the devil took Jesus up into the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.  Then he said to Jesus,

If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.  For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and “in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6).

In this temptation, Satan quoted from Psalm 91:11-12.  We should not understand the word “if” to indicate Satan questioned whether Jesus was the Son of God.  In New Testament Greek, a variety of conditional statements are possible, moving from the first class condition that affirms the reality of the condition to the fourth class condition that assumes the condition is possible in the future.   In Matthew 4:6, the first class condition is used.  The meaning is, “Since you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.”  Satan knew Jesus was the Son of God, so he quoted from a messianic prophecy in his temptation.

Jesus did not resist Satan by claiming the promise of Psalm 91 did not pertain to Him.  Instead, He quoted yet another Scripture to show the promises of God must not be treated presumptuously; He replied, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’ ” (Matthew 4:7).

If we keep Genesis 3:15 in mind when we look at Psalm 91, it becomes clear this psalm, like so many others, is about the Messiah.  When we read the psalms, we should always remember Jesus said everything written concerning Him in the psalms must be fulfilled.

Notice the context of Psalm 91:11-12: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”  The next verse reads, “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”    Throughout Scripture, Satan is represented as, among other things, a serpent, a dragon, and a lion.  For example, in Psalm 22, the words of which Jesus prayed on the cross when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, the prayer includes these words:

The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones.  They look and stare at Me.  They divide My garments among them.  And for My clothing they cast lots.  But you, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!  Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog.  Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! (Psalm 22:16-21).

            The apostle John described the binding of Satan like this:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-2).

            The apostle Peter wrote that believers should be “sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Paul wrote these words: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3).  So when we see, in Psalm 91:13, the promise, “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot,” we should not think this has to do exclusively with a promise to believers in general that they will have authority over the animal kingdom.  Instead, we should notice the connection this promise has with Genesis 3:15—its inter-textuality which is apparent by comparing the statement “He shall bruise your head” with the statement “the serpent you shall trample underfoot”—and the way Psalm 91 is used in the New Testament—another example of inter-textuality.

If Psalm 91 is not a promise to the Messiah, there would have been no point for Satan to quote from it in his attempt to gain a victory over Jesus.  It was a temptation precisely because it was a promise to the Messiah, but Jesus resisted the temptation because He recognized Satan’s effort to cause Him to abuse this promise by presumptuously taking it for granted.  To do this would be to tempt or to test God, and this was forbidden elsewhere in Scripture.

The Death of the Serpent

The prophecy of Genesis 3:15 anticipated the death of the Messiah; the serpent would bruise His heel.  But it also foretold the death of the serpent.  The Messiah would crush the serpent’s head.  How would this happen?  The answer is alluded to in the prophecy itself; it would be by means of the miracle of the Incarnation—God would be manifest in flesh.  In other words, the Seed of the woman, the descendent of Eve, would not only be a human being; He would also be God Himself.  This idea is developed in Hebrews 2:14-17:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Notice again this phrase: that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  Although the serpent would bruise His heel, a reference to the Messiah’s death, it would be through that very death the Messiah would crush the serpent’s head or, in other words, destroy him who had the power of death, the devil.  This can be seen also in I John 3:8: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

Death Is Separation

In Scripture, death always refers to some kind of separation.  James wrote, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).  Physical death occurs when the human spirit and body are separated.  So what did Paul mean when he wrote, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)?  This is a description of the human condition when we are separated from fellowship with God by our sins.  And this is what God referred to when He told Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).  This was not a reference to physical death; Adam lived to be 930 years old.   Instead, God’s warning was about the spiritual death Adam would experience if he sinned.  Because of his spiritual death—his separation from fellowship with God—Adam also experienced physical death, for he was barred from the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life so he would not live forever in a physical body in a less than ideal state.

To obtain redemption for us, it was necessary for Christ to fully embrace human existence and the human experience.  This included the experience of death.  As Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century Christian theologian said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.”  His point was that if there is anything about essential humanity not experienced by Christ, that aspect of human existence was not included in Christ’s redemptive work.  Here is how Paul put it in Philippians 2:5-11:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

            The prophesied enmity between the serpent and Eve’s descendant would result in death for both, but the Messiah, the Seed of the woman, would rise from the dead.  For Satan, there would be no resurrection.  His eternal destiny is to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where he will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory

By Christ’s resurrection, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54).  In I Corinthians 15:55, Paul followed these words with a quote from Hosea 13:14: “O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?”  Then, Paul continued, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:56-58).  Christ’s victory over death becomes our victory over death.  Because Christ stands in solidarity with us, we are united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.  Paul explained it this way:

. . . do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.  Death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:3-11).

            We have been discussing inter-textuality, or the way later Scripture uses earlier Scripture.  A fascinating example of this is Paul’s use of Hosea 13:14 in I Corinthians 15:55, where Paul quotes Hosea to point out that the resurrection has taken the sting out of death and victory from the grave.  In some English translations of Hosea 13:14, the LORD declares in a very dramatic way that He will destroy death and the grave: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.  O Death, I will be your plagues!  O Grave, I will be your destruction! . . .” (NKJV).  In the New Testament, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

It is true the serpent dealt a death blow to the Messiah’s heel.  But he could do this only because the Messiah was willing to place His foot on the serpent’s head, thus delivering a crushing and deadly wound from which the serpent would never recover.  Meanwhile, the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, would live again.  Death could not keep Him!  The grave could not hold Him!  In the words of Charles Wesley’s timeless hymn, “Christ Our Lord Is Risen Today,” “Love’s redeeming work is done . . . fought the fight, the battle won . . . death in vain forbids Him rise . . . Christ has opened Paradise.  Alleluia!”[1]

The videos and study guides for this class can be accessed at http://www.danielsegraves.com/blog.

[1] This lesson is adapted from Daniel L. Segraves, Reading Between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2008), 41-48.