A Prophecy of the Messiah

April 12th, 2024 Paul Cooke

Psalm 34 speaks of God’s care for those who look to him—and it contains a prophecy of the Messiah who was—and is—to come, connecting Christ, the cross, the Passover lamb, the story of the Exodus and the meaning of the redemption of God for lost sinners.

[Pictured above: When he sees the blood on the doorposts and lintel, he passes over. The Angel of Death and the First Passover, engraving, c. 1897, C. Schonhew, Public Domain]

Do you recall the Passover story?

Psalm 34 quietly refers to it. John the Apostle tells us how in his Gospel. Today we’ll address only the last four verses of the Psalm, but first, here’s a review of the Passover story by way of explaining the prophecy of Christ contained in the Psalm.

We must understand the Passover story in its context—the first twelve chapters of Exodus. There we read that Pharaoh, King of Egypt, refused to let the Children of Israel escape the bondage in which he held them, though God had sent nine plagues against the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to let His people go. But it was the tenth and final plague—the most severe one—which freed the people, and on the night of that plague—the plague of the Angel of Death—the nation of Israel was born and soon after left Egypt and slavery. God gave Moses instructions regarding how the people of God would be spared the death that would be visited upon all the firstborn in the land: a lamb was to be killed, prepared, and then eaten. Blood from the lamb was to be placed on the lintel and door posts of each home. If this were not done, the Angel of Death would not “pass over” and thus the firstborn child and animal in each home would perish. The illustration above shows this Angel, and within the house, the Hebrew family preparing to eat the “Passover.” See the blood on the lintel and doorposts? It’s the blood of the Passover lamb, which, according to God’s command, was to be roasted whole and none of its bones were to be broken. But now let’s look at Psalm 34:19:

Great are the troubles of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.

All human beings will know troubles—but those who fear the Lord and seek him will have a place of refuge in Him. Israel enslaved in Egypt was beset with troubles but God, through the blood of the lamb on their doors, delivered them out of them all. In Psalm 34:4 we already see God’s assurances on this score, applying not to Israel in Egypt but to King David as he was pursued by King Saul, who sought his life: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me: yea, he delivered me out of all my fear.” David knew 3,000 years ago when this Psalm was composed, that “God is a prayer-hearing God.” He remembers here that the Lord delivered him from great troubles. But this has always been the case with God’s people: when they seek him with a whole heart and contrite spirit, he saves from fear and becomes a sure refuge.

And so we come to Psalm 34:20:

He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.

Here David is assuring himself and all who read this that God ultimately keeps our bodies into eternity. Why? Because our bodies are important to God, even if in this present world they finally perish, for we know from the Scriptures that all human bodies will be resurrected, even as Jesus said in the Gospel of John. The human person is to live in a body for eternity. Jesus will have a body for all eternity, and he told us that God has designed the same for us. Our bones may be broken here, but God will heal that in the kingdom to come. But here, let’s see what Jesus said about what will happen to our bodies:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25, 28-29).

All will be raised from the dead. But in Psalm 34:20 the Psalmist, while addressing God’s ultimate care of those who trust in him, also uttered a prophecy that would be fulfilled in the Messiah regarding his body. This is actually only one of so many passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures foreshadowing, picturing and predicting facts about the long-awaited Messiah, so that when he came, his fulfilling of these would stand as evidence that he was, indeed, the One.

Hidden in this verse, Psalm 34:20, “He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken” is a picture, prophetically, of the savior, Jesus Christ, given one thousand years before the crucifixion. Contrary to common Roman practice, Jesus’ bones were not broken at the crucifixion—when he became the ultimate Passover lamb— and this is what the Apostle John realized when he wrote his Gospel, as we see in this passage from John 19:30-36:

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. 31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. 35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. 36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.

vasari crucifixion

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Jesus Taken From the Cross., Public Domain

Jesus, taken down from the cross—and not one of his bones was broken.

Here John the Apostle was harking back to Psalm 34:20. Furthermore, in the background of the passage from John 19, above, is what John the Baptist said when he first saw Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). His words reveal that he understood Christ’s mission—to be the true Passover sacrifice, the Lamb whose blood, shed on the cross, would alone atone for the sins of many. The first Passover lambs, slain to preserve the people of Israel from the angel of death at the time of their exodus from Egypt, were to have none of their bones broken, as the quotation below from the Book of Exodus indicates:

The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt…. 43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover…46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones (Exodus 12:13, 43, 46).

These things all foreshadow the greater Passover, the one on which Jesus was crucified—for Jesus died on the cross on Passover, and it is his blood “on the doorposts of our lives” which atones for our sins so that death will ultimately “pass over” all believers, as the Gospel of Christ tells us: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, that whoso believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). As with the first Passover lambs, no bones of the true and greater Lamb of God were to be broken, despite the violence of the crucifixion, that greatest of all Passover sacrifices. As for the bones of believers, though they be broken, in Christ they ultimately will be healed, and what’s more, our whole lives, body and soul, will be.


Jesus Christ is the True Passover lamb. Detail from “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” from the Ghent Altarpiece, Hubert & Jan van Eyck (1390-1441); Public Domain

Jesus himself shows us the great extent to which the entire Old Testament testified of who he is. Psalm 34:20 is but one part of the vast picture of prophecies regarding Christ. We see how vast it is in Luke’s Gospel where, after his resurrection, talking to two of his disciples on Easter morning—they don’t know it’s Jesus they’re talking to—he gives them a most remarkable Bible study, saying to them as they wonder about the events that have just happened: “`O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).

Jesus showed them the things in the Hebrew Scriptures –and there were so many of these, a vast number—which speak of what would happen to him, to the Anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Such a passage was the one we saw above. It’s these prophecies of the Messiah which the Apostle Paul so often referred to in seeking to show men and women that in Jesus of Nazareth they were fulfilled, that they might then repent and believe themselves. Now, Psalm 34:21:

But malice shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous, shall perish.

David here touches on both the righteous and the wicked—that leaves no one out—on the matter of the fate of every soul. For without God’s mercy—if we instead receive what we justly deserve—the Bible speaks of a grim destiny. Apart from God’s grace, that’s what we all face—and to such there remains only perishing. Naturally the human heart is hostile to God, even as Paul observed, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). Without God’s Spirit drawing us to Himself by his grace, the Bible says, none of us would really care for God or want Him or turn to Him, so lost are we in self and sin. Their very sins, unforgiven, shall slay them. But by God’s grace those who are drawn to Christ desire to seek him and, though persecuted, they will be delivered. Now, Psalm 34:22:

The Lord redeemeth the souls of his servants: and none that trust in him, shall perish.

God in his loving mercy reaches out to lost human beings by means of His Spirit, and redeems them. How does the Lord redeem? By paying for our sins himself—this is known as his substitutionary atonement. God sends His Son to bear our sins in our place. The promise of God’s mercy is real to David, though he doesn’t fully grasp how it will be achieved due to his distance from the cross, which lies so far ahead. But he trusts in the promise of eternal life with God without seeing how it will be manifested. He doesn’t yet know about the Lamb of God, but he knows that God by his grace will provide an escape from sin and death by his mercy and love. That love and mercy reaches its climax at the cross, where Jesus gave himself for us—and where God provided this sign: no bone of His Son should be broken—though David doesn’t yet see it.

As David knew, and all the saints learn through following the Lord, the Lord is worthy of praise. Even though David did not yet understand how he would be redeemed—he did not yet understand how this would happen—he looked forward to God’s providing eternal life for him by faith, even as did all the other heroes of faith in the Old Testament who we read about in Hebrews, chapter 11. May Psalm 34, even these last four verses of it, encourage us to acknowledge his loving presence in our lives more and more, so that his praise will be continually in our mouths, even in such trials as we find ourselves in the midst of our difficult days!

God bless you!