Thoughts on the Fulfillment of Scripture

Thanks to some encouragement from Alice, I’m back.

This morning, I was reading some of John’s account of Good Friday. Several times, John 19 points to scripture being fulfilled in the events around Jesus’ crucifixion (specifically, verse 24, 28-30, & 36-37). Except for verses 28-30, John quotes the OT passages he has in mind. What is he doing when he does this?

Most of the time, I think we take this to mean that Jesus fulfilled a specific passage; that is to say, Isaiah or the Psalms or some other OT writer made a promise, and Jesus came along and fulfilled it. As if to say: look at all the individual things written of in the OT that Jesus did, which proved he is the Son of God.

But does this approach go far enough? Jesus is the Messiah, not simply because he checked off a bunch of boxes. Instead, when he “fulfills” scripture, it is less about a checklist, and more about the completion of God’s plan. To see this, all you have to do is use a NT with footnotes that points you to the OT passages referenced in the words John writes and Jesus says.

For example, let’s look at the one reference in John that isn’t clearly a direct OT reference: John 19.28-30. In fact, it’s just three words (and just one word in Greek): I am thirsty. With this one Greek one (dipso), John points us back to Psalm 69.21 (“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst”; all quotes from NIV.)

Pretty clear connection between that verse and Jesus on the cross? Yes. But oftentimes we stop there, when that should be just the beginning. Read all of Psalm 69, and you’ll see the bigger picture that I think John wants us to get when he gives us that one word, dipso. Go ahead, read it now. And if you want a musical take on it, listen to this.

Psalm 69 starts with a desperate cry for help: “Save me o God, for the waters have come up to my neck. …I am worn out calling for help.” In verse 5, he references his guilt, but then turns around and says, “Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.”

Then there’s verses 16-17: “Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” Overwhelmed, the writer begs God to pour out His wrath on his enemies (v24). The Psalm then closes with the confidence that the Lord hears the needy, and won’t forget His captive people (v33) – but will restore their dwelling.

Now, who’s talking here? Tradition says it’s David. But the fact that these words have been preserved among the 150 Psalms demonstrates that these aren’t just the words of one man, but are the words of faithful Israel – broken and sinful, but desperate and dependent on God showing up and doing what He has promised to do.

So, when John points us to Psalm 69 with one word – with just one word – he is saying: Jesus inhabits these words. Their pain and promise, their desperation and doubt, their hope and confidence that God will not forget his people, but will appear with justice and mercy. Well, that’s what Jesus does. And that, I think, is what fulfillment of scripture looks like – not just fulfilling the words of one verse, but fulfilling the hopes, needs, and longings of a people who needed someone to take on their condition.

That sounds a lot like Israel. It also sounds a lot like me and you.