Jesus and Psalm 91

When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, the devil came to tempt him.  The second temptation involved Psalm 91.  “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down.  For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone”’ (Matt 4:5-6).

If there was ever anyone who actually fulfilled the requisites for this promise of Scripture it is Jesus.  Psalm 91 promises “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (vv. 9-10).  Jesus surely did make the Most High his dwelling.  He is the one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High (v. 1).  The Son of God was “at the Father’s side” (John 1:18).  None has dwelt so closely or so truly made the Most High his dwelling as Jesus.

Jesus refused to throw himself off the temple and test God.  To do so would have been contrary to his place as Son, since the Son only does the Father’s will and he had received no such instruction.

But Psalm 91 was fulfilled in the life of Jesus repeatedly.  Even as an infant, angels made sure that Jesus was not killed by Herod (Matt 2:13).  On at least two occasions, crowds tried to kill Jesus.  At the beginning of his ministry he went to his home town and the people there tried to throw him off a cliff.  “But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30).  John’s Gospel records an incident where the crowds took up stones to stone Jesus for blasphemy, “but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:58-59).  Since Jesus did make the LORD his refuge, he was protected from harm throughout his life as the Psalm promises (Ps 91:3-13).

Jesus was aware that he was kept safe by the angels of God.  But when the time came for him to go to the cross, he refused to call upon the Father to save him.  Instead of defending himself or allowing his disciples to defend him, he said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53).  Psalm 91 still applied to the life of Jesus at that point, but Jesus had chosen to lay down his life.  His words, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18), indicate that it was his decision to allow evil men to kill him.

The promises in Psalm 91 seem to be conditional only on making the Most High a refuge.  Jesus did this throughout his life.  How does the cross make sense here?  Psalm 91 is a promise for the righteous, but on the cross Jesus became as a sinner.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).  Since angels are sent to protect the saints, there were no angels to protect Jesus upon the cross, since there it was as if he were the most godless man alive.

However, the final verse of Psalm 91 is a promise of resurrection.  “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Ps 91:16).  Angels again appeared at the grave of Jesus to declare that he was alive, not dead (Matt 28:1-4; Luke 24:4).

Jesus did not give in to the devil’s temptation using Psalm 91, because he trusted in the truth of God’s word to him and about him.  Throughout his life the Psalm proved true.  The cross in no way contradicts Psalm 91 and the resurrection demonstrates that it is forever true for Jesus.

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