Thursday, September 20, 2012

Psalm 110: A Very Brief Primer

Given the amount of confusion that typically surrounds Psalm 110, it's good to understand what David is saying and why it was so scandalous for Jesus and his disciples to quote it in the New Testament.

Whose Son Is the Christ?
            Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
            “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
            “Sit at my right hand,
                        until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
            If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
[Matthew 22:41-46 ESV]

In the culture of first century Palestine, there was no question that a son of David would be the Messiah. Where the Pharisees and even the disciples were mistaken, however, was what it meant to be the Messiah. Even though they had all of the Scriptures and theology to indicate that the Messiah would be God himself, the Jews of that day were focused on a military and political king who would (re-)establish Israel’s sovereignty.

Psalm 110 does not mention that the Messiah is David’s son. But Jesus uses that Psalm to confound the Pharisees within their framework. The Pharisees would also recognize Psalm 110 as a Messianic Psalm. So if not from Psalm 110, how did they come to understand that the Messiah was David’s Son?

[Ps. 2:1–12; Ps. 89:1–52; Isa. 9:1–7; Jer. 23:5–6; Ezek. 34:23–24; 2 Sam. 7:12–14; Isa. 11:1, 10]

As a 3rd party observer, what is David saying in Psalm 110:1?

Yahweh said to my [David’s] Adonai [the Messiah], “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”

Up to that point in time, it was never viewed that a son was greater than his father. You can even hear it in the biblical narrative (“Are you greater than our father so and so, who did such and such?”… John 4:12, John 8:53). They asked the question rhetorically, because they thought the answer was an obvious, “No.”

What does this all mean when you put it together? The Jews and Pharisees should have fully understood whom the Messiah was when they pieced together their Scriptures and worked to reconcile passages that did not inherently make sense. They were secure in the thought:

The Messiah is David’s son, therefore he is under, or inferior to David.

But they refused to acknowledge or see:

The Messiah is David’s Lord, therefore he is over or greater than David in some way.

Who can fulfill this apparent paradox? The only way David’s Son can be greater than David—and actually be David’s Lord—is if he is God himself. A full understanding of who the person of Jesus is reconciles and fulfills all Messianic Scripture in the Law and the Prophets.

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