My wife loves relationships movies. She’s not looking for action scenes, spy plots, or superheros bringing everybody to heel. She loves stories that explore how people relate.
I think that’s how Jesus heard the Bible. Academics can focus on the form and structure of the text or making theology systematic, but for him it was all about relationships.
Matthew 22 gives example after example where his interpretation was relational:
- God’s people live because I AM. Knowing Scripture means knowing God, his life-giving power (see on 22:29-32).
- Loving God and loving people — those relationships are the whole Bible (the Law and the Prophets) (see on 22:34-40).
- To understand a Psalm, explore the relationships between the people (22:43-45).
Now, I know this isn’t how we usually read Scripture. Jesus’ approach sounded just as foreign to the Pharisees as it does to us. Can we learn the relational hermeneutic Jesus used? In this post, we’ll take the third example (based on Psalm 110) as our tutorial.
Notice the question Jesus asks:
Matthew 22:41-46 (my translation, compare NIV)
41 While the Pharisees were gathered, Jesus put a question to them. 42 “What do you think about the Anointed? Whose son is he?”
They answered, “David’s.”
43 He replied, “Then how come David, in the Spirit, calls him, lord? He says,
44 ‘The Lord said to my lord,
“Be seated on my right,
until I place your enemies beneath your feet.”’
45 So, if David calls him lord, how could he be his son?” 46 No one could answer him a word. That was the day they lost the nerve to question him anymore.
Why Psalm 110?
Jesus has been responding to a series of attempts by Israel’s top fighters to destroy his authority. The Pharisees’ final agenda was to discredit his attitude to the Torah. Now Jesus sets the agenda. He wants them thinking about God’s Christ, his anointed ruler on earth. He is the person revealed in Psalm 110 — an astounding revelation, in just seven verses.
Verse 1 is a declaration of governance made by the heavenly sovereign (YHWH) to the Davidic king (my lord). The Almighty instructs the son of David to take his throne, promising to deal with his enemies. Jesus brings this up to his enemies. In the week before they kill him. To teach them that it’s the relationships that count.
Back when Israel was a kingdom, the king’s enemies were the surrounding nations. By Jesus’ time, their enemies had ruled them for six centuries. Some had given up hope of a son of David ever restoring the kingdom. Others wrote apocalyptic stories about God destroying their enemies. Now in Jerusalem stood the Messiah, the long-awaited son of David chosen to restore God’s reign. But the enemies assembled against him aren’t foreign armies: they’re the leaders of his own people.
Jesus is not collecting an army to defeat these enemies. Why? His relationship with the heavenly sovereign. The way Jesus heard Psalm 110, Israel’s sovereign said, You take your throne beside me. I’ll deal with your enemies.
Dangerous stuff! His Father in heaven won’t allow him to fight the people who are out to kill him. He takes his seat, expecting God to bring the enemies to heel. He trusts the promise that the hostiles will become part of his footstool — under Messiah’s feet (Psalm 110:1). He’s called to rule in the midst of his enemies (110:2). The Lord promises to deal with the enemies, and to bring his own people into line behind him (110:3).
The Sovereign who guarantees Jesus’ kingship is trustworthy. He does not rescind his decrees. The Lord’s anointed will lead his people as both king and priest. As king, he represents God’s authority over his people. As priest, he represents his people and their needs at the heavenly throne.
But there’s a problem with this promise. No one could be both a king and a priest in Israel. Kings descended from Jacob’s son Judah (David’s tribe). Priests were descendants of Levi. How can one person be both?
The Psalm says that the Lord has authority to appoint whomever he chooses, without regard to lineage. Genesis 14:18 is the precedent. If God inspired that text, God called Melchizedek a king and a priest. This Canaanite ruler wasn’t even part of promised covenant nation, but if God called him king and priest, then he was. God can call his Messiah king and priest if he chooses. The Lord has sovereign authority over all people, foe and friend, the whole earth (110:4).
So, God installs his anointed as king of kings (110:5). He resolves the problem of his enemies (110:6). His people live at peace in his kingship (110:7).
The final phrase of Psalm 110 echoes the opening promise. Everything is resolved by God raising up the Messiah — a phrase that intrigues the fourth Gospel writer (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34).
These are the relationships Jesus would love to explore with the leaders of Jerusalem. Psalm 110 is an astounding proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God, but Jesus gets no further than the first phrase with his hard-headed opponents.
Was David stumped?
They all knew God had promised David that his descendants would always reign. If there was a Messiah, he would be King David’s descendant. Jerusalem’s leaders were annoyed the crowds were making that proclamation about Jesus (9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15).
That’s why Jesus focused on the relationships. Who are the people in Psalm 110:1?
- First is the Lord (YHWH). The Lord holds all authority in heaven and on earth. What he says goes.
- Second is my lord (ʾā·ḏôni). Jesus understands this as God’s Messiah, the son of David who received the promise to reign on earth on behalf of the heavenly sovereign (2 Samuel 7:11-16). That was the Lord’s sovereign declaration to my lord.
- But who is my? Who is this third person, the one reporting the declaration? Unless you’re asking about the relationships, you may not even notice the reporter.
Jesus takes the spokesman (the prophet reporting God’s declaration) to be David. Why? Well, the heading over verse 1 gives it away: it’s a psalm of David. The voice we’re hearing is that of the Davidic king, through the instrumentality of the Spirit (Δαυὶδ ἐν πνεύματι, Matthew 22:43).
But David’s dynasty had fallen. There was no son of David reigning in Jerusalem, and there hadn’t been for 600 years. They had cried out to God, Where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Psalm 89:40). They asked, Have you utterly rejected us? (Lamentations 5:20). They were shipwrecked, under whatever ruler dominated the region in empire after empire. While some hoped that God would yet restore his people, most had no expectation for God to restore the kingship, his Christ (his anointed ruler).
Isaiah spoke of David’s dynasty as a tree felled by the nations. He said a shoot can sprout from the old stump, and God can raise up a Branch from David’s family tree to reign over his people (Isaiah 11:1). But when a tree has been dead too long, there’s no life in the stump. You’d need to start over with a new tree. God was the root of the Davidic dynasty, so any regrowth would have to come from that root since the tree was dead. That’s what Isaiah said: the root that gave rise to the Davidic dynasty (through his father Jesse) would give rise to God’s reign over the whole earth (Isaiah 11:10-11).
And this kingdom is greater than David’s, greater than the kingdom Solomon inherited. If they could only see it, something greater than Solomon was standing among them (see on Matthew 12:42).
Jesus was not just a branch of David’s dynasty. He was the root of David’s kingship (Sirach 47:22; Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5; 22:16). They were looking at the greatest king of all time. That’s what David was saying by hailing him as my lord (Psalm 110:1).
By focusing on the relationships in Scripture, Jesus was calling Jerusalem’s leaders to follow David’s example — to consider where they stood in relation to David’s son who was also his lord.
But Jesus’ kingship doesn’t depend on how they treat him. Celebrate him or crucify him, Jesus’ authority depends on the Sovereign who said, Take your seat at my right hand, while I place your enemies under your feet.
Gospel proclamation depends on neither force nor techniques of human persuasion. We are the living community of the one who is king by divine decree, the anointed who empowers his people to live in the Spirit, embodying his reign while God brings his enemies under his feet.
How we relate to the God of Scripture resolves all our problematic relationships with one another, as the kingdom of the King.
Open Psalm 110, or Matthew 22:41-46.
Footnote: This approach doesn’t depend on the original David having penned these words in the tenth century BC. In a collectivist culture, David’s voice was heard in each Davidic king — something that’s quite important to the interpretation of the Psalms. The intergenerational character of Psalm 110:1 is evident as the David of one generation speaks to his lord in another.
For more examples of reading the Psalms relationally, see:
- How to read Psalms (Psa 3)
- Jesus in the Psalms? (Psa 8)
- Why have you forsaken me? (Psa 22)
- Voice of an under-shepherd (Psa 23)
- Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Psa 118)
- Are the Psalms messianic?
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