Should we find Christ in the Psalms, or read them as Israel’s story?
Should we see Jesus in the Psalms?
The church fathers saw Jesus everywhere, but modern commentators focus on authorial intent — the meaning the author intended to convey. The Psalms were written to celebrate the reign of Israel’s God and to lament their struggles as his people. The authors didn’t intend to write about Jesus, so can the Psalms be about Jesus?
And yet, the New Testament writers do apply the Psalms to Jesus. Psalm 8 is applied to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Hebrews 2:6-8, and even by Jesus himself in Matthew 21:16. Authorial intent matters, but it’s too limited a view. There’s a bigger story playing out across the canon of Scripture.
Jesus’ answer for what’s wrong is not exclusion: it’s the radical inclusion that comes from restoring our brokenness to wholeness.
What does the son of David do for his people as he enters the capital? Matthew alone reports this:
Matthew 21 14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (NIV)
Jesus had healed the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others in Galilee, where the crowds recognized the God of Israel working through him (15:30-31). The reaction in Jerusalem is polarized.
The crowds ascribe salvation (Hosanna) to the Davidic descendant who saves his people, but those who hold the reigns of the city are put out. They feel threatened, just as Saul did when God’s anointing had moved to David and the people sang his praises as the one who would save them (1 Samuel 18:7-8; 21:11; 29:5).
This descendant of David is the saviour/king in the story of his regal ancestor.
The Palm Sunday crowd declared the gospel: heaven and earth reconciled in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.
Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).
A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.
What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:
God’s king has a different authority to what we’ve known.
The king of peace is so different. When the disciples first recognized Jesus as God’s anointed, he told them to keep it quiet (16:16-20). Now others have had their eyes opened to the son of David, and they cannot be silenced (20:30-34). This growing crowd forms a festal procession, celebrating the return of the son of David to the capital in the name of the Lord (21:9).
Yet, this son of David does not look like the kings who came before him. Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots to defend his kingdom (2 Chronicles 1:14). Jesus doesn’t even have a donkey. If he’s to be carried into Jerusalem, he must borrow a pack-animal for this occasion — the return of the king to Jerusalem after 600 years.
Why did the early church de-emphasize the message of the kingdom of God, and how do we recover it?
As we saw, even blind people could see Jesus was the son of David (Matthew 20:30-31) as he made his way to the capital where people would recognize him as the Son of David … arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9, 15). He challenged Jerusalem’s rulers to recognize the son of David as their Lord (22:42-45). It’s blindingly obvious that Matthew presents Jesus as the restoration of the Davidic kingship, the ruler God has anointed (Christ).
When Paul wanted to summarize the gospel at the start of his letter to Rome, he described Jesus as the physical descendant of King David, raised up as the reigning Son of God by his resurrection. “Jesus Christ the Lord” names Jesus as God’s anointed and our ruler. This gospel transforms the world by bringing the nations to trust his leadership (faith) in obedience to his governance (Romans 1:3-5).
Yet the church moved away from this good news of Jesus’ kingship. The early fathers focused on Jesus’ divinity (Son of God) rather than his descendancy (Son of David). We are unbalanced and the gospel is diminished when we emphasize one truth at the expense of the other.
By the early 200s, Origen thought the crowd was right to silence the blind men who called Jesus such a contemptible name:
What’s the significance of declaring Jesus as the son of David?
I guess blind people see the world differently. Matthew tells of two non-seeing people who saw Jesus as king. Son of David, they cried (20:30). Their declaration was significant enough for Matthew to repeat: Son of David (20:31).
The “gospel of the kingdom” expects God to reveal who is king.
The biggest reason we struggle to understand what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of God” was the way he presented it. He kept on about the kingdom, without claiming to be king. And if you don’t see Jesus as the king, you don’t see the kingdom. Continue reading “The gospel revelation (Matthew 16:16-18)”
Fear of Christ is a phrase found just once (Ephesians 5:21). It’s the generic word for fear (phobos). Many translations render it as “reverence” or “respect”, but that isn’t strong enough. In a kingdom perspective, fear of Christ displaces every fear.
Do you read this as a warning that you might not go to heaven?
Ephesians 5 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a person is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (NIV)
It didn’t mention heaven. Readers substitute heaven because that’s how kingdom of God has been understood. But the Bible’s narrative isn’t about us going to heaven; it’s about God’s kingship being restored to earth.
Do the Psalms tell us about Jesus? Are these verses about Christ?
Psalm 22 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … 16 They have pierced my hands and feet.
Psalms 118 22The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
The New Testament writers thought so. So did the church fathers. Were they right? Or were they bending texts to fit their beliefs? What did David intend? Does authorial intent define the meaning? Or is meaning in the ear of the hearer, whatever the reader wants it to mean?
When the church fathers used the Psalms this way, the Jewish leaders were mortified. They pointed out that no one read the Psalms like this until after Jesus died, so the Christians were merely imposing their own meaning on Jewish literature.
Should we be seeing the Messiah in the Psalms? Everywhere? Nowhere? In a few cases? What do you think?
All our fuzziness about the kingdom becomes clear when we ask, “Who is the king?”
Here’s a single question to clarify Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom: Who is the king?
That question has two answers:
God is king. It’s the kingdom of God.
Christ is king. God entrusted his kingship on earth to his anointed (Christ).
Our heavenly sovereign doesn’t impose his rule on us; he exercises his reign through us. He designed us to be images of his dominion, for the benefit of all the creatures on earth (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8).
That’s why God promised to restore his reign through humans, through Abraham’s family. When Israel asked for a king, God agreed to have a son of David representing his reign on earth (2 Samuel 7:11-16). God’s reign is through “the Lord and his anointed” (Psalm 2:2).
So Jesus is God’s Anointed (the Christ). But Jesus rarely promoted himself. If we don’t realize that he’s talking about his own kingship, his kingdom teaching can sound cryptic.
There was this special day when Jesus discussed his identity with his followers. It must have been important for Jesus to take them 40 kilometres north of Galilee, a two-day journey to the headwaters of the Jordan River at Caesarea Philippi.
According to local legend, the cave there was the entrance to the underworld. There were two temples: one dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and another temple to honour Roman emperor. Surrounded by these competing claims for power — spiritual, religious, and political — Jesus asked them how they understood his identity: “Who do people say I am? … And what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27, 29).
This was Peter’s great confession. The synoptic Gospels record his answer slightly differently:
Mark 8 29 Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Matt 16 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Luke 9 20Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” (NIV)
There’s no problem with the differences. Biographers regularly condense dialogue, and occasionally they expand it for emphasis or to explain the sense. The question is, Did the Gospel writers think Peter had made two significant statements about Jesus, or one?Continue reading “What does ‘Son of God’ mean (Matthew 16:16)?”
Is Jesus “a new Moses”? Would that be a helpful way to describe him?
Should we describe Jesus as “a new Moses” in the Biblical story? In the Old Testament, Moses liberated God’s people and established them as his nation. In the New, Jesus liberated humanity and established us as God’s kingdom.
The similarities are clear, so hundreds of books draw the comparison. Yet the New Testament writers seem reticent to describe Jesus this way. Why?
Calling Jesus “the Christ” is declaring him the ruler chosen by God to restore heaven’s reign to the earth.
Christology is the study of Christ. Well, that’s what it would be if it focused on the Christ bit.
These days, Christology is a branch of theology, the study of God (theos means God). Systematic theology starts with God, so Christology usually fits in as the study of the second person of the trinity. It discusses how Jesus could have two natures without his divinity messing with his humanity and vice versa. It rehearses how early Christians struggled with wrong ways to talk about God (heresies) and eventually found the right language (the creeds and Symbol of Chalcedon).
That’s all important, and I’m truly grateful for these great summaries of what we believe. But along the way, the emphasis shifted. Christology lost its focus on the Christ.
Guide dogs are amazing: a constant companion, willing to take a blind person where they want to go. The dog is trained for you personally, so it’s expensive to train one, and it really does become your own personal guide.
We make a huge mistake when we apply the same language to Jesus — calling him “my personal Saviour.” That’s a term Scripture never uses, because it could suggest that we think Jesus belongs to us, and he will take us where we want to go. That’s a completely corrupt way to understand Jesus, as if he was our personal servant and guide. And yet that attitude is widespread in the church today. We’re proclaiming that selfish arrogance each time we tell people, “Invite Jesus into your life; he’ll make it so much better for you.”
If you ever meet Queen Elizabeth, please do not invite her to be your personal queen. You’d be insulting her, as if she did not have that authority already. Please don’t invite her to sit on the throne of your heart! She already has the throne! What you must do is to acknowledge her authority, bow before her in recognition of her regal status, and follow her commands.
Imagine standing on the banks of the Jordan as Jesus surfaced, hearing a voice proclaiming, “This is my Son, the one I love, who pleases me.” What would that mean to you?
You would not have thought, “Just look at that! The Father called him the Son, and the Spirit descended on him. There must be a trinity!” That understanding didn’t come until much later. So how would a first century Jew have understood the heavenly announcement? Continue reading “Heaven’s proclamation of Jesus (Matthew 3:17)”