Thursday, March 7, 2013

David's Son or David's Lord?

The following is one of the lessons for the third week of Lent from the small group study we are doing at our church entitled Christ in the Psalms. You can purchase the entire study for 99 cents on at this link

Read Mark 12:35-37

            Psalm 110 is described as a Psalm “Of David.” In the lesson on Psalm 110, it was noted that this Psalm was about King David.[1] That is, someone else wrote a song praising Yahweh (“the Lord”) for sitting King David (“my Lord”) at God’s right hand. We can gather from Jesus’ words in Mark 12:35-37 that “Of David” was understood differently in the first century. Instead of being about David, Jesus speaks of this Psalm having been written by David about the coming Messiah.[2] Other writings from the time period suggest that this was not merely Jesus’ interpretation of Psalm 110 but one that was widely accepted by Jews in the first century. That means those whom Jesus is teaching in Mark 12 would have simply taken it for granted that Psalm 110 was talking about the promised Messiah.

            It also seems to have been widely accepted in the first century that this Messiah, the deliverer of Israel, would be a descendant of the great King David. When the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem as their deliverer they shout “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” Likewise, the early Christians seem to have accepted this premise and spoke of Jesus as the “Son of David.” Matthew and Luke, for example, both go to great trouble to trace Jesus’ lineage through King David.

            In his quotation of Psalm 110:1, Jesus seems to accept the first of these premises but reject the second. That is, he agrees that “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1 is about the Messiah but he rejects the idea that the Messiah is David’s son. He says “David himself calls him (the Messiah) Lord. So how is he his son?” No one calls his son “Lord” so if Psalm 110:1 really is about the Messiah then the Messiah must not be David’s son if David calls him Lord.

            Why would Jesus reject the notion that the Messiah would be David’s son? And if he did, why did the gospel writers still bother to present Jesus as the “Son of David”? These are difficult questions for which there are not easy answers. However, it seems significant to me that Jesus makes this claim in the midst of his controversy with the religious leaders while he is still at the temple. Much of that controversy arises because the religious leaders do not believe that Jesus has the authority do the kinds of things he has been doing, especially his wild and reckless acts in the temple. I think that by posing this enigmatic question from Psalm 110 Jesus is communicating to the religious leaders that he is the Messiah but that they don’t completely understand what that means. They think that means a descendant of David who will rule as David did. Jesus is essentially saying that his identity as Israel’s Messiah is much greater than that. He is not merely David’s descendant. He is David’s Lord. Jesus’ authority is greater than David’s and that is why he can overturn tables in the temple and declare that its days are numbered.

[1] Or possibly one of David’s descendants. Although the Psalm is “Of David,” most scholars don’t think it was written that early. Instead, it is usually considered to be “Of David” in the sense that it speaks about the promise God made to David now fulfilled in one of David’s descendants as he fills David’s kingly office.
[2] Your translation may have “Christ” rather than Messiah. Christ is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah which means “anointed one.” 

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