THE SON OF DAVID
While Jesus was teaching in the sacred precincts, he said, “How can the experts in the law say that God’s Anointed One is the Son of David? David himself, moved by the Holy Spirit, said, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord. And how then can he be his son?”
For us this is a difficult passage to understand, because it uses thoughts and methods of argument which are strange to us. But it would not be at all difficult for the crowd who heard it in the Temple precincts in Jerusalem, for they were well accustomed to just such ways of arguing and of using scripture.
We may begin by noting one thing which helps to make the passage clearer. The Revised Standard Version translates Mk. 12:35, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David.” In the early parts of the New Testament Christ is never a proper name, as nowadays it has come to be. It has in fact in this passage the definite article before it and so is translated the Christ. Christos (GSN5547) and Messiah (HSN4899, compare GSN3323) are the Greek and the Hebrew for the same word, and both mean the Anointed One. The reason for the use of the title is that in ancient times a man was made king by being anointed with oil–still a part of our own coronation ceremony. Christos (GSN5547) and Messiah (HSN4899) then both mean God’s Anointed King, the great one who is to come from God to save his people. So when Jesus asks, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” he is not directly referring to himself. He is really saying, “How can the scribes say that God’s Anointed King who is to come is the Son of David?”
The argument which Jesus puts forward in support is this. He quotes Ps.110:1–“The Lord says to my Lord sit at my right hand.” The Jews at this time assumed that all the Psalms came from the hand of David. They also held that this Psalm referred to the coming Messiah. In this verse David refers to this coming one as his Lord. How, asks Jesus, if he be his son can David address him by the title of Lord?
What is Jesus seeking to teach here? Of all titles for the Messiah the commonest was Son of David. At all times the Jews looked forward to a God-sent deliverer who would be of David’s line. (Isa.9:2-7, Isa.11:1-9, Jer.23:5ff, Jer.33:14-18, Eze.34:23ff, Eze.37:24, Ps.89:20ff.) It was by that title that Jesus himself was often addressed, especially by the crowds (Mk. 10:47ff, Matt.9:27, Matt.12:23, Matt.15:22, Matt.21:9,15). All through the New Testament the conviction that Jesus was in fact the son of David in his physical descent occurs (Rom.1:3, 2Tim.2:8, Matt.1:1-17, Lk.3:23-38). The genealogies of Jesus given in the passages from Matthew and Luke which we have cited are to show that Jesus was in fact of the lineage of David. What Jesus is doing is this–he is not denying that the Messiah is the Son of David, nor is he saying that he himself is not the Son of David. What he is saying is that he is the Son of David–and far more, not only David’s son but David’s Lord.
The trouble was that the title Son of David had got itself inextricably entangled with the idea of a conquering Messiah. It had got involved in political and nationalistic hopes and dreams, aims and ambitions. Jesus was saying that the title Son of David, as it was popularly used, is a quite inadequate description of himself. He was Lord. This word Lord (the Greek kurios, GSN2962) is the regular translation of Yahweh (HSN3068; HSN3069) (=Jehovah) in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. Always its use would turn men’s thoughts to God. What Jesus was saying was that he came not to found any earthly kingdom but to bring men God.
Jesus is doing here what he so constantly tried to do. He is trying to take from men’s minds their idea of a conquering warrior Messiah who would found an earthly empire, and seeking to put into them the idea of a Messiah who would be the servant of God and bring to men the love of God.
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