Singing with Jesus – Psalm 110: The Priest-King

110 A Psalm of David.

I AM says to my lord [An oracle of I AM to my lord]: / “Sit at my right hand, / until I make your enemies your footstool.” / I AM sends forth from Zion / your mighty scepter. / Rule in the midst of your enemies! / Your people will offer themselves freely / on the day of your power, / in holy garments; / from the womb of the morning, / the dew of your youth will be yours. / I AM swears / and will not change his mind, / “You are a priest forever / after the order of Melchizedek.” / The Lord is at your right hand; / he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. / He will execute judgment among the nations, / filling them with corpses; / he will shatter chiefs / over the wide earth. / He will drink from the brook by the way; / therefore he will lift up his head.[i]

Psalm 22 gave us insight into the Suffering Messiah. The 110th Psalm gives us a picture of Messiah’s triumph in resurrected, ascended glory. It is referenced in the New Testament more than any other psalm (24 times) and is the 6th article of the Apostles’ Creed. Five partial or complete quotations of Psalm 110:1 occurs in the New Testament (Mark 12:36; Matt. 22:44; Luke 20:42–43; Acts 2:34–35; Heb. 1:13).[ii]

In Jesus’ trial before the elders of Israel, the high priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?”—to which Jesus replies: “I am,” adding “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” To this confession, the High Priest responds: “You have heard his blasphemy” (Mark 14:61–64). “Christianity hangs or falls on this testimony of Jesus in which he quotes Psalm 110.”[iii]

Just a few days before Jesus’ arrest and trial, he questioned the leaders of Israel about Psalm 110. The event is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospel accounts. Matthew wrote:

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, / Sit at my right hand, / until I put your enemies under your feet’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matt. 22:41–45; see Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44).[iv]

An apparently easy question suddenly became a profound and searching question. For if David called his natural physical descendant (the Messiah) his Lord/ʼadōnî, it could only be because the One to come would somehow be greater than the great King David. The only way that could happen is if the Messiah were more than a mere man. He would have to be a divine Messiah, that is, God.

The answer to the question, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” must, therefore, be, “He is both the son of David and the Son of God.” In other words, it must be the exact teaching Paul develops in the early verses of Romans, where he writes that Jesus “as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and … through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3–4).[v]

Psalm 110 is a coronation song strikingly similar in style to Assyrian royal prophecies. Verse 1 literally begins, “An oracle of I AM to my lord”. [vi] It’s a prophecy in which the psalmist hears God speaking, which is why Jesus said David was speaking “in the Spirit”. There are other Messianic psalms, such as psalms 2, 22, 45, and 72 and a few others. All of them speak to elements of the big “M” Messiah but also contain elements regarding the earthly, little “m” messiah – God’s anointed earthly king of Israel.

But only Psalm 110 is entirely about a divine king who has been installed at the right hand of God in heaven and who is presently engaged in extending his spiritual rule throughout the whole earth. It tells us that this divine Messiah is also a priest, performing priestly functions and that additionally, he is a judge who at the end of time will execute a final judgment on the nations and rulers of this earth.[vii]

Verses 1 and 4 are I AM’s pronouncements about his Messiah (v. 1, king; v. 4, priest). The rest of the verses of the psalm are the psalmist’s reflections on Messiah as Warrior King and Priest. It has two parts, moving from the Priest-King’s exaltation in heaven to his exaltation on the earth. Both parts prophesy that I AM and his king establish from Zion a universal and eternal kingdom by vanquishing their enemies.[viii]

HEAVENLY SESSION (110:1-3)

David hears a conversation in heaven and sings about it. An oracle of I AM to my lord [ʼadōnî]: / “‘Sit at my right hand / until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”[ix]  ʼadōnî is distinguished from I AM in his title and in his person, but not in his nature. We know this because ʼadōnî is invited to be enthroned next to I AM and to rule over the world. Some have questioned the Davidic authorship of this psalm, claiming it was written by an underling exalting David (“A Psalm about David” not “of/by David”). But Jesus gave full weight to both to David’s authorship (emphatic: “David himself”) and his inspiration (speaking “in the Holy Spirit”, Mk. 12:36f.). Peter, too, on the Day of Pentecost, stressed the contrast in the psalm between David “himself” and his “Lord,” who “ascended into the heavens” to be “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33–35).[x]

“‘Sit at my right hand’” speaks of Messiah Jesus’ present heavenly position and his rule over all things in heaven and on earth. We are familiar with this idea from the Apostles’ Creed, “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” In the ancient world, to sit at a person’s right hand was to occupy a place of honor; a seat at the right hand of the host would be a place of honor at a dinner. To sit at a king’s right hand was more than mere honor; it was to share in his rule. It signified participation in the royal dignity and power. This participation belongs to Jesus since, as Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9–11). [xi]

Being seated at I AM’s right hand also means that the sacrificial work of Psalm 22 is complete. Our resident Psalms scholar, St Author of Hebrews explained that in the Heb. 1:3, saying of Messiah Jesus:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….[xii]

And again in 10:11-12,

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. [xiii]

Do you see what St Author is telling us about messiah David’s revelation in Ps. 110? EVERYTHING you need to have a right relationship with God has already been done for you if you are trusting into Christ. There is no more human work for you to accomplish because Jesus has paid it all and performed it all. That’s why he sat down.

Notice he says those who are trusting into Christ are being sanctified? The sovereign, reigning and ruling Lord Jesus Christ by and through the Holy Spirit is making each and every one of God’s people “set apart” to love God and neighbor. Whatever your struggles, whatever your triumphs or tragedies are, if you are trusting into Christ this morning, you ARE being made holy, set apart for God.

Imagine being stuck in some self-improvement cult where you are constantly bombarded with a message that you must work to free yourself of negative energy, work for the organization to give more money and more followers, work to change the destiny of the world and the universe. Work. Work. WORK! And when you are exhausted, impoverished, and left wondering how much all your work has accomplished for you and the world then you are abandoned and cut off. You are labeled as a subversive and left penniless and friendless as the army self-improvers marches on without you.

Brothers and sisters, JESUS SAT DOWN! He has paid it all. He has done it all. He offers it all freely. And he calls from his all-powerful all-glorious throne in heaven:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [xiv]

School is out. Summer has begun. Worktime is over. Playtime has begun. Play is only possible when faith is no longer something you prove but something you’ve been given – when God is not waiting on your “getting serious” about Him. Play happens when you are invited outside the cathedrals of your own inner sanctity, and you have the absence of mind to frolic in the world. School’s out and summer’s in. You are free to throw the ball, build a fort, binge-watch a new show, or take a nap. God asks only that we trust him at his word—you really are free because Jesus sat down!

That has boundlessly marvelous implications for we who feel weighted down with the drudge work of proving ourselves to be exceptional parents, superior marriage partners, exemplary earners and workers, brilliant students, and deep theologians with an outstanding command of all the finer points of divine studies. Many years ago, my martial arts instructor would yell at us, “Playtime is over!” But Jesus sat down. And HE says, “Playtime has just begun.”

Of course, the psalmist is realistic about the state of the present world. He sings that “I AM will extend your mighty scepter from Zion. / ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!’[xv] That’s rather upside down, isn’t it? Earthly kings don’t rule in the midst of their enemies. They defeat their enemies, they expand their kingdoms by drawing boundaries and by confronting, fighting, and overpowering their enemies. But Messiah rules in and through his people (from Zion) as spiritual (not physical or political) insurgents; it is indirect and invisible and utterly opposite of anything we see around us. “We are to fight for Christ by suffering, by faith, and by the preaching of God’s Word.”[xvi]

Messiah rules through the weakness of Zion, his people. So, Paul writes,

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [xvii]

GREAT HIGH PRIEST (4-7)

Just because Jesus has sat down doesn’t mean he’s disinterested in you and leaves you to struggle or play on your own. He didn’t plop into his favorite easy chair, turn on the Spurs game and tell us kids not to bother him until the post-game show is over and he’s drained his 6-pack. No. David sings in verse 4 that I AM has made Messiah our eternal High Priest.

“I AM swears and will not change his mind: / ‘You are a priest forever, / like Melchizedek.’[xviii] David sings that the oracle is something “I AM has sworn.” God himself has given it special weight and significance. Second, we are told that “he will not change his mind.” Melchizedek appears at only three places in the Bible. He is introduced in Genesis 14, as part of the story of Abraham. After one thousand years and without any additional references, he suddenly appears again as a cryptic reference in the psalm we are studying. Then again, after another thousand years, he emerges as a major personage in Hebrews. St Author of Hebrews mentions Melchizedek eight times (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10–11, 15, 17), uses the phrase “the order of Melchizedek” four times (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17), and points us back both to Psalm 110 and Genesis when he bids us, “Just think how great he was” (Heb. 7:4). [xix]

Melchizedek appears in just three verses in Gen. 14:18-20 where Moses refers to him as the King of Salem (later, Jerusalem) and priest of the Most High God. He pronounced a blessing on Abraham and provided him with bread and wine; Abraham tithed a 10th of his battle spoils to Melchizedek. Then, Melchizedek disappears from the record in a book that is all about the record of people’s births, lives, and deaths. Melchizedek may have been the pre-incarnate Christ, but he is most certainly intended by I AM (whom David hears speaking) and by St Author of Hebrews to be a type (a picture) of Messiah Jesus.

Moses tells two important things about him. First, there is his name. His name is a title, meaning “king of righteousness.” It means that Melchizedek stood for righteousness in an age when most other people did not. Melchizedek (king of righteousness) is a significant title for Jesus, who has become “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Second, Melchizedek is said to have been a “king of Salem,” which means “king of peace,” another apt title for Jesus Christ. By becoming our righteousness and by his death on the cross Jesus has made peace between ourselves and God.[xx]

Psalm 110:1 described David’s Lord as a divine Messiah to whom God has given dominion over enemies. The next two verses describe the extension of his rule through those who are his willing servants, that is, the church. Verse 4 adds that the Messiah will also be a priest, a priest “like Melchizedek.” So Melchizedek disappears for 1,000 years; reappears for a few words of Psalm 110; then disappears for another 1,000 years until St Author of Hebrews, in Heb. 7, explains how Jesus fulfills the picture that Melchizedek made of a priest-king.

For this Melchizedek…is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

The Law of Moses forbid the offices of priest and king to be combined. But Melchizedek came before the Law, like the promised of salvation of faith came through Abraham before the Law was given. St Author continues:

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God…,22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. …24 …he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. [xxi]

So. as king, Messiah Jesus sat down to reign – for now, in an upside-down way. As our Great High Priest, he continues to intercede on our behalf. He’s not snoozing through the post-game show, getting grumpy when we kids poke him to get his attention. He always lives to make intercession, to intervene for our good even when what’s “good” is hard and hurting.

But messiah David ends his song with a warning for those who refuse to “kiss the Son” in humble trust. What is spiritual, weak and upside-down will be made physical, strong, and right-side up. The Priest-King will return as a warrior to square his accounts and judge all those outside of him by their works. He promised it: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.I AM has promised it: “Sit at my right hand, / until I make your enemies your footstool.”

If the great Triune God has promised it repeatedly, it will come true. You who are trusting into the perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death of the risen and glorified Messiah Jesus, our Priest-King are safe to play. Summer is here and he has set out a great pic-nick. “You prepare a table before me / in the presence of my enemies….[xxii]

But you who refuse, you who reject his one-way love, will face the Warrior-King who comes to fill the valley with corpses, / and smash the heads that are over the whole earth.[xxiii]   Our prayer is that when He comes, our glorious King all his ransomed home to bring that you will be found among those who sing his praises, rather than those begging for the mercy they will not receive.

Trust into the Priest-King and live. It’s Summertime. Playtime has started!

[i] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 110.

[ii] Waltke, et. al., 484.

[iii] Id., 484–485.

[iv] Boice, 892.

[v] Id.

[vi] Waltke, et. al., 498.

[vii] Boice, 892–893.

[viii] Waltke, et. al., 501.

[ix] Id., 497.

[x] Kidner, 391–92.

 

[xi] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:9–11.

[xii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 1:3.

[xiii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 10:11–14.

[xiv] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.

[xv] Waltke, op. cit.

[xvi] Boice, 896.

[xvii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 12:9–10.

[xviii] Id., 498.

[xix] Boice, 899.

[xx] Id., 900.

[xxi] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 7:1–25. Emphasis added.

[xxii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 23:5.

[xxiii] Waltke, op. cit.