While Jesus was teaching in the Temple courtyard, several members of the religious elite had tried to harass Jesus and get Him into trouble with tough questions. They asked Him about paying taxes to Caesar and about the seemingly contradictory nuances regarding Resurrection. They also asked what was the greatest commandment, to which Jesus gave them both the first (love God) and second (love your neighbor) greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34). Then Jesus had a question of His own to ask...
The Paradoxical Son of David
In Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44, we find essentially the same anecdote where Jesus apparently clarifies an issue of prophesy. There was a common belief that the Messiah (a.k.a. the Christ) would be born from King David's lineage, but there is a fundamental problem with Jesus being just another child born in David's lineage because, well, Jesus is God! Also, calling someone a "son of David" applies a greater reverence to David than to that so-called person, but clearly Jesus is supposed to be more honorable than David.
And so, in Luke 20:41-44, we see:
Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ [a.k.a. the Messiah] is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:Jesus has quoted Psalm 110:1 here. Psalm 110 is a short, somewhat ambiguous seven verse song which is mostly about God providing military victory and judgement over many nations, heaping up dead bodies along the way. If you want to dig into the details of its ambiguity and why it may not be the way that Jesus said it was, read the "Psalm 110 in Deep Detail" section below. That section should also be helpful if you are having trouble sleeping at night. ;-) Anyway...
'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" NIV
Yeah, what is the deal with people saying that the Messiah is the son of David? Now, they do not mean the literal son of David, given that David had long been dead by Jesus' time, but rather someone from David's lineage. You know, like you see referenced in Matthew 1:1, Matthew 1:6-16, Matthew 1:20, Matthew 9:27, Matthew 12:23, Matthew 15:22, Matthew 20:30-31, Matthew 21:9, Matthew 21:15, Mark 10:47-48, Mark 11:10, Luke 1:27, Luke 1:32, Luke 1:69, Luke 2:4, Luke 3:23-31, Luke 18:38-39, and John 7:42.
Now if you study through those references to the "son of David," you will find that most of them are what generic people are saying about Jesus, and therefore are not to be taken as inherently being true. Mark and John contain only these types of hearsay comments, and thus are not in any conflict with Jesus' sentiment here. However, Matthew and Luke are not on that same page. For example, in Matthew 1:1 the Gospel writer opens his tale of "truth" with:
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: NIVHow is it that Matthew could say that Jesus was the son of David? Well, Matthew 1:6-16 goes on to explicitly make that connection in lineage, and further emphasizes that family connection through Joseph in Matthew 1:20.
Now Luke was a better editor than Matthew was. He was too clever to fall into that trap of conflicting with Jesus' own words on genealogy. So when Luke 3:23-31 provides a connection from Jesus to David in genealogy, in Luke 3:23 he starts off with a disclaimer:
Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,... NIVWith the phrase "so it was thought," Luke permits us to believe that really God was Jesus' father, not Joseph, and so there is no conflict with Jesus' later words. Thereafter in Luke, you only find those generic declarations noted above.
However, while Luke was smart, he was not brilliant, and he was prone to error just like any of us. So when he wrote the story of Jesus' birth, he was far too excited, or too distracted with writing fulfilled prophesy, to notice that he did slip up on this issue. In Luke 1:27, he also emphasized Joseph's connection to David, and in Luke 1:32, we have the angel pronouncing to Mary that:
[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David,... NIVIt was not only Matthew and (sort of) Luke, who claimed Jesus to be a son of David, but in Romans 1:3 and 2 Timothy 2:8 Saul/Paul also claims that Jesus was a descendent of David. John, the author of Revelation, claimed that an elder told him that Jesus was of the "root" of David (Revelation 5:5-6). And last, but certainly not least, in Revelation 22:16 we see:
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” NIVSo there you have it. Jesus has contradicted Himself. Again.
And there is a very good reason why this family connection was made. The prophesies about the Messiah often claimed that he would come from David's lineage, as you can see in Isaiah 16:5, Jeremiah 23:5, and Jeremiah 33:15, among other places. But this becomes a paradox, because Jesus was not Joseph's son, but rather God's Son, and so there is no bloodline connection to David, and thus these prophesies cannot really be fulfilled by Jesus. It is no wonder why so many Jews had rejected the story of Jesus: it is not what God had promised.
Psalm 110 in Deep Detail
Jesus claimed that Psalm 110 is prophetic, and that David called Jesus "Lord," or specifically "my Lord" as the case is here. Is that a valid interpretation? This is a tough matter to discern, for sure, so let us take a moment to look at it deeper.
The phrase "The Lord said to my Lord" is made up of only three Hebrew words, and those words are in a slightly different order. They are "declared Yahweh lords," or "neum Yhvh ladonay" in the transliterated Hebrew, where "ladonay" is a variant of "adonay." You have to fill in the missing articles and prepositions yourself. If you look at how "ladonay" is typically translated, you will find that it is often "the Lord," and often combined with prepositions; "of", "for", "by", and "to" the Lord. The word "my" never occurs in Bible translation for "ladonay" other than Psalm 110:1, but in common Hebrew speech, adonay (or adonai, yet another variant) is literally translated as "my lords/owners/masters," where the pluralization is done to show extra respect due to a singular, distinguished being. You find the combination "adonay Yhvh," or "the Lord Yahweh," 290 times in the Bible, but Psalm 110:1 is the only case in the Bible where you find the reverse order of "Yhvh ladonay," so we have no other verses to directly compare. With all of that in mind, it appears that the "The Lord said to my Lord" interpretation Jesus used is valid, but you could also make the case that "Declared Yahweh of/to/for/by the Lord" and "Declared Yahweh, the Lord" (similar to "Declared the Lord, Yahweh" we see in Isaiah 3:15, Jeremiah 2:19, Ezekiel 5:11, and 70+ more times) are equally valid translations. That latter option works well, unless you are looking to make a connection to Jesus. ;-)
So as you can see, the interpretation is arguable, but let us consider that it is properly "The Lord [Yahweh] said to my Lord." Who then is "my Lord?" Is it Jesus, as He is claiming? Well, as noted above, the "my" is subjectively added and could easily be other things. If David really did mean "my Lord," it would be awkward for him to be referring to himself, but is that enough to prove that this is about Jesus?
Context is key, but the context here is ambiguously awkward for Jesus as well. For example, Psalm 110:2 has God (Yahweh) saying that He will help extend the power of this "Lord" such that he will rule among his enemies. That seems more like what happens when conquering hostile nations than what Jesus has promised. There is talk of troops being ready for war in Psalm 110:3, but God will not need troops at all in the final battle per Revelation 20:9. In Psalm 110:4, God swears an oath to this Lord, but God swearing an oath to Himself (as Jesus) is a strange concept; yet it makes perfect sense for God to swear to a man to give him some assurance of the promise. In Psalm 110:5-6 we do find references to a day of God's wrath when judgement takes place, but it is hard to say that it is meant to be THE Judgement Day, given that there are other, generic days of wrath and judgement referred to in the Bible, such as Job 21:27-30, Isaiah 3:14, Jeremiah 1:16, and Ezekiel 22:24.
The Psalm is a little less ambiguously awkward if we consider it to be referring to King David himself. David did have several military conquests of enemy nations, many of which are summarized in 2 Samuel 8:1-14, matching very well with the war references within the Psalm. As 2 Samuel 8:6 and 2 Samuel 8:14 indicate, these victories were given to him by God.
In Psalm 110:4, God swore to make this Lord a priest after the order of Melchizedek. It is interesting to note that Melchizedek was the king and God's priest in Salem (Genesis 14:18). Salem would later become Jeru-salem. So David was the king of the same city. There were noted priests at the time of David: Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira was David's priest. However, no one was classified as the High Priest. It is arguable that David acted as the High Priest (the scenes in 1 Chronicles 24:31, 2 Chronicles 8:14, 2 Chronicles 23:18 certainly suggests so), but David was never explicitly called a priest (unless you can count Psalm 110:4). David's sons may have also acted as priests (2 Samuel 8:18), which also suggests David having priestly role, given that priesthood was usually dictated by family lineage.
Now what about the part of being a priest "forever?" I think that this was God effectively saying that He was granting David the title of "priest," and that title would never be stripped from him. He would be a priest as long as he lived. I do not think that the eternal promise of priesthood necessarily extended to his progeny. So, just like Melchizedek died, and no one speaks of priests from his lineage, so too was to be the case with David. David's progeny were not promised an eternal priesthood.
Add to that the references of Melchizedek and David literally ruling the same city and acting as priest, and David's God-helped military conquests, and you have at least a reasonable case that this Psalm is about David, not Jesus. Reasonable, but not "rock" solid. ;-)