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Who is Jesus? Who is the Messiah? For Christians this is one of the basic questions of faith. This passage deals with that question by noting a short controversy between Jesus and the leadership. Previous attempts to stump him had failed, but now Jesus will silence his opponents with a question about the most important figure in Jewish promise, the Son of David, Messiah. It is Jesus' turn to ask a question and seek answers. How will the leadership fare in the hot seat?
Jesus raises a rabbinic antinomy. The question is asked both before and after a quotation of Psalm 110:1. "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms, `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?" Jesus' goal is not to deny either premise but to show a relationship between two concepts that otherwise might appear to be in tension. In effect, Jesus is saying, more important than Jesus being David's son is that he is David's Lord. Or to answer Jesus' final question: that he is David's son is less significant (as significant as this is) than that he is David's Lord. Davidic sonship is not being denied; in fact, Davidic sonship is an important concept to Luke (1:31-35; Acts 13:23-39; also Paul, Rom 1:2-4). Rather, the point is Messiah's authority, and thus by implication Jesus' exalted position.
In fact, Jesus does not answer the question, nor does his audience. Instead the audience and Luke's reader are left to ponder it. In literary terms the answer comes in Luke 22:69 and Acts 2:22-39. The Son of David exercises divine prerogatives from the side of the Father in heaven. His authority is shared heavenly authority. To understand who the Son of David is, one must understand that he shares authority with the Father. As Acts 2 shows, authority over salvation comes from the Father through the Messiah, who sits at the Father's side functioning in "coregent" fashion. Thus the Lord Jesus reigns at the Father's side. Jesus does not make this explicit point here. But Luke 22:69 and Acts 2 show that ultimately this is the answer to the question.
Psalm 110:1 is the explanation for the answer; this is among the Old Testament passages most often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament (Acts 2:30-36; 7:55-56; 13:33-39; 1 Cor 15:22-28; Eph 1:19-23; Heb 1:3-14; 5—7). This royal psalm described the authority of the promised son of David. The picture of him at God's right hand is a picture of rule with God. A modern analogy would be to think of a corporate boardroom where the chairman of the board and the CEO sit together to manage the corporation. Only here the boardroom is God's heavenly court and the corporation is Creation and Redemption Inc. The Son of David shares authority and rule with the Father. So David, even though he is the ancestor of the Son in terms of family line, is under him in terms of authority.
All these points are only implied here. It took the resurrection to fully reveal who Jesus is, but the psalm shows the promise that through David's son eventually all the king's enemies would be defeated (Lk 1:67-79; Rom 1:2-4). Messiah's authority has the highest possible connections and reflects the highest possible position. When hymns declare, "He is Lord," passages like this explain what they mean.