Luke 20:39-44 “Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no-one dared to ask him any more questions. Then Jesus said to them, ‘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?”
The Sadducees were the liberal aristocracy who disparaged the fact that there would be a resurrection of the dead. They came to Christ with a question that seemed to make the resurrection ridiculous but our Lord answered them seriously and silenced them. This response of our Lord rejoiced the hearts of the Pharisees who were mortal enemies of the Sadducees. You can imagine them grinning, slapping one another on the back and giving high fives. “Well said teacher!” they shouted out. But our Lord will give them no lasting comfort and when their merriment dies down he speaks up again and now directs a question to them. “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?” (vv. 41-44).
Jesus told them something they all knew as he quoted one of David’s most famous psalms, a messianic psalm. It says that Christ would be David’s son and all Israel nodded her head. ‘Christ’ is simply another word for ‘Messiah.’ The word both in Hebrew and in Greek means the Anointed One. The reference is to the one first promised by God in the Garden of Eden, the one who would come and bruise the Serpent’s head, the one of the line of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, one of the tribe of Judah, the Saviour whom God had covenanted to send. He would also be of the line of David. You would have to tick all those big boxes to qualify as the Messiah.
What Jesus said about Psalm 110 must have made a deep impression on his disciples, because after this day this was the psalm that they quoted more than any other. It shows up more than twenty times in the New Testament. Peter used it on the day of Pentecost, when he preached the gospel of repentance and three thousand people were saved. Peter told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God. Then he quoted Psalm 110 as the proof that God had taken the name Jesus who was crucified and made him our Lord and our Christ (see Acts 2:32-36). The apostle Paul used the same psalm to prove that when Jesus raises us from the dead he will destroy all our enemies (1 Cor. 15:22-25). The book of Hebrews uses Psalm 110 to show that Jesus is superior to the angels, and therefore that he has supremacy over everything (Heb. 1:13). The apostles celebrated Jesus as David’s Christ and David’s Lord.
1. THE MAN CHRIST JESUS IS THE SON OF DAVID.
In our text the focus is on the Messiah coming from the line of David, the greatest of Israel’s kings. The Scriptures made it absolutely clear that the Christ would be of the household of David. He wouldn’t materialize as an angel and take on a temporary human appearance. No. He would be born into a family with ancestors. God had promised King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. And your house and your kingdom . . . shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:12, 16). We read the same thing in the prophet Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . on the throne of David and over his kingdom” (Isa. 9:6-7). So when the Messiah came, he would belong to the royal bloodline of the house of David.
This was a criterion that Jesus of Nazareth had to meet. He must be a direct lineal descendant of King David, possessing the inherited legal right to the messianic title “Son of David”. So when Luke writes his gospel he is at pains to bring the evidence for this forward. For example, when the birth of Jesus was first announced, his earthly father Joseph was identified as a man from “the house of David” (Luke 1:27). Then the angel Gabriel told Mary that God would give her child “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). Then, when the child was born, Luke drives this lesson home again telling his readers that Jesus’ family “was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). Then the fact that Jesus was of the line of David is confirmed by the vast genealogy that Luke carefully provides for us in chapter 3.
But understand that Luke is not riding a personal hobby here. In other words he isn’t the only New Testament writer who emphasizes this. Matthew begins the first Gospel by identifying Jesus Christ as “the son of David” (Matt. 1:1). That’s how your New Testament begins, and then in the first of the letters of the New Testament, the epistle to the Romans, Paul says that Jesus the Messiah “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom.1:3). This fact is claiming that the Lord Jesus Christ belonged to the most venerable of all kingdoms, the most noble of all houses: he is great David’s greater Son.
What we are given here is the fact of the humanity of the Messiah. He took humanness in all its implications. At one level he took on a man’s physical constitution, a constitution that was available and open to the senses. The apostle John could say that his eyes had seen him; his ears had heard him; his hands had handled the Word of life. The promised Messiah took a body with a chemical composition, and an anatomical structure, a physiological constitution, a body which had its own genetic programme inherited to a certain degree from his mother. He was joined by the umbilical cord to his ancestor David and back further to Abraham and thence to Adam. He had a foetal existence; he was born in the normal way through the birth canal. He entered into this world and breathed its air and was subject to the pattern of daylight and darkness, work and rest, eating food and evacuating the waste products. And at that point the son of David was as vulnerable as his illustrious ancestor had been when at one time in his life he was pursued through the wilderness by King Saul’s soldiers. Jesus experienced infantile vulnerability; he had to be taken as a refugee to Egypt by his father Joseph to escape the sword of Herod’s soldiers. Throughout his ministry he was subject to the opposition of sinners against him, to misunderstanding, to torture, to the taste of death. Through his whole lifetime the Son of David was subject to the same laws of dependence and stress and frailty as we ourselves know today.
Then it was more than that. It wasn’t only physical. It was surely that Jesus the Son of David also had a fully psychological existence. On the one hand a true body, and on the other hand a reasonable soul. That meant surely that the Lord entered upon a full human emotional life, richer even than his kingly ancestor had displayed in some of the psalms he had written. For example, Jesus displayed the emotion of sorrow and the emotion of fear. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful . . . he began to be amazed and very heavy.” We also know that he formed very close ties of human affection with particular individuals in a kind of David and Jonathan friendship where there is affinity between one human being and another. We are told of David and Jonathan that their souls were knit together, and wasn’t it like that between Jesus and John? They were bosom friends. One of the most moving utterances of the New Testament is surely that Jesus chose twelve in order that they would be with him. There could be no more eloquent pointer to his own emotional need than that. We are told that he took three of them into the agony of Gethsemane and they were there with him for that precise purpose, “Watch with me.” There is real pathos in those words; it is almost pathetic. The God-man needs them, “I just want you to be with me. I just want to know that you’re there, I just want to know that you are listening and watching with me in this moment of agony.” And it is the greatest indictment on those men that at that point they failed him; “Couldn’t you watch with me one hour?” So I am saying that the Messiah of the line of David was as much a man as David had been. Christ has entered into full physical identity with us men and women, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that he was hungry and thirsty and weary, that he slept on a cushion in a boat, and he suffered and he died. But also he knew a fully emotional existence, loving friends and weeping with them when they grieved over the death of a brother. In every pang that rends the heart the Man of Sorrows had a part.
The Son of David also had a fully human intellectual existence. We are told that he grew in wisdom as in stature. He learned by observing and studying and asking questions. He learned to speak Aramaic and then Greek. The human mind of Christ developed through childhood and adolescence and manhood. We find him growing in understanding by asking people questions like, “Who touched me? . . . Where have you laid him?” His human mind did not know everything. There was so much that had not been revealed to his human mind; as a man he had a creature’s knowledge; but as God the Creator he knew everything. Think of the parallel with his omnipotence as God; the winds and waves obeyed him; he had power over disease and death. He was as omnipotent as God, but as a man he experienced weakness, hunger and thirst.
I am emphasising the humanity of the Jesus of Nazareth this true descendant of David, the Word made flesh, and I am saying that he had a human intellect and a man’s way of deciding what to do, and a human way of making choices, of learning, and applying what he had learned to what he chose to do in a decision process and the agony of decision making. “What shall I pray? Take this cup from me? But for this reason I came into the world.” The decisions of the Son of David were real, and that is why the temptations at every point were real, and the agony in the Garden was real. The Son of David when he came to this world was not a half man; he was a total human, physically, psychologically, intellectually and emotionally, and now in heaven that man is in the midst of the exalted enriched throne of David, and he is the pledge that we shall be saved to the uttermost.
2. CHRIST JESUS, SON OF DAVID, WAS ALSO DAVID’S LORD.
Now all the Pharisees and those listening to Jesus knew that the Christ would be David’s son. But Jesus proceeds to ask them a question. How could the Christ be David’s son and at the same time David’s Lord? You see how Jesus was quoting here from Psalm 110, this psalm which David himself wrote. Psalm 110 is, I have said to you, a messianic psalm, one that makes explicit prophecies about the coming of the Christ. All of the ancient rabbis agreed that David was here prophesying about the Christ. In every synagogue in Galilee the ruler would read this psalm and tell the congregation that David had written it and that it was about “our coming Messiah.” Philip Ryken sets out the question of our Lord very pleasantly.
What does Psalm 110 say? It begins with a dialogue. What is mysterious about this two-person conversation is that both participants are called ‘Lord.’ David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). So who are these two ‘Lords’? The identity of the first ‘lord’ is obvious. Many English translations print this title in capital letters to show that it refers to God himself. David was using the name ‘Jehovah,’ the special divine name that belongs only to God. So the person speaking in this verse is the Lord God Almighty. But to whom is he speaking? The identity of the second ‘Lord’ is somewhat less obvious, but it is perfectly clear nonetheless. This time David uses a different name for Lord, the name Adonai. This is a general term that can be used for any kind of lord, but here it refers specifically to the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. This is clear from the rest of the psalm, which declares that this ‘Lord’ will sit at Jehovah’s right hand. He will rule over the kingdom of God. So David is repeating a dialogue between God Almighty and the coming Christ. He is saying something like this: ‘The Lord God says to my Lord, the Messiah, sit on my throne to rule the universe.’
What is puzzling about this is that David as he recounts this dialogue regards the Messiah (who one day would be his descendant) as actually superior to himself. He calls him ‘my Lord.’ Yet David never called anyone ‘Lord,’ except God. Well, maybe David’s father, or perhaps Saul also when he was king of Israel before David, he would show respect for this anointed king and he’d say to Saul ‘my lord’. David certainly didn’t call any man ‘Lord’ once he had become the king in his own right. Yet here is one, a person who is very great, so great that even David addresses him as his ‘Lord.’
This is puzzling because the Messiah was David’s son, and in that culture fathers never called their sons ‘Lord.’ This is something that no patriarch like Abraham would ever do, and least of all a man who was a monarch. The son is to honour the father, not the other way around. So when the Messiah came, the seed of the woman, of the tribe of Judah, surely he would be the one paying homage to David as his great ancestor. Yet here David is the one who is giving homage to him even though yet unborn and not to be born for a thousand years, acknowledging the divine superiority of his descendant. The Messiah would be David’s son, yet David also calls him ‘Lord.’
Furthermore, the second person in Psalm 110 – the one whom David calls his Lord – is going to receive the kingdom. He will reign with total authority. He will sit at the right hand of God until every last one of his enemies is defeated. The right hand of God represents God’s own rule and kingly power. To be exalted is to sit in that awesome place to reign in glory and to share in the royal majesty of God.
Who is this mighty king? Who is this ruler so great that David calls him ‘Lord’? If the Messiah is a human being, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of David, how can he be so vastly superior to David? Listen again to the question Jesus asked: “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?” (Luke 10:41-44). These Pharisees are plotting in three days to kill Jesus by crucifixion. Many of the people were calling Jesus the Christ and ‘Lord’ but the Pharisees would soon be charging him with blasphemy and pronouncing the death penalty. Jesus says that David called this man, who was his descendant and the Messiah, his Lord. In other words they are going to kill David’s Lord.
What is all this about? We know the answer don’t we? The Messiah is certainly a man who is the son of David, but he is more than the son of David. He was also the Son of God. The Messiah was David’s Lord because he was David’s God. The Christ is absolutely human, 100% human as though he were not divine; he is also absolutely God, 100% divine as though he were not human. He is the descendant of David, yes, but he claims also to be the root of David (Rev. 22:16), in other words, David was rooted and earthed in him. He was the Creator of David and David’s sustainer; David lived and moved and had his being in his Lord, but he was also David’s descendant.
Let us look at some of the masses of evidence for this:
i] First of all, there are those New Testament passages which ascribe divine titles to Christ. Some of them speak of Jesus as God, and there are others which speak of him as Lord; yet others call him Son of God; and still others that call him Son of Man (which is a divine title, applied in Daniel 7, for example, to the pre-existent Messiah who exercises universal and eternal dominion. When Christ used that title he was saying, ‘I am that Son of Man’).
ii] Secondly, there are the New Testament passages which ascribe to Christ divine functions. They describe Him as Creator; as the Lord of Providence, upholding all things by the word of His power; and as Judge. All of these are divine functions. Jesus creates. Jesus preserves and governs. Jesus judges the world.
iii] Thirdly, there are passages which ascribe to Christ divine attributes: for example, eternity and omnipotence. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). No mere creature can possess such qualities. They are uniquely and untransferably divine.
iv] Fourthly, there are passages which ascribe to Christ divine prerogatives, especially the prerogative of worship: “I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). The church consists of those who call on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). We make melody in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). The New Testament, in the most explicit fashion, portrays Christ as the object of divine worship.
My concern for the moment is to indicate the general scope and breadth of the evidence. Jesus is given every possible divine designation. Jesus performs every divine function. Jesus possesses every divine attribute. Jesus enjoys every divine prerogative. These are the lines of evidence along which we have a right to argue for the deity of Christ. And note, too, that the evidence is to be found in every single layer of the New Testament. It is found not only in the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is found also in the Pauline epistles, in the synoptic gospels and in the book of Acts. If the evangelists used sources then it is in them too. There is no level or segment or phase or form or source of New Testament teaching that does not portray a divine Christ.
Furthermore, that evidence is found at a very early stage in the history of the church. It is quite remarkable that there is not a trace in the New Testament of any debate about this doctrine. In the very earliest documents (Galatians, First Thessalonians, and the Epistle of James) taking us back to between the years 40 and 44, we find the church already in full and unselfconscious possession of this doctrine, primarily because it was implicit in its worship of its Saviour. They were largely converted Jews who said that the Lord is one Lord. There is only one God they said, and yet Jesus is God.
Let’s consider three of those passages in the New Testament in which Jesus is referred to as God.
i] John 1. Firstly, the opening words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This tells us three things about Christ. He was ‘in the beginning’. He was ‘with God’. And He ‘was God’.
The words ‘In the beginning’ take us right back to Genesis 1:1: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ John is telling us that in that beginning God did not create the Word, because the Word was already in being. John was no academic and yet he uses language with meticulous and brilliant skill, choosing the imperfect tense of the verb ‘to be’ to convey the idea of continuous, open-ended being. In verse 14 he says “the Word was made flesh”: the Word became flesh. But in the beginning he did not become. He was already in being. In fact, it was through him that all things were made. Without him was nothing made (verse 3).
And so we have this unlettered man writing what is arguably the world’s greatest single piece of literature and in its very opening statement taking us back to the beginning of creation and telling us that when, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the Word was already in being.
John then tells us that the Word was ‘with God’. The pronoun used here normally means towards; and this reminds us of the outgoing nature of the relations between the persons of the godhead. But the most important point John is making here is that the Word is distinct from the Father. He is not the Father, but He is towards or with the Father.
Thirdly, John tells us that the Word ‘was God’ not ‘was a god.’ The grammatical rule is quite simply this: if the noun comes after the verb and functions as a predicate, it lacks the definite article. If John wanted to say that the Word was God, making the word ‘God’ a predicate of Jesus, then he did so in the best way open to him, by omitting the article.
ii] Romans 9. Our second reference is in Romans 9:5. Here Paul is discussing the privileges of the Jews: “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised!”
iii] Hebrews 1. Our third reference is in Hebrews 1:8, “about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.’” God the Father is speaking to the Messiah and the Messiah is his Son, but God addresses him directly as God. God calls him God, and his sovereignty will be an eternal sovereignty. Those are three of the verses where Jesus Christ is called God. But of course there are others; Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Our Lord claims, “I and my Father are one.” Peter speaks of “the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Paul speaks of “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). He tells the Colossians of Christ that “in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Cols.2:9).
But we are particularly interested in the title of ‘Lord’ that David’s descendant, the Christ, is Lord. There is a widespread impression that the word ‘Lord’ is a much weaker title. But this is not so. In our text Jesus told the murderous Pharisees, “David calls him ‘Lord’. How then can he be his son?” He was referring to the Messiah and he was calling him ‘Lord’ and that is a statement of unsurpassable significance. In the Latin culture of Imperial Rome the highest title Caesar could claim was Lord. It was a divine title. The same was true in Greek culture: a kurios was a divine being. “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords,” Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8:5. But what really matters is that in Jewish theology the designation ‘Lord’ had the very highest import. When the Greeks wanted to translate the Hebrew scriptures they came up against the distinctively Jewish name for God: Jehovah or Yahweh. How should that name be translated? Their solution was to render it by Kurios (Lord). The English versions have done the same thing. But we can see from Psalm 110 and these words of David in our text that there are, in fact, two Hebrew words are both translated Lord: Jehovah and Adonai. The English Bible distinguishes very precisely between them by consistently printing the word for Jehovah in large block capitals: LORD. The distinction is very clear in the opening words of Psalm 110 in the book of Psalms. “The LORD (capitals) says to my Lord (lower case)”
The importance of all this is that when the apostles called Jesus ‘Lord’ they were using a Roman title of divine significance, a Greek title of divine significance and an Aramaic title of divine significance. Above all, they were ascribing to Jesus the word used by Greek-speaking Jews as equivalent to Jehovah. When we say that Jesus Christ is Lord we are saying exactly that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. This may startle us by its very novelty. But it is the truth, and there is nothing more remarkable in the whole history of human psychology than that monotheistic Jews of the first century, men like Paul and James, should ascribe to a human being the title Kurios and go on to apply to him Old Testament verses which in their original context referred to Jehovah, the God of Israel.
Let us never forget this simple fact. When we say, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ we are saying, ‘Jesus Christ is Jehovah.’ When we sing, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ we are singing, ‘Jehovah-Jesus is my shepherd.’ Look how this is applied for example by the half brother of Jesus, James, in his letter. Remember how he begins his epistle; “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not only does he put on the same level as God his half brother Jesus but he says he equally serves them both and he also acknowledges his brother to be Lord. No sibling rivalry there.
But what interests me is in the opening words of the second chapter: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism” (James 2:1). There is so much happening here! For one thing, here is the pastor of the Jerusalem congregation facing a very elementary problem, the problem of snobbery in the church of God. When certain people walked in, everyone made a great fuss and the deacons told other people to get up and give their seats to these important people. ‘Now,’ James said, ‘you can’t do that. You are really saying that if Jesus had been in your church (dressed in the garb of a poor man) you would have told him to get up and give his seat to Lord So-and-So. Do you have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ?’ You can’t have faith in this poor Galilean carpenter and be a snob. It’s as simple as that. There is a direct line from stamping out snobbery or any kind of divisions in a church to Jesus who came from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, being David’s son the Messiah, but also David’s God. If snobbery is outlawed then certainly what these Pharisees were planning to do in two days, whip and crucify the Messiah, Jehovah Jesus, was horrifically and indescribably worse. “You are killing the one David called his Lord. You are killing the one God calls his Son. You are killing the one who will sit on the eternal throne of judgment. ‘Your throne O God will last for ever and ever.’ You are going to kill the one who is going to judge you.” Our Lord is making it as plain as possible to them what abhorrent evil they are going to do. They are going to kill the Word who was with God in the beginning and is God. They are going to crucify our great God and Saviour. They are going to nail to a cross the one in whom the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. That is the fruit of the enmity against God that lies in every human heart.
What then does the fact that Jesus is great David’s greater Son and also that Jesus is God the Son mean in practice to us? It means that we have the right and the obligation to bow the knee to Jesus. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that if he is not God, we dare not worship him. If he is only Michael the archangel, as Jehovah’s Witnesses allege, we dare not worship him. A Jehovah Witness said once at my front door, “We don’t want to put Jesus on a pedestal do we?” Yes, but no pedestal on earth is glorious enough or high enough for him. I want him to have the pedestal above all pedestals, the name above every name. All that divinity can do must be done to magnify him. I told her, “I worship him.” If he is not God our worship is idolatry. It is blasphemy. That is why Athanasius in the third century felt so strongly that the church was fighting for its very life when it declared that Jesus Christ was God What was at stake was not a mere dogma but the future of Christianity as a religion. He kept saying to the church, “Do you want us to go back to paganism? To worshipping demi-gods?” If we worship him, we worship him as the living and true God. That is why this doctrine is so important. We adore him and praise him and pray to him because we are assured that he is Jehovah and Elohim, Theos and Kurios, God and Lord.
20th May 2012 GEOFF THOMAS