Theme: The Greatest of the Messianic Psalms
This week’s lessons teach us about the most quoted psalm in the New Testament.
Scripture: Psalm 110:1-3
Near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, not long before his arrest and crucifixion, there was a time when the leaders of Israel were trying to trap Jesus with trick questions and he turned the tables on them by asking a question that was beyond their ability to answer. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Jesus queried.
They thought the answer was easy. “The son of David,” they replied.
Jesus continued, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son” (Matt. 22:41-46; see also Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)?
Thus it was that an apparently easy question suddenly became a profound and searching question. For if David called his natural physical descendent (the Messiah) his “Lord,” it could only be because the One to come would somehow be greater than David was, and 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 of Jesus: “…who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who 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).
When Jesus asked the Pharisees his question he was referring to Psalm 110:1, of course. And he was also establishing a pattern for interpreting the Old Testament that his disciples picked up on enthusiastically. They loved to quote this psalm. In fact, they referred to it so often that it became the psalm most quoted in the New Testament, and verse 1 the most quoted verse. By my count, it is quoted directly or alluded to indirectly at least twenty-seven times, the chief passages being Matt. 26:44 (parallels in Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42, 43); Acts 2:34, 35; 7:56; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 12:2 and 1 Peter 3:22. Verse 4 is referred to in Hebrews 5:6; 7:17, 21; 8:1; 10:11-13, and is the dominating idea of those key chapters.
Why should Psalm 110 have been so important to the early church and to the New Testament writers? The answer is that Psalm 110 is the greatest of the messianic psalms in that it alone is about the Messiah and his work exclusively, without any primary reference to an earthly king. There are not a large number of explicitly messianic psalms. They include Psalms 2, 22, 45, 72 and 110, plus a few others. But these mostly only contain messianic elements while other parts of them are apparently about the earthly king who was reigning at that time. By contrast, 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.
Edward Reynolds (1599-1676) was one of the great expositors of Psalm 110, and he wrote that “this psalm is one of the fullest and most compendious prophecies of the person and offices of Christ in the whole Old Testament.” He felt that “there are few, if any, of the articles of that creed which we all generally profess, which are not plainly expressed, or by most evident implication couched in this little model.” Reynolds saw this psalm as teaching the doctrines of the divine Trinity, the incarnation, sufferings, resurrection, ascension and intercession of Jesus Christ, the communion of saints, the last judgment, the remission of sins, and the life everlasting.1
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century, taught that Psalm 110 is exclusively about Jesus Christ. David “is not the subject of it even in the smallest degree,” he wrote.2 Walter Chantry, a contemporary Baptist preacher, also sees Psalm 110 as being exclusively about Christ. He divides it into four parts, which he titles: the powerful reign of Christ (v. 1); the spiritual reign of Christ (vv. 2, 3); the priestly reign of Christ (v. 4); and the judicial reign of Christ (vv. 5-7). This is a good way of looking at the structure, suggested by the stanzas of the New International Version.
1Cited at length by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), pp. 664, 665.
2Ibid., p. 460.
3Walter J. Chantry, Praises for the King of Kings (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), pp. 48-82.
What question did Jesus pose to the Pharisees? What is the answer, and what does it mean?
What pattern of quoting the Old Testament did the disciples learn from Jesus?
Describe the divine king in Psalm 110. What is unique about its reference to the Messiah?
What is one way to divide Psalm 110? What are the themes?
Review: Review the three roles of the Messiah that Psalm 110 describes.
Key Point: Psalm 110 is the greatest of the messianic psalms in that it alone is about the Messiah and his work exclusively, without any primary reference to an earthly king.
For Further Study: To look more closely at how Jesus uses this psalm, download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “David’s Son and David’s Lord.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)