Son of David

Jesus is the “son of David,” the heir to the Davidic throne and the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” 

Jerusalem Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
The gospel of
Matthew calls Jesus the “son of David,” but this is far more than an entry on his genealogical chart or one of his many messianic titles. And Matthew demonstrates just what it means to be the “son of David” and the “Son of God.” Even the several individuals who call him “Son of David” in this account hold deficient understandings of who and what Christ is - [Jerusalem Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash].

One way Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the heir of David is by applying scriptural allusions to him. For example, at his baptism, the Spirit descended on Christ “like a dove,” and the voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I delight.” The description combines words from two messianic passages:
  • (Psalm 2:7) – “Yahweh said to me: You are my son; this day have I begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) – “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.”
But Matthew is not simply piling on prooftexts to prove who he is. By combining these two prophecies, a figure is presented who fulfills both roles. First, he is the “son of David” destined to reign from Zion. Second, he is the “suffering servant” from Isaiah who is “cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people.”

One role cannot be understood apart from the other; they are inextricably linked. The same words are heard again at the Transfiguration of Jesus when “a voice out of the cloud said: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him!” – (Isaiah 53:8, Matthew 17:5).

In the New Testament, quite frequently, the second Psalm is applied to Jesus in his present role as the one who reigns from God’s “right hand.” This is the Psalm of David that promised one of his descendants would reign on his throne:
  •  (Psalm 2:1-9) – “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh, and against his anointed, saying: Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sits in the heavens will laugh. The Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king on my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me: You are my son - This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.
As predicted, Jesus endured the conspiracy by the religious leaders of Israel to destroy him - the “chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death:
  • All the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death, and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pilate the governor- (Matthew 26:59, 27:1).
And that was how the early church interpreted the Psalm. For example, on one occasion, after enduring threats from the priests and Sadducees, Peter prayed:
  • O Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is, who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant, did say, Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord, and against his Christ; for of a truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy council foreordained to come to pass” - (Acts 4:24-28).
Like Matthew, Peter also combined the image of the “suffering servant” with the royal figure from the Psalm. But it was not just the nations of the earth that raged “against Yahweh and His anointed,” but especially the leaders of Israel.

His murder by the “chief priests was anticipated in his earlier parable about the vineyard and its tenants. At harvest time, the owner sent several servants to “receive the fruit” that was due. However, each time he did so, the “tenants” abused and even killed his servants. Finally, he sent his “son,” expecting they would respect the son and heir. But the “tenants” were bent on “seizing the inheritance” for themselves, so they murdered even the “son” - (Matthew 21:33-45).

The parable echoes the words from the Psalm that speak of the conspiracy against “Yahweh’s anointed.” The parable was directed against the very ones who were plotting his death, for “when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.

Jesus certainly was the heir of David destined to reign forever. But before his accession to the throne, he had to suffer as the “servant of Yahweh,” and that is precisely what occurred in Matthew’s account. He was exalted and given “all power in heaven and on earth” only after his Death and Resurrection. Paradoxically, he conquered his enemies by undergoing an unjust and shameful death, even for them.

However, since his resurrection, he has reigned on the messianic throne as the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” which is why ever since he has been sending his disciples to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Now is the time for the “kings of the earth” to “kiss the son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way” – (Psalm 2:12, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-9).

The final act in Matthew was the “commissioning” of the disciples. The picture is not of a political revolutionary or the founder of a new religion, but of an already ruling monarch sending his heralds throughout his domain to announce his reign, for there are no limits on the sovereignty of the “son of Yahweh”:
  • All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
Thus, Jesus IS the heir to the messianic throne, the “son of David.” But to be the Messiah necessitates first becoming the “servant of the Lord” who suffers for His people, for the way to Zion lies through Golgotha.