Son and Servant

The Gospel of Matthew calls Jesus the “son of David.” In his life story, he demonstrates what it means to be the King of Israel and the royal “Son of God.” Traditionally, this last designation is linked to the House of David; but in Matthew’s account, the old understanding of what it means to be the Messiah is altered radically. The Greater “Son of David” is far more than the Ruler of Israel and the nations, he is a King of a very different kind.

Nevertheless, Matthew’s account presents the Nazarene as the Messiah and heir to David’s Throne by applying scriptural citations and allusions to him, the very one destined to die on a Roman cross.

Mountain Peak in clouds - Photo by David Maunsell on Unsplash
[Photo by David Maunsell on Unsplash]

For example, at his baptism, the Spirit descended on him “
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 the gospel account does not simply pile on proof texts to validate his genealogical credentials. By combining these prophecies, a messianic figure is presented who fulfills the roles of Israel’s King and that of the Servant of Yahweh from the Book of Isaiah.


First, he is the “son of David” destined to reign from Zion. Second, he is the “Suffering Servant” described in the Book of Isaiah, the one 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. Though the two functions seem incompatible, in Jesus, they are inextricably linked. The same words are heard again at his Transfiguration when “a voice out of the cloud declares, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him!” – (Isaiah 53:8, Matthew 17:5).

In the New Testament, the second Psalm is applied to Jesus IN HIS PRESENT ROLE as the Messianic figure who reigns at God’s “right hand” on the Davidic Throne. This is the psalm that promises that one of David’s descendants will reign in Zion - (Psalm 2:1-9).


As predicted by the Psalmist, Jesus endured the conspiracy to overthrow God’s “anointed one” when the religious leaders of Israel set out to destroy him - the “chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus that they might put him to death - (Matthew 26:59, 27:1).

And that is how the early church interpreted the Psalm. For example, 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 iswho 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 CHRISTfor 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 combines the image of the Suffering Servant with the royal figure described in the second Psalm. But it is not just the nations of the Earth that raged “against Yahweh and His anointed,” but especially the priestly leaders of Israel.

His murder was anticipated in Christ’s 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 agents.

Finally, he sent his “son,” expecting them to respect his heir. But the “tenants” were bent on “seizing the inheritance” for themselves no matter what, so they murdered him - (Matthew 21:33-45).

The parable echoes the words from the second Psalm that describe the conspiracy against “Yahweh’s anointed.” His parable was directed against the very ones who were plotting his demise: “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking of them.


Jesus certainly was the heir of David who was destined to reign forever. But before his exaltation, he suffered as the Servant of Yahweh,” and that is precisely what occurs in Matthew’s account.

He was exalted and given “all power in heaven and on earth” but only after his death and resurrection. Paradoxically, he conquered his enemies by undergoing an unjust and shameful death, dying for his enemies rather than slaying them.

And since his resurrection, he has reigned on the Davidic Throne as the “Ruler of the kings of the earth.” And this is why ever since he has been sending his followers as his priestly envoys to herald his Good News of God’s Kingdom “to the uttermost parts of the earth” – (Psalm 2:12, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-9).

The final act in Matthew is the “commissioning” of the disciples. The picture is not of a political revolutionary or dictator dispatching his armies to destroy his opponents, but of an already ruling monarch sending his heralds throughout his domain to announce his victory and reign – (Matthew 28:18-20).

Thus, Jesus IS the heir to the Messianic Throne, the “son of David.” But first, he became the “Servant of the Lord,” the one who suffered for His people and his enemies. And so, the royal road to Mount Zion must pass through Golgotha.


His Name is Jesus!

Why Do the Nations Rage?