The Jewish Messiah and Psalm 110:1-4

By Luke Lancaster





Jesus Christ fulfilled the Jewish messianic prophecy of Psalm 110. This prophecy states that a heavenly king will reign with God and will defeat the enemies of Israel. The king will function as a priest forever. The New Testament writers quoted this Psalm numerous times as taking place in the first century in the person of Jesus. They said that Jesus is the king from Heaven, born from God, who defeated the enemies of sin, death, and the Devil. Jesus offered up Himself as a priestly sacrifice to God for sin. Here is an analysis of the Psalm.


Psalm 110:1-4 reads:

(1) The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

(2) The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!

(3) Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

(4) The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”


Verse 1


The LORD, God of Israel, gives an oracle to “my Lord” that he will be a powerful man assisted by God. The designation, “my Lord,” is oftentimes a title for the Jewish, Davidic king of Judah.[1] This king is then commanded to sit at God’s right hand. The language of sitting next to God is much richer than a normal, earthly king of Israel, so many Jews thought that this referred to the future Messiah or Annointed (a passages promising a Messiah-king: Isaiah 11:1, Ezekiel 37:24, Amos 9:11, and Jeremiah 33:15).


To sit at the heavenly right hand of God ultimately means that the king will be a mighty Messianic king seated literally in heaven. This king will reign with God in a sort of co-regency, for the right hand is the position of power. Scripture scholar Joel Marcus states, “A seated position at the right hand of a deity implies co-regency with him…[and] implies that ‘my lord’ stands in relation of near equality with God.”[2] God’s throne is in heaven, so “my Lord” is truly a mighty king in heaven, not just an average Davidic king in Jerusalem.


In the first century, as evidenced by the writings of the New Testament, many Jewish people interpreted Psalm 110 Messianically.[3] For example, Matthew 22:41-46 details Jesus of Nazareth questioning the Pharisees on the Messiah. The Pharisees claim that the Messiah is the son of David. Jesus, however, points out the impossibility of that: king David (the psalmist) called the Messiah “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1. The Pharisees were not able to answer Jesus, seemingly agreeing with Jesus that “my Lord” is the Messiah, and that this Messiah is more than a simple Davidic-king. This indicates that Psalm 110 was interpreted Messianically.


Jesus is the true heavenly king literally seated next to God’s right hand (Ephesians 1:20). He was born according to the lineage of king David (Matthew 1:1-17). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the “power of death, that is, the devil” was destroyed, and Jesus subsequently delivered those in “slavery” to the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15, cf. Romans 6:9). After this, he ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51). This is the deeper understanding of Ps. 110:1.


Verse 2


The Lord God extends the Davidic king’s rulership from Jerusalem into the land of the enemy. The king’s scepter or reign was centered on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem, but will extend far out into enemy lands.[4] This king from Zion is then charged to “rule in the midst of your enemies,” indicating that he is still sitting at God’s right hand even after the enemies have been subjugated. The heavenly king continues to rule, probably indicating his reign to be eternal. According to the Jewish followers of Jesus, this was fulfilled in the first century, where the heavenly king of Psalm 110, Jesus, defeated the true enemies: sin, death, and the devil.[5]


Verse 3


This verse says that the Davidic king “possesses” a particular people on “the day of your power.” In view of v. 2’s reference to Zion, the people he possesses are the Jewish people of Judah, whose capital is in Zion (Jerusalem is built on top of Zion). If of the kingdom of Judah, then the king will be of the line of David. For the legitimate kings of Judah were of Davidic descent in Jerusalem, as God promised.[6] The people offer themselves to the king as loyal subjects.


The day of the king’s power indicates a certain sacred and priestly tone. His people wear “holy garments,” implying they are a “holy priesthood” (Exodus 19:6), as Aaron the high priest wore “holy garments” and a “holy crown” (Exodus 28:2; Leviticus 8:9). This priestly tone is connected in v. 4, where the king is explicitly said to be a priest.


The second part of v. 3 states that the heavenly king is born from God. The ESV translates this as, “from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.” Dr. Brant Pitre translates this a bit more traditionally, suggesting the Hebrew truly means, “From the womb of the dawn, like the dew, I have begotten you.”[7] Pitre interprets this to mean that the heavenly Messiah was begotten by the LORD from the beginning of time.[8] St. Jerome (337 - 420 AD) agrees that the Messiah is in view, and says that the reference to a “womb” and “begotten” suggests that the Messiah is of the same substance as God the Father.[9] This is the intended force of Ps. 110:3.



Verse 4


Ps. 110:4 contains the second Divine oracle from God (the first was Ps. 110:1), and this oracle states that the king will be a priest. This priest-king is said to be after the order of Melchizedek, who was the king of Salem (Genesis 14:18). To be king of Salem probably meant that he was king of Jeru-Salem – the city on Mount Zion.[10] This reference to “Zion” connects to v. 2, where the king’s scepter is based in “Zion.” Melchizedek was priest-king on Mt. Zion and the king of Psalm 110 will also be priest-king on Mt. Zion. That the king will be a priest implies that he can offer sacrifices to God. Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God (Gen. 14:18), so presumably this priest-king will offer something himself.


This priesthood spoken of in Psalm 110:4 will be held forever, which ultimately suggests an immortal, Messianic priest. This hint of immortality was indicated previously in Ps. 110:1-2, where the Messiah reigns with God both before and after his enemies are put under his feet. Hahn and Mitch argue that “only the Davidic Messiah [i.e. Jesus], risen to an immortal life (Heb 7:16), qualifies for the everlasting priesthood envisioned by the psalm (Heb 7:23-25).”[11] Psalm 110:4 is a prophesy, which, according to the New Testament, was fulfilled in Jesus.[12] For like Melchizedek, St. Jerome notes that Jesus also offered the sacrifice of bread and wine to God in Luke 22:19-20.[13] Jesus is seen as the true king after the “order of Melchizedek.”


Conclusion


Jesus Christ is the heavenly king prophesied about in Psalm 110. He came to earth as the Divinely Begotten Son of God and rules over the earth from Jerusalem - the place of His Resurrection. The power of sin dominated the Jewish people, for they could not keep the righteous requirement of the Mosaic Law (nobody can). Humans were tempted by the Devil, who from the beginning pushed Adam and Eve to offend God. Humanity's punishment was death. Yet sin, death, and the Devil were no match for the power of Jesus. Jesus is the victor, who died on behalf of the people. Jesus is the priestly king after the order of Melchizedek.

[1] For example, king Solomon is addressed as “my lord the king…my lord the king…my lord the king” by his queen-mother, Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:20-21). [2] Joel Marcus, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 2.850-851. [3] Notice these New Testament texts quoting Psalm 110:1 about Jesus: Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:13, 1 Peter 3:22, Acts 2:32-35, and 1 Corinthians 15:25. [4] Tremper Longman, Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 382. [5] Ibid, 384. [6] God promised to king David in 2 Samuel 7:16, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” Jesus of Nazareth was of Davidic pedigree as well, see Matthew 1:1-17. [7] Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (New York: Image, 2016), 147. [8] Ibid, 147. [9] Sr. Marie Liguori Ewald, trans., The Homilies of Saint Jerome (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), 272-3. [10] Longman, Psalms, 383. [11] Hahn and Mitch, ICSB, 424. [12] Hebrews says, “Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him…You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:5-6). The author continues, “Those who formerly became priests [Levites] were made such without an oath, but this one [Jesus] was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb. 7:20-22). [13] Ewald, Homilies, 274-275.