We’ve seen many categories of poetry in the Psalms so far this summer. We’ve seen wisdom Psalms, lament Psalms, Psalms of confidence, Zion Psalms, penitential Psalms, and Psalms of consolation. But there is one category we’ve yet to cover, royal Psalms. As the name reveals, royal Psalms have a kingly tone to them, and are filled with the language of rule. Therefore, you won’t be surprised that royal Psalms are also called Messianic Psalms because they point to the King to come. Most of these royal Psalms contain a few elements that are pointing on ahead to the Messiah. Psalm 110 is different. Rather than just having a few verses within it that point ahead to the Messiah, the whole of Psalm 110 is entirely forward looking.On one hand it points to a divine king who sits at the right hand of God, warring to extend His kingdom throughout the whole earth as David’s Lord. On the other hand it points to a human king who is truly David’s son. And to make this king more unique, he also functions in the roles of priest and judge. So putting it all together, Psalm 110 teaches of a Person who is David’s son and David’s Lord, who is fully divine – fully human, and functions as true king/priest/judge. David wrote this Psalm for sure, but be sure of this: David doesn’t fit these qualifications. There is only One Person who is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, years later as the apostles are being carried along by the Holy Spirit to pen the New Testament Scriptures, of all the places they could go to explain who Jesus Christ was, is, and remains to be, you know where they went more than any other place in the Psalms? Psalm 110, quoting it near 30 times; which makes Psalm 110 the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament.
We’ll see much of this today as we walk through it. Four movements stand forth from this royal Psalm, let’s take one at a time.
Christ the Lord (v1)
A Psalm of David “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Right away see the author identified for us here, a Psalm of David. In no other Psalm is David’s authorship more important or more heavily endorsed by others. Jesus Himself, when being questioned by the Pharisee’s, said David wrote this Psalm (Mark 12:36), and so did Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33-35). In both of those references the meaning is clear, first that David is the author, and second that David is speaking of another greater than himself. See this in v1. Twice we read the word Lord here, once in all caps (Yahweh) and once in lowercase (Adonai). Yahweh says to…my Adonai, my Lord? What? David is the king, who is greater than David that God could be addressing? More so, this greater One is not only David’s Lord, but One who is invited to sit at God’s right hand until God makes Him victorious over all His enemies as they become His footstool. Recall that David has been told that his descendants shall ever reign and rule on the throne, but here in v1 One vastly greater than David comes into view. David’s Son He will be yes, but He’ll also be David’s Lord. Who is this? Listen to these passages and see how the New Testament interprets this verse.
Matthew begins with a genealogy saying in 1:1, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David…” As mentioned earlier Jesus stumped the Pharisee’s by asking them this question in Matthew 22:41ff, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees responded, “The son of David.” “How is it then,” Jesus asked, “that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord saying, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?’ If David calls Him Lord, how is He his son?’ And they didn’t answer Him a word.” Peter also mentions this and answers Jesus’ question powerfully in his Pentecost sermon saying in Acts 2:34-36, “David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. And when they heard this, all were cut to the heart.” Paul keeps this going, beginning Romans in 1:3 saying the Scriptures concern God’s Son “…who descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Later Paul says it again in 2 Tim. 2:8, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”
So question, how does the New Testament interpret Psalm 110? Why does it quote Psalm 110 so much? St. Augustine said it well, “Do you find it surprising that Christ is both David’s son and yet David’s Lord? Indeed David is honored by his Son’s birth (genealogically) and set free by his Son’s Lordship (redemptively).”So in Psalm 110:1 the Lord greater than David that the LORD Yahweh speaks of is only Christ the Lord. Who was born of the line of David, lived among us, died, rose, and ascended to rule at the right hand of the Father. Or to say it another way, the New Testament believes David is speaking not of himself in Psalm 110 but of Him in whom his kingship and kingdom will be fully and finally be fulfilled.Because of this, the Church through the ages has traditionally read Psalm 110 on Ascension Sunday, remembering the moment when Jesus Christ ascended to authoritatively sit at the Father’s right hand to rule and reign until all His enemies are put under His feet. The New Testament’s interpretation of this Psalm is as valid today as it was when Jesus and Peter and Paul quoted it.
Many people have a kind of sentimental view or idea of Jesus, picturing Him as small innocent baby or picturing Him with a kind of pity as He dies on the cross. While these images of Him are accurate images, where is Jesus now? He’s no longer in the manger and He’s no longer hanging on a cross, no. He’s ruling and reigning at the place of honor until all His enemies are brought to a place of dishonor under His feet. Church, when you open your Bible to study at home, when you gather for discipleship with others, when we gather together here, we come before such a sovereign. Humility, awe, and reverence are the only right response from us. May such qualities in you be present and increasing!
Though v1 is the most quoted verse in Psalm 110, it has six more verses. So on we must go. Jesus isn’t just put forward as Lord in Psalm 110, He’s put forward as King as well. We see that next in v2-3.
Christ the King (v2-3)
“The LORD sends forth from Zion Your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! 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.”
What does Christ’s role of King look like? He is indeed sitting on the right hand of the Father, but His sitting isn’t inactive. In v2-3 this activity looks like v1 being carried out through a holy war.In v1 the LORD Yahweh promised to put all the Son’s enemies under His feet and here in v2 we see this begin to happen as the scepter of the Son is sent forth into the world. As you’re aware of the scepter is the symbol of a king’s strong might and ruling authority. The imagery seen here then, is the Father sending out the Son’s rule and authority from Zion, and the result is that the Son’s rule and dominion then extends all over the earth conquering the Lord’s enemies.
This extending and ever widening rule of Christ the King has two results in Psalm 110. First, in v2b we see the rule of Christ the King in the midst of His enemies. No earthly kings rule in the midst of their enemies. Instead all earthly kings make boundaries or walls to keep out their enemies. And then by warring against them they extend their borders and boundaries.This is how the kings of Israel ruled, and in this manner David did gain dominion over some of the earth. Not Christ the King in Psalm 110. No, the enemies of Christ are everywhere in this world and over this world, but in the very midst of them, like an invisible/invincible power, Christ reigns spiritually and has true dominion over all the earth. One day He’ll reign physically over His enemies at the final judgment, but here and now He does so spiritually. This is a preview of what we see occurring in the Great Commission, where Jesus, being given all authority in heaven and on earth, makes known His rule and dominion to all nations by sending out His Church to all nations with His gospel message. This is the first result of the extending and ever widening rule of Christ the King in Psalm 110.
Second, in v3 we see the eager and willing troops of Christ the King. It speaks of ‘the day of Your power’ again not referring to David’s power but the power of Jesus, David’s Son and Lord. Specifically, the day Christ makes known His power through His resurrection, through His ascension to the Father, and through His sending out of His Spirit to empower His people for service. When this occurs rebels will lay down their arms and offer themselves freely to Him as they place their faith in Him. These troops in Christ’s holy war aren’t hired mercenaries or fearful draftees, they’re voluntary participants. That they’re willing participants shows their love for and desire to obey their King when He calls. These troops aren’t just filled with the Holy Spirit, they’re clothed in holy attire. It speaks of them being dressed for war in holy garments, or holy splendor, which gives us the impression that this is no ordinary army. It is an army of priests who’ve been made holy and set apart to worship the Holy King and honor Him in their conduct in war. How did this army come to be? As the dew of the morning comes down almost invisibly from heaven and mysteriously covers the ground to refresh it and water it, so too this priestly army of Christ the King is born of heaven and is sent out by heaven to cover the earth and refresh this fallen world by youthfully or vigorously warring against its fallen-ness.
The rule of Christ in the midst of His enemies and the willing troops of Christ warring against His enemies. This is the nature of the extending and ever widening rule of Christ the King in Psalm 110. But that’s not all Psalm 110 has to say about Christ. We’ve seen Him standing forth as Lord and as King, now in v4 see Him stand forth as Priest.
Christ the Priest (v4)
Other than v1, the other verse the New Testament authors quote from Psalm 110 more often than any other Psalm is v4. Hear it again, “The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Before anything comes to us about Christ the Priest, v4 begins with two statements or oaths from the LORD Yahweh Himself. He says He has sworn and then says He will not change His mind about what He’s about to reveal. This surely is intended to give v4 a weight and significance. What has God sworn to? What will God not change His mind about? That David’s future Son who will simultaneously be his Lord will not only be a King but will be an eternal priest as well. And not a priest in general, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is indeed a strange figure. He shows up three times in the Bible. First in Genesis 14 in the narrative surrounding Abraham. Second here in Psalm 110. And third, throughout the book of Hebrews many times. We do not know much about him. His name Melchizedek means ‘King of righteousness.’ He is also called the ‘King of Salem’ which means ‘King of peace.’ From this many have thought him to be a pre-incarnate Christ, or an angel. The Jewish tradition is that he is Shem, one of the sons of Noah. There’s really no evidence within Scripture for any of these conclusions, so we’re not left with much to determine who he is really. We read of no birth, no lineage, no mention of death, he blessed Abraham, receives a tithe from Abraham, and vanished forever with no person taking up his office after him. He was only seen once, but it seems that this sole appearance is enough to be remembered forever. Then in terms of priesthood came Aaron and his sons who held an imperfect office because of their imperfect sacrifices. Then comes the Lord Jesus, who like Melchizedek stands forth as a priest not because of a fleshly descent but due to divine ordination. As Melchizedek did, Jesus stands on His own merit, His order begins and ends with Him, and is eternal having neither beginning of days nor end of years. Then we come to the book of Hebrews who explains in many ways that because of all of these things, Melchizedek is a fitting symbol of an eternal priesthood, which reaches its apex in Jesus.
So after all of this let’s ask a question. Why does David bring this up in v4? Why all of this Melchizedek talk? Because he intends to teach us more of who his Son and Lord will be. Just as Melchizedek seemed to partly combine the priestly and kingly offices, and just as David also partly combined the priestly and kingly offices, so too Jesus will combine the offices of king and priest fully and completely.Lesson? Even when the unique and rare Melchizedek comes into view, Jesus is greater! There is no one like Him!! As our merciful and faithful High Priest Jesus not only made an atoning sacrifice for us, but was the atoning sacrifice for us, and because of this all in Him are at peace with God and have the peace of God. And because God has sworn to this, nothing in the world can change this! It is firm and fixed forever!
Now lastly. We’ve seen Jesus standing forth as Lord and King and Priest, now in v5-7 see Him stand forth as Judge.
Christ the Judge (v5-7)
“The Lord is at yourright hand; He will shatter kings on the day of His wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; He will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore He will lift up His head.”
It’s at this point in Psalm 110 I’d like you to remember v1. “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” As v1-4 it was the Father speaking to the Son and about the Son, here in v5 there is a change. Now it is not the Father speaking but the Father being spoken to about what the Son will do in His might.While Christ’s enemies are truly put under His feet throughout His rule and reign as King, ultimately v1 will not be completed until the final judgment described here in v5-7. In the end of all things the triumph of Christ over evil does not mean evil will be annihilated, but that evil will be subjugated, or put underneath the feet of Christ forever.
So the Son of God will not sit forever on the throne, in the end He will rise and come to bring an end to His holy war with His holy presence. On that day v5-6 says He will execute judgment on the nations by shattering kings and chiefs in His wrath and filling the earth with corpses. All who face Him will either yield to Him joyfully or be crushed beneath Him totally. Before in His first advent the Lord Jesus was hard pressed on every side, a man or sorrows, as He bore the weight of sin on the cross for all who believe. As He comes again at His second advent He will no longer be hard pressed or a man of sorrows, no. He’ll be a Man of war who, as v7 says, is so thoroughly defeating His foes that He can stop and rest to refresh Himself by the way before lifting up His head in ultimate victory.
Church, Jesus Christ is Lord, King, Priest, and Judge.
Let all sentimental images of Him go, for He is the Lord of all! If any of you are offended at the tone or substance of this Psalm, remember that this is gospel imagery.On the cross the Father carried out a holy war against the Son as He bore our sins in our place on the cross. But as He rose from death He led forth a host of captives from the grave and is now by His Spirit through His gospel not only creating but wielding a willing people as His holy army, sent out to spread His message. Toward this army, toward His own who embrace Him by faith, this great Shepherd of the sheep is gentle and kind and gracious. But to the wolves and thieves, toward all who pridefully live life on their own terms rejecting His gospel, He will be terrible in wrath, fierce and formidable in might.
Hebrews 2:8 says we do not now see all things put under His feet. So as Jesus waits, we wait. Humble yourselves now, or be humbled by Him later.
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107-150 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005) accessed via Logos Bible software.
Augustine, quoted in Bruce K. Waltke & James M. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2010) page 488.
C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5, section 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, reprint 1984) page 185.
Waltke & Houston, page 505.
Boice, accessed via Logos Bible software.
William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, reprint 2016) page 974. See also, Waltke & Houston, page 505-506.
Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol. 2, part 2 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) page 462-463. Many people believe the book of Hebrews to be an expositional sermon of Psalm 110.
Reformation Study Bible, notes on Psalm 110:4 (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2015) page 964.
Plumer, page 975.
Keil & F. Delitzsch, page 190.
Plumer, page 978.