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Messianic Psalms

Psalms: Looking Forward to the Messiah
(Psalms 2, 110, and 22)

An expectancy of God's deliverance through the coming Messiah is interwoven through a number of psalms, in fact, the Psalms is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament. In many cases these passages find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ Jesus our Savior.1 Messianic Psalms and the Nature of ProphecyBefore we begin, however, we need to define what we mean by a "Messianic Psalm." There are two alternatives:
  1. Narrow sense. This view sees a messianic psalm as prophetic and having no direct message of significance to the Old Testament period; they only predict the coming Messiah.
  2. General sense. Psalms that anticipate the Messiah but also have meaning in a contemporary context of the writer.2
I think I find myself finding common ground with both definitions. I believe that some psalms are prophetic of the Messiah Jesus. Given under the inspiration of the Spirit, they sometimes speak about concepts and persons beyond the author's knowledge and understanding.In my study of prophecy,3 I conclude that true prophets -- Old Testament, New Testament, or today -- don't necessarily understand all that they are saying to the degree that they could expound on their prophecies and interpret them accurately in advance. They may not even know that they are speaking in prophecy. They are given the words from the Holy Spirit and speak or write those words. The fulfillment and interpretation are usually far beyond them, to be revealed by God in his own good time.In chapter 7 we looked at Psalm 16 where David speaks prophetically (I believe) of Jesus:
"You will not abandon me to the grave, 
nor will you let your Holy One see decay." (Psalm 16:10)
David probably spoke of his confidence that in a particular instance God would deliver him rather than letting him be killed by his enemies. But as the apostles boldly declared, his words find their ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35).In this chapter we'll consider three additional psalms which, to Christians, clearly point to Christ. They formed part of the core of the early church's apologetic to Judaism that ultimately won tens of thousands of Jews to the Christian faith in the first century. - You Are My Son, Today I Have Begotten YouPsalm 2 has no author given nor title to explain its context or use, though it was doubtless used in ancient Judaism to refer to the Davidic king, perhaps at the enthronement of a new king. However, the New Testament reads it as speaking far beyond any earthly monarch. The relationship to the Messiah and Yahweh described in this psalm is far closer than could be said of any Davidic king prior to Christ.The Nations Conspire Against Yahweh and His Messiah (2:1-6)
"1Why do the nations conspire 
and the peoples plot in vain? 
2The kings of the earth take their stand 
and the rulers gather together 
against the LORD 
and against his Anointed One. 
3'Let us break their chains,' they say, 
'and throw off their fetters.'
4The One enthroned in heaven laughs; 
the Lord scoffs at them. 
5Then he rebukes them in his anger 
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 
6'I have installed my King 
on Zion, my holy hill.'" (2:1-6)

The psalmist is speaking about an international conspiracy against Yahweh and his King. While its first readers saw this in terms of the nations that surrounded Israel and the descendent of David who ruled in Jerusalem (until 587 BC), the passage is framed with a cosmic dimension. In Revelation this spiritual rebellion against God and his Messiah is couched in terms of the woman and her male child (Revelation 12:1-6), the battle between the archangel Michael and the dragon (Revelation 12:7-17), the Antichrist and the False Prophet (Revelation 13), and the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17). It is a spiritual battle fought in heavenly places.The term "Anointed One" (NIV) or "anointed" (KJV, NRSV) is māshīaḥ̣, from the verb māshaḥ, "to anoint, spread a liquid."4 Anointing was used in a ritual sense to apply oil to set apart to God religious items (Exodus 40:9-11) and especially people to divine service -- priests (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25), kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 15:17; 16:13; 2 Samuel 12:7; Psalm 18:50), and finally Yahweh's ultimate King, the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1; Daniel 9:24-26).The Apostle Peter preached that Psalm 2:1-2 are prophetic of the conspiracy of Herod and Pontius Pilate that resulted in Christ's crucifixion (Acts 4:25-26). The "nations" refer to the Gentiles (the Romans), and "kings of the earth" and "rulers" to Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Sanhedrin

You Are My Son (2:7-8)

The psalmist may have initially thought he was speaking of the Davidic king as a "son" in the figurative sense portrayed in the Davidic Covenant:

"I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men." (2 Samuel 7:14-15)5

But Psalm 2:7-9 goes far beyond this sense. Verse 7 speaks of an especially close relationship between the Father and Son, Yahweh and his Messiah, that is difficult to interpret as speaking of a merely human king. Verse 8 seems to speak of a king that rules over the whole earth, not just the nations that surround Israel itself:

"7I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: 
He said to me, 'You are my Son; 
today I have become your Father.'
8Ask of me, 
and I will make the nations your inheritance, 
the ends of the earth your possession. 
9You will rule them with an iron scepter; 
you will dash them to pieces like pottery." (2:7-9)

God uses this Father-Son terminology when he speaks in a voice from heaven at both Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at his Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5): "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

In John's Gospel, Jesus used this kind of Father-Son metaphor extensively, to such an extent that the Jews believed he was applying it in the sense of claiming to be divine himself (John 8:54; 10:30-33), accused him of blasphemy, and tried to stone him.

The revealed truth of this Father-Son metaphor is so strong and important that feminist attempts in our day to remove the male, "paternalistic" overtones of the metaphor come up short and seriously shortchange our understanding. They typically fall back to Creator-Christ terminology which, though true, gut the important relational elements of the Father-Son metaphor which are clearly part of the relation of God and Christ. This Father-Son metaphor is first clearly revealed in Psalm 2:7.

The phrase "today I have begotten you" (2:7) uses the verb yālad, which, when used of females referring to the act of giving birth and when used of males refers to the act of begetting or insemination. Here it may have a figurative sense.5 In Christian theology, of course, the Father-Son relationship is seen as an especially fitting metaphor to explain the relationship between God and Jesus, not as a literal, physical phenomenon, but as an irreplaceable metaphor which is essential to our understanding of the Godhead as revealed by Jesus in the Bible.6 Verse 7 is quoted as referring to Jesus in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.

Today I Have Begotten You (2:7)

This verse:

"You are my Son; 
today I have begotten you." (2:7)

is also the source of the "only begotten son" terminology in John's writings (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9; 5:1, 18).

The sense in which Jesus was begotten has spawned some heresies in church history. In the days leading up to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the Gnostic-leaning Alexandrian priest Arius (c. 250/256 - 336 AD) claimed that since Jesus was "begotten," that there was a time that he didn't exist, and that being "begotten" meant that, in a sense, he was created by God. The Jehovah's Witnesses have continued this idea that "only begotten" meant that Jesus was created. The Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation infamously translates John 1:1 as "the word was a god" rather than "the Word was God" (all other modern translations). Some liberal theologians, seeking to deny the inherent divinity of Jesus, have suggested that Jesus was an ordinary man who was "begotten" when he received the Holy Spirit at his baptism.

It is impossible to trace all these arguments here, but orthodox Christians have always maintained Christ's essential divinity, as clearly delineated in the Nicene Creed (originally in 325 and finally in 381 AD):

"We believe in ... one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father...."

The Nicene Creed made clear that Jesus was not some kind of divine human or lesser God, but that his divinity was on a par with that of the Father Himself -- "very God of very God," that is, "true God coming from the true God." The idea of "begotten, not made" made clear that this was not an act of creation, but that Jesus had the same essence or "substance" (hypostatis) as the Father, he was formed of the same divine "stuff" as the Father -- that is, Jesus is fully divine, not some kind of lesser divinity.

I've probably said more than you ever wanted to know about Jesus being "begotten," but since it figures so prominently in our understanding of who Jesus is, I felt that it is important for you to know.

Kiss the Son (2:10-12)

The psalm concludes:

"10Therefore, you kings, be wise; 
be warned, you rulers of the earth. 
11Serve the LORD with fear 
and rejoice with trembling. 
12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry 
and you be destroyed in your way, 
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. 
Blessed are all who take refuge in him." (2:10-12)

Verse 12a has been translated variously "kiss the Son" (KJV, NIV), "kiss his feet" (NRSV, NJB), and "kiss the mighty one" (New English Bible). The Hebrew text (bar, "son") seems to be best translated "kiss the Son." The other translations are based on emendations or conjectures of what a "corrupted" text originally said. But whether the translation is "kiss the Son" (as seems called for by the text) or "kiss his feet," the point is that the kings and rulers of the earth need to submit to Yahweh's anointed Son with the kiss of homage before he comes with might to put down their rebellion towards him.

 

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