The Perfect King-Priest
Passage: Psalm 110
Tomorrow is Independence Day. It’s a day that has been set aside to celebrate our national heritage and to be proud of what we are as a nation. Patriotism has always been a strong feature of our society. We are proud of our unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War and of the values that brought about our democratic society. Our forefathers had a vision that was itself revolutionary and which has proven to be brilliant and effective. Christians have shared that pride, since a Christian worldview undergirded much our founders thinking and since Christianity has continued to have a broad influence on our culture. In fact many see such a close tie between America and Christianity that it’s not all that uncommon for Christians to see the USA as a sort of second-Israel.
But while I don’t have any statistical proof of this assertion, I think it’s pretty obvious that patriotism is in serious decline. Liberals have rejected major portions of our founders’ values, and they seem more concerned to fit in with the rest of the world than to stand out. And as liberals gain more and more ground, conservatives see less and less about America to be proud of. And we as Christians feel this to. Our nation is feeling less and less like to a lighthouse for righteousness and more and more like an adversary to righteousness. I’m guessing most of the 4th of July messages that will be preached today will bemoan the state of our country rather than celebrate it. Christian hope for America is pretty low.
But rather than dwelling on what is happening to our country, I would instead like to continue our Psalms series by considering a psalm that looks forward to a government and a society that will exceed even the most optimistic hopes for America. Psalm 110 looks forward to the kingdom of Christ and that is where our hope ultimately lies.
Psalm 110 is a royal psalm. There are two major types of royal psalms. Some of them praise the human king of Israel and reflect on his authority under God. Other royal psalms exalt God as the ultimate king of the nation. At times God’s throne and the king’s throne merge because the Davidic kings were appointed by God and ruled under his authority. From our perspective in the church age, the royal psalms ought to turn our attention to the future when God will bring justice to the world and will reign in righteousness. And as we bemoan the condition of our own nation, it ought to be a good reminder that our hope is not in this age or this country. Instead our hope is in Christ and the perfect rule that he will establish one day (read). From a literary standpoint, it has two movements—vv. 1–3 and vv. 4–7, but for teaching purposes, my outline consists of five acts of Christ and the Father to bring righteousness to the world.
First, v. 1 tells us that…
Christ sits at the right hand of the Father (v. 1).
This verse probably sounds familiar because Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted psalm in the NT, and most of these references have to do with v. 1. There are several ideas here that are very important to Christian theology beginning with the first clause, “The Lord said to my Lord.” It is pretty important to the interpretation of the psalm to note that two different words are translated “Lord.” The first one, which in most versions is in all caps, is the Hebrew word Yahweh. I said last week that this is the name of God that represented his covenant relationship with Israel. Anytime you see “Lord” in all caps in this psalm or anywhere in the OT, it represents this name. The second Hebrew term translated in v. 1 as “Lord” is adoni. This is a general term that refers to a master or lord. It identifies someone as superior or great, but it does not necessarily indicate deity. But who is adoni in this verse? This is the most critical interpretive question for the entire psalm, and it is closely connected to the identity of the psalmist. We need to park here for a minute because the answer to this question has broad implications.
There are two basic views on the…
The Identity of the Psalmist and the King:
I’m going to call the first position the “historical view” because it views Psalm 110 as describing the historical reign of one of Judah’s kings. According to this view, adoni refers to a human king. It was probably David, though it could have been Solomon or one of the later kings. Most who hold this view believe that a court prophet was the author and speaker of the psalm and that he is addressing David. Based on the reference in v. 4 to Melchizedek, who was a king of Jerusalem during the time of Abraham, many believe this psalm was written to celebrate David’s capture of Jerusalem. According to this view, the psalm is contemplation on how God had promised to bless David and the Davidic line of kings. Therefore, David is at Yahweh’s right hand, he is the one going to battle, and he is a king-priest in the line of Melchizedek. Some proponents of this view would say that there is some prophetic significance to the psalm, but they claim that a primarily prophetic reading doesn’t fit the royal psalm genre of the time.
According to this view, David is not the recipient of the psalm; instead, he is the author, and he is writing prophetically about the coming Messiah. Therefore, adoni is Jesus, and this psalm looks forward to Christ’s reign as the ultimate Davidic king. There is strong evidence within the psalm to take it this way. In particular much of what is said about the king cannot possibly describe David or any of the kings who followed him. Verse 1 describes the king as sitting at Yahweh’s right hand, and this language is never used of a human king. And while David enjoyed some great military victories, no Israelite king ever enjoyed the kind of world dominion vv. 5–6 describe. As well, v. 4 describes the king as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. It is true that Israel’s kings did fulfill some religious roles, but the law strictly forbade them from functioning as priests. In fact, God struck Uzziah with leprosy for offering incense at the temple (2 Chron 26:16–21). And so Psalm 110 clearly describes something more than David. And Jesus saw this also, and he used this psalm to prove the divinity of the Messiah (Matt 22:41–46). Notice that Jesus assumes that David wrote the psalm and that he addressed the psalm to Messiah (v. 43). And even though the Pharisees are a hostile audience looking for a reason to dismiss Jesus’ argument, they don’t challenge his assumptions. These Jews who were much closer culturally and historically to the psalm also assumed Davidic authorship and a prophetic interpretation. Therefore, that’s how we should read it also. The king in this psalm is the promised Messiah; this is a prophecy about Christ.
Returning to v. 1, the Father makes a solemn declaration to “David’s Lord” as Jesus puts it. Again, Jesus saw it as very significant that David would refer to a future descendant as his lord. It was quite unordinary for someone to make such a declaration about a descendant, which is why Jesus and several other NT authors use this verse as proof for the Messiah’s divinity. Most Israelites didn’t believe that Messiah would be divine. But Jesus demonstrated that the OT pointed to his divinity. Yahweh declares to the divine king that he is to “sit…”
The Timing of the Prophecy:
To understand this statement and the remainder of the psalm, we need to talk about the timing of what is said. Obviously, Jesus did not come as a king during his first coming, but the Scriptures are clear that when he comes the second time, he will come as a conquering king. Specifically, at the end of the Tribulation, antichrist will inspire the nations to unite in opposition to Christ, and Revelation 19:11–16 describe how he will respond. Christ will come in power with the saints, and he will crush the opposition, and then he will rule the nations from Jerusalem for 1,000 years as Revelation 20 states. Psalm 110:2–7 look forward to this great victory and the messianic kingdom.
But v. 1 also describes his position before the great battle. Yahweh tells Messiah to sit at his right hand until the day of battle. To sit at the right hand of God is obviously a position of great honor. The attendants to an ancient king would not sit in his presence, and the OT priests were never allowed to sit in the temple. But Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus sat down at the Father’s right hand following his death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, v. 1 looks forward to Christ’s position after his resurrection. It tells us that he is also waiting for the day when he will crush his enemies. Paul picks up on this statement in 1 Corinthians 15:22–28. Jesus has risen from the dead, and at the Rapture he will raise his people (v. 23). Then he will crush every enemy and using the language of Psalm 110:1 they will be placed under his feet. This phrase references an ancient custom. When a king defeated an enemy, he would put his foot on the throat of the defeated symbolizing forced submission and complete victory. A great victory is coming.
And so v. 1 tells us that Christ currently sits in exaltation at the right hand of the Father awaiting the coming day when he will destroy all evil.
The remainder of the psalm describes his victory. Verses 2–3 tell us that…
The Father will crown Christ king of the earth (vv. 2–3).
These two verses look forward to Messiah’s victory over his enemies and his coming rule.
Verse 2 describes…
The Royal Decree (v. 2):
The idea behind the first line is that Yahweh will stretch out the royal scepter of Messiah from Zion or Jerusalem. The rod or scepter of a king being stretched out symbolizes power and authority. God says that he will stretch it out from Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem. This reflects the Israelite nature of Christ’s reign. Jesus will reign from the throne of David and fulfill every prophecy that God made to Israel. He will do so according to the Lord’s decree that he “rule in the midst of Your enemies.” The verb translated “rule” describes an irresistible force. Christ is coming, and he is coming with the authority of the Father’s decree.
Verse 3 then describes the royal army that will come with him to take his kingdom.
The Royal Army (v. 3):
We saw earlier in Revelation that the saints will follow Christ into battle. Therefore, if you are a Christian, you will be one of these “volunteers.” But we will not be some ragged volunteer outfit. No, the army is described as dressed in the “beauties of holiness.” This is a reference to holy garments, and it indicates that we will be cleansed and sanctified. The army is also described as “youthful.” They are in the prime of life and strong for battle. And so in strength and holiness we will follow Christ “in the day of his power.” How awesome will that be to follow our king into the truest battle for justice that has ever occurred?
But Christ’s kingdom will not just bring justice; it will also be a kingdom of true grace. The third act of this psalm is that…
Christ will reign as king-priest (v. 4).
To appreciate this verse, we need to first review who the historical Melchizedek was.
The Historical Melchizedek (Gen 14:18–20):
This man was a contemporary of Abraham. He comes on the scene very suddenly following Abraham’s military victory over a league of Canaanite kings. There are several things of note about this man that we need to notice. First, his name is a compound word, which means “righteous king.” Melek is the Hebrew word for king and tsadiq is the word for righteous. Notice as well that he was the king of Salem, or Jerusalem. As well, Melchizedek was a priest of God. Therefore he was a king-priest. He acts as a priest when he blesses Abraham, and then Abraham acknowledges his position as a priest by giving him a tithe of all that he owned.
Melchizedek does not come up again in the OT until Psalm 110:4, where it says that Messiah will be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Notice again Yahweh’s initiative in this decree. “Lord” translates Yahweh. He makes this decree, and he swears to fulfill it. Notice as well that Yahweh’s decree is eternal. Messiah will be a priest forever. Hebrews 7 does a great job of pulling together the significance of this decree for Christ. In context, Hebrews is attempting to prove that God always intended to do away with the Law of Moses (vv. 11–19). Hebrews has claimed that Jesus is our new high priest, but vv. 13–14 acknowledge the response that any good Jew would have to the idea of Jesus being a priest. Jesus can’t possibly be a priest because he is from the tribe of Judah, and the law requires that priests only come from the tribe of Levi. But the author replies that God already said that a new priesthood was coming. Psalm 110:4 says that in addition to being king, Messiah will also bring a new priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. This new priesthood is significant for a number of reasons. Verses 18–19 say it is significant because the law could never actually save sinners. In contrast, vv. 26–27 tell us that Jesus is perfect and therefore could offer a perfect, once-for-all sacrifice. Verses 23–25 tell us that it is significant because it is an eternal priesthood. The OT priests died, but Jesus will be a priest forever, and because of that he can offer true salvation. We could spend hours on Hebrews 7, but the basic point is clear. Jesus has brought in a priesthood that is far superior to the Levitical priesthood of the law.
In sum, Psalm 110 prophecies that Messiah would be much more than a king, and he would do much more for his people than destroy their earthly enemies. He would also deal with man’s greatest enemy, which is his own sin. And he would provide a new and permanent access to God that the law and the Levitical priests could never provide. And while Psalm 110 looks forward to the significance of this priesthood during the millennial reign of Christ, Hebrews 7 tells us that we enjoy the benefits of this priesthood right now. If you are a Christian, you ought to rejoice today in the priesthood of Christ. Jesus has brought you permanently near to God because he is perfect and eternal.
If you aren’t a Christian, then I hope you will not make the same mistake as the Jews of Jesus’ day made. Thinking in terms of Psalm 110, they were so wrapped up their hopes for a Messiah who would bring political deliverance that they failed to see their need for spiritual deliverance from sin. Your greatest need is not that you would be wealthy or live in a great nation. Your greatest need is forgiveness and a relationship with God that is unhindered by sin. And Jesus provided that relationship when he lived a perfect life and died for sin. And if you believe on him, you can be saved and enjoy the wonderful gifts described in Hebrews 7. If you have never acknowledged your need of salvation and believed on Christ, I hope you will do so today because the greatest deliverance you can receive will always be deliverance from sin.
Finally, notice in vv. 5–7 that…
The Father will crush Christ’s enemies and establish his kingdom (vv. 5–7).
These verses return to the scene of the battle. And vv. 5–6 tell us how…
Yahweh will fight for Messiah (vv. 5–6).
You may have noticed that “Lord” in v. 5 is not in all caps. The term her is adonay, which is slightly different from adoni in v. 1. This term typically refers to Yahweh in the OT, and that’s how most people take it here, since throughout the psalm the Father is the one taking initiative to establish Messiah’s kingdom. It’s interesting then that the Father is now at the right hand of Messiah. This symbolizes the fact that he will fight for Messiah, and he will prevail against Messiah’s enemies. There is a strongly universal tone to this victory. Verse 5 mentions the destruction of multiple kings, and v. 6 says that he will judge the nations and execute the heads of nations. Messiah will achieve a worldwide victory through the strength of Yahweh. But this victory will not be driven by lust for power or a violent urge. Rather, this battle will be motivated by God’s love for righteousness and justice. It will be because of man’s sin that v. 6 says he “shall judge among the nations.” Again, these verses clearly point to a prophetic reading of Psalm 110 because David never won such a widespread, crushing victory. And he did not have authority from God to execute justice on the world. Only God has this prerogative, and someday, he will bring justice.
We need to feel the weight of God’s justice because sometimes our human sentiment makes us feel uneasy about such a crushing destruction. But man’s rebellion is wicked, and it will come to an ugly head during the Tribulation. Really, we ought to rejoice that a truly righteous king is coming who won’t be known for greed, deception, and corruption like just about every human government of our time. We ought to rejoice that God will deal decisively with the evil rebellion of the world’s governments.
And then he will set up a truly righteous king in his Son. Verse 7 tells us that…
Christ will reign with God’s blessing (v. 7).
Most commentators believe that the “hes” in v. 7 refer to Messiah since the two lines fit him better than Yahweh. In a dry climate like Israel, a brook of water is generally a symbol of abundance and of God’s blessing. Therefore, the point is that God’s hand of abundant blessing will rest on the reign of Messiah. As well holding one’s head high is a symbol of glory and victory. Christ will be exalted before the Father and all the earth in taking his seat as king.
This rich psalm ought to inspire in us tremendous confidence and hope. We should be confident in the fact that Christ is our high priest. Through him we are redeemed, and we enjoy a near relationship with God. And we should be hopeful because the darkness of our world will not win. Justice is coming and with it a perfect king and a perfect kingdom.
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