Messianic Meaning

David’s words recorded in Psalm 110 anticipate the Messiah so precisely that his prophetic utterances from this passage formed the foundation of inspired arguments multiple times in the New Testament. As such, they deserve even deeper consideration and explanation because the implications of this single psalm offer powerful testimony to the truth of Christianity in the midst of giving witness regarding Christ Himself. Almost exactly a millennium before their fulfillment, by inspiration the shepherd king of Israel pointed to a Superior and, in so doing, pointed to a superior way.

The opening words, “The LORD said to my Lord” (Psa. 110:1a), establish the Messianic nature of the psalm. David’s acknowledgement of the lordship of another, while reigning as king, by Yahweh’s own declaration, demands recognizing this Lord as his superior—not just a future descendant—as Jesus’ question to the Pharisees demonstrated (Mark 12:36). Beyond that, the statement that follows demonstrates not only His Messianic nature but also His divine identity, for sitting at the right hand of Yahweh puts Him above David, above angels (Heb. 1:13), and in the position of Co-Regent with God (Acts 2:34-36), reigning with the glory of a great battle until He should secure the final victory (1 Cor. 15:25, 55-57).  Thus David noted the coming Messianic rule, imbued with divine authority expressed through divine decree (Psa. 110:2; Matt. 28:18-20), calling out for volunteers to join the cause of the reigning Monarch (Psa. 110:3). However, despite the astounding promise of these first three verses, the next statement delivers an equally powerful prophecy, “The LORD has sworn And will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psa. 110:4). This simple combination created a whole series of problems for Jewish interpreters. The identity of the Messiah itself baffled them greatly, holding steadfastly to the Descendant of David due to other prophecies while ignoring His promised superiority. However, a descendant of David would come from the tribe of Judah. Nevertheless, this Descendant would also be a priest, declared so in the strongest way possible, as the writer of Hebrews recognized (Heb. 5:5-11; 6:13-18). Yet, this—by necessity—required a change from the Law of Moses to something new since priests came from the tribe of Levi and the household of Aaron (Heb. 7:11-17). Therefore, God having given Him the roles of King, High Priest, and, by implication, Lawgiver, the Messiah would reign at the right hand of God until His will was fulfilled and the final foes’ defeat came to fruition (Psa. 110:5-7).

Thus, this short psalm took the previous promises of the coming Messiah in an unexpected direction. The Messiah would indeed come from the Judaic lineage of David, but He would be greater than David, the founder of the dynasty, though He Himself was a descendant—an untenable position in the ancient mind unless the Son also preceded David, which He did as Deity (John 8:58). Moreover, He would serve as High Priest, consolidating the leadership of God’s people by divine appointment with the implication, though missed, that His rule would also mark the end of the Mosaical Law’s authority and the beginning of His own superior authority. This psalm therefore anticipated some of the most fundamental and foundational doctrines of Christianity regarding the identity of the Messiah, the consolidation of kingship and priesthood, the abolition of the Law of Moses, and the Messiah’s authority to judge not only Israel but everyone. 

This may seem rather mundane centuries after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but its prophetic power demonstrates that this was always God’s plan, and Jesus lived it to perfection. Christianity hinges on every single one of these principles, and the Holy Spirit offered mankind clues of their coming one thousand years before their fulfillment. Thus, these doctrines of the New Testament are no invention of the apostles but rather an elaboration on the divine purpose, here proven by prophecy.

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