READ : Psalm 45:1-9
What does the 45th Psalm, an Old Testament poem originally written to celebrate the marriage of one of Israel’s kings, have to do with Jesus Christ? The answer, as the apostle Paul might have put it, is “much, in every way”!
The psalmist here sings the praises of the king on his wedding day. This psalm proclaims the king’s beauty and grace, his strength, his splendor, his righteousness.
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your splendor and majesty!
In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
Wow! What a picture! The book of Psalms features a number of poems like this, written originally to glorify the rulers of the house of David. These royal Psalms, as they are called, usually celebrate a special occasion, a coronation, such as in Psalm 2, or a marriage, as here in Psalm 45. But their full significance isn’t found in the circumstances of their original composition. Scholars tell us that the final collection and editing of the book of Psalms took place in the post-exilic period. This is to say that the book we now know as the Psalms only came into being after the survivors of the Babylonian captivity returned from exile to live in Jerusalem again.
But think about their situation then. The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins. It would be a hundred years before Nehemiah would return to restore its walls. When the temple was rebuilt, the old-timers who could still remember Solomon’s glorious building wept at the contrast. The Jewish people struggled to make a living amidst the wreckage of their country and the threats of their enemies who ringed them round about. Their land was no longer independent, but merely a province of the mighty Persian Empire. Most significantly, there was no more king in Jerusalem; there would never be again, never another Jewish king reigning over the city. So the question is, why all these royal Psalms praising the house of David and celebrating occasions that would never come again? Is it all just nostalgia, one big exercise in escapism?
The Once and Future King
The answer is No. For these Psalms don’t just look backward; they point forward, to the true King of Israel. Many years ago E. B. White wrote a novel about King Arthur entitled The Once and Future King. That title could well be written over each of the royal Psalms in the psalter, and over Psalm 45 especially. No Old Testament believer doubted that some day, the real King would come. David would return in the person of his son, the Messiah. He would be the ideal of whom all the old kings – and all human rulers of whatever kind – were, at best, only approximations. This king would reign forever in perfect justice and matchless splendor, with his beautiful consort, his Bride (meaning his people), at his side. So as they remembered and sang and prayed the songs that celebrated the king, these Hebrew faithful looked not backward but forward, to the day of their king’s appearing.
When Jesus came into the world, it didn’t take his disciples long to figure out the true identity of the king to whom these royal psalms pointed. The first chapter of Hebrews is devoted to a comparison between Jesus and the angels. Now that may seem like an odd choice of subject to us, but it was a hot topic in the first century. As the worship of Jesus spread further and further, people – especially Jewish people – tried to come to grips with just who this awesome figure really was. Maybe he’s an angel, some suggested, or perhaps a sort of super-angel. The writer to the Hebrews dismisses this suggestion by comparing what God (in the Bible) says about angels and what he says about the Son. Quoting from the Psalms Hebrews writes,
Of the angels [God] says,
‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’
But of the Son he says,
[And here comes Psalm 45, verses 6 and 6:] ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
Hebrews 1:7-9, quoting Psalm 104:4 and Psalm 45:6-7
Christ Is on the Throne
So the eternal king, whose throne is forever and ever, is King Jesus. He, in fact, is God. This is the bedrock conviction on which the whole New Testament is based. The first Christians proclaimed the message that Jesus of Nazareth, the man they had known and followed for three years throughout Galilee and Judea, the prophet and teacher who had been crucified by the Romans, was in fact the King of the universe, and was presently seated on the throne of God. What made them believe and publicize this audacious claim was the conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to divine glory.
So ask yourself this – who’s really running the world? Is it the politicians? Not likely; they don’t even seem able to run their own countries any longer. Is it the generals? That would be giving them too much credit. Maybe it’s a secret cartel of international corporations, a shadowy conspiracy of the super-rich. No, says the Bible, it’s none of those earthly powers. The Bible’s final book, Revelation, tells us the answer. Listen to John the Divine’s testimony to the things he saw and heard on the island of Patmos, when the Lord gave him a glimpse of ultimate reality.
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”
The heavenly Hallelujah Chorus offers us a peek behind the scenes, providing a look at who is actually managing all the action that unfolds in the drama taking place on the world’s stage. Behind all the activity that we see and hear about, the events that dominate our television screens and newspapers, a far greater Power looms. Things in the world are not as they seem.
You see, according to the Bible, there are actually two different kingdoms in existence simultaneously. One is visible, and appears to be all-powerful. The “kingdom of this world” means all human power and authority, every earthly regime and secular institution, whether in New York or Washington, Beijing or Moscow, Jerusalem or Tehran. These worldly kingdoms have all been placed in subjection, though, to the authority of the other kingdom, the kingdom of God. In John’s words, they “have become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” And although Jesus does not yet reign openly throughout the world, although peoples and nations continue to defy or perhaps to ignore him, still he is King, and one day that will be made clear to everyone. Even now it is the Lord Jesus who actually rules, everywhere and over everyone, even if we can’t see that with our physical eyes.
Christ Is Coming Again
But some day we will see it, and so will the whole creation. We will know that Jesus is king, not just by faith, but by sight. According to the New Testament, the king whose throne is eternal is going to return to earth publicly, visibly, and triumphantly to destroy all evil powers and reign openly over the universe.
The end of the world means the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then the kingdom of this world will fully become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). As Christians we too read the royal Psalms in anticipation, just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. We too look eagerly for the final coming of the king, and the fulfilment of his promised reign of eternal peace and joy. But there is this one difference: we already know his name. We know that when he comes, it won’t be for the first time. He came once to save, he’s coming again to reign. Jesus is the once and future king. And so we sing and pray,
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not as of old a little child,
To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.
John Brownlie (1859 – 1925)