READ : Psalm 110:1
In what surely must be a record, the first verse of Psalm 110 is quoted or referred to 17 times in the New Testament. What is it that made this verse the apostles’ favorite text?
Do you have a favorite Bible verse? It appears that the New Testament apostles did. Their Bible, of course, was limited to the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, while ours includes the 27 books written by the apostles or their helpers. These New Testament writings often quote from different parts of the Old Testament, but there was one verse in particular that drew their attention again and again. It was Psalm 110:1: “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'” In what surely must be a record, this first verse of Psalm 110 is either directly quoted or explicitly referred to no less than 17 times in 12 different books of the New Testament.
Why such interest in a single verse? What is it about this verse that so appealed to the New Testament writers? What meaning or significance did they see in it? Psalm 110:1 is a Messianic text. All Jewish teachers agreed that this verse was not just talking about a human king of Israel, but about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. God declares here in the Old Testament both the lordship and enthronement of his Christ. In the New Testament the apostle Peter spoke for all Christians in identifying once for all Jesus as this Lord. He quotes this verse in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, and then adds, “Let all . . . therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:34-36).
Jesus is God
So what are we saying when we affirm that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ”? The Greek word for “Lord” is kurios. Jesus is addressed as kurios many times in the Gospels, by a variety of people. The term had different shades of meaning during Jesus’ earthly life, ranging from polite respect on the lips of a stranger—in which case it simply meant, “Sir”—to full-blown worship, as when Thomas falls to his knees before Jesus, crying, “My Lord and my God!” But after the resurrection there is never any ambiguity in the term. To call Jesus Lord is to acknowledge him as God, plain and simple.
Jesus’ enemies often tried to trap or embarrass him by asking him difficult questions. But on one occasion he turned the tables on his critics by asking them a question of his own. And his question focused on this puzzling verse, Psalm 110:1. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that:
. . . while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then 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 then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
We read here how Jesus confounded his enemies by appealing to this text. Everyone agreed that the Messiah would be David’s descendant. But then, asks Jesus, how can David the psalmist refer to him as “My Lord,” and therefore clearly his superior? How can the same person be both the son of David and the Lord over David? Jesus’ critics were silenced by a question they couldn’t answer. But the answer is given to us later in the New Testament by the apostle Paul. For Paul writes in Romans 1 that he has been called by God to the service of the gospel, the message concerning God’s Son, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). Jesus himself is the son of David who was at the same time David’s lord.
The earliest Christian confession of faith was a simple, three-word declaration: “Jesus is Lord!” (see Romans 12:3). This is the conviction that turned the world upside down in the first century A.D., and that continues to do so in the 21st century wherever and whenever it is seriously lived out. When we stand with Christians of all times and places and confess that Jesus is Lord, we are saying many things about who he is and what is due to him. But first and foremost we are saying that he is God. All that God is, Jesus is, and all the rights and privileges of Deity belong to him.
Jesus’ Work Is Finished
The writer to the Hebrews was also drawn to Psalm 110:1. He quotes it to assert Christ’s superiority to every other being in existence, including the highest and mightiest spiritual powers. So he asks, “to which of the angels has [God] ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13). Hebrews seems to be most interested in the fact that God has invited his Son, the Lord, to sit down at his right hand. “After making purification for sins,” says the writer in another verse, “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). OK, we think, so what? Why is it important that Christ the Lord now sits at God’s right hand?
It’s important because it teaches us something else about what it means to call Jesus Lord and Christ. When the New Testament writers talk about Christ seated at God’s right hand, they never meant this to be taken literally, as if God the Father and Christ the Son are both sitting on golden chairs somewhere above the clouds. If you stop and think about it, of course you realize that God has neither a right hand nor a literal throne. We use the same kind of figurative language today. For example, when a news reporter says, “The White House announced today that it was doing such and such,” she doesn’t mean that a building in Washington D.C. started talking to the press. That famous place serves as a symbol of the administration’s authority. In the same way, for Jesus to be lifted up from earth to heaven and exalted to God’s right hand means that God has given him the place of highest honor and greatest authority.
And Hebrews draws particular attention to the posture of the Lord. “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” says the writer, “he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13, with yet another reference to Psalm 110:1). The fact that Christ is sitting next to the Father’s throne does not mean that he is doing nothing. The writer of Hebrews also can say that Christ “upholds the universe by his word of power” (v. 3). But for Hebrews the significance of Christ’s being seated lies in the truth it conveys about his part in the work of salvation. What it signifies is that Christ’s work of atonement, his sacrifice for sin, has been accomplished once for all. His saving work is finished, as Jesus himself triumphantly shouted from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30).
So now he sits, and as he sits, the psalmist reminds us, he waits. Christ the Lord is reigning above, seated in majesty and power and authority at the right hand of the Father. His saving work is accomplished. His pain and shame are over and done with. He is no longer the humiliated sufferer. No, the crucified One has become the exalted One, the enthroned One. To him belong all blessing and honor and glory and power. But he does not yet receive these from all. His enemies continue to rage against him, and against his people as well. They haven’t yet been put under his feet. And evil, and pain, and injustice, and innocent suffering go on and on, and we cry out with the saints of old, “How long, O Lord?”
Jesus Will Be Acknowledged
We don’t know the answer. We don’t know how long it will be until the Father keeps his promise to the Son, and makes all his enemies his footstool. Like Christ himself, we have to wait. But we do know that day will come. One of the greatest of all New Testament passages bearing witness to the ultimate triumph of the Lord Jesus is the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. This majestic song follows Christ’s descent from the glories of the Godhead along the hard path of humility and obedience into the shame and suffering of the lowest kind of death, death on a cross.
But, says the hymn, God responded to Jesus’ self-sacrifice by exalting him to the highest place of all and bestowing on him “the name that is above every name.” And so, the hymn concludes, one day every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The truth will be seen and known and acknowledged by all. Jesus’ claims will be openly vindicated before the whole creation and Jesus Christ the Lord will receive the glory and the adoration that are his due. There will be no dissenting voices. On that day all his enemies will either be turned into his friends, or be put under his feet.
If Jesus can wait patiently for that day, can’t we as well? And not just wait, but work for its coming.