ArticlesChristology pt. 3: Christ the Ideal Davidic King

Christology pt. 3: Christ the Ideal Davidic King

By Dr. James Crockett, Minister to College & Young Adults at Hillcrest Baptist Church

 

Many believers have gleefully sung the line “All hail King Jesus!” since the original writing of the hymn in 1981. This line has so deeply connected to the hearts of the believers that the line has been adapted into other modern worship songs. Aside from these songs, there is something about praising Jesus as our king that moves our affections toward Christ, puts us in humility before Him, and gives us comfort for today. But the kingship of Jesus is far more than just a nice song to sing. Christ’s position as king is a core aspect of his identity. Specifically, the notion of the Davidic king serves as a key backdrop for the Christological picture in the New Testament. For Paul, Christ’s fulfillment of Davidic kingship gives hope for the restoration of the creation and cosmos. In this article, we will explore a few ways in which Paul incorporated the OT promise of the ideal Davidic king into his Christological portrait.

The Ideal Davidic King in the OT

The Davidic tradition serves as the root of the Jewish royal messianic hope. This tradition begins with God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. God promises to establish David’s line and establish the throne of his descendant forever (2 Sam 7:11-13). Not only would David’s line be established forever, but God would exalt his line to a place of honor. God promises that David’s son would be to Him like a son (2 Sam 7:14). This sonship language indicates that the Davidic king acquired an especially unique relationship with God at the time of enthronement.[1] Further, the implication of sonship suggests that David’s descendent was God’s royal representative and imbued with regal authority to execute God’s rule.[2] God concludes His covenant with the promise that David’s throne/royal dynasty would remain permanent (2 Sam 7:15-16).

Building upon the Davidic covenant, Jewish royal ideology developed the notion of an ideal Davidic king through whom God would restore His good rule over His people, the nations, and creation. As one enthroned by God, the ideal Davidic king rules under the authority of God and possesses a unique relationship with God that is often described in terms of divine sonship (Ps 2:7; 89:27-28; 110:1). As God’s royal agent, the ideal Davidic king reflects and restores God’s good rule (Ps 18:33-43; 45:3-8; 72:1-7; Isa 9:5-7; Jer 23:5-6; 33:15-17; Eze 34:23-24; 37:22-24). Jewish royal ideology views the reign of the ideal Davidic king as extending over all the nations and, at times, over cosmic forces (Ps 2:8; 18:44-51; 45:6; 72:8-11; 110:1-2; 144:2; Isa 11:10). God invites His ideal king to join with Him in the battle against hostile cosmic forces so that He might restore peace and harmony through His royal agent (Ps 2:1-6; 18:32-43; 89:20-26). The enthronement of the ideal Davidic king signals judgment on the wicked and blessings for the righteous (Ps 2:9-10; 72:13-14; Isa 11:6-9).[3] Jewish royal ideology sometimes presents this king as a transcendent and even preexistent figure (Dan 7:12-14; Mic 5:1-4). The ideal Davidic king also stands in stark contrast with the original rule of Adam in Genesis.[4] Whereas Adam’s failure resulted in cosmic chaos, God’s enthronement of the ideal Davidic king reestablishes cosmic harmony. This idea demonstrates why it was important for Paul to present Christ not only as the better Adam but also as the fulfillment of the promised Davidic king.

Christ the Ideal Davidic King

Paul’s most explicit connection of Christ to the Davidic line occurs in the opening chapter of Romans. Paul declares that Christ is both a descendant (literally “seed”) of David and the appointed Son of God (Rom 1:3-4). Such a declaration indicates two things. First, Paul views Christ’s Davidic descent as significant because it was part of God’s promise spoken in the OT to bring about His ideal king through the Davidic line (Rom 1:2). It also suggests that Christ needed to partake in fleshly human existence (note the phrase “according to the flesh”) to fulfill the requirements of God’s ideal king. Second, Paul draws an explicit parallelism between Christ’s Davidic lineage and His divine lineage. Paul declares Christ to be God’s Son before he speaks of his human birth (Rom 1:3a), which suggests that Christ is a preexistent being of heavenly origin.[5] The indication is “that the Son ‘came’ from heaven to ‘come’ from the seed of David κατὰ σάρκα.”[6] Christ’s resurrection from the dead not only affirmed that he was the fulfillment of the royal Davidic covenant, but his resurrection serves as the means by which he is granted a divine royal designation (Rom 1:4).[7] While Christ’s kingship is marked by his descent from David “according to the flesh,” Christ’s present enthronement is “according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4). As one whose kingship is marked by flesh and spirit, Christ’s reign extends over both realms of flesh and spirit. In this way, Paul shows that the hope of the ideal Davidic king extends beyond the Jewish people to all nations and the whole cosmos.

Paul’s uses of Psalm 110:1 give an implicit reference to Christ as the fulfillment of the ideal Davidic king.  Psalm 110 is a royal Psalm that reflects upon the position of the ideal Davidic king. YHWH enthrones this king at His right hand and promises to subordinate the king’s enemies under his rule (Ps 110:1-2). Paul alludes to this passage on several occasions to describe Christ’s reign. Paul echoes the promise of Psalm 110 when he exhorts believers to not fear condemnation because Christ has taken his place at God’s right hand (Rom 8:34). The reality of Christ’s enthronement means that no hostile power can separate believers from Christ’s love (Rom 8:38-39). In 1 Corinthians 15:25, Paul declares that Christ must continue to reign until God has placed all his enemies under his feet (Ps 110:1b), including the cosmic enemy death (1 Cor 15:26). Paul makes another allusion to Psalm 110:1 in both Colossians 3:1 and Ephesians 1:20 when he proclaims that Christ is presently seated at God’s right hand. Paul specifies that Christ’s throne is a heavenly, divine throne[8] and grants him authority over every cosmic power (Eph 1:21). These allusions to Psalm 110:1 again suggest that Christ in his present reign fulfills the promise of the ideal Davidic king. 

One other note may be made concerning Paul’s use of Psalm 110. On two occasions (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22), Paul pairs his allusion to Psalm 110, a Davidic psalm, with an allusion to Psalm 8, a psalm which reflects upon Adam’s initial position at creation in which God had “put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:6). In having all things placed under his feet (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22), Christ fulfills the royal function which Adam failed to fulfill. Paul utilizes Psalm 110:1 to introduce the concept of Christ’s Davidic kingship, but he also needs to reference Psalm 8 to portray the universality of Christ’s rule. Psalm 110 refers only to the subjection of the Davidic king’s enemies while Psalm 8 refers to the subjection of all things under the Adamic king. Paul’s use of both an Adamic psalm and Davidic psalm in his Christological portrait implies two important aspects of Christ’s kingship. 1) Christ’s fulfillment of Davidic kingship was necessary to undo the effects of Adam’s failed reign and to regain the dominion that Adam lost. 2) Christ’s role as the Adamic king expands the scope of the Davidic king’s reign to a cosmic level. By placing Christ in the role of the Adamic-Davidic king, Paul views Christ as not only the hope of restoration for God’s people but also as the hope of restoration for the whole cosmic order.

Final Thoughts

This article gives just a few examples of how Paul utilized the Jewish notion of the ideal Davidic king to articulate his own Christological thought. I would like to close with a few thoughts on why Christ’s role as the ideal Davidic king matters. 1) Christ’s fulfillment of the Davidic covenant gives another example of God being a covenant-keeper. Though many of the kings that followed David failed to be faithful to YHWH, YHWH did not forget His promise to David and remained faithful to fulfill it. 2) Christ’s place as the ideal Davidic king provides hope not only for Israel but for the nations. God promises to establish peace and harmony throughout the earth through the enthronement of the Davidic king. As the one who now sits on the Davidic throne at God’s right hand, Christ’s present royal position serves as a guarantee that peace and harmony will eventually be brought throughout the earth. 3) Christ’s royal position serves as hope for His people. Specifically, the believer who has been declared righteous before God can be confident that, despite the seemingly present prospering of the wicked, Christ will fully manifest his judgment upon the wicked and will vindicate the righteous. 4) Christ’s fulfillment of Davidic kingship fully reverses the effects of the failed reign of Adam. In other words, Christ reveals himself to be God’s true king who presently rules over the cosmic order. He will one day fully reveal himself as God’s king (Phil 2:9-11) at which point he will bring peace and restoration to the cosmic order. 

 

 

[1] Keith W. Whitelam, “Israelite Kingship: The Royal Ideology and Its Opponents,” in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological, and Political Perspectives, ed. Ronald E. Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 135.

[2] Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 22, 25-30.

[3] Within Second Temple Jewish Literature, Psalms of Solomon 17-18 provides a detailed description of the restoration and enthronement of the ideal Davidic king. The enthronement of the Davidic king in this passage results in the judgment of the wicked nations and the restoration of the righteous people of God.

[4] On the Adamic kingship, see my previous article “Christ the True and Better Adam.”

[5] Joshua Jipp, Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 174.

[6] Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 42.

[7] The participle ὁρισθέντος means that Christ is installed or designated to a position of rule. See Jipp, Christ is King, 175.

[8] Ephesians 1:20 specifies that Christ’s throne is “in the heavenlies,” and Colossians 3:1 states that Christ is seated at God’s right hand in the “above.”

 

 

 

*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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