on Messiah the son of David

“Later, as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, he asked, “Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah is the son of David? For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’ Since David himself called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with great delight.

Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.” -Mark 12:35-40, NLT

Why should the Messiah be the Son of David? On the surface of it this seems like a very uniquely Jewish question, more or less unrelatable to many Christians. And in many ways it is a uniquely Jewish yearning, but it does have more to do with us as Christians than might seem.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were expectantly waiting for a Messiah. The Jews had done so since the exile to Babylon in the early 6th century BC; nearly 600 years of waiting for the one from the line of David (as promised by Isaiah and others) to reclaim the throne and restore Davidic glory: power, prestige, security, wealth. The Son of David would in essence follow the pattern set by David.

In Jesus’ day, the teachers of the law (scribes in Greek) still held to this hope. For them, the Messiah would be a Davidic king par excellence, someone to be impressed with.

So why did Jesus take such offence at this idea?

The clue lies in what he says next: the scribes, through their own actions, advertise loud and clear what they want in their Messiah. The scribes demand fawning respect, public prestige, reputation for piety, but also wealth. If that is what they consider excellent, it’s quite probable that this is what they look forward to in the Davidic restoration.

And Jesus takes offence. Not only must the Messiah be greater than David from a logical point of view (hence Jesus’ quote from Psalm 110), but he must be greater than David, because the ‘David’ of the scribes really is despicable. The scribes had in effect created their own god and called him David – but he is a rapacious and two-faced god that Jesus refuses to entertain. The Messiah, Jesus tells his audience, will not be like the scribes or the ‘David’ they anticipate, but someone else, someone greater. He will restore and rescue God’s people, but not in a political sense as the scribes would have it but on a deeper, fuller level. He will be a Messiah who parades with an instrument of torture on his back and receives spit and scorn in the marketplace, who will decline the seat of honour in favour of a crown of thorns, who will protect the widow and pray and intercede for his people with his dying breath. That is why the Messiah must not follow the pattern of ‘David’. He must be greater than ‘David.’

We too should be careful about distorting Jesus, as the scribes did David. Jesus almost always defies our expectations, sometimes flies square in their face. We can’t grow comfortable with Jesus, we can’t let our dreams, demands and wants swallow him up. He must be King even when it would be just so convenient for him to shut up and let us get on with what we’re doing and what we want.

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