It was a very large crowd. As they made their way from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem, they spread garments and palm branches on the ground. Who was this who came riding on a donkey? The multitudes cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
When they arrived in Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and wanted to know who it was. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” All this was to fulfill the prophecy: “Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey.” (See Matthew 21:1-11.)
What an emotional time for the Jews! Here was Jesus, the King, the Son of David, riding triumphantly into their capital city! Prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived! The long-awaited “Son of David,” King of Israel, was in their midst.
FROM MATTHEW TO REVELATION
The first way the New Testament identifies Jesus is as “the Son of David.” Matthew opens his book this way: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David.” To a Jew of the first century, such words were full of meaning. They proclaimed Jesus to be the fulfillment of numerous prophecies. They proclaimed Him to be the long-awaited King, descendant of David.
The final way the New Testament identifies Jesus is of like nature. These words are found only six verses from the end of the Bible: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
Jesus’ Davidic ancestry was one of the basic prophetic themes of the Old Testament. Proving that Jesus descended from David is one important way to prove that He is the promised Messiah.
THE GOSPEL GENEALOGIES
With proof of Messiahship in mind, Matthew begins his Gospel with a long list of names. The list does not say so; but, like so much of Matthew, the list is saying, in effect, “Thus was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets.”
Luke, also, contains a genealogical list, longer than Matthew’s. It reaches back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). From Abraham to David, the two lists are identical; but, from David to Jesus, they differ. How can that be?
Both Joseph and Mary are involved here. As for Mary, she was Jesus’ physical mother. Luke tells the account of Jesus’ conception from Mary’s viewpoint. For example, Luke records the angel Gabriel’s appearance to her.
Luke’s genealogy begins: “Now Jesus Himself began [His] [ministry] [at] about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) [the] son of Joseph, [the] [son] of Heli” (Luke 3:23). With the Jews, the legal ancestral line was that of the father. Thus Joseph is mentioned. But the key is in the words “as was supposed.” Jesus supposedly, to the world’s eye, was Joseph’s son. But in reality, He was not. He was Mary’s son. Mary was the daughter of Heli. The ancestral line of Luke is that of Mary.
Matthew writes from Joseph’s point of view. He records the angel’s appearance to Joseph. The ancestral line is that of Joseph. “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). Jacob (not Heli) was the father of Joseph. Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Rather, he was “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.”
Both Mary and Joseph were thus of the house of David. Jesus was doubly the Son of David: physically through Mary and legally through Joseph, his step-father.
Apart from the genealogies, both Matthew and Luke seem to put more emphasis on the legal ancestry. The angel addresses Joseph as “Joseph, son of David” (Matthew 1:20). Even Luke, who writes from Mary’s viewpoint, makes the point of Joseph’s ancestry. “Joseph also went up… to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). (Note: in Luke 1:27 “house of David” seems to refer also to Joseph. In Luke 1:32 and 69 the Davidic lineage could be through either Joseph or Mary or both.)
Matthew and Luke thus give the factual details of what the New Testament declares many times from Matthew to Revelation. Jesus is of the line of David. For example, Paul begins Romans with these words: “concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). To be the Messiah (Christ), Jesus had to be of the seed of David.
GOD’S PROMISE TO DAVID
One thousand years before Jesus’ birth, the promise was made to King David. God promised that even if David’s son fell into sin: “My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took [it] from Saul” (2 Samuel 7:15). Previously, because of Saul’s sins, God rejected Saul’s offspring from kingship. Now God promised not to do the same with Solomon. Thus, when Solomon later fell into grave sin, God did not take the kingdom from his family.
God’s promise to David went even further. “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (verse 16).
Psalm 89 expands upon this wonderful covenant with David.
“I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
‘Your seed I will establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations’…
I have found My servant David…
My covenant shall stand firm with him.
His seed also I will make [to] [endure] forever,
And his throne as the days of heaven.
If his sons forsake My law
And do not walk in My judgments…
Then I will punish their transgression with the rod…
Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him,
Nor allow My faithfulness to fail.
My covenant I will not break,
Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.
Once I have sworn by My holiness;
I will not lie to David:
His seed shall endure forever,
And his throne as the sun before Me” (Psalm 89:3,4,20,28-36).
God’s promises are very often conditional. The Bible is filled with such conditions. However, God’s covenant with David is unconditional. God would punish David’s sons individually for their sins. Nevertheless, “I will not lie to David: his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me.” Regardless of the sins of David’s descendants, God would fulfill His promise.
What a tremendous blessing this is for us! Were it otherwise, the blessed Son of David would never have walked this earth. We would be without a King, without a Savior. God’s plan to send Jesus into the world did not depend on man’s faithfulness. It depended on God’s faithfulness. God would send His Son into the world regardless of what men would do. Praise God!
DAVID’S LINE UNBROKEN
In the latter days of his reign, David’s own son, Solomon, fell into grave sin. As a result, God severely punished the line of David. Most of Israel was taken from the control of the house of David. “However,” said the Lord to Solomon, “I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen” (1 Kings 11:13).
The prophet Ahijah later explained to Jeroboam that he (Jeroboam) would take away ten tribes from Solomon’s son. “But I will take the kingdom out of his [Solomon’s] son’s hand and give it to you–ten tribes. And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:35,36).
The ten tribes that broke away from the house of David became known as Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Their dynasties did not last. During two hundred years of existence, there were nine dynasties. In at least some cases, God directly intervened to blot out a dynasty because of the family’s great wickedness.
The Southern Kingdom, called Judah, was ruled by the house of David. Over and again, even though there were wicked kings, God would not blot out David’s seed. “Yet the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever” (2 Chronicles 21:7). (See 1 Kings 15:3-5; 2 Kings 8:18,19; 20:6.)
At one point, the royal family of Israel, the North, tried to put an end to the royal family of David. That wicked king of the North, Ahab, had a daughter as evil as himself: Athaliah. She married Jehoram, king of Judah. Their son Ahaziah reigned for one year. “When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs” (2 Kings 11:1).
Not quite! An infant son of Ahaziah escaped, carried off by his aunt. They hid him in the temple for six years while Athaliah reigned. Had the lamp of David gone out? It looked like it. However, when Joash (Jehoash) was seven years old, the priest Jehoiada made plans with all Judah. In the midst of great security precautions, the people proclaimed Joash king. Athaliah was slain.
In the process of making Joash king, Jehoiada explained: “Behold, the king’s son [Joash] shall reign, as the LORD has said of the sons of David” (2 Chronicles 23:3). God kept His word! The house of David did not fall. For over 300 years, Judah had only one dynasty: the house of David.
THE PROPHETS NARROW THE PROMISE
The promise as seen thus far stresses the continuity of kingship in the House of David. Years later, with the House of David still ruling, the prophets begin to point to one particular ruling descendant of David.
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse [David’s father],
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him…
And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him” (Isaiah 11:1,2,10). A Branch of Jesse would come “in that day” not only to rule over Israel, but also, “the Gentiles shall seek Him.”
The House of David ruled in Jerusalem for 300 years. The last king, Zedekiah, was carried captive when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. The rule of the House of David seemed to end.
Hosea had foreseen this time. “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince… Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king” (Hosea 3:4,5). For some 600 years the children of Israel were without a king. At the end of that time they would seek “David their king.” The prophet Ezekiel also speaks of a time following the captivity and return when “My servant David [shall] [be] their prince forever” (Ezekiel 37:25). See Ezekiel 34:1-31; 37:15-28.
Do these prophecies, which were made centuries after David, refer to David himself? One reason for answering negatively is the way Peter interprets “David” prophecies (Acts 2:25-35). Peter quotes a Psalm in which David speaks in first person, as if speaking of himself. Then Peter explains: “the patriarch David… is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ.”
Thus, when Ezekiel, in prophecy, seems to refer to David himself, Peter’s example suggests this explanation: David is dead and buried, but God made promises of a descendant of David. When Ezekiel says “David” prophetically, he is in reality referring to the promised descendant.
Jeremiah speaks both ways: of “David” directly and of the Branch of David. In Jeremiah 30:9: “But they shall serve the LORD their God, And David their king.” However, in 23:5 he says, “I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper.” See also 33:15. The first says “David”; the other two say “a Branch” of David.
The texts cited in Ezekiel and Jeremiah refer to a time of captivity, return and a new King. Taking Peter as an inspired guide, and considering the parallel nature of these texts, it seems clear that the prophecies concerning “David” and concerning David’s “Branch” are one and the same. “David” in prophecy is Jesus, the Son of David.
Jeremiah confirms this viewpoint in 33:17. Jeremiah does not say that David will arise from the dead to sit again on his throne. Rather he says, “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” This is just two verses after referring to “a Branch.” Verses 19-21 affirm that if someone can stop day and night, only then can God’s covenant with David be broken “so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne.” The covenant, then, does not refer to a future reign of David himself, but rather of a son of David.
Centuries pass. Then, one day in the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews are debating whether Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, “some said, ‘Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?’ ” (John 7:41,42). They knew the Old Testament prophecies and were correct in what they affirmed. What they did not know was that Jesus indeed was born in Bethlehem and that He was, indeed, a descendant of David!
Another time, when Jesus miraculously healed a man both blind and mute, “all the multitudes were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ ” (Matthew 12:22,23). They had been awaiting Him for centuries. Jesus’ great healing powers gave testimony to being someone very special, perhaps the Son of David himself!
Later, a woman with a demon-possessed daughter cried out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matthew 15:22). Sometime after, near Jericho, when two blind men heard Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:30).
Shortly thereafter came the triumphal entry. Multitudes surrounded Jesus and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!… Blessed [is] the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord!… Blessed [is] the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10; Luke 19:38).
All this is in agreement with what Gabriel had told Mary about her coming son: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32,33).
Is this “throne of David” physical or spiritual? There are several ways to answer the question. One way is to notice in Matthew 1:11 that Jesus is a descendant of king Jeconiah (also called Coniah), who was the second last king in Judah.
Jeremiah prophesied of Coniah:
“For none of his descendants shall prosper,
Sitting on the throne of David,
And ruling anymore in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30; see 22:24-30 and 24:1). “None!” And yet, Jesus is his descendant, and Gabriel told Mary that Jesus was to sit on the throne of David.
How can this apparent contradiction be harmonized, except to say that the key is: “anymore in Judah”? Coniah would have no descendants who would sit on a literal throne in Judah. However, since the various prophecies of the seed of David sitting on his throne forever, must be fulfilled, they then must be fulfilled spiritually. A careful study of Acts 2:25-35 leads to the same conclusion.
David’s kingdom, soldiers and throne were very much “of this world.” However, Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world” and his subjects are not materially armed soldiers (John 18:36). Thus, Jesus’ throne is not of this world, either.
Jeremiah 33:18, the next verse after a “throne” prophecy, speaks of Levites offering burnt offerings before God continually. This should warn any careful Bible student not to always press for a literal fulfillment. In the case of Levites and burnt offerings, a literal fulfillment would deny the Gospel. That’s the subject of Hebrews chapter 7 through 10. “The priesthood being changed” (7:12). “In burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin You had no pleasure” (10:6). This calls for a spiritual, symbolic interpretation of Jeremiah 33:18. Verses 17 and 18 (of Jeremiah 33) form a single sentence. Since the second half of the sentence is symbolic, there is good reason to believe that the first half, about the throne, is also spiritual and symbolic in nature.
“SON OF DAVID” NOT ENOUGH
“Son of David” was an inspiring concept to the Jews of old. However, they were mislead. They had the idea of an earthly king, earthly throne and earthly kingdom, all like David’s. They were thinking of military action and political solutions. Once, indeed, “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15). Jesus escaped from their materially minded hands! To conceive of Jesus as only or principally the physical Son of David is quite inadequate. It misses the mark.
We cannot proudly blame the Jews of Jesus’ day for their materialistic viewpoint. Given the “flavor” of many Old Testament prophecies, we would surely have had the same views as they. Today, however, we have the New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies. Certainly, we must look at the Old through the eyes of the New, not visa versa. Just as Peter on the day of Pentecost interpreted the “Son of David” and “throne of David” prophecies in the light of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, so must we.
When Paul preached about Jesus being the Son of David, he did not refer to an earthly kingdom. Rather he referred to Jesus as Savior. “He [God] raised up for them David as king… From this man’s seed, according to [the] promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior–Jesus” (Acts 13:22,23).
Jesus, himself, dealt with the “Son of David” prophecies. Shortly after the triumphal entry, there was a great day of questions in the temple. This was Jesus’ final week before his death on Calvary. The Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes challenged Jesus with difficult questions. Jesus’ replies to these “clergy” were so brilliant, that “after that no one dared question Him” (Mark 12:34).
Then it was Jesus’ turn to ask them a question. ” ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘[The] [Son] of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying:
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’ “?
‘If David then calls Him “Lord,” how is He his Son?’ And no one was able to answer Him a word” (Matthew 22:41-46).
Jesus was not denying that He was the “Son of David.” That would be to contradict Scripture. Rather, Jesus put this difficulty to them so that they (we) could think more deeply. Is the Messiah the Son of David or the Lord of David? They did not know. Christians from Pentecost to the twentieth century do know. Jesus is both! It is just as Romans 1:3,4 says: “Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, [and] declared [to] [be] the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness.”
Jesus was striving to get them (us) to understand that there is more to Messiahship than a physical relationship to David. That physical relationship did indeed exist. However, Jesus is divine! His Kingship is far above any mere earthly kingship of David. He was indeed the Son of David; but He is also the only begotten Son of almighty God!
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)