Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The David Connection

It occurred to me while reading through the Gospel of Mark that the significance of many little things perfectly obvious to Bible students or people with a Christian upbringing is probably quite lost on first time readers, especially those whose background is not Jewish.

Little things like the words of the blind beggar Bartimaeus, who cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” That “Son of David” thing must have been important: after all, the blind guy kept repeating it despite everybody around him trying to hush him up.

He wasn’t the only one. That title was something Jesus heard regularly.

Son of David

The gospels record a number of different occasions on which the Lord was called “Son of David”, not least by those who laid palm branches and cloaks on the road before him at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

It’s also evident to anyone paying attention that the term “Son of David” consistently riled up the enemies of the Lord Jesus. They were “triggered” by the phrase, as the kids say.

So what does David have to do with anything anyway?

Man, King, Legend

Anyone who has read the story of Jesus’ birth is at least passingly familiar with his connection to David, the legendary king of Israel.

Actually, you don’t even need to have read the Bible: tens of millions of TV viewers have watched Linus namecheck the “city of David” in A Charlie Brown Christmas, though that might be too subtle for some people to pick up on.

Still, although the relationship is common knowledge, non-Jewish readers of the New Testament may not fully grasp its significance. But it definitely matters.

The Coming King

It matters enough that the writer of the first gospel in our Bibles makes mention of it in his very first verse:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
The David connection is significant enough for Matthew to lead with it. Further, with his characteristic subtlety, Matthew hints at why it matters five verses later when he specifically singles out David as “the king”, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the next 14 names to follow David’s in Matthew’s genealogy of the Lord Jesus were every bit as much kings as David. They were kings, sure. But David is THE king, and Jesus is the Son of David in a way that is true of nobody else.

But Matthew is not done yet. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph to tell him to go ahead and take the pregnant Mary as his wife notwithstanding the fact that the child she is carrying is not his, he calls him “Joseph, son of David”. Though Joseph is many generations removed from David, it’s his connection to that particular king and kingdom that matters above all others.

The Throne of His Father

Luke mentions David early on as well. Most commentators assume Matthew’s genealogy is Joseph’s line and Luke’s is that of Mary (though Joseph’s name replaces hers in accordance with Jewish custom). But whichever set of ancestors you look at for the Lord Jesus, David’s name appears.

Luke, too, wants to make sure the reader gets the David connection. He records the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary, the mother of Jesus:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.”
Aha! Now we are starting to see why it matters. To have the “throne of David” was to rule all Israel, as the prophets had promised, which would certainly arouse concern in those who governed Israel at the time.

Whose Coming Forth is from of Old

John records that early in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, the people debated whether or not Jesus might be “the Prophet” or “the Christ” promised by the Old Testament prophets. The key point in the discussion was this:
“Some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him.”
But of course Jesus was not originally from Nazareth in Galilee, but had been born in Bethlehem, as Linus told Charlie Brown and anyone else who would listen. It was the David connection that made it necessary for Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem in the first place, as Luke records:
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
But this too was a fulfillment of the Old Testament, specifically the prophet Micah:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
When the record was straightened out, it became clear that Jesus was a fully qualified “Son of David”, whether through Joseph or Mary.

Can This Be the Son of David?

Thus when Jesus performs a miraculous trifecta, healing a blind, mute and demon-possessed man, the people react by asking, “Can this be the Son of David?” All the messianic connotations that come with that name are naturally on their minds, and the Pharisees are ... well, triggered. Again.

The problem for the Pharisees was not that the doctrine of Messiah was controversial in first century Judaism. They weren’t trying to silence the people because the crowds were theologically heterodox. Their desire to see the coming of Messiah was as mainstream as can be. The fact that the Christ was to come from David’s line was entirely accepted. That coming was the very hope of Israel.

In fact, when the Lord asked the Pharisees directly, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” their immediate response was, “The son of David”. They could go that far without a problem.

But to concur with the people that the prophecies about David’s Son were actually being fulfilled before their eyes in the person of an itinerant Galilean preacher of dubious parentage; one who regularly took them to task for their religious abuses?

That was more than the powers-that-be were prepared to stomach.

God Has Made Him Both Lord and Christ

This is the critical question for the Jewish people today. Is Jesus Christ the Son of David prophesied in the Old Testament? For the Jew who believes that, all the pieces fall into place.

This explains why Peter references David three different times in his speech to the Jews at Pentecost. David’s psalms foretell the Christ’s resurrection:
“For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”
Again, Jesus perfectly fits the bill, says Peter. David himself says so:
“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up.”
Further, David even foretold the ascension and exaltation of Jesus, the first part of which Peter has seen with his own eyes:
“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The David connection may be obscure to a modern Gentile audience, but it is absolutely critical to our understanding of who Messiah is and the role he has to play both in Israel’s future and in the future of this world.

Even a blind man could understand that if you want salvation, it’s the Son of David who holds the key.

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