Why Does Hebrews Cite the OT Like That? (part 1)

2 Samuel 7; Hebrews 1

Listen as D. A. Carson speaks on the topic of Biblical theology in this address from The Gospel Coalition Sermon Library.

I would like to begin by asking a rhetorical question. Have there been times when you have been preparing a sermon when your text uses the Old Testament in a way which, with all the goodwill in the world, you really think is slightly perverse? Of course, you can’t put it that way because this is Scripture, but deep down don’t you wish God had made the use of the Old Testament a little more straightforward?

You just cannot quite see through how the New Testament author is using it. It seems as if it’s ripped out of context or perhaps even cited as a cheap proof text. Oh, I know you’re not allowed to say those things out loud, but deep down don’t you think them once in a while, or am I the only one with such suspicions? Be of good cheer. There’s a long legacy of such wonderment here at Southern.

Does the name John Broadus mean anything to you? When I was working on my Matthew commentary 25 years ago, I worked right through John Broadus’ commentary. It was published in 1886, and it is a marvelous piece of work. One of the things that impressed me about it was the sheer candor with which he tackled the use of the Old Testament in Matthew.

Of all of the New Testament books, in my judgment, Matthew and Hebrews are the toughest two when it comes to handling the Old Testament. Again and again and again when Broadus came to someplace in Matthew where Matthew quotes the Old Testament he said, in effect, “I don’t have a clue what Matthew is doing here,” but it’s the Word of God so he reverences it, and then he went on and tried to explain it as best he could.

Well, that was certainly a step up on what I got when I was doing my doctoral research at Cambridge. My Doktorvater was a chap called Barnabas Lindars. His first book was called New Testament Apologetic. That book had as its thesis the postulate that when the New Testament writers quote the Old, they pay no attention to the Old Testament context. Their theology is shaped by their experience of Jesus, so they just rip texts from the Old Testament and throw them in proof-text fashion.

In that sense, it was very different from the older thesis of C.H. Dodd, who tried to argue that, in general, the New Testament writers respect the Old Testament context when they’re using the Old Testament, but Barnabas Lindars wrote a whole dissertation to prove the opposite. You have to say there are times at least in the New Testament when it is difficult on first reading to begin to see exactly what the New Testament author is doing.

If you approach the Bible with a certain amount of skepticism, it’s pretty easy to be guilty of having the uncertainty seep over into outright skepticism, unbelief, and criticism. If, on the other hand, you approach the Word of God with a certain reverence, then even when you don’t understand you might at least say, “Well, I don’t have this figured out, but if there’s one author behind the whole thing, it must make sense in the mind of God. I just wish I understood it a little better,” which is at least a more humble approach to the text.

Even at the human level, you must surely assume the New Testament writers were not twits, really stupid. Even with that amount of respect, it pays to listen and listen and listen and think through things again. Now what I want to take you through in these three short lectures are two or three of the toughest ones in the New Testament (this isn’t all of them, but it’s two or three of the toughest ones) and try thereby to show you how the New Testament writers are thinking, what they’re understanding from the Old Testament. It will be merely one small avenue into understanding how the whole Canon is put together.

We begin with Hebrews, chapter 1. After the opening verses, from chapter 1, verse 5, on there is a sustained argument to the effect that Jesus is better than angels. The argument begins in verse 5. There is a transitional comment in verse 4. “Christ became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Now in support of this superiority of Jesus over the angels, the author introduces a catena of Old Testament quotations.

The first two are found in verse 5. “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’?” I won’t go through more of the argument than that. The internal argument in Hebrews 1 is pretty straightforward, various texts quoted to prove that Jesus alone is the Son; the angels are not. Jesus alone receives worship; the angels do not. Jesus alone is addressed as God by God; the angels are not so addressed.

The argument is pretty straightforward, but the actual use of the Old Testament in each case invites a lot of further reflection. Take this first quotation. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” That text is quoted three times in the New Testament. Psalm 2, from which it is derived, is quoted more often, but these actual lines are quoted three times, with allusions in a few other instances as well.

The actual explicit quotations are here in Hebrews 1 and also in Hebrews 5. There, Jesus is arguing that every high priest does not take this honor to himself, but a high priest is appointed by God. We read (5:4), “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ ” Same lines.

The third instance when this text is quoted is found in Acts, chapter 13. This is part of the apostle’s evangelistic address in Pisidian Antioch. There he is arguing, from the Old Testament text itself, that the Messiah really did have to rise again. We read (13:32), “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

Raising up by itself could mean raising up from the dead or raising him up in some sense to serve, bringing him into the role of position to serve, but it’s clearly the resurrection that is in view as you read on. “As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ ”

So here you have it: three uses of Psalm 2:7. The first, in the order in which we’ve read them, designed to prove that Jesus is superior to the angels; the second, designed to prove that Jesus did not become high priest by his own volition but, rather, by the decree of God; and the third, designed to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet in all fairness, when you read Psalm 2:7, the psalm is not talking about any of the three. So what’s going on?

The second quotation in verse 5 of Hebrews, chapter 1, is from 2 Samuel 7:14. “Again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’ ” Before we look into these texts further, one has to stop and remember something else. Both of these passages are linked by son language. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Then again, “I will be his Father; he will be my Son.”

If the author is simply saying, “Only the Son is designated the son; angels are not called son,” that in itself would be false. Remember, after all, Job 1. “The sons of God gather before the Almighty.” Clearly in the context they’re angelic beings who include fallen angelic beings, not least Satan himself. Son language is used with extraordinary diversity in Holy Scripture. So why is the author trying to make so much of it here? We’re going to come at this question through the back door, as it were.

I’m not going to plunge into Psalm 2 just yet. For the next little while, I want to focus your attention on 2 Samuel 7, from which this second quotation derives. Then when we are comfortable with what that passage is saying, we’ll go on to Psalm 2, and then we’ll come back to Hebrews 1. We won’t manage all of this in the first hour. I’m going to take my time with 2 Samuel 7, reading the whole chapter, because there are a lot of little bits that fit together, and it’s worth understanding how the whole chapter works.

“After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’ Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.’

That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: ‘Go and tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ ”

Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.

Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” ’ Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become their God.

And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, “The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!” And the house of your servant David will be established before you. O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, “I will build a house for you.”

So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.’ ”

This is the Word of the Lord.

To make sense of this passage and its place in the sweep of the history that brings us from creation to Jesus and beyond, it’s important to remember what immediately precedes. David has become king. Eventually, after seven years of ruling in the South in Hebron, he has taken over Jerusalem and become king over the entire nation. He has unified the tribes.

Then in the preceding chapter, he has brought the ark to Jerusalem. Remember that. That’s going to become important this afternoon. He has brought the ark to Jerusalem. So for the first time, there is a kind of unification of sight of the priestly and the kingly. They are now both in Jerusalem. So we come to the first movement of thought.

1. A king with religious initiatives restrained

Chapter 7, verse 1 to verse 11a. There is something initially attractive about David in verses 1 and 2. He’s undoubtedly an active, energetic man, and he sees that his enemies are largely subdued. He looks around. He sees that the Lord has given him rest. (Observe the word. We’ll come back to it.) He wonders now, as he looks at his own comfortable dwelling, if the ratty tent in which the Lord manifests himself is a bit dishonoring to God Almighty.

Moreover, he may be thinking he is fulfilling Scripture. After all, Deuteronomy 12 envisages a central sanctuary. There we read, “You will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I counsel you.” Then a few verses on: “Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose.”

So he may well have thought, “Listen, it’s not right for the Lord to be in a ratty tent to manifest himself in glory while I live in a palace. In any case, to build a proper temple is to fulfill the Word of the Lord.” So he plans it all out and tells Nathan the prophet. The prophet agrees (verse 3). He’s probably a court prophet, but that doesn’t mean he’s simply a paid hand with no ultimate voice, as we discover in his treatment of David in the matter of Bathsheba.

Here he blesses the project without consulting God, probably because the project was transparently good. It was transparently God-honoring. It was transparently biblical. And what does God say? Verse 4. Nathan, it transpires, has been a might hasty. What God says is that David is not the man, and this is not the time. God’s response is in three parts.

A) God alone takes the initiative in the turning points of redemptive history.

Verses 5–7: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Listen up, David. Have I ever spoken to any of the rulers of Israel saying, “All right, now I want a stable place”?’ ” That’s his argument, because God alone takes the initiative in redemptive history. Just think it through.

Do you find Abraham in 2000 BC parked in the Ur of the Chaldees thinking to himself, “Culture is going downhill. There’s a lot of sin around. You know, I have a suggestion for God. Maybe he could start off a sort of new humanity. I’d be willing to be the great-granddaddy of the whole lot. He can do what he wants with us. He could send me somewhere. I mean, I trust him and obey him. He would use me to begin a whole new nation. Maybe we’ll call it Israel.” So he goes to God with his plan. Is that what happens? No, of course not.

Then when Moses comes along in his turn, and he thinks he’s going to redeem the people, it ends rather in murder. He has to be old enough to realize he can’t do very much. He’s on the backside of desert looking after a few sheep when the Lord taps him on the shoulder when he’s 80 years old. In other words, it is God and God alone who takes the initiative in all the great turning points in redemptive history. So even here, though God himself has said there will be a central sanctuary, the initiative will come from God, because God will not share his glory with another.

B) God alone makes his servants great, not the other way around.

Verses 8–9. There has to be a small edge in David that thinks he’s almost doing God a special service. “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.’ ” “Don’t you see, David? I’ve made you great. Moreover, it’s more than that.” “I have been with you wherever you have gone. I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great like the names of the greatest men of the earth.”

This is part of a massive theme in Scripture and one we sometimes overlook today. The Puritans had a word for it. They spoke of God’s aseity. God is the God of aseity. It’s from the Latin a se, from himself. That is to say, he is so much from himself, as it were, that he is not dependent on anyone or anything else. We are familiar with aseity with respect to origins. We speak of God’s self-existence. All other realities in the universe are dependent realities, they are not self-existent realities, but God is the God of self-existence.

Aseity takes this notion that we have confined to origins and spreads it right across the map. God doesn’t need us. He’s the God of aseity. It’s one of the points Paul makes, for example, when he is dealing with the pagans in Mars Hill. Do you recall what he says? He explicitly says, “God does not need us.” Rather, it’s the other way around. We depend on him for breath and food and everything else.

The point is that in pagan religion, a great deal of religion is a kind of tit-for-tat relationship. “You scratch my back; I scratch your back.” The gods need to be praised. They need to have the right sacrifices offered to them. If you stroke them and they’re happy, then the gods bless you. It’s a nice tit-for-tat relationship. But what do you do with a God who doesn’t need anything? How are you going to arrange a tit-for-tat relationship with him?

“Lord, if I have my devotions this week, will you make sure I do all right in the Greek exam?” That’s paganism, because quite frankly, God doesn’t need your Greek. It has to be said that even in some evangelical worship, we approach the matter as if we’re almost doing God a favor. We want to make sure God somehow gets his weekly fix of our praise or else dear ol’ God might not be too happy with us.

God does not need our praise. He doesn’t need our seminaries. He sure as shooting doesn’t need me. It’s the other way around. He gives us grace so that we can praise. He gives us grace so that we build seminaries. He even gives us grace so that he gives us one another in the church as his gifts to the church, but we’re the product of grace. He’s the God of aseity. He doesn’t need us.

Now you must understand this does not mean God is the God of deism, that God is so removed from us he doesn’t interact with us. Although he doesn’t need us, he nevertheless is the interactive God. He’s the personal God, he interacts with us in love, he interacts with us in wrath, he is always just, he is transparently holy, and he interacts with us person-to-person in the relationship between the Maker and the Maker’s image bearer.

So none of what I have said must take away from the strong biblical reality that God is a personal God, but we are not in the business of making God great. The closest we get to it is trying in our poor, small, paltry, feeble ways of assigning to him the glory that is already his, of ascribing to him the praise that is due his name, but it’s not as if God is somehow a little less and then we add to it so he gets a little bigger. He’s the God of aseity.

David needs to understand that if he’s going to build a temple. He’s not doing God a favor. In fact, it’s the other way around. Now we’re coming close to the point. It is God who makes David great. If he has already made him great by taking him from the fields of sheep to making him shepherd of Israel, he’s going to make him greater yet.

He’s going to give him a name that will redound across the century. How many Hittite kings’ names do you know? How many Moabite kings’ names do you know? The odd one maybe, if you’re biblically literate, but that’s it. But David’s name has been known by Christians around the world century after century after century. “I will make your name great,” God says.

C) The rest David thinks he has won is still not all that secure; ultimately, God alone gives the ultimate rest.

That’s the argument of 10 and 11a. God will provide the ultimate rest for his people. “I will give you rest, ultimately, from your enemies. There’s still more to do, David.” Elsewhere, that argument is expanded upon. We’re told that God does not want David to build a temple because he has been a bloody warrior. He wants a man of peace to build the temple. Solomon gets the job. It’s God’s decision, God’s choice, God’s priorities. So here, then, in the first instance, is a king with religious initiatives restrained.

2. A dynasty with unending promise disclosed.

Verses 11b–17: “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.” Clearly there’s a pun here. David wants to build God a house; that is, a temple. God wants to build David a house; that is, a dynasty. “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers …” Hear this notion of rest. I wish we could unpack that one through the Bible.

“… I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” We need to stop here and think through a couple of things.

Today when we speak of sonship or being or not being a son, like as not we’re thinking in genetic terms. You may have followed in the newspaper the tragic and yet triumphant story of that little baby thrown up out of a tsunami with nine sets of parents claiming to be the parents of that little baby. Of course, which parents were telling the truth was established by DNA. He was their son. You can do that with genetics.

So we think of determining sonship in terms of genes, but it’s stunning how often in the Bible sonship is spoken of in terms of behavior. It’s a functional category. The reason for that, of course, is because sons and fathers were inevitably far more tightly tied together in cultures that were preindustrial. In agrarian and handcraft cultures, that’s the way it is.

Let me see a show of hands now. Which of you men are doing what your father did vocationally? Which of you women are doing what your mother did vocationally? Let me see your hands. Maybe seven, eight, or nine. This is a seminary. You get a slightly higher percentage because you have some preacher’s kids coming from preacher’s homes, but it’s a very small percentage.

In the ancient world, if your dad was a baker, your chances of being a baker were overwhelming. If your dad was a farmer, you were going to grow up a farmer. If your father’s name was Stradivarius, you were going to make violins. That’s the way it was. You got your formation from your father … or from your mother, as the case might be. That is to say, you would learn when to plant the seed or when to bake the bread or whatever it was.

Your formation, your stamp, as belonging to this clan, to this family, was bound up with your job. So in one passage Jesus is called the carpenter’s son, but in another he’s called the carpenter. He’s identified with the carpenter family, and he takes on this role himself. That identifies him. Because of this tight alignment of function and sonship, you generate a whole lot of Semitic idioms.

Who is a son of Belial, a son of worthlessness? This does not actually cast aspersion on your literal father, your genetic father. It’s a way of saying, “You’re such a disgustingly worthless person the only possible explanation is that you come from the worthless family.” It’s a functional category. Jesus can use such functional categories. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he says, “for they shall be called the sons of God.”

The point is that God is the supreme peacemaker, so if you’re making peace you’re acting like God. So far, at least, you’re showing yourself to be a son of God. That doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. It doesn’t tell you how to become a Christian. It’s merely saying that if you act like God in some respect or another, then at least in that respect you can be called a son of God. That’s the point. The same also is true with respect of son of the Devil. Do you remember Jesus’ interaction with his interlocutors in John, chapter 8?

“Who are you to show yourself off this way?”

“Well, if you really understood who I was, you would understand I’m fulfilling the ancient promises.”

“We’re children of Abraham. We know what the promises are.”

“Oh no, you can’t be children of Abraham. Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad. How can you possibly be children of Abraham?”

“Well, actually,” they say, ratcheting up the argument, “we’re children of God. We’re sons of God himself.”

“Can’t be. I came from God. I know what’s going on there. I know what God’s truth is on these matters. You’re not acting like God’s sons at all. Let me tell you whose sons you are. You’re the sons of the Devil himself. Do you know why? Because he was a liar from the beginning, and you’re not telling the truth about me. He was a murderer from the beginning, and you’re trying to kill me. You’re sons of the Devil himself.”

You must understand that Jesus is not denying their genetic descent from Abraham. He knows they’re Jews. That’s not the issue. The point is that functionally they’re acting like the Devil himself. They’re not acting like Abraham. That is also why the apostle Paul can come along and say, “Who are the true children of Abraham? The true children of Abraham have to act like Abraham. If Abraham was justified by faith, then Abraham’s children are going to be justified by faith. They have to act the same way.

Abraham was justified by faith even before circumcision, let alone before the giving of the Law. So why do you insist that you’re justified before God on some other basis or faith plus something else? You can’t be children of Abraham if you take that stance, because he was justified by faith before the giving of the Law.” These are all functional categories.

This sort of language crops up in the Old Testament as early as Exodus 4. “Israel is my firstborn son, and I say, ‘Let my son go, that he may worship me.’ ” Israel collectively is God’s son in the sense that Israel is supposed to be reflecting something of the character of God among the nations. We’re getting to Hebrews. Can you see now we’re getting into sonship language?

It gets tighter yet. Not only is Israel God’s firstborn son, but there is a peculiar sense in which the king is God’s son. Yahweh himself is the King over Israel. This is his king dominion, but he has a kind of human king, his kind of agent, his son, who is exercising the kingly rights of God over the people. That’s why the king is supposed to show justice: because God is just. He’s supposed to speak the truth because God speaks the truth. He’s supposed to keep the covenant and teach the covenant because this is God’s covenant. He is God’s son.

That language was so not only for Israel but was known fairly extensively in the various Semitic kingdoms around, in which, in fact, the kings were known to be the sons of their respective gods. So also here. “With respect to your son,” God says to David through the prophet Nathan, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.”

Now is this referring directly to Jesus? Transparently not. Read the next line. “When he does wrong, I will punish him with human punishments, temporal judgments.” I suspect most of us would not be too eager to apply those words directly to Jesus. In fact, it’s pretty easy to get inside David’s head here. You know what David is afraid of. David remembers that his immediate predecessor started off so well.

Saul showed such enormous promise. A man’s man, yet at the same time humble, not eager to push himself forward. Yet he ends up in disgrace. He doesn’t ever get to have a dynasty. There’s one generation of Saul kings. Jonathan doesn’t become king. God takes it away from Saul and his family because of the sin, the unbelief, the terror, the fear that doesn’t really trust God but thinks that even as king he has the right to exercise priestly roles, doing what only Samuel could do.

So supposing David is stalwart. Supposing he’s faithful to the end. How can you control your children when they grow up and your children’s children and your children’s children’s children? You have no guarantees. God knows David’s heart. God says, “Listen, your son will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.” That is, temporal judgments.

“But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” There it is. There’s the promise of an ongoing dynasty, so that even when there is sin, God’s grace will prevail, and the dynasty will continue. Until you get to the promise of verse 16. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

At the most mundane level, the only way that promise can be kept is twofold. Either you have an ongoing replacement of the previous generation … one generation breeds another son, which breeds another son, which breeds another son, which breeds another son, which breeds another son, which breeds another son, which breeds another son: world without end, forever … or eventually you have a son who lives forever.

Now there’s no hint of that here. This is about 1000 BC. Think of the Davidic promises that begin to mount even in the Old Testament. Isaiah of Jerusalem in the 700s, in words we quote every Christmas from Isaiah 9: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. He will rule on the throne of his father David.” That’s a Davidic dynastic promise. He will be a Davidide.

“Of the increase of his kingdom there will be no end.” If that’s taken in a personal sense and not simply in a dynastic sense, that sort of raises him up a shot, doesn’t it? “And he will be called the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Now you have expectations that are bursting the borders of normal dynastic human language, even at their most fanciful, even at their most hyperbolic.

What do you do with a passage like Ezekiel 34, where Yahweh berates the false shepherds of Israel who have been busy fleecing the flock and eating the mutton but not looking after the sheep? “I will be the shepherd of my people Israel. I will pastor them. I will lead them out into green pasture. I will nurture them.” Twenty-five or thirty times Yahweh says, “I will do this. I will do this. I will do this. I will do this. I will not be like those. I will do this.” Then at the end of the chapter he says, “I will send my servant David to be their shepherd.”

What do you do with that? Suddenly you have the beginnings of a structure that look forward to God’s promise given initially to David and David’s immediate son being worked out in a son, in a son, in a son until you get a son par excellence, the Son. The assumption is sort of a fortiori. If God is Solomon’s father, how much more is he the father of the supreme Son coming down the road? So a dynasty with unending promise disclosed.

3. A king with spectacular privileges humbled

Verses 18–27. King David is moved by all of this and approaches the Lord. “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” Now he’s not offering to do a whole lot for God. Now he knows he’s receiving. “And as if this were not enough in your sight …” That is, not only all you’ve done so far, but now you’ve spoken about what will happen in the future.

“Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?” That’s a very difficult phrase to translate from the original. It’s literally, “Is this the law of men, O Lord?” But I think the NIV paraphrase probably has it. “Is this your normal way of doing things, O Lord?” Verses 20–21 show that David understands this is all of grace. That is the point of God’s rejecting David’s proposal.

Eventually, at the end of the chapter, David himself prays that all God will do is fulfill his own promise. “This is what you promised, so, Lord, fulfill your promise. I dare to ask this in prayer,” David says, “because you’ve promised it. I couldn’t possibly have the arrogance to pray for an eternal dynasty, but you’ve promised it, so I pray for it.” I would love to unpack that in terms of prayer, but we’ll press on. Now turn to Psalm 2. Again, it’s worth taking the time to read the entire text.

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’ Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

This psalm is alluded to pretty often in the New Testament, and it is quoted extensively in some very moving passages. It’s quoted extensively, for example, in Acts, chapter 4, when the church is facing its first severe whiff of persecution. When the apostles return to their own people, the text says (that is, to Christian Jews), the church gets down to pray, and they pray by citing the words of this psalm.

“ ‘Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his mashiach, his Anointed One, his Messiah.’ Indeed,” they say, “that’s exactly what took place. Not only the elders of Israel but Pontius Pilate and Herod and so on. They conspired against your holy servant Jesus.”

This psalm has figured very largely in the thinking of the church. In that context, it is saying that what is taking place in the earliest persecution is a kind of further fulfillment of the kinds of things described here. It’s an unpacking. It’s an exemplification of what takes place. But what do we do with this particular passage? Verse 7: “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ ”

This psalm is sometimes called an enthronement psalm. I’m not sure that’s quite right, although I understand what’s being said. When Israel’s Davidic heir now becomes king, then, in one sense, if being king means being a son of God, that king is now becoming the son of God. Yet the whole psalm is not configured as enthronement. Rather, verse 7 pictures David casting his mind back to the enthronement.

The way the psalm begins is with the psalmist reflecting on the rebellion that is simmering. Here the Davidide kingdom has suppressed the surrounding nations, and they are talking about fomenting a rebellion against Israel’s God, Yahweh, and Israel’s Messiah. “Let us cast their chains asunder.” But Yahweh just laughs. “I have installed my king.” If God stands behind his king, who is going to stand against them?

Then the king himself speaks (verse 7). The king is not writing the first lines. “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son.’ ” Now the Davidic king looks back to the enthronement. In other words, it’s not the whole psalm that’s the enthronement, but here the Davidic king looks back to the enthronement. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” He’s looking back to the fact that God himself made him king.

God says, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Verse 6) So the king proclaims the decree of the Lord just cited. “He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ ” Part of this becoming a son is hearing the promises of God made to him. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Of course, you can understand that in the broader sense, but it is possible.… For example, the “ends of the earth,” the erets, could equally be taken the “ends of the land.” It doesn’t have to be quite universal judgment here, universal sway, although the language is pretty generous. The point, however, is not exactly the extent here. It’s that whatever extent there is, it’s God who gives it and gives it to his King, his Son. Therefore, the wise response is to bow before Yahweh and Yahweh’s emissary, his Son, his King.

This introduces, then, what becomes a Davidic typology. I want to deal with the nature of typology a bit more this afternoon, but let me just say a few things about it now. Because God has promised there will be an ongoing cycle of Davidic kings, what happens to David becomes sort of paradigmatic of what must happen again and again and again until the ultimate King comes forth.

So if David is betrayed by his own familiar friend, it’s not too surprising if great David’s greater son is betrayed by his own familiar friend. Thus, you get a psalm like Psalm 69 being the quarry for three or four utterances from the passion narratives. You get a psalm like Psalm 22 on Jesus’ own lips, as Jesus himself understands that he is himself the greatest of the Davidides. He is great David’s greatest son, the one who brings these things to fulfillment.

In other words, there is an understanding (the ground for it we’ll come to a little later) that, in some ways, David becomes a model, a type, an anticipation, a forward projection of what still must take place. If this is referring to David or, in principle, to the entire Davidic dynasty in Psalm 2, then it must ultimately refer spectacularly and fully and completely to great David’s greater son.

That brings us back to Hebrews 1. You knew we’d get there in the end, didn’t you? This does not yet explain everything, but it’s the background you must have to begin to put the pieces in place. “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’?”

Now I don’t think the crucial terminology here is simply the word son, as if God used the word son only for the Davidic figure and never used it for angels. Transparently, that’s not the case. God did use it for angels. That’s not the point. The point, however, is that in both of these passages, 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 2, God establishes his King, and he has done that with no angel. Jesus is a unique son. He establishes his King.

That is true in broader ways yet. For example, in John’s gospel, in one of the most moving son passages in all of the New Testament, John, chapter 5, verses 16–30. There we discover that Jesus is Son in a special sense. The language is still functional, but it bursts its borders. “Whatever the Father does the Son also does.” That’s functional language. “He does it; I do it.”

But notice what Jesus says. “Whatever the Father does the Son also does.” I can’t say that. If I make peace somewhere, I may be son of God in the sense that Jesus says I’m a son of God in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God,” but I can’t say, “I’m the son of God because whatever God does I do too.” I mean, I haven’t made a universe recently.

John’s gospel points out that everything that was made by the Father was made, in fact, through the Word made flesh, through the Son. Does the Father raise the dead? The passage goes on to say the Son also raises the dead. Does the Father give life to whomever he will? Yes, the Son gives life to whomever he will too.

Of course, then the Son immediately goes on to say he only does it in line with the perfect will of the Father, and he only raises from the dead those whom the Father wants raised from the dead, because the Father and the Son are perfectly aligned in all of their will and way. The point is whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Suddenly, by this universal functionality, you have a presupposed ontology. That is, by talking about doing the same thing as the Father so exhaustively that, “Whatever God does I do,” Jesus is presupposing a unique kind of sonship that can belong to no other. The sort of man who says that sort of thing is either indistinguishable from God or he’s a nutcase of the very first water. There is no other ground.

Now some language was already used in the church in the first century before Hebrews was written. Sonship was bound up with Jesus’ very relationship with his Father. It was bound up with his kingly role. He was God’s Son, God’s King, bringing in the kingdom. That you must see is the heart of this passage (verse 5) before we come to the next step in the argument.

Now let me take you to that next step. Those of you who have been studying theology for two or three or four years now, think through. How is Christology being taught in the twentieth century? Well, very often it has been done through Christological titles. The older works of Ferdinand Hahn and people like that work through Son of Man language and Son of God language and Messiah language.

Some writers speak of different Christologies. They work through all of the titles, and that’s how they’ve done their New Testament Christology. Sometimes New Testament Christology is done book by book. “The Christology of John’s Gospel,” or better yet, “The Son of Man in John’s Gospel.” So now in focusing on Christology, you’re not only reducing things to a particular book but to a particular title in a particular book.

Then if you throw in a bit of source criticism, you might actually have the Christology for one title for one part of John’s gospel. In other words, the tendency, as we talk about Christology in the twentieth century in academic circles, has been to focus on the bitty, the narrow, the tiny, the miniscule.

I don’t think there’s any good evidence that’s the way first-century Christians thought. I don’t think it’s the way the biblical writers thought. They thought far more comprehensively. I don’t think any one of them sat down and thought to himself, “Today I shall meditate on Son of Man Christology.” I don’t see any good evidence for it. It seems to me there’s far more evidence that these things got put together.

Now think of two large paradigms of Christology in the New Testament. One I might call the down-and-up Christology. Imagine a big U shape. Jesus was in the glory that he had with the Father before the world began, and then the Word took on flesh and lived for a while among us. He serves, suffers, dies, rises again, is exalted to the right hand of the majesty, and returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world began.

That’s one huge Christology. I just quoted that from John, but you find it in many places in the New Testament. It’s the heart of Philippians 2. “He is in the very form of God, yet he humbles himself and takes on human form. Then in fashion as a man he humbles himself yet further to the obedience of the cross. Wherefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” It’s the same sort of Christological structure in slightly different language.

Sometimes in the New Testament (this is particularly strong in Luke/Acts, though it’s not unique; there are overlaps here) you just don’t look very much at the first half. You have this big dip, and instead of looking at the whole thing, you just begin right here. You begin with Jesus at the bottom. You begin with Jesus the baby. You begin with Jesus the son of Mary.

There might be hints along the line that there’s something earlier. There are. There are a lot of them. Nevertheless, in terms of the focus of the narrative, you begin here. Jesus is a good man going about doing good. He announces the coming of the kingdom. He suffers, dies, rises again, and is vindicated and seated at God’s right hand, from whence he will come on the last day with power and glory.

This is not denying all that comes before. It’s merely focusing on Jesus the historical man and showing where it goes from there. That’s another very common pattern in the New Testament. In both instances … that is, in the big-dip pattern and in this one that begins down here and then moves up … this move from Jesus’ humiliation to his exaltation is absolutely critical for understanding Jesus’ entry into his kingdom, into his glory, his exercising all of God’s sovereignty.

Thus, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15, all of God’s sovereignty, we’re told, is mediated through Christ. That is why sometimes people have referred to the risen, exalted, vindicated Christ as the mediatorial King. All of God’s sovereignty is now mediated through Christ. It’s a theme that’s also in Matthew. “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.”

So by Jesus dying and rising again and ascending and being exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high, he enters into all that is rightly his by virtue of his sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection and vindication. That’s why in the New Testament there’s some flex on when the kingdom begins. There’s a sense in which Jesus is born a king. Isn’t that clear in Matthew?

There’s a sense in which he’s introducing the kingdom by his powerful deeds and miracles and transformations. The kingdom is advancing in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the Twelve whom he sends out. There’s a sense in which he enters into his kingdom by dying on the cross. Yes, the early church understood that very well. For the first three centuries, they spoke with the deepest irony of Jesus reigning from the cross.

There’s a sense in which he enters into his reign by virtue of his resurrection. He is now the resurrected Lord, introducing the resurrected age. He has been vindicated. There’s a sense in which he enters into his kingship because he’s now exalted to the Father’s right hand, and all of God’s sovereignty is mediated through him, and he must reign until he has turned over all of the kingdoms of this world to his Father. “The kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.” He must reign. He’s the mediatorial King.

That’s why in the New Testament there’s a certain amount of flex on when the kingdom begins. Thus, the entrance into the kingdom is Jesus’ whole movement from death, burial, through resurrection, thus vindication, ascension, exaltation, but that is also his entrance into his priestly ministry. It is his entrance into his bestowal of the Spirit. It is his entrance into his kingship. I think the New Testament Christians understood all of that. They already had those pieces together.

Now suddenly, it seems to me, these three passages in which Psalm 2:7 is quoted make sense. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Well, yes, but that’s bound up finally in the antitype of Jesus being vindicated in his death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, and ascension. That’s when Jesus enters into his kingship ministry, and that belongs to Jesus alone, not to any angel. This is the fulfillment of the great Davidic promise.

What does that turn on? It turns on the resurrection. So it makes sense in Acts, chapter 13. Don’t you understand? The Messiah had to rise from the dead to enter into this kingly ministry. Here you see there’s not a bitty thinking that says, “Well, this is a sort of Hebrews Christology, and here is a resurrection Lukan Christology.” No, no, no. It’s all coming together. This exaltation to kingship turns on the resurrection by which he is vindicated and, thus, ascends and enters into his mediatorial kingship. It’s a big package.

But that’s also when he enters into his mediatorial function as priest, and he takes this on himself not because he resurrected himself from the dead. New Testament documents say again and again and again that God raises him from the dead. What clearer evidence can you have that this is God’s seal of approval to appoint Jesus and Jesus alone as priest, as mediatorial King?

Kingship and priesthood are coming together supremely in the person of Jesus. Not merely geographically, as when the tabernacle temple moved to Jerusalem where the king is already found, but now coming together in one person supremely. In other words, I submit to you that these three passages quoting Psalm 2:7 all make wonderful sense once you get rid of bitty Christology and think synthetically, as the first Christians did, in reverent submission to the fact that there is ultimately one great mind, God’s own mind, behind Holy Writ. Let us pray.

Our minds are so small, Lord God. We have been reading these texts for years and years and years, and we find ourselves to be so slow at understanding how they’re put together. Open our minds, Lord God, that we may think your thoughts after you and recall that you yourself have said, “To this man will I look: he who is of a contrite spirit and who trembles at my word.” For Jesus’ sake, amen.


Is there enough evidence for us to believe the Gospels?

In an age of faith deconstruction and skepticism about the Bible’s authority, it’s common to hear claims that the Gospels are unreliable propaganda. And if the Gospels are shown to be historically unreliable, the whole foundation of Christianity begins to crumble.
But the Gospels are historically reliable. And the evidence for this is vast.
To learn about the evidence for the historical reliability of the four Gospels, click below to access a FREE eBook of Can We Trust the Gospels? written by New Testament scholar Peter J. Williams.