What Did Jesus Think About the Messiah Being the Son of David?
The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38 testify that Jesus was the “Son of David.” In fact, the book of Matthew begins with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (1:1, emp. added). The New Testament is also abundantly clear that this Son of David is “the Christ” or “the Messiah.” When the Samaritan woman at the well said to Jesus, “‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’” (John 4:25-26, emp. added). What’s more, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Jewish high priest asked Him directly, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am.” (Mark 14:61-62, emp. added). Thus, the New Testament clearly affirms that Jesus was both “Christ” and the “Son of David.” [NOTE: The term “Christ” is transliterated from the Greek term Christos, while “Messiah” is transliterated from the Hebrew/Aramaic term Meshiach. Both have as their meaning, “the anointed One.”]
In the September/October 2008 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hebrew University professor Israel Knohl alleged that Mark 12:35-37 (cf. Matthew 22:41-46 and Luke 20:41-44) “blatantly clashes” with New Testament references of Jesus being “the Son of David” (2008, 34:61). When Jesus asked, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?” (Mark 12:35), Jesus supposedly “rejects the idea that the Messiah is the son of David” (Knohl, p. 61). Knohl claimed:
To demonstrate that the Messiah is not the son of David, Jesus quotes Psalm 110, attributed in the Hebrew Bible to David himself. As the text of Mark (12:36) recites, David speaks in the psalm: “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared...” Jesus then recites a passage from the psalm: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.” Jesus then uses this passage to prove his point: “David himself calls him [the Messiah] ‘Lord,’ so how is he his son?” That is, David speaks of the Messiah as “my Lord,” rather than as “my son.” The Messiah therefore cannot be a son of David. Using Psalm 110 as his proof text, Jesus here refutes the scribes’ view that Christ, the Messiah, should be a son or descendant of David (p. 61, emp. added).
Knohl went on to state that Psalm 110 is “historically reliable,” and Mark 12:35-37 “must be authentic.” The implication is that those Bible passages which designate Jesus as the “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38) are unreliable.
Knohl is correct that Psalm 110 and Mark 12:35-37 are “historically reliable” and “authentic,” but he has failed miserably in his interpretation of Mark 12:35-37 (and parallel passages in Matthew 22:41-46 and Luke 20:41-44). When Jesus asked the Pharisees “how is He [the Messiah] then his [David’s] Son,” if David calls Him “Lord,” He was neither denying His credentials to be the Messiah nor the fact that the Messiah would be a “Son of David.” On the contrary, Jesus was trying to get His hearers to understand that the Messiah, though David’s Son, is greater than David, for King David called Him “my Lord.” It was self-evident to first-century Jews that the Messiah would be a descendant of David (Psalm 89:3-4; 132:11-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:1-16; 12:23; 21:9,15; Luke 3:23-38). Jesus was not denying that fact. Rather, He wanted his hearers to reach the same conclusion that Peter previously reached after Jesus asked a similar question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13, NASB). Peter confessed to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). How could the Messiah be a descendant of David as well as be the One to whom David 1,000 years earlier called “Lord”? Answer: He was deity Who put on flesh. This is the truth with which Jesus confronted the Pharisees, and “no one was able to answer Him a word” (Matthew 22:46), because
they believed not in the divinity of Christ. They supposed that he would be only a man.... By propounding the question, Jesus gained two important points: he showed that the promised Christ was to be divine, and he showed that his own claim to be the Son of God was in perfect harmony with his claim to be the Christ. If he is the Christ, then he is David’s Lord (McGarvey, 1875, p. 194).
Jesus, the Son of David, is greater than any man who ever lived, including the greatest king Israel had ever known. He was his “Lord.” Jesus is superior. Interestingly, even the writer of Hebrews referred to Psalm 110:1 as he impressed upon his readers Jesus’ superiority over the angelic realm (1:13).
Knohl’s alleged contradiction, between Jesus’ reference to Psalm 110 in the synoptic gospels and the biblical references of the Messiah being the “Son of David,” is easily resolved when the Bible is “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus rejected neither His being the “Son of David,” nor “the Messiah.” In truth, He was both.
Knohl, Israel (2008), “The Messiah: Son of Joseph,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 34:58-62, September/October.
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight AR: Gospel Light).