Long ago a church father articulated a most important truth about biblical study: “The New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New revealed.” The Old Testament writings comprised the Bible of the New Testament authors, and they made abundant use of that “older” testament by hundreds of direct quotations and thousands of indirect allusions. But the passage that served as the source of more quotations in the New Testament than any other was Psalm 110. There are fourteen direct quotations of this short Psalm plus dozens of indirect allusions to its marvelous contents. Every one of the New Testament citations apply this Psalm to Jesus Christ. Psalm 110 is the pinnacle of the Messianic Psalms. In it, the entire redemptive career of the Messiah is outlined. He is portrayed as a King in verses 1-3, a Priest in verse 4, and a Warrior in verses 5-7.
THE MESSIAH AS KING
The psalmist David, in verse one, records a conversation between two members of the Godhead: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” A literal translation of the first phrase is: “Jehovah said to my Adonai . . . .” Jehovah and Adonai are two names for God in the Old Testament. The only adequate explanation for this apparent contradiction is that there is a plurality of personalities within the Godhead – a concept entirely consistent with many other passages (Gen. 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Dt. 6:4; Isa. 48:16-17).
This verse is also further confirmation that the Messiah would be more than just a great man – He would be God! The rabbis of the ancient synagogue clearly interpreted this verse as referring to the Messiah (see Sanhedrin, 108,2 and Midrash Tehillim). Therefore, Jesus used this passage as one of the clearest evidences of Messiah’s deity – a concept totally rejected by modern Judaism. After answering a number of questions, Jesus asked the Pharisees:
. . . What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How, then, doth David, in the Spirit, call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David, then, call him Lord, how is he his son? (Mt. 22:42-45).
No more devastating application could have been made. The Pharisees, who all agreed that Messiah would be a descendant of David, were faced with the fact that David referred to Messiah as his Lord! Thus, this Psalm confirms the fact that the Messiah would be both human (“Son of David”) and divine (David’s “Lord”). To this, the Pharisees had no answer – they simply decided not to ask Jesus any more questions (Mt. 22:46).
We must return to the text of Psalm 110 to discover what exactly Jehovah said to Adonai. In verses 1-3, two commands are issued to Messiah: “Sit” (v. 1) and “rule” (v. 2). The first command refers to Messiah’s ascension and exaltation to the place of authority (i.e., the right hand). It is during the period of his session at Jehovah’s side that the enemies of Messiah become completely submissive. The picture of the enemies as a “footstool” is illustrated by Joshua 10:24: “And it came to pass, when they brought out those kings unto Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war who went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them.” In the same way, when Messiah’s time of sitting at Jehovah’s right hand is concluded, then He will subjugate His enemies. This thought is expanded later in verses 5 and 6.
The second command (“rule”) is found in verse 2: “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” This strong rod is a rod of correction and punishment. In an earlier Messianic Psalm it is recorded, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9). When the enemies are vanquished, the rod becomes a scepter placed in the Sovereign’s hand as a symbol of authority (Rev. 19:15). This would refer to the millennial reign of Christ, which will last for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). In millennial days, Christ will be an absolute monarch with supreme power and control.
Therefore, Psalm 110:1 and 2 cover the entire period from the earthly career of Messiah to His coming reign of glory. He is pictured as a king awaiting His soon coronation. One more event accompanying that reign is mentioned in verse 3, “Thy people shall be willing [lit. freewill offerings] in the day of thy power. . . .” Messiah’s people will be freewill offerings to Him at His coming. In His first advent, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Jn. 1:11). However, this verse, along with a host of others in both testaments, indicates that there will be a Jewish remnant which will welcome Him when He comes a second time to reign. They will willingly consecrate themselves to Him. Paul simply but graphically describes this wonderful day in Romans 11:26 and 27: “And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written. There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
A beautiful poetic expression describing the converted Jewish remnant and their Messiah concludes this section of the Psalm: “. . . in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning, thou hast the dew of thy youth” (v. 3). The phrase “the beauties of holiness” literally means in holy garments and is a technical term used in Leviticus 16:4 to describe the garments worn by the priests on festive occasions. Its appearance here indicates that Israel in that day shall be a nation of priests. This was Israel’s original calling (Ex. 19:6) but will be in reality in the day of His power.
Finally, Messiah is told, “. . . thou hast the dew of thy youth” (v. 3). At His ascension, He went back to Heaven at the peak of manhood, thirty-three years old. Two thousand years have not written any furrows on His brow. Forever He will be the perfect Man while, at the same time, King of kings and Lord of lords.
THE MESSIAH AS PRIEST
Verse 4 introduces the center and climax of this Psalm: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” In all of God’s dealings with man, He has resorted to the human custom of oath-taking only twice: once to Abraham, and once to David. When Abraham was in the act of offering his son Isaac, the Angel of the Lord told him: “. . . By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:16-18). God confirmed to Abraham by an oath His previous promises of a land, a people and a blessing.
Later, God promised with an oath that He would establish the throne of David forever: “Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me” (Ps. 89:35-36). This statement in Psalm 110:4 is a further elaboration of that oath-promise. In this Psalm, we see that Messiah will be the occupant of David’s throne, and that He will rule as a priest. The only way in which He could do this would be if He were in another priestly order, for the Aaronic priests were never to occupy the office of king at the same time. This the Messiah can do, however, because He is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
There are only three Scriptures that speak of this fascinating character named Melchizedek. In Genesis 14:17-24, he is found historically; in Psalm 110:4, prophetically; and in Hebrews 5-7, doctrinally. There is no doubt that he was an actual historical personage, since he is called “King of Salem” (i.e., Jerusalem). The uniqueness of this man, however, was that he also was called “priest of the most high God” (Gen. 14:18). He was both a king and a priest at the same time! He appears suddenly in the historical record, and after blessing Abraham in the name of the most high God and receiving tithes from him, he disappears just as suddenly. He was a real character, but the important factor is that in him, royalty and priesthood are combined. These two offices, as far as man is concerned, God has separated. Uzziah attempted to perform the offices of king and priest, and God smote him (2 Chr. 26:16-23). The fact is that God has reserved the priestly miter and the royal diadem to be placed on one head, the head of His Messiah. Zechariah 6:12 and 13 elaborates: “. . . Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts: saying, Behold, the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord; Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” In the Priest-King Messiah, that which was foreshadowed by the reign of Melchizedek will be fulfilled.
Although this is a great and wonderful prophetic truth for Israel and the world, there is a present application today as well. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that since His ascension to the right hand of God, “we have a great high priest” who is actively interceding for us today (Heb. 1:3; 3:1; 4:14-16; 7:24-28; 9:11-14, 24-28; 10:11-14, 19-22).
At the right hand of God, He performs a threefold work for His people: (1) As our Advocate, He takes care of our sins: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1). (2) As our Intercessor, He takes care of our supplications: “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore, He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25). (3) As our Great High Priest, He takes care of our sorrows: “Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
THE MESSIAH AS JUDGE
The last division of this Psalm consists of verses 5-7. While the subjection of Messiah’s foes has been mentioned in the preceding verses, in this last section David returns to the subduing of His enemies and discusses it at length.
While Messiah’s first coming was in humility as a lamb, His second coming will be in honor as a lion. In His first coming, He was primarily a savior; in His second coming, He will be primarily a judge. The scene in verses 5-7 is the culmination of the campaign of Armageddon that immediately precedes His glorious reign. Many other passages in both Testaments describe this awesome campaign of mankind against God, His Messiah and His chosen people. Zechariah graphically paints the scene: “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (Zech. 14:2-3).
Psalm 110:5 and 6 outline four blows on His enemies which the Lord will deliver: (1) “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath” (v. 5). These “kings” will represent Gentile world authority from the north, south, east and west (Rev. 16:12-16; Dan. 11:36-45). Although in their frenzy they will seek to rage against the Lord and His Anointed (Ps. 2:2), the writer of The Revelation describes the futility of their endeavor: “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:19-20).
“He shall judge among the nations . . .” (v. 6a.). After the battle, the judgment of the living nations will take place (see Mt. 25:31-46). They will be judged according to what they did with the messengers who came with the gospel of the Kingdom. Those who received them and their message will go into the Kingdom, but those who rejected Christ in the person of His servants will go into everlasting punishment.
“. . . He shall fill the places with the dead bodies. . .” (v. 6b). The carnage and bloodshed that result from this battle are indescribable in human terminology. The nations will be like ripe grapes poured into a winepress and stamped out by the Lord God (Joel 3:13; Isa. 63:1-6; Rev. 14:19-20). A supernatural plague will melt the flesh, eyes and tongues of those who fight against Jerusalem (Zech. 14:12). A great supper for the fowls of the air will be proclaimed over the dead bodies of the men and their horses (Rev. 19: 17-18). The pitiful sight of the sad end of God’s enemies will remain into the Kingdom period as a testimony of the righteous judgment of God: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence unto all flesh” (Isa. 66:24).
“. . . He shall wound the heads [singular in Hebrew] over many countries” (v. 6c). This is sometimes applied to the Antichrist, the first beast of Revelation 13:1-10, who will be a dominant world leader during the Tribulation. Could it not, however, also apply to the devil himself, the other member of the unholy trinity along with the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 16:13; 20:10)? Satan is the “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31), the energizing spirit behind the Gentile kings who gather at Armageddon. While the beast and false prophet are cast alive into the lake of fire, the devil is cast into the abyss where he is confined for a thousand years. After a brief final revolt at the end of the Millennium, he too will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1-10). Then that ancient promise to Satan will find its fulfillment: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise [literally crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
This mighty Psalm closes with a touching statement of the Messiah’s ensuing triumph: “He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall he lift up the head” (v. 7). The drinking of the brook after the triumph may be a reference to the refreshing of Gideon’s warriors following their victory (Jud. 8:4-5); or to Samson’s refreshment following his slaying of the thousand men (Jud. 15:18-19); or even to the experience of the weary David himself when three brave men fulfilled his wish for a drink from the well of Bethlehem (2 Sam. 23:14-17). Whatever be the background of this statement, Messiah lifts up His head in triumph over His foes as He reigns over the millennial earth as its King-Priest-Judge.