There are several holydays that I believe the church is right to observe: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Ascension Day. It is probably not easy to rank their importance, for the reality is that each is dependent upon the others for full significance. For example, Christmas would be incomplete without the cross of Good Friday, and there would be no Easter if there were no Good Friday. But in an important way, none of these days could maintain their significance without the culminating event recorded in Acts 1: namely, the Lord’s ascension to the throne of God in heaven.
The ascension of Jesus was not merely an appendage to His work of redemption but was rather, for at least three reasons, necessary for its culmination. First, it was necessary because of His subsequent work of intercession. Second, it was necessary because of His rule and reign as Lord. And, third, it was necessary for His vindication (which actually is encapsulated in the first two necessities). We see this in this psalm of David.
It has been said that, of all of the psalms with such a title, none is more significant than its use here. The reason is because it is quite clear that David is not speaking of himself as a lord (“King David”) but rather is clearly speaking of his Lord. The Lord Jesus affirmed this in Matthew 22:41–46. In other words this clearly was a prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, who would be exalted higher than the heavens (Hebrews 7:26) as He was given a name which is above all names (Philippians 2:9–11).
Forty days after He rose from the dead, the Lord Jesus ascended to the throne of God above. But what happened then? And what has been happening ever since? And what should we expect to yet happen? Psalm 110 answers these important questions.
This is most quoted psalm in the New Testament. There are parts of it quoted at least twenty times in the New Testament writings. It is a very significant psalm, and it has been observed that “it is not merely a coincidence that this psalm is quoted more often in the New Testament than is any other. This fact is a testimony to its importance.”1
The primary importance of the psalm is that it reveals something of the exaltation of the Lord and therefore our biblical expectation in light of this.
It will be helpful for our souls to not only get a glimpse of Jesus in heaven but to gaze on Him there. My goal in this study is to help us with such a gaze. We will do so under three main headings.
Our Lord’s Worth
In vv. 1–3 we read something of our Lord’s worth:
The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.
Clearly, this psalm gives us some insight into the glorious worth of our Lord Jesus. David uses a unique word in v. 1 when he writes, “The LORD said to my Lord.” The word “said” literally speaks of an oracle. “The Psalmist speaks with the authority of a prophet who is conscious of having received a message from God.”2
David is using the language of a prophet, so we know that this has something to do with his future. And what is prophetically revealed to David is a glorious vision of the Lord Jesus Christ ascended on high.
There are three truths in these verses, which point to the glorious worth of Christ, which in turn should produce the response of worship. Truly, when we see Jesus ascended we see (to use the old English word) His “worthship.”
The Lord’s Position
The first truth, stated in v. 1, has something to do with the Lord’s position. Here, David speaks of a coronation.
It will be important to note that we are here eavesdropping on a conversation that occurred in heaven upon Jesus ascending to heaven. It is the coronation by the Father of the Son (see Daniel 7:9–10).
“LORD” translates Yahweh, while “Lord” translates adonai. The latter term was used both of people of eminence as well as to show respect (like the contemporary “my lord” or “my lady”). It was also a term that referred to God. So what we have here is God the Father bestowing honour upon His Son. Note that David, who was a lord, recognises Jesus Christ as his Lord. Kings who recognise their true position are wise who do so.
God the Father tells the Son to sit. This is reminiscent of Psalm 2 (especially vv. 6–8). The command to “sit” is an invitation to royalty. It is an invitation to the throne to which Messiah has earned the right. The Son shares the throne of God with the Father (see Revelation 4–5).
In the ancient world the position of the right hand signified power, honour and authority. It was for this reason that Jesus could tell His disciples in Matthew 28:18 that He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He truly is Lord!
Have you recognized where He is sitting and your need to bow? If not, pay attention to what follows.
The word picture of a “footstool” was a familiar one in the ancient world. It was metaphorical for a victor exercising complete subjugation of an enemy. It pictured the victor as having absolute control (see Judges 10:24). The Father is here pledging to do something in the world to those who are the avowed enemies of His Son. When you dishonour God’s Son, beware.
What we will see is that there are two ways in which the enemies of Christ can become a stool for His feet. One is by grace and the other is by judgement. And this is not merely poetic exaggeration but is a prophetic promise.
The Lord’s Power
The second truth, highlighted in v. 2, has to do with the Lord’s power: “The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!”
In v. 2 we have an elaboration on the promise of v. 1. Here we are told that Yahweh will vindicate His Son by assuring that the “rod” of the Son’s “strength” will go forth from Zion, and the result will be that Messiah will “rule in the midst of [His] enemies.”
This is a wonderful promise that the rod of the rule of Christ (His Word, including His gospel) will go forth powerfully and victoriously from Jerusalem. Today we can look at history and see that the gospel has gone from (in the words of Ruth Tucker’s book title) Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. “The Lord will make the Messiah’s influence and authority extend from Zion, the centre where He has allowed the kingdom of Israel to concentrate.”3
The immediate setting of this psalm would become apparent with the culmination of the Jewish War and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. As we have come to learn in our study of the book of the Revelation, the major theme being driven home is that of the vindication of the Lord as He sits enthroned in heaven. He was ruling then (see Matthew 26:64) and He continues to rule now. He has plenty of enemies in this world. The wicked secular agenda opposes Him, yet He who sits in the heavens will have the last word. Jesus is ruling and the enemies are merely His pawns.
It should be noted that the rod of His strength has brought much victory in different parts of the globe throughout history. It is still doing so.
The Lord’s Prosperity
The third truth, in v. 3, has to do with the Lord’s prosperity: “Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.”
In v. 3 we have the promise (prophecy) from the Father that the Lord’s ascension will be sealed with a multitude of “volunteers” who will join Him in His rule. Not only will they be willingly ruled, but they will seek to extend the experience of His rule in space-time history.
The word “volunteers” is an important one. Those who willingly submit to Christ were one time rebels against God. Think of your own history. Most of us will confess that we were our own lords until the Lord graciously brought us to our knees. When He did, we were happy worshippers. As we came to appreciate our ruin and His worth we bowed the knee and kissed the Son (Psalm 2:12).
Yes, the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes: to the Jew as well as to the Gentile. Thank God for the power of Christ to transform rebels into willing workers for His glory. This is the response of all who have been born again.
The second part of the verse is a poetic description of the multiplication of these “volunteers.” As the morning brings forth the pervasive and all-encompassing dew, so the Lord brings forth a multitude and world encompassing volunteers who serve Him with the freshness of youth. Luther translated this, ‘“After Thy victory Thy people will willingly offer sacrifice in holy array; Thy children are born unto Thee like dew out of the dawn.”4 As Van Gemeren highlights, “They consecrate themselves, are fully prepared, and place themselves at the service of the king.”5 Or as Kirkpatrick writes, “When he musters his people for battle, countless hosts of youthful warriors flock eagerly to his standard, animated by a spirit of loyal devotion and willing self-sacrifice.”6
Christ’s victory drives us to “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1–2). Understanding that He is King drives us to be faithful witnesses (Acts 1:8). What a grace that the ascended Saviour converts sinners and gives to us a new lease on life.
We must not leave this section too quickly. We should contemplate that all that has been said leads us to the optimistic, faith-filled expectation of much more dew appearing with the passage of time. There may be times of drought, but the dew will fall again. As VanGemeren says, “The psalm has eschatological overtones, as the community of the faithful looks forward to an even greater victory.”7
I am aware of the popular idea that, once the gospel has lost a warm and welcoming reception in a nation, it moves on never to return. I don’t buy that. The Bible does not teach that. There is every biblical reason to believe that places like Germany, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands will once again be the recipients of gospel blessings. The ascended Lord has not lost His power, and His Father is committed to the exaltation and the glory of His Son. The Holy Spirit is still exercising His passionate ministry of glorifying the ascended Lord (see Acts 7).
So, armed with this truth, let us serve our risen and ascended Lord, for as Kirkpatrick highlights, “The promised victory is not to be won without human agency, and Jehovah inspires the king’s subjects with a spirit of loyal self-devotion.”8 So let us pray to our Father that the kingdom of our ascended Lord will advance. Let us proclaim His lordship, knowing that He can change the lifeless into those with the freshness of youth.
The Lord’s Work
Verse 4 highlights the Lord’s work: “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”
In what would appear to be a bit of an anomaly, David now writes of Yahweh appointing His Son as High Priest. As Hebrews attests, under the old covenant there was a separation of powers of the kingship and priesthood. Though we do have evidence of kings offering sacrifices, in the legitimate cases these sacrifices were no doubt offered through the means of the priests. But here we have Messiah, having been enthroned as King now being invested with a priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Jesus is the theocratic Priest, the Priest-King. He is both the King of righteousness and the King of peace. And the connection between the two is His work as Priest. Let me explain.
Jesus is righteous and rules in righteousness. He is at the throne of God, the most righteous place in the universe. We are unrighteous. How then can we ever have access to this place of glory? How can we ever have peace with God? By the priestly ministry of Jesus!
By the mediatorial work of Jesus, we are clothed in His righteousness. We are reconciled to God. Though at one time we were at enmity with Him and under His wrath, yet in Christ we are accepted and forgiven. We can draw near to God because the throne of judgement is now the throne of grace. And as we have recently come to appreciate, this matter is forever settled. This is why the statement in Psalm 85:10 with reference to Jesus Christ is so significant: “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Or as Paul put it, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
You see, until we know Jesus Christ as our Priest, we will have every reason to fear Him as our King. But this promise, confirmed with an oath in v. 4, gives us every reason to gladly bow to Him as King. Of course, those who reject Him as priest will one day face Him as the King who judges. What an awful prospect!
We see two truths concerning the priestly work of Christ revealed in this verse.
The Lord’s Perpetuity
The Lord’s priestly ministry is “forever.” Whether that means forever into eternity can be debated. After all, once we are glorified we will no longer technically need anyone to intercede for us, for “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
We are prayed for, provided for, preserved and protected. One day, by Christ, we will be perfected forever.
The Lord’s Preeminence
The Lord’s preeminence pervades the entire scene. But this reference to the priesthood of Jesus in the midst of this majestic psalm reveals that Jesus is greater than even such a significant man as Melchizedek, and so much greater as well than David. David’s greater Son has accomplished a work that proves His worth.
The Lord’s Wrath
Finally, in vv. 5–7, we see something of the Lord’s wrath: “The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries. He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head.”
In this final scene and section we have the record of the Son exercising wrath from the throne room of God. This is both a present and a future scenario.
Here, the throne room has in fact become the war room. This is not a concept that is popular today, nor in fact has it ever been. But since Jesus is Lord, it is proper for us to focus not only on His saving grace but also on His judging wrath. After all, God is love and He is also holy. His is a holy love, and therefore wrath is a reality. There are three major points to this passage.
The Lord’s Position
First, we read something of the Lord’s position: “The Lord is at Your right hand” (v. 5a). Adonai is again positioned at the right hand of Yahweh. David again recognises that Messiah is in a place of honour, power and authority. In this case, however, the Lord is not acting redemptively but retributively. We see here, among other issues, the Lord avenging evil. We can learn to leave such matters of retribution with Him. As it has been well said, the millstone of God’s justice moves slowly, but it does move.
The Lord’s Punishment
Next, we see the punishment that the Lord will enact: “He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries” (vv. 5b–6).
This is strong language. I do not believe that it is exaggerated for effect. The reality is that Jesus, even today to some degree, is executing kings, judging nations and filling places with dead bodies as He executes the heads of many countries. According to Romans 1 God is now revealing His wrath from heaven against all ungodliness of men as they suppress the truth of His revelation in all unrighteousness.
But the day is coming when Jesus will do this in an intense and final way. Evildoers will be judged. And, of course, the greatest evil is that of refusing to bow to the lordship of Jesus Christ. But this will be rectified one day. “The conflict between the two kingdoms cannot continue as a stalemate forever. A definite victory will be on the Lord’s side of the struggle.”9
The Lord’s Perseverance
Third, we read of the Lord’s perseverance. “He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head” (v. 7).
The psalm ends on a note of encouragement that the Lord will see His work as the warring Judge to the end. The picture is much like that in the book of Judges in which Gideon’s men scooped water from the brook as they pursued the enemy. They did not pause but were rather refreshed on the run. They persevered until the enemy was completely defeated. This is the picture here. It is not, of course, portraying Jesus as fatigued or battle wearied, but rather as getting the job done. He will persevere to the end. I love the language of Kirkpatrick here: “In hot pursuit of his flying foes he halts but for a moment to refresh himself, and then presses on to his final triumph.”10 Yes, He will continue to save His people from their sins; He will continue to build His church; He will continue to see that His enemies are routed.
As we come to a close we need to contemplate that so much of this psalm features war, judgement and destruction. It is a wrathful psalm. Why?
The answer is simple: because the psalm is about the worth of Jesus and His wonderful work. And wrath is the just response by the Lord against any who dishonour His worth.
But we must also take comfort from the ascended Lord that He will right all wrongs, and therefore we need not. In fact, we must not seek revenge. We are to commit ourselves to the one who judges righteously. One way for us to handle the temptation to return evil for evil is to contemplate that, apart from the grace of God, our necks would be under the feet of the Lord. But by His grace He has saved us from our sins and the deserved wrath to come.
Such contemplation can temper our desire to make sure that the evildoers are punished here and now and that they are punished perhaps with those who will meet it out.
I am not suggesting that we are to be careless or dispassionate about the evil around us. As David also wrote in Psalm 139, “I hate those who hate You; I count them my enemies” (vv. 21–22). Certainly there is something wrong with us when we see others wronged and are unmoved by this. Love contains a very important element of wrath. It hates to see the object of its love harmed. Yet we must not make this a personal matter. And we can be helped in this by the active realisation that our ascended Lord is ruling and reigning and keeping accounts, and that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right.
Finally, James Montgomery Boice wisely emphasises:
Today Jesus is at God’s right hand, ruling over all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus’ rule is God’s doing. It is not up to us whether Jesus Christ will be Lord. Jesus is Lord, and God has made him such. We can fight that lordship and be broken by it … or we can submit to it in humble obedience with praise.11
And then, quoting Alexander Maclaren, Boice writes, “The choice for every man is, being crushed beneath his foot, or being exalted to sit with him on his throne…. It is better to sit on his throne than to be his footstool.”12
How have you responded? How will you respond?
So, as we come to the close, let us reflect on the reality of where Christ is seated. Reverently recognise that He is there by virtue of His worth. He is righteous in character and conduct, and therefore He has been righteous in His conquest (Colossians 2:13–15).
Let us be encouraged by the work that He continues to do. And let us labour motivated by the reality of His wrath with the knowledge that, by His grace, we have been delivered from it. He is ascended because He is Lord. Let us live like we believe it.
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), 770. ↩
- A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge: Scripture Truth, n.d.), 665. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 771. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 776. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, 5:698. ↩
- Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 661. ↩
- VanGemeren, The Bible Expositor’s Commentary, 5:697 ↩
- Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 667. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 773. ↩
- Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 669. ↩
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 3:895. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 905. ↩