Summary: Jesus is the true fulfillment of this psalm.
After the Order of Melchizedek: An Exposition of Psalm 110
The 110th Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. Jesus uses the first verse in querying the Jews about His person and the Book of Hebrews uses both verses 1 and 4. Therefore, its message is of the utmost importance to the Christian. We do have David ascribes as its author, but we know nothing of the context of the writing. In David’s day, it was like other psalms, both in the Hebrew and Ugarit traditions. The leader that Yahweh chooses is to trust God to subdue the enemies of the state rather than the king’s own power. It is Yahweh who establishes the king. But as its prophetic application to Jesus Christ is what will be emphasized in this exposition.
There has been scholarly argument whether the ascriptions to the Psalms of authorship, for example, are inspired along with the Psalm. Jesus Himself gives strong evidence that it does. Jesus asks the Pharisees a question about the Christ in Matthew 22:41. “Whose Son is He? When the answer “David’s” he then quotes the first verse of the 110th Psalm. There it says “The LORD said unto my Lord….” Jesus’ logic is that David calls someone assumed to be his son, “MY Lord.” In Jewish thought, the father is greater than the son. Jesus says this of Himself in relation to Himself and the Father. It is also demonstrated in the book of Hebrews where Melchizedek is greater than Levi because Abraham his great-grandfather, being greater than Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek. The Pharisees had no answer to give Jesus. But this argument depends upon David being the author of the psalm. If it was written “about” David by a royal poet, then “my lord” is the poet’s ascription to David.
David was also a prophet as well as king. Peter in the Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 quotes David as author of the 16th Psalm and comments that he was a prophet and was speaking about Christ and not himself. This principle of interpretation was used by the early church, even though many scholars dismiss this as illegitimate. Those of the grammatical-historical school state that the most important reading is “what did this mean to the author and his original audience? From this, any other meaning must be of secondary application. But to do this would reduce the psalm to what we said earlier. We must understand that the prophets often spoke better than they knew. This means the context of prophetic fulfillment supersedes the original context in this case. The Holy Spirit breathes all of Scripture, and its meaning properly understood in the divine purpose of its utterance. How people interpret what is written is not primarily based upon human authors and considerations but is to be based upon the Divine author. This is the way Jesus understood Scripture, and so should we.
David was prophet and king. But there was one thing David was not. He was not a priest. Yahweh separated the executive functions of state from the priesthood. Saul was rejected from being king when he would not wait for Samuel to come to offer the sacrifice but undertook to offer the sacrifice himself (1 Samuel 13). King Uzziah was struck with leprosy when he tried to do the same (2 Kings 15). So King David could not become a priest of any order. In the surrounding nations, the monarchs had priestly power as well as kingly. There are Ugaritic psalms to that effect. But in Israel, this was not to be so. Even an earthly king was given them reluctantly, because Yahweh was truly the king. Yahweh tells Samuel that this was a rejection of His own rule and not a rejection of Samuel. This also shows that David was speaking about someone greater than himself. Not only is this person “my lord” but is a priest as well. When during the Maccabean revival of Israel, the king appropriated the title of High Priest as well, which was not well received by many in Israel. Many fled to the deserts of Qumran, while others protested. The priesthood and kingship would be united, but Judas Maccabeus and his family was not the fulfillment.
David was considered by the Jews in Jesus’ day the greatest of the kings. The books of the Kings and the Chronicles testify to that fact. The Pharisees never challenged that Jesus was a son of David. They were convinced of that. But they were not willing to ascribe the title “Son of Man” or “Son of God” to Jesus. But Jesus makes that claim. He cites the 110th Psalm to refer to Himself. In less than a week, He would be condemned to death by the Sanhedrin for explicitly making this claim and turned over to the Romans for execution. By citing the first verse, then He was also claiming verse four was equally applicable to Himself, that He was a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Even though He was by human reckoning the Son of David, He was far greater than David as He was in His divine nature the Son of God. He would not be an earthly king who would reign for a season like other kings and then die. He also would not be an earthly priest whose priesthood was terminated by death. The Book of Hebrews elaborates much on Christ’s eternal priesthood.