The Son of David

The Gospel of Matthew identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the “Son of David.” In his ministry, he demonstrated what it means to be the King of Israel and the royal “Son of God.” Traditionally, the latter designation is linked to the House of David. However, in Matthew, the old understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah is altered radically. The Greater “Son of David” is far more than the Ruler of Israel and the nations. He was and is a King of a very different kind.

Nevertheless, Matthew presents the Nazarene as the Messiah and the heir of David’s Throne, and it does so by applying scriptural citations and allusions to him, the very one who was destined to die on a Roman cross.

Matterhorn sunrise - Photo by Nicolai Krämer on Unsplash
[Photo by Nicolai Krämer on Unsplash]

At his baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus “
like a dove,” and the voice from heaven declared: “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I delight.” The description combined words from two messianic passages:

  • (Psalm 2:7) – “Yahweh said to me: YOU ARE MY SON; this day have I begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) – “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.”

But Matthew’s account does not simply pile on proof texts to validate his genealogical credentials. By combining these prophecies, a messianic figure emerges who fulfilled the roles of Israel’s King and of the Servant of Yahweh described in the Book of Isaiah.


First, he is the “son of David” destined to reign from Zion. Second, he is the “Suffering Servant,” the one who is “cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people.”

One role cannot be understood apart from the other. Though the two functions seem incompatible, in Jesus, they are inextricably linked. The same words are heard again at his Transfiguration when “a voice out of the cloud declares, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him!” – (Isaiah 53:8, Matthew 17:5).

In the New Testament, the Second Psalm is applied to Jesus IN HIS PRESENT ROLE as the Messianic figure who reigns at God’s “right hand.” This is the Psalm that promises that one of David’s descendants will reign in Zion - (Psalm 2:1-9).

As predicted by the Psalmist, Jesus endured the conspiracy to overthrow God’s “Anointed One” when the religious leaders of Israel set out to destroy him - the “chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus that they might put him to death - (Matthew 26:59, 27:1).

Moreover, that is how the early Church interpreted the prophecy from the Second Psalm. For example, after enduring threats from the priests and Sadducees, Peter prayed:

  • O Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them iswho by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant, did say, Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? THE KINGS OF THE EARTH SET THEMSELVES IN ARRAY, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER, AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRISTfor of a truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy council foreordained to come to pass” - (Acts 4:24-28).

Like Matthew, Peter also combined the image of the Suffering Servant with the royal figure described in the Psalm. But it was not just the nations of the Earth that raged “against Yahweh and His anointed,” but also the priestly leaders of Israel.

His murder was anticipated in Christ’s parable about the vineyard and its tenants. At harvest time, the owner sent several servants to “receive the fruit” that was due. However, each time he did so, the “tenants” abused and even killed his agents.

Finally, he sent his “son,” expecting them to respect his heir. But the “tenants” were bent on “seizing the inheritance” for themselves no matter what, so they murdered him - (Matthew 21:33-45).

The parable echoes the words from the Second Psalm that described the conspiracy against “Yahweh’s Anointed.” His parable was directed against the very ones who were plotting his demise: “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking of them.

Mountains Dusk - Photo by v2osk on Unsplash
[Photo by v2osk on Unsplash]


Jesus certainly was the heir of David who was destined to reign forever. But before his exaltation, he suffered as the Servant of Yahweh,” and that is precisely what occurred as recorded in Matthew’s account. He was exalted and given “all power in Heaven and on Earth” but only after his death and resurrection.

Paradoxically, Jesus of Nazareth conquered his opponents by undergoing an unjust and shameful death, dying for his enemies rather than slaying them.

Since his resurrection, he has reigned on the Davidic Throne as the “Ruler of the kings of the Earth,” which is why he now sends his followers as his priestly envoys to herald his Good News of the Kingdom, beginning in Jerusalem, and then “to the uttermost parts of the earth” – (Psalm 2:12, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-9).

The final act in the Gospel of Matthew is the “commissioning” of the disciples. The picture is not of a political revolutionary or dictator dispatching his armies to destroy his opponents, but of an already ruling monarch sending his heralds throughout his domain to announce his victory and reign.

Jesus IS the heir to the Messianic Throne, the “Son of David.” But first, he became the “Servant of the Lord,” the one who suffered for His people, his enemies, indeed, for all humanity. The royal road to Zion must first pass through Golgotha.




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