This article is about Jesus Christ as the son of David and Jesus Christ as King. 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Matthew 1:18-25, and Matthew 21:5 are discussed in this article.

Source: New Horizons, 1993. 4 pages.

The Son of David Reigns!

Living in a world with a rapid increase in moral decline, constantly shifting political borders, and ever growing chaos on all sides, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that anyone is really ruling over all this. Just as one might walk into a building in which everything is turned upside down and ask “who's in charge?” one might look at the state of the world and ask “is there anyone who is in control of this place?” Indeed, do we have a basis to confess that there is one today who is still “King of kings and Lord of lords”? In times like ours, it is good to reaffirm that confession and to see on what it is based.1

David's House and God's House🔗

There is no doubt that the kingship of Jesus today has Davidic roots, and that those roots go all the way back to 2 Samuel 7. For our purposes, there are two striking facts about 2 Samuel 7. The first is the manner in which David's house is intertwined with God's house. When David wants to celebrate the victories the Lord has given him so far, he declares that he will build a house for the Lord to live in; but just then the Lord comes through Nathan and declares that rather than David building Him a house of wood and stone, the Lord will build David a house of flesh and blood:

l will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.2 Samuel 7:12-13

The second striking fact is the fact that this son of David is said to be also God's Son: “I will be His father, and He shall be my son” (14; cf. Psalm 2, Psalm 89:26-27!); it must mean that henceforth there can actually be no proper discussion about that most significant “son of God” title which does not take into account its Davidic roots. 2 The net effect of these close interchanges is to bind David's rule to God's rule and vice-versa. One can see this also in a startling way, for instance, in how it is later said of Solomon that he does not just sit on the throne of David, but repeatedly it is said that he “sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father” (1 Chronicles 29:23; cf. 1 Chronicles 28:5; 2 Chronicles 9:8). This is what the whole ensuing struggle in the house of David is all about – the need for David's sons to rule over Israel in obedience to the Word of God out of the recognition that their throne is none other than the throne of God. Their repeated disobedience and the chastisement they receive (in accordance with 2 Samuel 7:14b!) is what causes the prophets and the people to cry out for a greater occupant of David's throne who will rule the world in righteousness and will through His own obedience merge the throne of His father David with the throne of God forever!

David's Son and God's Son🔗

There is probably no gospel that makes the point that Jesus is this person more emphatically than the gospel according to Matthew. Writing to the Jews, Matthew's overriding emphasis is that Jesus is the King of the Jews, David's Son and David's Lord!

This intention is evident right from the very first chapter where all the emphasis is on David. The opening line in the gospel gives priority of place to David (Matthew 1:1). In the list of kings that follows, the only one who receives the title “king” is David (Matthew 1:6).3 Moreover, the whole genealogy is deliberately placed in a Davidic mould with the number 14 (Matthew 1:17), which Matthew can arrive at only by intentionally leaving out the names of three kings in verse 8 (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah). What is so significant about the number 14 that Matthew will even resort to this? In a practice called gematria, letters would be given a numerical value in order to stress a particular message; when the value of the Hebrew letters of the name David are added together (d = 4, v = 6, d = 4), the total comes to 14!4 What David is trying to show stylistically then is that the whole Jewish history has to do with David! The first period, from Abraham to David, reaches its climax with the reign of king David. The second period, from David to the Babylonian exile, is viewed as a period of decline because of the loss of the Davidic reign. But the third period is a time of renewed hope again as Matthew refers to his subject as the long awaited son of David. Interestingly as well, in a genealogy where the numbers 3 and 14 are predominant, the name with 3 consonants and a value of 14 is placed on the fourteenth spot. Clearly, the name David is the key to the pattern of Matthew's genealogy. The Davidic focus of Matthew's gospel is clear from the outset!

No less significant in this respect is our understanding of the role of Joseph with respect to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25). The more common interpretation of the passage suggests that Joseph, upon hearing of Mary's condition and of the adulterous act which must have led up to it, resolved to have no part in the matter but to divorce her quietly instead. Then it appears that Joseph wants out because he realizes that another man is involved! There are difficulties with this view however. Among them is the fact that it presumes that Mary would not have told Joseph anything about the angelic messages and would just leave him with this miserable idea that his betrothed had committed adultery. Moreover, there is the fact that this view, makes it difficult to understand how Matthew would consider Joseph “a just man” while following such a process. Would forgiveness and reconciliation not be called for? What would be so “just” about such a divorce (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 5:31, 32)? And would it not actually have to lead to the stoning of Mary (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24; Numbers 5:11-31)?

Recently, however, a better exegesis has come to the fore, one that already existed in the early church. 5 According to this view, Joseph is aware of what Matthew says in 1:18, that Mary is “with child of the Holy Spirit,” and respecting this awesome work of the Spirit, concludes that there can be no room for him in this mysterious future that Mary now has. Mary must have talked with Joseph about the words of the angel and the wonder that God was doing in her! Are we really to believe that the woman who composed that beautiful song in the presence of her sister Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-56) said nothing to her beloved in the six months that followed? And would it be a surprise that Joseph then, hearing about all this, concluded that if the Spirit had been involved in this part of the husband's role, there was no room anymore for him as husband? Being a man who is “righteous,” which according to Matthew means fearing God and doing His will, 6 he concludes that he is in the way of this mysterious work of God and that it must be God's will that he withdraw from the scene, even if that can only be done by way of divorce. Interesting in this regard is also the fact that we are told that the reason that Joseph chooses to go this way is not because he does not want Mary to be his wife anymore, but because he is afraid to take her as his wife (Matthew 1:18). His fear has to do with the fear of the Lord! And that makes it all the more significant then that an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and tells this righteous man what the will of the Lord really is, namely, that he not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. It brings out as well the real significance of the fact that Joseph is here explicitly referred to as “Joseph, son of David” (Matthew 1:20). The Joseph who feels that he is not needed because God has somehow mysteriously taken his place is told that he is needed after all because he is a son of David and the child who has been conceived by the Holy Spirit must be the son of David.7 Joseph cannot go away! Joseph, son of David, must be the husband of Mary so that Jesus might be the great Son of David!

Of course, it raises the question: if Joseph was not in a physical sense the father of Jesus, how then can it be said that Jesus is really of the house of David, even heir to the throne? Matthew never dares to say “Joseph the father of Jesus” (Matthew 1:16), and Luke sensitively adds the words “as was supposed” (Matthew 3:23).

In a classic work, J. Gresham Machen responds to our concerns:

He was a gift to the Davidic house, not less truly, but on the contrary in a more wonderful way, than if He had been descended from David by ordinary generation. Who can say that this New Testament representation is invalid? … the relation in which Jesus stood to Joseph … was much closer than is the case with ordinary adoption. By the virgin birth the whole situation was raised beyond ordinary analogies. In an ordinary instance of adoption there is another human being – the actual father – who disputes with the father by adoption the paternal relation to the child. Such was not the case with Joseph in his relationship to Jesus, according to the New Testament narratives. He alone and no other human being could assume the rights and the duties of a father with respect to this child. And this child Jesus could be regarded as Joseph's son and heir with a completeness of propriety which no ordinary adoptive relationship would involve.8

With this first wonderful chapter then, the stage is set for the drama that follows. It begins in the next chapter already with Herod the king conducting a desperate search for this new King of the Jews (Matthew 2:3), and it keeps on building up towards the cross in which the King of the Jews is rejected by His own people, and it ends with the King, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), about to ascend to His new throne!

One of its most disturbing messages, however, is how emphatically the people reject this King in the process. It is striking that in almost everyone of the passages in which the title “Son of David” is used, it is in the context of blindness. In Matthew 9:27, there are two blind men who call out “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” In Matthew 12:23, when Jesus heals a blind and dumb demoniac, the amazed people cry out “Can this be the Son of David?” In Matthew 15:22, it is after a passage in which the Pharisees are called “blind guides” (Matthew 15:14), and just before the blind and so many others are brought forward to be healed (Matthew 15:30), that a Canaanite woman comes forth and calls Jesus “O Lord, Son of David!” In Matthew 20:30, 31, it is two blind men sitting by the roadside who cry out: “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Matthew's message clearly is that while those who are blind are able to see Jesus, there are those who can see but are totally blind to the person and the mission of Jesus! The outcasts, underprivileged, and the heathen acknowledge Jesus in faith, but the Jewish leaders who have the Old Testament Scriptures have become blind guides who step forward only to show their unbelief and opposition. Even when there is that optimistic moment when the crowds call out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9) and the blind are still being healed (Matthew 21:14), the only response of the leaders is indignation (Matthew 21:15). So often the words of a prophet dear to Matthew lie close at hand, particularly this Isaianic theme about blindness:

You will be seeing, but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.9

What is it all but the fulfillment of prophecy? Even when the Lord Jesus makes one final appeal to them in that famous question of Matthew 22:44, based on Psalm 110, “If David thus calls Him Lord, how is He his son?,” those who suffer from spiritual blindness are struck dumb, having nothing more to say, so that in the next chapter Jesus confirms their blindness no fewer than five times (Matthew 23:16, 17, 19, 24, 26). And the crowds, seeing better only a short while ago (Matthew 21:8, 9), follow these blind guides, fall into a horrendous pit, and surrender even their own King (Matthew 27:24)!

The King of Israel🔗

But there is a peculiar irony in all of this. For Matthew's message is that this Jesus whom the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people crucified was the King of Israel (Matthew 21:5)! That message is left to ring out in the last chapters in various ways: from the lips of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:11), in the mocking of the soldiers (Matthew 27:29), on the plaque above His head (Matthew 27:37), and in the mockery of the chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:42). Whether meant as mockery or jest, Matthew leaves it all in his gospel so that the reader will get the message. The bottom line is uttered in a climactic fashion by that impartial bystander who sees the signs at the death of Christ and cries out: “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). What a tragic note! No one other than the One who was both Son of David and Son of God (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 89:26-27) has been crucified! And that by the people of David, the people of God!

But King He is nevertheless! Exactly in these ironic ways, God's purposes are fulfilled. As a result of the resurrection, the Son of David becomes the Son of God-in-power (Romans 1:4). He ascends into the heavens and reigns as King today (Ephesians 1:20-21)! Just compare the first book of the New Testament with the last book where He is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” (Revelations 5:5) and “the root and the offspring of David” (Revelations 22:16). The first word on Christ matches the last word: Jesus is the Davidic King who has been victorious!

The deep meaning of the whole Davidic monarchy is all fulfilled as Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God. If it can be said of the first son of David that he “sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father” (1 Chronicles 29:23), how much more can that not be said of He who is David's Son and David's Lord!? He unites with finality the throne of David and the throne of God. He is everything that all those other sons of David failed to be, everything that even David failed to be. The need for chastising the Davidic son of God has come to an end (2 Samuel 7:14b), for all obedience has been offered by this Divine and Davidic Son! Through His royal rule, God Himself is in control for ever!

And so we see it: the confession that Jesus Christ is King today has strong biblical roots! So many of the words the church rejoices in during these festive days have tremendous significance. The world may appear to be a chaos, many of the people of God may suffer. Yet all God's people have hope, for through God's Spirit they receive spiritual vision and with those eyes of faith they can see what the people of God did not perceive before: Jesus is King! Indeed, we see Jesus the King crowned with glory and honour in the heavens because of the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9)! And we know it in faith: there is Someone who is busy making order out of the chaos. With His eye on the church, He will lead the world to its final end. The suffering will lead to glory! For the Son of David reigns!


  1. ^ What follows is a summary of aspects of what I wrote in The Son of David, (1991, 77 pages), which was submitted in connection with graduate studies under Dr. J. Van Bruggen at the Theologische Universiteit van de Gereformeerde Kerken (Broederweg, Kampen). Due to space restrictions, I will only deal below with the gospel according to Matthew as it is here that the title is most predominant.
  2. ^ For a very significant article in this respect, see D.J. Verseput's "The Role and Meaning of the 'Son of God' Title in Matthew's Gospel," New Testament Studies, vol.33 (1987) pp. 592-556. Unfortunately, space prevents a discussion of its contents.
  3. ^ It should be noted that the intention of Matthew's genealogy is to present us with Jesus' royal line. The view that Matthew gives us Joseph's line and Luke gives us Mary's will not do since Luke tells us that it is Joseph who is of the house of David (1:27; 2:4), that Mary is at least partially of Aaronitic descent (1:5, 36), and that he is giving us the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph (3:23). It seems more likely then that whereas Matthew give us the royal line, Luke gives us the line of the actual physical descendants of David.
  4. ^ The vowels do not count in this process since they are considered secondary, having been added below the consonants by the Masoretes later. For another example of gematria, consider Revelation 13:18. Symbolic numbers were often used in Jewish literature around this time; in fact, in the opinion of one scholar, the New Testament stands out as a unique document precisely because it does not use them more often! See J.J. Davis, Biblical Numerology (Baker, 1989), p.11. For a review of eight different solutions to the significance of the number fourteen and a further defense of the position taken above, see W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison, The Gospel according to Matthew (I.C.C., 1988), pp. 161-5.
  5. ^ Eusebius, Basil, Ephraem, and Theophylactus held to this view. It has recently been defended by Dr. J. Van Bruggen in his Matteus: het Evangelie voor Israel (Kok, 1990), pp. 35-7.
  6. ^ Compare Matthew 10:41; 13:17, 43, 49; 23:29, 35; 25:37, 46.
  7. ^ To suggest that Jesus might depend on Mary for His Davidic descent will not do since according to Jewish sources, descent was not traced through the mother.
  8. ^ The Virgin Birth of Christ (Baker, 1985), pp. 129-30.
  9. ^ Isaiah 6:9-10 as quoted in Matthew 13:14-5; cf. Isaiah 29:18; 32:3; 35:5, 6; 42:16. It's significant to remember that the concern in Isaiah too is the house of David and the Davidic son, as is evident from 7:2, 13; 22:22; 55:3-5, and the numerous references to both Jerusalem and Judah.

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