Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted text in the New Testament. Why? And what did Yeshua mean when he quoted it to challenge the concept of a Davidic Messiah?
Listen to a study of Hebrews 4:14-5:6 which unwraps Psalm 110 and introduces the priesthood of Messiah. “The Messiah Psalm” offers discussion about the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 as it appears in the teaching of Yeshua (Mark 12) and the Epistle of Hebrews.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”;
just as He says also in another passage,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
–Hebrews 4:14-5:6 (NASB)
Lancaster teaches some really interesting things in this session, but we have to get there first.
As he often does, Lancaster begins by recapping his previous sermon, in this case by reminding us that we need a priest to approach God, to approach paradise, because we have big angels and a flaming sword keeping us out.
Lancaster also reminds us of who the original readership of the writer of the Hebrews epistle was, and it sure wasn’t us, that is, twenty-first century (Gentile) Christians. The original audience, from Lancaster’s point of view, were first century Hellenistic Jews living in Judea. They had just suffered the martyrdom of James the Just, brother of the Master, the head of the Apostolic Council, along with other important leaders, and they had either just been denied access to the Temple and Priesthood or they were about to be denied. The Sadducees, who controlled access to the Temple, never got along with the Master Yeshua (Jesus) because they deny the resurrection and the existence of the divine soul, both of which the Master taught.
From a Christian’s point of view, it’s very important to realize that the Jewish disciples of the Master did not have a problem with the Temple or the Priesthood at all. They only had a problem with the corruption of the Sadducees who at that point in history controlled access to the Priesthood and the Temple sacrifices. Most Christians read Hebrews as the anti-Levitical Priesthood and anti-Temple book in the Bible, so it’s important to point out these distinctions.
In the next part of the sermon, Lancaster takes us on a small but important detour away from Hebrews and into the Gospel of Mark:
They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”
–Mark 11:27-28 (NASB)
Lancaster says that Yeshua evaded the question for about a chapter and then got down to the heart of the matter.
By chapter 12, verse 34, Jesus had so deftly responded to all of his challengers that no one dared to ask him anymore questions. Then Jesus had a question of his own:
And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ [Messiah] is the son of David?”
–Mark 12:35 (NASB)
This is one of those questions that if we don’t consider the context of what was going on and we don’t apprehend the query in the manner of a first-century Jew, we’ll completely miss the meaning. Asking if the Messiah is the Son of David is like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Of course, he is! It’s incredibly obvious. So why did Jesus ask this question?
David himself said in the Holy Spirit,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.”’
David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.
–Mark 12:36-37 (NASB)
Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. It was common for him to refer to older scriptures, so on the surface, this doesn’t seem unusual. It was common for Paul and the other apostles to quote from previous scriptures, so again, it doesn’t seem to be an unusual event.
But of all the Old Testament scriptures quoted in the New Testament, Psalm 110 is the one quoted most often, being cited a total of fifteen times, with nine of those mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostles related to Psalm 110 as one of these most noteworthy Messianic prophesies (with Psalm 2 being the other). What was Jesus, and later the writer to the Hebrews, trying to say that we miss, especially in English?
Lancaster tells us that English language Bibles render Psalm 110 poorly because they generally translate the words “my Master” and “Hashem” both as “Lord”. This gives the impression that God is talking to Himself.
Lancaster reads the ESV translation of Psalm 110 but with some slight differences that render it more comprehensible. I’ll reproduce it here with those differences formatted in bold and underlined text.
Hashem says to my Master:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Hashem sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
Hashem has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Master is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
The craziness of this Psalm is that David, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, referred to his descendent, his “son” as it were, as his “Master.” No son is Master of his father. This was Yeshua’s point. The Messiah was surely the Son of David but Psalm 110 also understands that Messiah is more than the Son of David. If Messiah was only the Son of David, he would be seated at David’s right hand.
Lancaster read from a collection of traditional Jewish midrash which incredibly, has Abraham also asking why Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham ultimately, is seated at God’s right hand.
The Even Zohar, Rabbi Yeshiel Tzvi Lichtenstein in his commentary on Mark 12:25 states that Messiah was indeed the Son of David in the flesh and the Son of God in the Spirit.
Yeshua was confirming that he was the Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. Lancaster says it was Yeshua’s interpretation of Psalm 110 that resulted in his execution.
Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
–Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)
If the high priest had just asked “are you the Messiah” and Jesus had said “yes,” maybe he could have been wrong but it wouldn’t be blasphemy. But the high priest asked if Jesus was Messiah and Son of God, and Jesus answered yes. That’s what caused the high priest to condemn Jesus to death.
Now back to Hebrews 4 and our need for a high priest.
Lancaster spent a fair amount of time stating that Jesus had to be fully a human being, not just God or an angel masquerading as a human being. When Jesus was tempted, it had to be completely possible for him to give in to temptation and sin. It’s not temptation if there isn’t a real risk of sinning and if it was actually impossible for Jesus to sin, then he wasn’t really tempted, and therefore, he wasn’t really human. It had to be very possible for Jesus to sin, just like the rest of us. The only difference is that unlike the rest of us, Jesus passed every test and never, ever sinned.
This is where I got stuck last week, since it seems like someone who passed every test still wouldn’t be able to empathize with all of humanity because only he passed all the tests. The rest of us fail.
But in his sermon, as Lancaster entered Hebrews 5, he said this was a very important point. When the writer of Hebrews describes the high priest in verses 1 and 2, he’s not thinking of the then corrupt Sadduceeian high priest, but the ideal among high priests, Aaron. Ironically, one of Aaron’s highest qualifications, according to Lancaster, for the high priesthood was his sin in the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). It was because Aaron sinned that he could empathize with the weakness of the Israelites and have compassion as he atoned for their sins.
But this presents a problem, at least in an eternal sense.
…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
–Hebrews 5:2-3 (NASB)
Aaron, or the idealized high priest, could “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but on the other hand, he still had to offer sacrifices for himself because he too sinned.
While Aaron was the greatest and most noble of the high priests, there was still one who had better qualifications, one who could also empathize and “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but ”One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Verse 5 quotes from Psalm 110 and verse 6 is the writer’s proof text:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
Lancaster leaves us hanging at the meaning of “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” so I suppose we’ll have to wait until next week to get into what all that’s about.
What Did I Learn?
I liked the “straightening out” of Psalm 110 so that it becomes easier to tell “who’s who” in the text. Also, I found the emphasis of Lancaster (and the writer of Hebrews) on the humanity of Jesus compelling. I’ve heard Christians refer to Jesus again and again as a “man-god,” which makes him sound like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel rather than who he was and is. It’s fascinating to consider Jesus, our high priest in the Heavenly Court, as fully a human being and out of that sinless humanity, he is able to empathize with flawed and failing people in his being the atonement for our sins. I still struggle with how one who has never failed, as Aaron failed, could ever really feel empathy and completely understand, not only real temptation and the risk of failure, which Jesus did experience, but also how we actually, miserably fail, which Jesus never experienced.
I can imagine this interpretation presenting some difficulties for many Christians relative to the traditional understanding of the “Godhead” and Trinitarian doctrine. I don’t think Lancaster is challenging this necessarily, but he is forcing us (me, anyway) to view the nature and character of Messiah differently. He was, and arguably still is, fully and completely human and the Son of David according to the flesh, but also fully and completely the Son of God according to the Spirit. How this works, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows, although there are plenty of opinions to go around, including the denial of the Master’s divine nature completely.
I can only imagine that Lancaster in his analysis of the Book of Hebrews, may have taken this one on as his sermon series progressed. Right now, at the end of sermon thirteen, we’re hanging at the priesthood of Melchizedek. Next week, Hashem be willing, we’ll learn more.