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What Kind of King?

“It’s the Son of David!”

What might someone be thinking of and hoping for when making such an exclamation?

Most often I think of early (first century) Jewish messianism in military terms: when the son of David comes, he’s the one who will muster an army to kick out the Romans. (Maybe that’s why Mark seems somewhat ambivalent about the title.)

But there’s another prong to Davidic expectation. Matthew develops it in a couple of places. It has to do with David as exorcist and healer.

In Matthew 12 we read of an instance in which people bring Jesus a person who was demon possessed so that he could not see or speak. Jesus healed him. Their response is this:

All the crowds were amazed and said, “Might this be the Son of David?”

Son of David meant exercising an authority that subdued hostile spirits.

Son of David meant exercising an authority that mended broken bodies.

This prompts an alternative rendering of Jesus’s story by the Pharisees: “No, he’s casting out demons by the authority of the prince of demons.”

Jesus enters this argument. It is not by Satan’s power that Satan’s minions are cast out. A better interpretation is this: “If by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Son of David means the man who has been empowered by the Spirit to rule the world for God.

Son of David means king, and the kingdom over which he reigns is God’s.

The question of Jesus’s authority is the question of kingship: who is ruling, and whose power is on display?

The son of David title is one that encompasses not simply a vague promise of a future king, but one that has specific content. David’s son will rule the spiritual forces that war against the thriving of humanity on earth.

The son of David will receive the Spirit of God–like David did. And will therefore be empowered to rule the world on God’s behalf.

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7 thoughts on “What Kind of King?

  1. Was this expectation connected at all to David’s ability to give Saul relief from the evil spirit that came on him? Curious how this expectation came to be associated with David…

    1. Hi, Ben,

      Sorry to be late in getting back to you. I think that there was probably some connection along those lines. Actually, Solomon’s wisdom was also amplified as giving him control over evil spirits, so the connection of Jesus with “son of David” might be pointing to the tradition of David’s other son–Solomon.

  2. How do you relate Jesus as King to the origin of the Israeli kingship in 1 Samuel 8 with Saul? “There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge before us and fight our battles.”

    1. There are various views on kingship in the OT. The initiation of the institution, with Saul in particular, is definitely clouded in Israel’s desire to be like the nations. This gets things precisely backward: Israel was supposed to be the kind of people whom the nations would look to to emulate.

      It’s interesting that when David comes on the scene with Goliath he proclaims that victory does not come by sword or spear, but by the hand of God.

      My partners in crime and I do some reflection on this as we move through the 1 Samuel texts in the LectioCast. You might give that a listen!

  3. So I guess I asked the right question. Lots of good stuff on the ‘cast, yea, thx. My point here was pretty much that the Israelite kingship came from men and not from God, even against the will of God , as I heard you guys agreeing. So I would have thought the point was that Jesus’ is the Kingdom that has no king. Nobody taking your sons & daughters, etc?

      1. And so there were: Saul, David, and Solomon, which God anointed … I see that God has a habit, often suprisingly distressing, of doing what people ask. But the melekhood was and is a secular office, yes? The Biblical origin would be Nimrod, who is pronounced the founder of Akkad, Nineveh, etc.

        I like what you guys said about the relationship issues, the Israelites of Samuel’s day needed to interpose a mediator, whereas Jesus seems to be saying you don’t need a human mediator, you can approach God directly your own self. It’s all in what you call stuff I suppose, but it seems to me that sovereignty language confuses the issue, is all.

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