Son of David

The gospel of Matthew calls Jesus the “son of David,” and in his life story, demonstrates what it means to be the king of Israel and the “Son of God.” Traditionally, this last designation is linked with the royal line; but in Matthew’s account, the old understanding of what it means to be the Messiah is radically altered.

The “son of David” revealed in Matthew is far more than the ruler of Israel and the nations. He is a king of a very different kind.

Nevertheless, Matthew demonstrates that he is the Messiah and heir of David’s throne by applying scriptural citations and allusions to Jesus of Nazareth, the very one who is destined to die on a Roman cross.

For example, at his baptism, the Spirit descends on him “like a dove,” and the voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I delight.” The description combines 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 the gospel account does not simply pile on proof texts to validate Christ’s genealogical credentials. By combining these two prophecies, a figure is presented who fulfills both roles as king and as the Servant of Yahweh.


First, he is the “son of David” destined to reign from Zion. Second, he is the “Suffering Servant” described in the book of Isaiah, 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 on the surface these two roles are disparate, in Jesus, they are inextricably linked.

The same words are heard again at his Transfiguration when “a voice out of the cloud said: 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 one who reigns at God’s “right hand.” This is the psalm of David that promises one of his descendants will reign on his throne - (Psalm 2:1-9).


As predicted by the Psalmist, Jesus endures the conspiracy to overthrow God’s “anointed one” when the religious leaders of Israel determined 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).

And that is how the early church interpreted the 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 combines the image of the Suffering Servant with the royal figure in the second Psalm. But it is not just the nations of the earth that rage “against Yahweh and His anointed,” but especially the priestly LEADERS OF ISRAEL.

His murder by the “chief priests is anticipated in Christ’s parable about the vineyard and its tenants. At harvest time, the owner sends several servants to “receive the fruit” that is due. However, each time he does so, the “tenants” abuse and even kill his envoys.

Finally, he sends his “son,” expecting they will respect his heir. But the “tenants” are bent on “seizing the inheritance” for themselves no matter what, so they murder his “son” - (Matthew 21:33-45).

The parable echoes the words from the second Psalm that describe the conspiracy against “Yahweh’s anointed.” And Christ’s parable is directed against the very ones who are plotting his death, and “when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.


Jesus certainly is the heir of David destined to reign forever. But before his exaltation, he must suffer as the Servant of Yahweh,” and that is precisely what occurs in Matthew’s account.

He is exalted and given “all power in heaven and on earth” only after his death and resurrection. Paradoxically, he conquers his enemies by undergoing an unjust and shameful death, even for his enemies, by dying for them rather than slaying his enemies.

And since his resurrection, he has reigned on the Davidic throne as the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” And this is why since then he has sent his followers to herald the good news of God’s kingdom “to the uttermost parts of the earth” – (Psalm 2:12, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-9).

The final act in Matthew is the “commissioning” of the disciples. The picture is not of a political revolutionary, but of an already ruling monarch sending his envoys throughout his domain to announce his reign – (Matthew 28:18-20).

Thus, Jesus IS the heir to the messianic throne, the “son of David.” But this necessitates his first becoming the “Servant of the Lord,” the one who suffers for His people and his enemies. And so, the royal road to Zion lies through Calvary.


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