Over and over in the gospels, people cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, you son of David!”
Why is the Messiah’s title as David’s son the one that blind men and a Canaanite woman latched on to as they asked for healing? (Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mark 10:46-48; Luke 18:35-39). Why did the people shout, “Hosanna to the son of David!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and why did that make the chief priests and the scribes so indignant? (Matt. 21:9, 15; Mark 11:10). What is the significance of this title?
It would be easy to gloss over Jesus’ title as David’s son, simply taking it as fulfillment of a few prophecies that said Messiah (the Hebrew equivalent to “Christ,” which means “anointed”) would come from King David’s descendants. But the Biblical writers treat this as a highly significant fact, and I think it’s worth looking into more closely.
Fulling A Covenant Promise
I’ve talked about the covenant aspect of Jesus being descended from David in several posts already, including “Inheriting Covenants.” The Lord made a covenant with David that He would establish his offspring’s kingdom forever, and that connected with the promise of Messiah (2 Sam. 7:12-15).
Yahweh has sworn to David in truth. He will not turn from it: “I will set the fruit of your body on your throne. If your children will keep my covenant, my testimony that I will teach them, their children also will sit on your throne forever more.” (Ps. 132:11-12, all verses from WEB translation)
David’s descendants eventually fell into disobedience and lost the physical kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But Jesus — a sinless, obedient son of David — inherited the covenant promise. According to Peter, David actually knew that would be the end result of God’s promises to him about his descendants.
“Brothers, I may tell you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul wasn’t left in Hades, and his flesh didn’t see decay.” (Acts 2:29-31)
The fact that Messiah would come from David’s lineage and inherit this covenant is important enough that the glorified Jesus, when sharing His Revelation with John, chose “offspring of David” as one of the titles by which to identify Himself (Rev. 22:16). Covenants are a big deal spiritually, and people recognized this in Jesus’ time. They knew that Jesus being a son of David, and more specifically the prophesied Messianic son, meant a great deal. If He was this son of David, then it meant he would inherit the covenant and rule forever.
Key of Davidic Authority
David’s covenant involves authority, ruling the kingdom of Israel (2 Chr. 7:17-18; 13:5; 21:7). This is an everlasting covenant, though the primary fulfillment of it now involves Jesus ruling over spiritual Israel. That Jesus would inherit this covenant was one of the things the angel specifically told His mother Mary.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.” (Luke 1:32-33)
There are many prophecies connecting the Messiah to David’s throne (Is. 9:7; 16:5 and Jer. 23:5, for example). The New Testament writers were careful to point out exactly how fully Jesus fit His title “son of David” because that carries with it a great deal of authority, responsibility, and proof of Him being the true Messiah.
Jesus even describes Himself as “He who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7). This echoes a promise to a man named Eliakim, where God used the key of David as a symbol of power and authority (Is. 22:20-22). Acknowledging Jesus Christ as David’s son involves acknowledging His right to rulership and authority as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Son and Lord; God and Man
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus getting the scribes and Pharisees into a discussion about the Christ being David’s son. This wasn’t in response to one of the questions they asked Him; He brought it up Himself, presumably to make sure they talked about it. This was important.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?”
They said to him, “Of David.”
He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
No one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man dare ask him any more questions from that day forward. (Matt. 22:35-37, see also Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:39-44)
This passage might seem a bit confusing at first, but Jesus is not contradicting the idea that the Messiah is David’s son. He’s pointing out that the Messiah is both David’s son and David’s lord — that He is both man and God. The truth that Jesus Christ is God’s son and therefore also God is one that already had people wanting to kill him (John 5:17-18), but it was one He could prove from scripture. That Jesus was both fully God and fully man is a foundational truth of Christianity, and it’s one that Paul preached by talking about Him as son of David and son of God.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Good News of God, which he promised before through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the offspring of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:1-4)
Jesus title “son of David” is about so much more than the simple fact that He could claim descent from Israel’s greatest king. It’s about God keeping His covenant promises and Christ as inheritor of the covenants. It’s about Jesus’ having all authority as the rightful King of God’s people and eventually the whole world. And it powerfully affirms that Jesus is both man and God, as David’s son and his Lord.