During my research and writing of my Master’s Thesis today, I read about Psalm 110. Psalm 110 is considered a Messianic Psalm, which is a psalm that looks forward to a future figure from King Davids line that would redeem Israel and be her king. Note this King would come by Yahweh’s power and intervention, and not a purely human deed. It is quoted numerous times in the New Testament, beginning with Jesus’ debates with the religious readers in the synoptic Gospels in Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, and Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; and Hebrews 1:13. It is also alluded to in the New Testament in many other verses, such as Colossians 3:1, and Hebrews 8:1.
Here is the Psalm from the NRSV version:
1 The Lord says to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The Lord sends out from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your foes.
3 Your people will offer themselves willingly
on the day you lead your forces
on the holy mountains.[a]
From the womb of the morning,
like dew, your youth[b] will come to you.
4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”[c]
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter heads
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the stream by the path;
therefore he will lift up his head.
As you can see, it is a very victorious song. There is no doubt that Yahweh (referred to as the LORD in the Psalm) won through giving the Messiah victory. The Messiah got to sit at God’s right hand, his followers are tripping over themselves to get ready to fight for their king, and he shattered his enemies as a result.
This psalm in the New Testament reflects Jesus’ saving and exalted work as God’s Messiah. I do not doubt this interpretation of the psalm. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I believe he is Israel’s promised Messiah. Yet, here is a question I had to sit and wrestle with: Why is it I follow a “Messiah” who came to earth and the exact opposite happened in history?
What happened up until sundown on Good Friday? What were the results of all the miracles, teachings, and debating with the Pharisees and other Jews living in Palestine at the time? First, Jesus followers are not ready to fight for him when he gets arrested. One betrays him, the rest desert him, and to add insult to injury one of his closest followers, Peter, denies he knows him 3 times. Not exactly followers breaking down the doors to fight for their Messiah.
Second, his enemies do not overcome him in the way this Psalm reads. They beat him up, made false claims about him, got him falsely convicted, and his body is brutalized and shattered by being flogged. Did God save him at the last minute? Nope; he dies by being crucified by the Romans, the occupying forces ruling the Promised Land! No kicking them out, no military uprising, and no being saved from death by his Father.
Third, he does not seem to be exalted to God’s right hand at the end. He asks God during his dying moments why he was forsaken after being convicted of blasphemy. Hardly getting the right hand spot, never mind the spot of dying peacefully in bed. Where is the victory in Psalm 110?
On the one hand, I am thinking: Perhaps this purely has to do with his second coming? In Paul’s letters, the second coming is the time when Jesus comes as the warrior king and victory belongs to him. Revelation gives a picture of God and God’s Messiah being the victors. But then I realized if this is true, why bring it up during his earthly ministry at all? If Psalm 110 purely is referring to the Messiah’s second coming, as is what one would think interpreting it from a New Testament Christian perspective, then isn’t it irrelevant to his earthly ministry?
Jesus and his enemies could probably recite the entire Psalm in their sleep in Aramaic, Greek, and some in Hebrew. They knew what the Psalm talked about, and it wasn’t David’s descendant being executed by the ruling power. Yet Jesus talks about it just before he is about to go to his death he knows is merely days away.
I know what you all might be thinking: The resurrection changes everything, God’s plans are above and beyond human comprehension, and in death was victory. I understand all that as someone living~2000 years after the fact. But that does not take away from the oxymoron here.
From a purely human perspective, when I really think about it, Jesus was a sad martyr at the end of the day. His pre-resurrection existence was filled with good times, bad times, hopeful times, hopeless times, clarifying times, and frustrating times. And it ended with his death.
I do not believe we do his story justice by just saying, “Oh well, he was resurrected and exalted eventually. So, Good Friday is not that big of a deal.” To me that is almost hiding the issue under the bed or in the closet. Did Jesus hide this oxymoron under the bed? I do not think so.
I know how we talk about Jesus freely going to his death, and how he gladly endured the cross. I am sure He was happy knowing he died completing his Father’s mission. However, I also know that he was terrified and unhappy about it that entire day. After all in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father to take the cup of death away. Jesus did not say that night, “Oh well, Father, my resurrection that I predicted about to my apostles is only 3 days away. Let’s hurry up and get past all this so we get to the good part!” I will post the three versions of his agony in the Synoptic Gospels:
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Jesus did not want to face his death. In fact, he wanted to skip it altogether if the Father permitted it. He was distressed about it and agitated. In Luke’s Gospel he sweat drops of blood! This is a condition called hermatridosis. It is caused when the person is under intense stress, and has severe anxiety. Jesus was notshrugging it off because the resurrection was coming. Jesus is a human who was terrified and stressed about his impending doom, and asking his Father to put him on another path.
I am pulling it back out from under the bed and facing my Lord and Saviour’s death. It will not even be close to what He faced before the fact in Gethsemane, as I will never fully understand what he went through on his way to death, but I will not attempt to skip it or promote it as this great event when it was really a tragic and shocking event.
What happened on Good Friday? God tasted death. The Father lost his only Son. The Son cried out for help that did not come. The Holy Spirit his constant best friend. The Messiah was defeated. Israel rejected the man who was supposed to be their hope and rejected their God by doing so. The Romans executed God incarnate. Good Friday was a brutal and bloody and tragic example of where human sin goes on its worst days: Humanity killed God’s Son, the incarnate Creator of the universe. Before we get to Easter Sunday, we have to realize that Good Friday was not a good day in and of itself, and what happened to Jesus was not good, and it was not victory. It was evil and it was defeat.
That does not mean victory did not come! I am not saying the resurrection did not happen. But purely from the first century with no crystal ball telling it the future, it was a tragedy. To me, to not acknowledge it as such and not really admit the paradox and oxymoron of Good Friday in a way cheapens a very dark and solemn event. Jesus did not lessen it down, but faced it for what it was; I should too. You should too.
His first followers certainly did, as the only Scriptures they had from an Old Testament perspective, this is brand new. Technically only one passage, the servant song of Isaiah, points to martyrdom of one of God’s anointed and technically that anointed is not the Messiah. Only the Holy Spirit could intepret that passage for us as a prophechy of God’s Messiah. Beyond that we do not really see in the Psalms or the rest of the prophets something that could even hint that the Messiah was going to die. Suffer extremely? Psalm 22 is for that. Yet, that writer does not say he died. If anything, it looks more like God saved him in the nick of time.
Where was that last minute salvation for Jesus? Where was the army of Jesus’ followers running to his aid, swords drawn? Where are the women singing the songs of how Jesus defeated his 10s of 1000s, or 10s of millions that day? Did He die before “his Father” could get to that part? Or was God not really his Father to begin with?
All these questions are questions I’m sure his followers wrestled with on Saturday. No wonder Jesus’ followers needed Scripture lessons for next 40 days after His resurrection, and an extra 10 more before Pentecost. His death was not on their agenda, never mind what they hoped for. I honestly think it was a bigger shock for them than the resurrection as Old Testament and New Testament prior to Jesus’ death had cases of God bringing people back from the dead. People dying is one thing. The Messiah dying to the foreign, oppressive powers? That just did not happen. The Messiah-King doesn’t die at the hands of the foreign empire, the foreign empire dies to him!
We may have the luxury of almost 2000 years of church history to lay upon for comfort, they had nothing. They just had the hard, cold, disappointing reality on Saturday. I think if we do not let this become part of our reality, which is never all resurrections and victories, then I do not think we are really wrestling with the reality of what it means to have faith in Jesus. I also think we cheat our witness to our Jewish brothers and sisters if we do not really wrestle with this. Their argument is valid: How can Jesus be the Messiah? He died to the occupying forces! The Messiah does not do that; therefore, Jesus was not him.
I know what my answer is to all those questions. But I will not give it, as this is something God’s followers in Christ should all wrestle with. I may write it out in an aside later in the week, maybe not. But that is not what is important as the Christian life is not about having all the answers. If anything, it is about asking questions and then asking questions again. Here is one you probably weren’t asked on Sunday: How can we say Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, when the only thing confirmed as 100% historical fact is that he died to the forces occupying Israel’s Promised Land? Israel is still not delivered, and the world isn’t changed to reflect God’s complete rule. For these reasons, why is the joke not on you 2000 years later? After all, we are still waiting for the “expected image” at the top to happen.