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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Is Jesus Currently on David's Throne?: Peter's Use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30

by Michael J. Vlach 
Twitter: @mikevlach

The purpose of this blog post is to examine Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 with a view toward grasping Peter’s understanding of the throne of David concept.

Acts 2 describes the baptizing and filling ministry of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. This is all related to Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, who currently is at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the One who has poured forth the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The culmination of Peter’s argument in Acts 2 is found in his declaration that God has made the resurrected Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Three quotations from the Psalms are found in Acts 2:29-36— Psalms 16, 132, and 110. The focus of this blog post, though, is on Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 and how this relates to the throne of David issue. Peter declared:

And so, because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:30).

Much debate exists on the implications of this verse, mostly concerning whether it implies that Jesus is currently sitting upon David’s throne today in heaven. Does Peter’s quotation of Psalm 132:11 indicate a change or advancement concerning the concept of David’s throne from a physical-earthly reality to a spiritual one. This topic involves both how Peter uses Psalm 132:11 and what this means for understanding the throne of David.

To understand Peter’s uses of Psalm 132:11 I will present both the context of the Old Testament passage and the New Testament situation in which Psalm 132:11 is quoted.  I will argue that Peter quotes Psalm 132:11 contextually, and he is not transcending or changing the meaning of the throne of David from its normal meaning of an earthly throne. Thus, Acts 2:30 is an example of a New Testament person quoting an Old Testament prophetic text contextually with the expectation that this Old Testament text will be fulfilled literally in the future.

Psalm 132

Psalm 132 is a psalm of ascents where the psalmist pleads with God to remember David and the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Sam. 7). As The Moody Bible Commentary states, “This psalm is the climax of the Psalms of Ascents. In it the psalmist emphasizes that all of Israel’s future hopes are dependent upon the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant” (p. 866).

After noting the humility of David (vv. 1-9) the author of Psalm 132 states:

For the sake of David Your servant,
Do not turn away the face of Your anointed.
 The Lord has sworn to David
A truth from which He will not turn back:
“Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.
“If your sons will keep My covenant
And My testimony which I will teach them,
Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever” (vv. 10-12).

Peter will focus mostly on verse 11 and its statement that God will set a descendant(s) upon David’s throne. The context of the Davidic Covenant and Davidic throne is 2 Samuel 7 (cf. 1 Chron. 17). Second Samuel 7:16 states, “Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” Thus, Psalm 132:10-12 is reaffirming key aspects of the Davidic Covenant first given in 2 Samuel 7.

An inductive study of various Bible passages reveals that the throne of David is related to both function and location. Functionally, it will involve both kingly authority and rule. Concerning location, it will involve an earthly geographical realm. The one who functionally rules from David’s throne will do so from and over the location of Israel. These two aspects are found in Luke 1:32b-33 when the angel Gabriel told Mary:

the Lord God will give Him [Jesus] the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32b-33).

Thus:
            Function: “He will reign”

            Location: “over the house of Jacob”

On multiple occasions, the throne of David is linked geographically with Jerusalem and Israel. Second Samuel 3:10 speaks of “the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” With 1 Kings 9:5 God told Solomon, “then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” Jeremiah 17:25 links the throne of David with “Judah” and “Jerusalem.” On nine occasions David’s throne is called the “throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:4; 8:20, 25; 9:5; 10:9; 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12; 2 Chron 6:10, 16), emphasizing that this throne is earthly in location. It should also be noted that this throne in Israel will eventually impact the whole world. Psalm 72:8 indicates that the reign of the Messiah will extend throughout the whole earth:

May he also rule from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

This locational emphasis concerning David’s throne is important since some have tried to argue that this throne is only about function, not location. But this is not true and is a false dichotomy. Both function and location are important.

Also, since the Davidic throne is established by God it is called “the throne of the Lord” in 1 Chronicles 29:23. This indicates the throne of David has the Lord as its source. It is the Davidic throne that the Lord has established on earth. First Chronicles 29:23 is not a statement that the Lord’s throne in heaven is blurred into the Davidic throne so that there is no distinction between them.

Acts 2:30-36

With Acts 2, Peter argued that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah and Lord who has poured out the Holy Spirit upon His people. Just prior to Acts 2:30, Peter quoted Psalm 16 to show that David consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-29). Then with Acts 2:30-32 Peter stated:

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 

Peter said David was a “prophet” who consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, we have inspired commentary from Peter concerning what David believed about the coming Messiah. David possessed a specific messianic hope and predicted the resurrection of the Messiah we now know as Jesus.

With Acts 2:30-32 Peter quotes both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 16:10. The former is a Davidic Covenant verse, and the latter emphasizes God’s “Holy One” who will not undergo decay.

Concerning Psalm 132:11, Peter draws upon the truth that God swore to David to sit one of David’s descendants on David’s throne in Jerusalem. So when Peter combines Psalm 132:11 with Psalm 16:10 he seems to be saying this: Since David knew the Messiah is destined to sit upon and reign from David’s throne forever, the Messiah must be raised from the dead. A dead Messiah cannot sit upon David’s throne, so the Messiah must be resurrected. Peter is not saying that Jesus currently is upon David’s throne, but the resurrection means God’s promise to seat a descendant of David upon David's throne forever is alive and well. 

Peter’s understanding of the Davidic throne in Acts 2 is consistent with the meaning of Psalm 132:10-12 and 2 Samuel 7. Nothing in Acts 2 indicates a change or addition has occurred concerning the Davidic throne concept.

Addressing the Heavenly Davidic Throne View

This understanding above concerning an earthly Davidic throne seems natural and likely. But not everyone accepts it. Some believe that Peter’s quotations of Psalm 132:11 (in Acts 2:30) and Psalm 110:1 (in Acts 2:34-35a) indicate a reinterpretation of the Davidic throne from an earthly reality to a heavenly reality. This is often seen in non-dispensational understandings of the kingdom in which physical realities are often spiritualized or reinterpreted to spiritual realities. For example, concerning Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 2, George Ladd said: “This involves a rather radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament prophecies, but no more so than the entire reinterpretation of God’s redemptive plan by the early church” (A Theology of the New Testament, 373).

For some theologians, David’s throne is now a heavenly entity and no longer refers to an earthly throne or position of authority in Jerusalem. Another view is that Peter is adding a spiritual dimension to the Davidic throne while not denying an earthly aspect of it in the future (some Progressive Dispensationalists). Both understandings, though, affirm that a heavenly Davidic throne is in view in Acts 2:30-36.

The argument that Peter is viewing David’s throne as a heavenly reality in Acts 2:30-36 is sometimes linked with the fact that Jesus’ session in heaven coincides with Peter’s reference to David’s throne in Acts 2:30. This understanding seems to rely on the following logic:

            The resurrected and ascended Jesus is now heaven.
            Peter quotes a passage involving the Davidic throne
Therefore, Jesus must be sitting upon David’s throne in heaven. 

But instead of simply linking heaven with David’s throne, it is more likely that Peter is making a cause-and-effect argument here. Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a step in the process to Jesus reigning from David’s throne in the future, which is what Psalm 110:1-2 actually predicts. Thus, the correct link between Jesus, heaven, and David’s throne is this—the resurrected Jesus who currently is in heaven is destined to reign upon David’s throne.

Notice that Peter does not say Jesus has been exalted to the throne of David in Acts 2:33. Instead, Peter says Jesus has been “exalted to the right of hand of God.” The Scripture consistently presents God’s throne as existing in heaven. Isaiah 66:1a states, “Heaven is my throne.” Psalm 11:4 declares, “the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” Yet David’s throne is consistently presented as an earthly reality involving Israel and the nations upon the earth (2 Sam. 3:10; 1 Kings 2:12; Jer. 17:25; Luke 1:32-33; Matt. 25:31).

Also, Peter’s emphasis in Acts 2:33b is not on Jesus reigning. Instead, Jesus is receiving and pouring forth the Holy Spirit. One would expect a statement about Jesus reigning if Peter linked the right hand of God with the Davidic throne. In addition, after Acts 2:30-36 there are thirteen statements that Jesus is at the “right hand” of God, but none say He is sitting upon the throne of David. The New Testament writers seem intentional about identifying Jesus as being at the right hand of God but not on the throne of David.

Thrones and Sitting

Another argument for the heavenly Davidic throne view concerns the issue of sitting, which Peter mentions concerning both David’s throne and the right hand of God:

David’s throne: to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:30).

God’s throne: “Sit at My right hand, (Acts 2:34).

Since both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 110:1 speak of the Messiah as sitting in these contexts some think the Davidic throne of Psalm 132:11 and the right hand of the father of Psalm 110:1 must be the same. Or to put another way:
           
            Psalm 132:11 speaks of a descendant of David sitting on David’s throne.
            Psalm 110:1 speaks of the Messiah sitting at the right hand of God.
            Therefore, David's throne and the right hand of the Father are the same.

But the act of sitting alone does not imply the two thrones are the same. The act of sitting can apply to the Father’s throne in heaven (Psalm 110:1) and David’s throne in Jerusalem (Psalm 132:11). In fact, Jesus makes such a distinction in Revelation 3:21:

He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne [David’s throne], as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne [Father’s throne].

So the two thrones are distinguished. Also, it appears that the act of sitting applies to two different thrones at two different times. Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father now (“I also overcame”), and will in the future grant to overcomers the right to sit upon the throne of David (“I will grant to him”).

Another point to consider is that Jesus himself placed His Davidic throne assumption in the future in Matthew 25:31:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

Here Jesus’ sitting upon His glorious throne must be future since it is linked with His coming in glory with His angels. Matthew 25:32 then links this throne with the judgment of the nations, which is a future event on earth.

Matthew 19:28 also teaches that Jesus’ Davidic throne reign is future and connected with other future events such as the coming “regeneration” or renewal of the earth (palingenesia) and the rule of the apostles over the twelve tribes of Israel:

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Finally, Psalm 110:1-2 explicitly teaches that the Messiah would have a session at God’s right hand in heaven “until” the time Messiah begins His earthly reign from Jerusalem. So why would a quotation of Psalm 110 by Peter be taken to mean that Jesus is upon David’s throne in heaven now? Psalm 110 predicted that a session of the Messiah at God’s right hand (v. 1) will eventually lead to a reign from Jerusalem (v. 2). Also, Hebrews 10:12-13 states that Jesus is at the right hand of God “waiting” to reign:

but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of Godwaiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet

The right hand of God is linked with God’s throne in heaven. It is not simply a place of authority with no regard for a locale. In Acts 7:49, Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1 saying, “Heaven is My [God’s] throne.” Then while being stoned we are told that Stephen saw “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and then he said, “‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God at God’s heavenly throne. So just as David’s throne has a locale in Jerusalem, the right hand of God has a heavenly locale at God’s throne in heaven. These thrones are not the same—one is heavenly and the other is on earth.

Conclusion

The purpose of Acts 2:30-36 (and all of Acts 2) is to show the people of Israel that the resurrected Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. Jesus is at the right hand of God and He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon His followers. Peter is not stating that Jesus has assumed a transcended, heavenly Davidic throne to rule over a redefined spiritual kingdom.

In sum, Peters’ quotation of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 is contextual and relies upon the literal meaning of Psalm 132:11 which speaks of a descendant of David sitting upon the Davidic throne in Israel. Peter argues that Jesus is the One destined to reign upon the Davidic throne on earth. Because of this, Jesus could not remain dead after His crucifixion. He must be resurrected. So Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 is an example of a New Testament person (Peter) relying upon the literal meaning of an Old Testament text (Psalm 132:11), and seeing the fulfillment of this passage as needing to occur in the future.

This understanding does not mean there are no Davidic Covenant implications in this age. Jesus, the ultimate Son of David, has been manifest and we know who He is (Matt. 1:1). He is now at the right hand of God in heaven as David predicted (see Psalm 110:1). Also, the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit which stems from the Messiah is being poured out on all believers today. Gentiles, in addition, are experiencing messianic salvation as Gentiles in this age (Acts 5:14-18; with Amos 9:11-12). But to hold that Acts 2:30-36 indicates Jesus is sitting upon and reigning from David’s throne in this age goes beyond what Peter in Acts 2 is saying.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Paul's Use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27

by Michael J. Vlach

One example where a New Testament writer views an Old Testament prophetic passage as needing to be fulfilled literally in the future is Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

This statement by Paul comes in the context of his discussion concerning why God’s Word has not failed concerning Israel in Romans 9-11. In showing how Paul uses this passage I start with explaining Isaiah 59:20-21 in its original context.

Isaiah 59:20-21 in Context

Isaiah 59:20-21 reads:

“A Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord.
21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”

The last two major sections of Isaiah are chapters 49-57 and 58-66. Isaiah 49-57 focuses on the coming Suffering Servant who will vicariously atone for the sins of His people. We now know that Jesus is this Suffering Servant. Isaiah 58-66 then focuses on the glorious kingdom blessings that will come to Israel and the world. Israel will be restored and the nations of the earth will then bless Israel.

Together, these two sections focus on salvation and kingdom. So when Isaiah 59:20-21 will speak of the Lord’s salvation of Israel, the backdrop of this truth is the work of the Suffering Servant.

Isaiah 59 is a strategic chapter since it addresses: (1) Israel’s sin (vv. 1-8); (2) Israel’s national confession of guilt (vv. 9-15a); (3) the Lord’s rescue of Israel (vv. 15b-19); and (4) the salvation of Israel and Israel’s inclusion into the New Covenant (vv. 20-21).

Starting with Isaiah 59:15b, the Lord, who is presented as Israel’s interceder, is said to be displeased that there was “no justice” and “that there was no one to intercede” for Israel. So He decides to act alone on Israel’s behalf against the nations. This interceding on Israel’s behalf will include both national deliverance from Israel’s enemies and spiritual salvation for Israel from her sins.

Isaiah 59:16-19 emphasizes the coming wrath of God against the nations, even distant nations—“Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; to the coastlands He will make recompense” (59:18). This is clearly a physical deliverance from oppression. This also is the message of Zechariah 14 and Isaiah 63:3-6 which speak of the Lord’s physical deliverance of Israel from her enemies. Also, in the New Testament Zacharias declared that the coming Messiah (Jesus) would bring “Salvation from our enemies” (Luke 1:71). He also said that in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant God would “grant us that we being rescued from the hand of our enemies” (Luke 1:74).

Yet in addition to national deliverance from enemies, the “Redeemer” of Isaiah 59:20 is also a Savior from sin. Much of Isaiah 58-66 concerns Israel’s sinfulness and Israel’s national confession of sin. Isaiah 59 began with, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (v. 1). That this includes salvation from sin is supported by the fact that Isaiah 59:1-15a is all about Israel’s sin and confession of sin. So the “Redeemer” of verse 20 is more than a deliverer from oppressing nations He is also a Savior from sin. This Redeemer is also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53 who “bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors” (53:12). Also, this “Redeemer” comes “to those who turn from transgression in Jacob” (59: 20). So the Redeemer’s coming to Zion is linked with forgiveness of sins in Israel.

This salvation that the Redeemer brings is linked with Israel’s inclusion and participation in the New Covenant—“‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit which is upon you. . . .’” (21a). The “My covenant” here most probably is the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31, 34 explicitly links the New Covenant with Israel’s forgiveness of sins. Ezekiel 36 also links the Holy Spirit with the New Covenant—I will put My Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:27a). This inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant is also linked with Abrahamic Covenant blessings since the New Covenant is an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In sum, Isaiah 59 reveals that Israel’s sin will one day be recognized by the people of Israel. When this occurs, the Lord will act alone on Israel’s behalf to rescue Israel from her enemies. He also comes to Israel with salvation, a salvation based on the work of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53. This salvation means inclusion into the New Covenant.

Romans 11:26-27

So how does Isaiah 59:20-21 connect with Romans 11? In Romans 9-11 Paul addressed the situation of Israel’s unbelief and whether God’s Word has failed (see Rom. 9:1-6). He explains that Israel missed God’s righteousness since the nation pursued righteousness through the works of the Mosaic Law and not through faith in Jesus who is the end of the Law (see Rom. 9:30–10:4).

Paul explains that God’s Word has not failed. In doing so he appeals to past, present, and future truths. Concerning the past, Israel is still related to adoption, the covenants, the promises, temple service, the patriarchs, and Jesus the Messiah (see Rom. 9:4-5). Concerning the present God has kept a remnant of believing ethnic Israelites (Rom. 11:1-6). This remnant is a guarantee that God has not permanently rejected the nation Israel. In the present God is also saving many Gentiles. In fact, the salvation of Gentiles is being used by God to make corporate Israel jealous (11:11).

Concerning the future, God will save and reinstall national Israel to Abrahamic covenant blessings after the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:17-25). This “fullness of the Gentiles” relates to God’s purposes for Gentiles in this age including their salvation and role of provoking Israel to jealousy. This leads to the salvation of Israel as Paul states in 11:25-26a:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved.

“All Israel” in Scripture refers to the nation Israel as a whole at any given point in time when Israel is being addressed. Since the context is future-oriented here, the “all Israel” refers to Israel as a whole at some point in the future.

To support the assertion that “all Israel will be saved” Paul draws upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Here Paul relies upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in a contextual way. The Isaiah passage predicted a coming salvation of Israel as a corporate entity that reverses the nation’s unbelief and that is Paul’s point too. The coming of the Redeemer, who is Jesus the Messiah, will be linked with the salvation of national Israel and Israel’s inclusion in the New Covenant. That is the message of both Isaiah and Paul. To compare:

Isaiah 59:20-21: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.

Romans 11:26-27: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.

 “To” or “From” Zion

While the meaning of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27 is established, I need to mention some issues concerning “Zion.” Isaiah 59:20 says the Deliverer will come “to Zion,” but Paul says the Deliverer will come “from [ek] Zion.” Zion is consistently used of an earthly mountain in Jerusalem. But some think that since Paul says the Deliverer is returning “from Zion,” that “Zion” in Romans 11:26 must refer to Heaven. If this is the case the normal earthly sense of “Zion” would not occur in 11:26.

But a heavenly understanding of “Zion” is probably not accurate. Paul’s use of “Zion” in Romans 9:33 concerned earthly Zion, and Paul is probably not changing the meaning of “Zion” in 11:26. But why does Paul say “from” and not “to” concerning Zion? Is Paul being creative in his interpretation?

I do not think so. Paul may be drawing upon Psalm 14:7 which states that Israel’s salvation will “come from Zion.” But even if he is not, the different prepositions (“to” and “from”), while acknowledged, should not be pushed too much. The Old Testament prophets spoke of both a coming “to Zion” and “from Zion,” almost equally with no radical distinction between the two.

Paul’s use of “from Zion” could emphasize Jesus’ rule from earthly Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) as a result of Jesus’ return “to Zion.” In Psalm 110:1-2, the Messiah is said to rule “from Zion” in Jerusalem after a session in heaven at God’s right hand. But for this rule “from Zion” to occur a return “to Zion” (i.e. Jerusalem) had to happen.

Isaiah himself declared both concepts. In addition to saying the Deliverer comes “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), Isaiah also says, “For the law will go forth from Zion” (Isa. 2:3, emphasis added). So the prepositions “to” and “from” are closely related.

In sum, the statements that the Deliverer is coming “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20) and “from Zion” (Rom. 11:27) are closely linked and can be harmonized. Paul could refer to Jesus’ rule “from Zion” (earthly Jerusalem) that is connected with Jesus’ second coming “to” Jerusalem as stated in Isaiah 59:20.

Conclusion


Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27 is contextual. He relies upon Isaiah’s intent. This is an example of a New Testament writer expecting a literal fulfillment of an Old Testament prophetic text that has not been fulfilled yet.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

“By Which a Man May Live”: The Meaning of Leviticus 18:5

by Michael J. Vlach

Leviticus 18:5 stresses the importance of keeping God’s Law during the Mosaic era as the basis for living. Its truths also appear in Ezekiel 20:11, 13, and 21. Paul even alludes to Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. The verse reads:

So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

Not all agree on the meaning of Leviticus 18:5. Sometimes this verse is used to support the idea that eternal life is based on Law-keeping. But there is a more accurate understanding What Leviticus 18:5 is stating is this: As God’s covenant people, Israel is in a relationship with God. Since Israel already belonged to God, Israel (both corporately and individually) is to obey Him by keeping all His commandments. Obeying God’s commandments will result in Israel remaining in and living abundantly in the land of promise associated with the Abrahamic Covenant.

What follows is an attempt to support this position.

Israel Belongs to God
The first seventeen chapters of Leviticus focused on God’s holiness and the significance of offering and sacrifices. God’s presence among His people means His people are to be holy (see Lev. 11:44-45). Leviticus 18:1-5 then functions as a preamble to what follows concerning God’s expectations for His people, Israel. Three times God declared the foundational truth that He is Israel’s God:

18:2: Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “I am the Lord your God. 

18:4: “I am the Lord your God.

18:5: “I am the LORD.”

Just before the giving of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 20, God also claimed the people of Israel as His own when he declared, “I am the LORD Your God,” (Exod. 20:2).

Israel too had committed themselves to the Lord. Exodus 14:31 states that the people of Israel already had “believed in the Lord,” which is similar language to Genesis 15:6 where we are told that Abram “believed in the LORD.” At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel declared, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exod. 19:8; cf. 24:3, 7).

So Israel had believed in God and Israel belonged to Him. As Thomas Schreiner observes, Leviticus 18: “is addressed to those who belong to the Lord.” This is because “Israel has been redeemed from Egypt and liberated by God’s grace.” (40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, 59).

Significantly, the command for Israel to obey God’s commandments in Leviticus 18:5 is within the context of a covenantal relationship between God and Israel. This expected obedience is not presented as a means for a relationship with God, but rather the proper response of a people already belonging to God. As Daniel Block states, the Law of Moses was not given as a means of salvation, but “as the grateful response of those who had already been saved” ("Law, Ten Commandments, Torah," in Holman Dictionary).
Put another way.

It is not:
            Obey to become My people.

It is:
            Because you are My people—obey!

God’s Commands
Leviticus 18:5 begins with, “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments . . .” The “statutes” and “judgments” refer to the laws of the Mosaic Covenant. This includes the entirety of the commands in the legal sections of the Pentateuch. These are in contrast to the “abominable customs” of Egypt where Israel previously was enslaved (18:30). Israel was enslaved to Egypt and under its laws, but now Israel belonged to God and was expected to obey His commandments.

Living and Long Life in the Land
Next, obeying God will result in living—“by which a man may live if he does them” (Lev. 18:5). The “may live” here refers to long and abundant life in the land of promise. It means remaining in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant in the land. It contrasts with death and being cut off and removed from the land of promise. Other passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy show that obedience is linked with living a long and prosperous life in the land:

Lev. 25:18:  You shall thus observe My statutes and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land.

Deut. 4:40:  So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

Deut. 5:33: You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.

Deut. 30:16:  in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.

Also, what immediately follows Leviticus 18:5 supports this understanding of life in the land. In Leviticus 18:6-23 God offered a long list of sexual sins to avoid that characterized both the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Then with 18:24-25 God said other nations were being removed from their lands because of sinful actions. Disobedience is linked with removal from the land:

“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”

So the nations were being “spewed out” from their lands because of sinful activities. What is important here is that Leviticus 18 is declaring that sinful activity leads to expulsion from land.

Leviticus 18:26-29 then explicitly states that keeping God’s commandments is necessary for Israel to avoid being removed from the land:

But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. 

For Israel, the consequences for disobeying God’s commands in Leviticus 18 involve being spewed out from the land and being “cut off” from among the people. On the flip side, obedience means continued blessings in the land.

Also, Leviticus 26 will spell out what obedience means. Walking in “My statutes” and keeping “My commandments” (26:3) will lead to rains, agricultural abundance, successful harvests, satisfaction with food, security in the land, lack of harmful beasts, success over enemies, and God’s presence (26:3-12). However, disobeying God’s commands means a reversal of these blessings and dispersion from the land (26:14-45). Leviticus 26, therefore, is a commentary on what living means. So “may live” in Leviticus 18:5 refers to abundant living in the land of promise.

Theological Implications
What are some theological implications from Leviticus 18:5?

First, that “may live” in Leviticus 18:5 is referring to life in the land of promise for Israel is well-established by the context of Leviticus 18. Thus, this verse does not teach that Mosaic Law observance is the basis for eternal life. As Schreiner notes, “Therefore, in context the verse should not be construed as legalistic or as offering salvation on the basis of works” (40 Questions, 59).

It is true that later Jewish tradition will use this verse to claim eternal life is based on law-keeping. And there is great debate as to whether Paul has eternal life in mind when he quotes Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. That is a topic for another post. But in its own context, Leviticus 18:5 is primarily about abundant life in the land.

Second, law-keeping in Leviticus 18:5 seems related to what those in a relationship with God are expected to do. Because Israel belongs to God they are commanded to obey. Thus, Mosaic Law keeping seems more related to sanctification at this time than initial justification. During the Mosaic Era, keeping the Mosaic Law was required for all within Israel as a way to express obedience to God. Abraham, the chief example of justification through faith alone (Gen. 15:6), established that justification occurs through faith apart from the Mosaic Law (see Gal. 3:17).

Third, law-keeping for Israel is both a corporate and individual matter. Israel as a whole was to keep God’s laws and would be held accountable for keeping the Law. Passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 predicted that Israel as a corporate entity will be held accountable for covenant disobedience. And both predicted a coming dispersion and removal from the land for disobeying God’s commands. Hundreds of years later, Ezekiel 20, with its three connections to Leviticus 18:5 (Ezek. 20:11, 13, 21), indicts Israel as a whole for Mosaic Covenant disobedience. It is also true that individuals within Israel were required to keep the Mosaic Covenant as well (see Deut. 27:15-26). Individuals within Israel could be cut off from Israel through flagrant violations of the Law.

Fourth, as mentioned, this post has not addressed the use of Leviticus 18:5 in the New Testament—most notably Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. The use of Leviticus 18:5 in these two verses is heavily debated with many good scholars disagreeing with several different views concerning how Paul is using Leviticus 18:5. Some think Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 contextually, while others believe Paul is using it non-contextually whether through typology or reinterpretation. Others believe Paul is addressing a Jewish misunderstanding of the Law in Galatians 3:12. These issues are too complex to address here but I hope to address them in a later post.  


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Psalm 8 in the New Testament

by Michael J. Vlach

Written by David, Psalm 8 extols the majesty of the Lord and reaffirms that man is expected to rule over God’s creation.

The first and last verse of the psalm both declare the greatness of God—“Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1, 9). So God’s glory is at the forefront. But this psalm also declares the exalted position mankind has in God’s purposes concerning the earth. Psalm 8:4-8 states:

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Psalm 8 draws upon the truth of Genesis 1:26-28 that God created man to “rule” and “subdue” the world. In fact Psalm 8 functions much like a commentary on Genesis 1:26-28. Even in a fallen world man’s right to rule over creation has not been revoked, even though man in his sinful state is not able to fulfill it as he should (see Genesis 3).

Psalm 8 in the New Testament

Matthew 21:16

Psalm 8 is explicitly quoted four times in the New Testament—Matthew 21:16; Hebrews 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:27; and Ephesians 1:22. Thus, to understand the Bible’s storyline, accurately comprehending Psalm 8 and how the New Testament writers use this psalm are important.

The first reference to Psalm 8 occurs in Matthew 21:16. After Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem days before His death, the Pharisees were upset that some children in the temple were proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:15). Verse 16 then says:

and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” 

Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 to draw upon the principle that God will use the words of babies to speak truth and confound those who think they are wise. With Matthew 21 young children speak wisely against the skepticism of the religious leaders. So the use of Psalm 8 in Matthew 21:16 is contextual since Matthew 21:16 reaffirms a principle evident in Psalm 8:2.

Hebrews 2:5-8

The three other quotations of Psalm 8 in the New Testament focus upon Psalm 8:6.

We start with Hebrews 2 since this chapter involves the most significant quotation of Psalm 8. The writer of Hebrews quotes three verses of Psalm 8 (vv. 4-6), and offers commentary on when the conditions of Hebrews 8 will be fulfilled. Hebrews 2:5-8 reads:

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying,
What is man, that You remember him?
Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

This Hebrews’ passage is consistent with the message of Psalm 8, namely that man possesses an exalted position that involves ruling over the creation. Yet the writer of Hebrews also offers inspired commentary concerning when Psalm 8 will be fulfilled. He makes clear that man’s rule over the world will occur in the future. It is not happening now. This is evident by the words “world to come” (Heb. 2:5), and by the fact that at the end of verse 8 he says, “We do not yet see all things subjected to him.” Even though man still possesses the right to rule creation, we do not yet see the successful rule of man over it. Man’s successful rule over creation awaits the future.

Hebrews 2:9 then brings up Jesus who suffered and is now exalted:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Man’s successful reign over the earth cannot occur while he is estranged from God. But Jesus, the ultimate representative of mankind, suffered and “taste[d] death for everyone” so that the successful reign of man over the earth can occur. This shows that the cross is related to the coming kingdom. Without the cross there would be no kingdom.

In sum, the message of Hebrews 2:5-8 and its quotation of Psalm 8:4-6 is that mankind is still destined to rule the earth but this has not happened yet. But it will occur in the “world to come.” This fulfillment is tied to Jesus who tasted death for everyone so that man can one day fulfill his mandate to rule the earth successfully. The following two verses below show further how this relates to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:27

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Paul explained God’s three-stage resurrection program and how this relates to the kingdom of God. First, there is Jesus’ resurrection. Second there will be a resurrection of believers with Jesus’ second coming. Then, third, there will be a resurrection associated with “the end” which comes after Jesus’ has reigned and defeated all His enemies (see Rev. 20:5). In verses 27-28 Paul focuses on the issue of “subjection.” He quotes Psalm 8:6:

For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

Paul points out that Psalm 8:6 teaches that God “put all things in subjection” to man. The only exception to this “subjection” is God the Father. The Father is not subject to the Son but the Son is to the Father. And when the Son has ruled successfully He will hand His kingdom over to the Father “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24, 28).

But there is an interesting development in verses 27-28. Whereas Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2:5-8 focus mostly on mankind’s right to rule, Paul ties Psalm 8:6 specifically to Jesus. So why does Paul take a passage about mankind in general and say it will be fulfilled with the individual person of Jesus? Did Paul misinterpret Psalm 8?

No. Paul is not using Psalm 8 in a non-contextual manner. The key here is understanding the biblical concept of “corporate headship” or “corporate representation” in which a single representative can act on behalf of the many. Back in Genesis 3:15 when the first man sinned, God said there would be a battle between the seed of the woman (righteous mankind) and the seed of the evil power behind the serpent (unrighteous mankind). Yet from the seed of the woman would come a “He” who would reverse the curse and defeat the power behind the serpent (Satan) one day. So Genesis 3:15 involves both mankind in general and a coming single deliverer from mankind. This deliverer is Jesus, the Last Adam (see 1 Cor. 15:45).

Since Jesus is the sinless and perfect representative who is able to restore mankind, Paul views Jesus as the one who will fulfill the Psalm 8 (and Genesis 1:26-28) expectation of a successful rule of man from and over the earth. Yet this does not leave out mankind. Other verses indicate that saved people in Jesus will also participate in Jesus’ rule upon the earth. For example, Revelation 5:10 states: “You have made them [believers in Jesus] to be a kingdom and they will reign upon the earth.” Revelation 2:26-27 and 3:21 also teach this idea of believers sharing in Jesus’ coming kingdom reign on the earth.

So does the fulfillment of Psalm 8 apply to mankind in general or Jesus? The answer is both. Jesus as the Last Adam and federal head of mankind will fulfill Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26-28 and share His reign with those in union with Him.

Ephesians 1:22

In Ephesians 1:19 Paul says Christians have the power of God working in their lives, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He then said Jesus is now at the right hand of God “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:21). Then in verse 22, he says, “And He [God] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” This draws upon Psalm 8:6.

Paul, with Ephesians 1:22, links Psalm 8:6 to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate man who has been granted all authority at the right hand of the Father and will one day exercise this authority over the world (see Rev. 19:15; Matt. 19:28; 25:31). So like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 2:5-9, Jesus is linked with the fulfillment of the Psalm 8 expectation, even though the fulfillment of Psalm 8 awaits the future.

Summary

Psalm 8 is quoted four times in the New Testament showing that its message is important for understanding the Bible’s storyline. All uses of Psalm 8 in the New Testament are contextual and consistent with the meaning of this psalm. Jesus in Matthew 21:16 draws upon the Psalm 8:2 principle that God will use babies to speak the truth and confound the wise. The other three focus on Psalm 8:6. Hebrews 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:27; and Ephesians 1:22 quote Psalm 8:6 contextually to affirm that mankind is destined for a successful reign upon the earth. Hebrews 2:5-8 declares that Psalm 8 has not been fulfilled yet, but it will be in “the world to come.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22 connects Psalm 8 with Jesus and in doing so reveals that the fulfillment of the Psalm 8 expectation will occur because of Jesus. Because of sin and the fall, man cannot fulfill the Psalm 8 expectation on his own. But mankind’s rule over creation will occur because of the ultimate man, the Last Adam—Jesus.


(Michael Vlach is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary and is Editor of The Master’s Seminary Journal. For more on Psalm 8 and the kingdom of God see Michael’s new book, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God.)