Sunday, March 27, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 17: Acts 2:33-35/Psalm 110:1 and Literal Prophetic Fulfillment

In Acts 2, Peter has been making an argument for establishing the identity of Jesus as both Lord and Messiah. His argument continues in Acts 2:33–35 where he quotes Psalm 110:1:

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: “THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, ‘SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.’”

Then immediately in 2:36 Peter makes his closing argument: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter had already declared that David was a “prophet” (2:30) and that David “looked ahead” to Christ (2:31). So when Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 in reference to Jesus, he clearly viewed Jesus as the literal fulfillment of what Psalm 110:1 says.

Peter’s use of Psalm 110:1 in Acts 2:34–25, therefore, is a case of direct literal fulfillment of an OT prophetic/messianic text. While it appears fashionable in more recent times to view none of the psalms as explicitly messianic, Psalm 110 is a clear instance where David himself had the coming Messiah explicitly in mind when he wrote the psalm. The reasons for this are several.

First, Jesus viewed Psalm 110 as a case where David was referring to Jesus. In Matt 22:41–46, Jesus stumped the Pharisees by showing that the Messiah was both the son of David and David’s Lord. Thus, this figure that David spoke of was both human and divine. Jesus viewed Psalm 110 as messianic and referring to himself.

Second, the figure in Psalm 110 is an eternal priest-king (Psalm 110:1, 4) like Melchizedek, the priest-king. This "forever" aspect fits the picture of the coming Messiah, Jesus, better than David.

Third, Peter, in Acts 2:33–35, explicitly states that David viewed Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God as being the fulfillment of what David meant in Psalm 110:1. This is the case because the second “Lord” of Psalm 110:1 is at the right hand of God sharing Yahweh’s authority. But David, unlike Jesus, never ascended to the right hand of God. So like Acts 2:25–28 and its use of Psalm 16:8–11, we have an explicit case of inspired commentary from an apostle (Peter) on what an OT author (David) meant.

In sum, Acts 2:33–35 is a case of direct literal fulfillment of an OT prophetic text. Again, we see another contextual use of the OT by the NT persons.


  1. Does this hermeneutic imply a messianic interpretation is possible from many other passages not utilized in the NT and thus something we could learn to methodically derive for ourselves? Is there an empirical testable method we can grasp and use? There is a lot of material unused by the first century apostles that would then seem to have a lot of potential for profitable exposition.

  2. How did you arrive at your understanding of pleroo? Is there some article or material? Is it an option in the lexicons? It also seems that "correspondence" is rather vague. Given your use of pleroo, I would like to see a definition of its usage in these OT-in-the-NT passages if it is not "fulfillment," as well as, a defined and more precise technical term instead of "correspondence."

  3. Ross, that's a good question. It does address the issue of whether we can reproduce what the apostles do with other OT texts. I think we are safer with sticking to the connections that the NT writers are making with the OT. I will say that we do see an overwhelming use of contextual uses of the OT by the NT writers and thus we can have confidence that when we are studying the OT we can study it contextually to get the right meaning. We may also say generally that experiences of Israel and David correspond to Jesus, but when it comes to specifics I start and stop with the connections made by the NT writers.

  4. Ross, I recommend Charles Dyer's chapter, "Biblical Meaning of 'Fulfillment'" in the book, Issues in Dispensationalism (Moody, 1994). He does a very thorough examination of pleroo and shows that there are various uses of this term, one of which is literal prophetic fulfillment. In other words, pleroo can be used in a variety of ways depending on its context. The basic meaning is to "fill up" and can refer to correspondences.

  5. John Goldingay, in his 3-volume commentary on Psalms, seems to me to be one of those who appears reluctant to assign messianic significance to the psalms no matter what the NT writers say. Would you agree?

  6. Another question. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Is He, in your view, at the same time also sitting on David's throne?