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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Son of David

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SON OF DAVID.—The phrase is used in the NT as a title of the Messiah, except in Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:20 (cf. Luke 1:27), where it has the ordinary genealogical force. For the general discussion of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the Messiah as king, see Messiah; the present article concerns only the use of this particular title.

1. The Messianic value of the title comes out forcibly in the puzzling question put by Jesus to the Pharisees (Matthew 22:42 f., Mark 12:35, Luke 20:41)—a question that they were unable to answer: ‘The scribes say that the Christ is (to be) the Son of David; but David calls him Lord; how then is he his son?’ The passage is not to be interpreted as a repudiation of the title on the part of Jesus. Of such a repudiation there is no evidence either in His own teaching, or in other parts of the NT. On the contrary, the relationship is specifically taught by St. Paul (Romans 1:3, 2 Timothy 2:8), seemingly as of some importance, and it is assumed of the Messiah in the Apocalypse (Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16). The passage is a repudiation of the notion of the Jews—implied in their use of the title—that it fully expresses the functions of the Messiah. The Messiah does not owe His dignity to His Davidic descent. His work far surpasses that of the great king of Israel. The proper answer to Jesus’ question would have involved an entire reconstruction of the ideas of the Jews concerning the Messiah, of which they were, of course, utterly incapable. If Jesus did not expect this result to follow from His question, He could at least show by it the logical absurdity of the emphasis they put upon the Davidic sonship. The connexion of the Messiah with the royal house and city was deemed so essential, that Jesus, of Galilaean extraction, was declared by some to be ineligible to the high office.

2. The particular phase of Messiahship which the title properly expresses is, of course, the royal estate and function. Such was the case when it was applied to Jesus on the occasion of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15). It was so understood, and the anger of the priests and scribes was aroused in consequence. Compare also the Annunciation (Luke 1:32), where it is said that Jesus shall be given the throne of His father David.

3. There is, however, no reason to suppose that, as used in NT times, the title alluded to military prowess, or to a career of conquest on the part of the Messiah. Indeed, the Hosannas of the people were in praise of very different qualities. Such a conception of the force of the phrase is entirely inconsistent with the cry of the blind men (Matthew 20:30 f. [= Mark 10:47 f., Luke 18:38 f.] and Luke 9:27) and of the Canaanitish woman (Matthew 15:22), ‘Son of David, have mercy.’ The title came naturally to the lips of those who sought Jesus’ aid in their great distress. Likewise the works of healing which He had wrought called forth—so characteristic were they of the Messiah who was expected—the query whether this might not be the Son of David (Matthew 12:23).

4. These NT applications of the title are in close harmony with the OT description of the Messiah. David was the founder of the kingdom of Israel. Whenever in later centuries the nation and its welfare were in the mind, the thought naturally turned to David. When the house of David no longer ruled, and the kingdom was shattered, prophets and singers lamented the misfortunes that had overtaken David and his house. When their hopefulness and faith in God expressed itself in visions of a bright future, they naturally spoke of a second David, a branch of his house, who should restore the nation to its former prosperity. As the past, and especially David’s rule, grew fairer by contrast with the dismal present, so the new kingdom of David in the future was pictured in extravagant colours. The Kingdom should extend over the whole earth, irresistibly, triumphantly. But this conquest was not conquest for conquest’s sake. It was a process without which the longed-for prosperity could, in their imagination, not be realized. It was but an incident in the larger blessedness of the future. To the Jew of the later pre-Christian centuries, David stood for much else besides military prowess and political prestige. If this element had been predominant, it would have been incongruous to ascribe to him so large a part of the Psalms as bear his name. If we seek for the cause of this change of emphasis, it is doubtless to be found in the very distress that they suffered. That distress was personal, individual. Character became the condition of enjoying the benefits of the new Kingdom, and in turn the new Kingdom—Messianic, ideal—was to exist for the sake of the individual, to save him from his woes, and to lead him to righteousness. Psalms 72, in spite of its warlike sentiments, is the utterance of one to whom, after all, the welfare of the people, the oppressed and the defenceless, is paramount. These are the poor and the blind to whom Jesus gave salvation, by such ministry proving, even to His contemporaries, that He was worthy to be called the Son of David.

See also art. Names and Titles of Christ.

Literature.—Briggs, Messianic Prophecy, pp. 492–496; Wendt, Lehre Jesu, ii. 434 ff.; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. § 29.

O. H. Gates.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Son of David'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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