(This article is a study in itself and is posted in the archive CAP Lessons)
Most students of the Bible realize that the New Testament quotes from the Old quite often. It does so several hundred times, actually (2,300 if you count allusions and paraphrases). From this we can rightly infer that God takes God’s word seriously. But did you know there is one verse God quotes from himself far more than any other? I mean way more.
Just for comparison, the second most frequently-quoted verse is this important doozy: “love you neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). This shows up in seven different places in the NT. The vast majority of other verses quoted appear a couple times, or only once. But there is one that blows even Leviticus 19:18 away in frequency.
It is this:
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
Not only may that seem surprising, but the numbers will, as well. This verse is quoted or alluded to 23 times in the NT. It is quoted in 11 out of 27 NT books, and by 7 of the 9 NT authors.
Indeed, if we may take just a little license and judge by such frequency, we may say that Psalm 110:1 is indeed God’s favorite bible verse.
And since this verse appears over three times as often as something so important as “love your neighbor as yourself,” we my consider that its repeated emphasis has some great importance—perhaps that we’ve overlooked. What could be so important about Psalm 110:1?
The Importance of Psalm 110
The apostolic emphasis on this verse deserves more attention than it has so far received. In the New Testament references to this passage we find the determinant keys to Eschatology, or the doctrine of the future. The resulting ideas we glean from how Peter, Paul, and others apply Psalm 110 overturn much of the popular understanding of prophecy and “end times” teaching. A more consistent understanding will help modern Christians see through popular doom and gloom, through maniacal apocalyptic hysteria, and instead apprehend an optimism and goal-oriented Christian life many have not even yet considered.
Psalm 110, simply, teaches that the Lord (Adonai) shall sit at the right hand of the Almighty (Yaweh), and while the Lord holds that enthroned position, the Almighty shall vanquish all His enemies (v. 1). This vanquishing occurs through the power of the Lord’s strength applied in the midst his enemies (in other words, the enthronement of the Lord does not mean that He sits aloft and disconnected from worldly affairs, but just the opposite) (v.2) This point receives clarification and re-emphasis in v. 5. During the time of this enthroned rule, God’s people shall willingly rally to join and serve him (v. 3). The Lord does not rule as any ordinary ruler, but as an eternal priest-King like Melchizedek (Melchi-Zedek is Hebrew for “My King is Righteous”)—a point strongly emphasized of Christ in the book of Hebrews (v. 4). The Lord-Priest-King engages in the subduing of his enemies from his enthroned seat, and thus jointly with the Almighty (v. 5). His rule extends over unbelieving nations and over the heads of nations; He is truly a King of kings (v. 6). He shall not stop to rest or turn aside from the way of battle, signifying his dedication to constancy of his mission until the completion and of the task (v. 7). This is the simple reading of the text.
The New Testament writers picked up and applied this simple message as Christ Jesus fulfilled it. Peter announces that this mission—this enthronement—began when Christ ascended to the father (Acts. 2:31–36). Thus, Christ sits on that throne now; the kingdom of God awaits no future “coming” or “appearance” in order to inaugurate its leader: He has taken his throne once and for all. Christ clearly had this passage in mind for Himself: He referred to its divine nature in order to confute the Pharisees (Mt. 22:41–45), and to His immediate session at God’s right hand in order to announce the coming judgment on the Jerusalem leaders (Mt. 26:64). These two passages (among many) suffice to show how Christ fulfilled the enthronement prophecy at His ascension and session. (The writer of Hebrews makes this clear also—Heb. 1:1–3, 13).
We ought, then, to expect the rest of the prophecy to flow out from Christ’s very present rule as logically and consistently as the Almighty says in the Psalm. We in fact do find this as taught by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. In discussing the reality and implication of Christ’s victorious resurrection, Paul says the following:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (1 Cor. 15:22–25).
From this we learn that Christ, in His present reign, will continue His conquest until He completely abolishes all opposition to His rule. At this point—after He has abolished all rule and all authority, and not one moment before—He will come and resurrect His people from the last enemy, death. The writer of Hebrews seconds this idea that Christ currently reigns, expecting his enemies to be made his footstool during that heavenly reign (Heb. 10:12–13).
I find this Old Testament prophecy as interpreted and applied by the New Testament authors to present a simple and yet challenging view of eschatology. It is simple in how clearly the apostles lay it out: Christ fulfilled Psalm 110:1, and we currently live in the time of the historical outworking of the waging of war (Psa. 110:2–7). We should expect—as Christ currently is expecting (Heb. 10:13)—to experience a gradual and progressive subduing of His enemies in history. This process shall continue until He has utterly abolished all opposition. Then, and only then, shall He come again to resurrect those saints who have died in the interim.
An eschatology not yet under His feet
Compare this very simple, obvious, and consistent understanding with the “dispensational” and “premillennial” views popularized by C. I. Scofield in The Scofield Reference Bible. In his notes on Psalm 110, “Dr.” Scofield makes a few fundamental errors, and also skips over the most important aspects. I will quote his relevant exegetical notes together first, and then deal with his comments individually. He writes,
The importance of Psalm 110 is attested by the remarkable prominence given to it in the New Testament. (1) It affirms the deity of Jesus, thus answering those who deny the full divine meaning of his N.T. title “Lord” (v. 1; Matt. 22. 41–45; Mk. 12. 35–37; Lk. 20. 41–44; Acts 2. 34, 35; Heb. 1. 13; 10. 12, 13). (2) This Psalm announces the eternal priesthood of the Messiah—one of the most important statements of Scripture (v. 4; Gen 14. 18, note; 7. 1–28; 1 Tim. 2. 5, 6; John 14. 6). (3) Historically, the Psalm begins with the ascension of Christ (v. 1; John 20. 17; Acts 7. 56; Rev. 3. 21). (4) Prophetically, the Psalm looks on (a) to the time when Christ will appear as the Rod of Jehovah’s strength, the Deliverer out of Zion (Rom. 11. 25–27), and the conversion of Israel (v. 3; Joel 2. 27; Zech 13. 9; See Deut. 30. 1–9, note); and (b) to the judgment upon the Gentile powers which precedes the setting up of the kingdom (vs. 5, 6; Joel 3. 9–17; Zech. 14. 1–4; Rev. 19. 11–21). ((C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), 645–5n1.))
On points (1) and (2) I substantially agree. I, in fact, agree with point (3) as well—that this Scripture began to find fulfillment historically with the ascension of Christ—which makes for an interesting acknowledgement on Scofield’s part. He should, however, have included Acts 2:34–35 as a proof text here instead of under his point (2) only. In Acts 2:32–36, Peter definitively teaches that Psalm 110:1 found its fulfillment in the ascension and session of Jesus Christ.
Most problematically under points (3) and (4), his arbitrary and artificial distinction between “historically” and “prophetically” begs the question of interpretation. From the Psalmist’s perspective (from which Scofield should have been commenting at this point), the whole Psalm remained “prophetical,” if we take this term in the sense of “future.” Even the session of Christ at the Father’s right hand remained far distant future for him. The arbitrariness appears in where Scofield determines to draw the line. He accepts Christ’s ascension as fulfilling only verse 1 of the Psalm, and then leaves the rest of the subduing of the kingdoms as an ethnic-Israel-centered “prophecy” pertaining only to the distant future. This, of course, typifies the traditional dispensational system in general. But it hardly does justice to the Psalm itself, let alone the apostolic writers’ interpretation of it. The more modern “progressive” dispensationalists have acknowledged the unity of the prophecy in Psalm 110:
Ephesians 1:20–22 and Colossians 3:1 also see Christ seated at the right hand of God, with the latter passage stressing the fact that all things are presently in subjection to Him. . . . Peter joins Paul in stressing the present subjugation of authorities and powers to Him [1 Pet. 3:22]. . . . Some dispensationalists have argued that the enthronement of Psalm 110:1 took place at the Ascension, but that the rule of Psalm 110:2 will not take place until a future time. . . . This interpretation ignores both the literary context of the remark in the Psalms and the way in which the entire text is applied to Jesus in the New Testament.1
Scofield’s arbitrary line leads (or allows?) him to misapply the rest of the Psalm to some future, physical, Israeli rulership of the world. He thus, in his point (4), separates Christ’s current enthronement from “the rod of thy strength out of Zion… in the midst of thine enemies.” He takes this material from Psalm 110:2 to apply only after Christ’s physical return to earth and not to a present subjugation of His enemies. This flatly contradicts the apostles (Eph. 1:20–22; 1 Pet. 3:22).
Further, Scofield reduces “Thy people” in Psalm 110:3 to mean only the Jewish people. This contradicts the New Testament, which routinely teaches us that God’s people include both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:26–29; Gal. 3:26–29; Eph. 2:13–22), and that these New Testament people are the inheritors of the Priest-King’s chosen, willing people (1 Pet. 2:9–10; Rev. 1:5–6). Scofield awaits a “conversion of the Jews” before Christ can execute his conquest upon earth. Meanwhile, Christ has made “spiritual Jews,” “kings and priests” out of His people worldwide, and expands His dominion through their faith.
Further following his false division, Scofield lastly sees a future judgment of the Gentile powers which must occur before the “setting up of the kingdom.” What I have said so far has already dispelled these notions; Christ has already taken His throne, established His kingdom, and presently, currently, progressively, judges those “Gentile powers.”
This simple Psalm and the clear interpretation given to it by the apostles must serve as a turning point for modern Christians. We do not await a future kingdom. We do not await a completely future conquest by Christ. Rather, Christ has established His kingdom. He has all power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). We stand in the midst of the conquest. Some of it awaits completion, but it is initiated and ongoing right now.
An often overlooked and somewhat obscure reference appears in the last verse of Psalm 110. Verse 7 says of our conquering Priest-King, He will drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head. The Geneva Bible comments, “Under this similitude of a captain that is so greedy to destroy his enemies, that he will not scarce drink by the way, he showeth how God will destroy his enemies.” In other words, this warring, conquering King will not leave the path of his battle even to refresh himself. He will drink in the very way, and not leave to go by the way. He will not let up one moment in His mission, nor turn aside until He has accomplished it.
Following this example of our Messiah, Christians should not let anything distract them from the progressing kingdom of God. Our conquering King rules now and subdues more according to His will and power daily. We should not let false divisions and interpretations of Scripture distract us from His way; so many have left the way in order to drink from the brooks of Scofield and his followers. We must return to the battle as Christ has enjoined it, as the apostles understood it, and as the people of God have progressively expanded so far.
1. Craig Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (BridgePoint, 1993), 178, 312n7.(God’s favorite Bible verse