The Christian Creed in One Short Psalm
In Psalm 110, we find the Christian confession of faith
Written by Aimee Byrd | Monday, March 11, 2013Hopefully after reading a bit about these confessions contained in David’s creed, you will see why Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. If you have ever struggled to articulate your faith, this may be a good place for you to begin. It would be quite beneficial to memorize the 7 verses of this Psalm, and then study the implications of the confessions it contains a little deeper. I believe the book of Hebrews is a great companion to this task, as recent scholarship suggests that Hebrews is a sermon interpreting this Psalm.
Puritan Edward Reynolds (1599-1676) referred to Psalm 110 as “’symbolum Davidicum’, the prophet David’s creed” (The Whole Works of Right Reverend Edward Reynolds, Vol. 2). This Psalm is quoted more than any Psalm in the New Testament, and there is some recent scholarship suggesting that Hebrews is a sermon based on this Psalm. In a mere seven verses, we find the Christian confession of faith. Here is a short introduction to Reynolds’ breakdown of David’s creed, as taught in Psalm 110 (I am quoting from the KJV, as Reynolds does in his work):
The Doctrine of the Trinity: “The Lord says to my Lord” (v.1).
This one is pulled right out of the first line of the Psalm, “The Lord says to my Lord.” Here we have the Father, Jehovah, speaking to the Son, Jesus Christ. Well this is interesting; how does David know about a conversation between the blessed holy Father and the Son? Preacher Charles Spurgeon marvels in The Treasury of David, “How condescending of Jehovah’s part to permit a mortal ear to hear, and a human pen to record his secret converse with his co-equal Son!” It is by his Spirit that this sacred discourse is revealed to David. Reynolds also points out the role of the Holy Spirit consecrating the Son to be David’s Lord.
The Incarnation of Christ: “my Lord” (v.1).
Also in the first verse of Psalm 110 is the clause “my Lord.” Jesus the Son is not only a Lord, but David can call him my Lord. This is truly amazing. Jesus descended from the line of David. Those boring genealogies that we always want to skip in our Bible reading labor to preserve this history. Matthew 1:1 one begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, the son of Abraham.” And then we pretend to pay attention until we finally get to verse sixteen about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
But here we have David calling his son his Lord. Incredibly, the son of David is the Son of God. Jesus, who was born in the line of David, descending from his genealogy, also comes from a much “higher sonship”, as Reynolds calls it. Jesus is both David’s descendant and David’s Lord. Christ affirms this in Matthew 22:41-46. He gives the Pharisees a pop quiz, asking them whose son the Christ is. When they answered that the Christ was the son of David, he presses further by quoting Psalm 110. How could it be that his father David calls him “Lord” while in the Spirit? And how can he be both David’s Lord and his son? Scripture tells us that the Pharisees were done asking questions after Jesus silenced them with that doozy (although Scripture says it in much more eloquent fashion).
The Sufferings of Christ: “a priest” (v.4), “will drink from the brook by the way” (v.7).
Christ’s passion as a priest “to offer himself up once for all” was marked by bitterness and suffering. Unlike Gideon’s men who lapped refreshment from a clear brook, our Lord was to drink sorrow, death, and the very wrath of God on the path pressing to the victory. It was our sin that caused his sufferings.
His Completed Work and conquest over all his enemies and sufferings; his Resurrection: “he shall lift up his head” (v.7).
Jesus Christ is exalted, vindicated, earning victory for not only himself, but all those whom the Father has given him. Not one has he lost. The bridegroom is triumphant for his church.
Ascension and Intercession: “Sit thou on my right hand” (v. 1, 5).
Unlike the Levitical priest that could never sit because their work was never done, Christ is now with his Father seated in a place of honor. Here he is continually making intercession for his bride. And unlike the Levitical priesthood that was interrupted by death, and continuously needing successors, Christ’s death was part of his priestly duty, whereby he laid down his life and took it up again. He holds his priesthood permanently, and therefore we can draw near to God in him.
A Holy Catholic Church and Communion of Saints: “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in thy midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” (v. 2,3).
We, who were once his enemies, have been given eyes to see the irresistible grace of the great and mighty Savior, Jesus Christ. And yet we see that this is not yet a kingdom of glory, but a kingdom of the cross. As we have been freed from the enslavement of the sin, we willingly offer a sacrifice of praise in gracious response to our great King. He has inaugurated a redemptive kingdom and is now bringing in the full number of those the Father has given him.
The Last Judgment and Day of His Wrath
Those who do not think it prudent to discuss the judgment and wrath of God would certainly not confess David’s creed. We see in the very first verse God the Father telling the Son, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Again, in verses 5 and 6, “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.” Our God is just. Therefore the mercy that he shows toward his people is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The whole Old Testament sacrificial system alluded to the fact that a mediator between our holy God and sinful man is necessary. Sinful human beings cannot approach the Holy Father clothed in our own self-righteousness.
And although these sacrificial systems were done away with, we still need to be concerned about our approach to God. We still need a mediator. Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, his blood effectually atoning for our sin. All those who repent in faith have our sins covered by his blood, which effectually propitiated God’s wrath toward us over two thousand years ago on the cross. But those who have not repented and do not trust in Christ’s work over their own have a judgment day to come.
The Remission of Sins
Verse 4 of Psalm 110 identifies the Lord as a priest forever. The office of the priesthood offered sacrifices for the remission of sins. Jesus is our great high priest, as well as the sacrifice. This is a major theme in Hebrews. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4 repeatedly as the crux of his argument that Jesus is the eternal high priest, appointed by the oath of God as mediator of a better covenant, ratified with better promises (5:6; 6:17,18, 20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28). That must be an important line, the pinnacle of the Psalm.
The writer to the Hebrews declares that not only is there a change in the priesthood, but a change in the law as well (7:12). In quoting Psalm 110:4, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,” the preacher is pointing to a greater appointment made by the oath of God who cannot lie. This is our confession of hope. It reveals the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood, which had to continually make sacrifices and replace each priest with a successor. Christ is a priest forever. The Levitical priests only pointed to the Great Priest to come.
Resurrection of the Body
This confession takes us back to the first verse of our Psalm. Our Lord is told to sit at the Father’s right hand until all of his enemies are put under his feet. In defending the resurrection, Paul quotes this verse while emphatically declaring that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:25, 26). The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse as he explains how Christ’s sacrifice is perfect to save us to the uttermost (10:13).
But what always gets me about this verse is his remarkable patience and obedience. That word “until” is more loaded than it appears at first glance. After completing his work and ascending to the highest position at God’s right hand, we know that Christ our Victor can easily destroy all his enemies in a second. And yet, here we are over two thousand years later, as he waits according to his Father’s will to bring in every last believer.
Our last confession from David’s creed brings us back to the pinnacle of his Psalm, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Of course, we immediately see the importance of the word forever. If the Son is a priest forever, then his intervention on our behalf is eternal. But, even more interesting and assuring is what this verse reveals about the basis of this eternal priesthood. Remember, this is the Father talking to the Son, and Christ is witnessing the Father swearing an oath on his very life that this will be. The preacher to the Hebrews focuses on this oath when quoting from Psalm 110:4 in chapter 7:17-28, concluding, “For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever” (v.28). This oath should give us complete assurance and confidence that God accepts Christ’s intercession on our behalf.
Picking up on this appointed priesthood, we read “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (9:15). Our confidence to approach God and our hope to live with him eternally is not based on anything we can do to atone for our sin or to earn a relationship with him. It is fully reliant on the God who is faithful. Jesus Christ came to fulfill this oath that he agreed to with his Father to be our mediator in the covenant of grace. “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (7:22). Those who trust in him are delivered from the covenant of works. Instead of hearing, “Do this and you shall live,” we hear “All this Christ has done.”
Hopefully after reading a bit about these confessions contained in David’s creed, you will see why Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. If you have ever struggled to articulate your faith, this may be a good place for you to begin. It would be quite beneficial to memorize the 7 verses of this Psalm, and then study the implications of the confessions it contains a little deeper. I believe the book of Hebrews is a great companion to this task, as recent scholarship suggests that Hebrews is a sermon interpreting this Psalm.
+ + +
Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV. She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children. She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared. She has written the book, Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary. She also has a forthcoming book, Theological Fitness, that will expand on this article, which is reprinted here with her permission.