One key theme running throughout Scripture is the “kingdom of God.” Throughout much of the Old Testament, the chief manifestation of that kingdom was the theocratic state of Israel ruled by an anointed son from the Davidic dynasty. Nowhere in the Old Testament is this made more clear than in Psalm 2, which reflects the coregency of the Lord and his anointed one.
Biblical Theology of the Kingdom
Old Testament Kingdom
This psalm promised worldwide dominion, but 586 BC spelled apparent doom for that idea. Zedekiah, the last son of David to rule (597–586 BC, 2 Kgs 24:17–25:7), watched his sons being executed just before his captors gouged out his eyes so that would be the last sight to flicker in his brain pan for the rest of his life (2 Kgs 25:1–21; Jer 39:1–10; 52:4–30).
New Testament Kingdom
But one day in Galilee, a carpenter’s son from the line of David came preaching the kingdom of God, claiming his person and work manifested it. This Jesus was “the Christ” (χρίστος/christos), the Greek translation of the Hebrew term for “anointed one” (מָשִיחַ/mashiach). Jesus was resurrecting the glorious language found in places like this psalm.
So we turn to this psalm with three situations in mind: (1) the original setting of the Psalms in Israel’s monarchy; (2) the position of the church vis-à-vis these psalms; and (3) the relation of Jesus’s second coming to the message of these psalms.
The kings mutiny against the king-maker (Ps 2:1–3)
1 Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
2 The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the LORD
and against his anointed one.
3 “Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”
The Call for Mutiny
Against the Lord and His Anointed
The psalmist asks why the nations and their leaders engage in futile plots against the kingdom of God (Ps 2:1–2). This psalm speaks first of historical powers opposing the Davidic monarchy; but ultimately it speaks of the entire world order’s hostility against God’s means and ways of ruling heaven and earth. Philistine warlord, Babylonian megalomaniac, spittle spouting Fuhrer, or winner of the spoils of the American political fight—the leadership of the world order, from the Dark Prince himself down lowest political ward hack conspires against righteousness, against God’s direction of God’s creation.
This hostility is no passing fancy that the faithful can weather just by keeping a low profile for awhile; this is an age-long hostility that at times summons all the rhetoric of an age, all the resources of the political and military state. Read history, read the headlines, read the book of Revelation—the world order takes a stand against righteous rule.
Hostility to God’s Rule
The root cause of hostility that people in league with God face is that the enemy is hostile against our Lord. We suffer from the surfeit of hostility that the serpent’s offspring has for the woman’s seed. We are butting heads in the war that comes to bruised heal against crushed head—and heads do get broken. Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
In this opposition to God’s rule, rebels oppose God’s ways (Ps 2:2). They oppose the LORD, so they’re prepared to wage ware against his anointed one—doubly unauthorized warfare. They say, “Let us break their chains… and free ourselves from slavery to God” (Ps 2:3). During the monarchy in Israel, this probably meant attempting to escape from the treaty requirements that the Davidic dynasty had imposed on the kingdoms in the region. But the psalmist warned, such conspiracies are futile, because ultimately they plot against the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient King-Maker (Ps 2:1).
God laughs at their lunatic opposition (Ps 2:4–6)
God’s response is to laugh. This is no grandfatherly chuckle at the endearing ways of nations; this is a terrifying laugh—the comedy of which tragedy is made.
4 But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord1 scoffs at them.
5 Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
6 For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”
I sometimes hear people say God has a sense of humor, and it’s true; the one who rules in heaven laughs (Ps 2:4). But if we’re not careful when we speak of God’s humor, we can lean towards idolatry: shaping God in our own image and likeness, bringing him down to our size, making him a little less intimidating than the biblical God of wrath. When we are attempting to pass off some slight of holiness as ridiculous, we say, “God must have a sense of humor,” and proceed to talk as if the Lord had never prohibited “obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes” (Eph 5:4). But God’s funny bone is surely not located nearly as low as a lot of jokes aim—in or out of the church.
Here we find that the laughter is intimidating, serious laughter, the LORD scoffs at them (Ps 2:4). In other words, this kind of laughter is reserved for despicable things. When God laughs, the pious are unlikely to nudge their neighbor and comment on what a great ol’ guy God is; if they’re alert, they’re more likely to breath a silent prayer, “I have heard all about you, LORD…. in your anger, remember your mercy” (Hab 3:2). So conspirators against God’s sovereignty will eventually learn of his horrifying humor; conspirators against providence will find that in anger he rebukes them (Ps 2:5).
Goliath before young David, Nabal against the mature David, Absalom before old David—God rebuked them in anger when they opposed his choice for the throne. Goliath promised to feed David to the birds of the air, but the lad took the giant’s head as a trophy. Pharaoh before Moses, Nebuchadnezzar before Daniel, Jezebel before Elijah—God rebuked them in anger when they opposed God’s servant doing God’s will. Jezebel may have “painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window” (2 Kgs 9:30), but at Jezreel she flew out that window and landed as leftover skull, feet, and hands. Israel’s graves registration technicians couldn’t point to anything and say, “This is Jezebel” (2 Kgs 9:37). First-century Pharisee or Roman emperor, twenty-first century preacher or US President—fight against providence, and God will laugh at your autonomous life plan, he will rebuke you in his anger, he will undo your plans—you will be undone.
Coup plotters will shudder to find him terrifying them with his fierce fury (Ps 2:5). Cocky coup plotter may fill plots in graveyards, but nasty opponents of the saints’ highest aspirations will gnash their teeth on sulfuric ashes—that’s a fact. “The Lamb who was slaughtered [will] receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12), and wicked men will cry out “to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (Rev 6:16)—that’s a fact.
Pretenders to the throne will find that it is to be filled only by God’s choice servant. God says, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain“ (Ps 2:6).
God uses human means to accomplish his eternal purposes, but that doesn’t mean the human agents set their own agenda, work in their own power, or falter when human initiative, wisdom, and authority falter. The human agents are indeed agents, they work the purposes of another, they work in the power of another, and they work under the authority of another—of God himself.
One of the chief agencies of redemptive history was the Davidic dynasty. Nathan the prophet delivered God’s promise that this was to be an eternal dynasty set up by God himself. Prophet, priest, or king—none was self-installing. The Lord promised to raise up prophets like Moses until the Prophet came (Deut 18:15). So too, “the law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness [then] after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever” (Heb 7:28). Same with kings in the theocracy: God said, I have placed my chosen king on the throne.
Repeatedly, God would defend the theocracy and its throne in holy war where God himself would fight for the armies of Israel. The Captain of the Lord’s hosts fought in the vanguard that established Israel in the land that God gave them by conquest. The angel of the Lord slaughtered 185,000 Assyrians who were fighting against God’s anointed (2 Kgs 19:35). And when heaven stands open, the opponents of God are going to see a rider “called Faithful and True” astride a white war charger thundering out of New Jerusalem. Ultimately, the hopes of the theocracy and their focus on the Davidic dynasty is realized personally in Jesus Christ the Son of David.
Zion: City of God
God says, I will rule at my own headquarters on Zion, in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain (Ps 2:6).2 Mount Carmel, Mount Olympus, the Areopagus, Capitol Hill—none will stand when God launches an assault on the seats of government in this world order. Mount Olympus and its polytheistic myth interwove itself into the national ethos of a people until its stories verily defined the culture; but the glories of Greece are gone. Areopagus, center of decadent Hellenistic pop-philosophy, shaped the thought of trend setting thinkers; but an apostle preaching the foolishness of the cross had more impact than a thousand amateur dabblers spending “all their time discussing the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). Capitol Hill can speak of New Deals, new world orders, new blood, or making America “great again”; but the deals are the stuff of pork barrel politics, the only blood that really changes things was shed on the old rugged cross, and the only greatness that will count in the end is that of the Lord. “Great is the LORD!” (1 Chr 16:25; Ps 96:4).
My World Order
In Old Testament times, any mount other than Zion claiming to be center of world power was a world order molehill with pretensions to grandeur. As Isaiah warned Edom, a hostile world power of his time, “the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion” (Isa 34:8, ESV). Any other hill than Golgotha claiming to be a source of a new world order is a type of whore city Babylon on her way to smoky ruins, over which the saints will sing, “Hallelujah!” over which the saints will exult as “the smoke from that city ascends forever and ever!” (Rev 19:3).
What I am saying is this: God … will … rule! Any counter-assertion is ultimately a bitter burlesque of reality. God bares his teeth in scoffing laughter, and rebellious men gnash their teeth in mortal agony.
God declares his intentions to rule his way through his king (Ps 2:7–9)
7 The king proclaims the LORD‘s decree:
“The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.
8 Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the whole earth as your possession.
9 You will break them with an iron rod
and smash them like clay pots.'”
The Lord’s Decree
Now we hear the confident king asserting his divine authority, as he proclaims the LORD‘s decree (Ps 2:7). The enthronement ritual probably went pretty much like the example we see where Jehoiada crowned Joash: “Then Jehoiada brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. They anointed him and proclaimed him king, and everyone clapped their hands and shouted, ‘Long live the king!'” (2 Kgs 11:12). The king recognized that the source of his appointment wasn’t some ancient Near Eastern equivalent of a smoking gun at the head of the previous ruler, a plurality in democratic elections, a United Nations mandate engineered with cookies from the military industrialist complex goody box.
The basis of his kingly authority was the Lord God Almighty. Today, if we were to hear a man making claims like this for his authority, we would figure this was another one of those imperious megalomaniacs that worm their way into power. But here we are dealing with a ruler who knows that initiative is less important than obedience, power is less important than piety; a ruler who knows authority is derived not absolute.
The Davidic Son’s Confidence
What are the contents of the LORD‘s decree that makes his anointed one so confident?
Pagan kings claimed to be demigods. An Egyptian Pharaoh figured himself to be in the lineage of the god Amun through the queen mother, a Babylonian king claimed a pedigree in the line of Marduk, and some ancient Near Eastern royalty figured they arose from midnight visits of goat-demons in their mother’s boudoir. This was all a filthy myth perverting a divine declaration truly spoken only on Zion, only to the Davidic dynasty: “You are my son. Today I have become your Father” (Ps 2:7).
Genuine Coronation Language
The language of the decree in Ps 2:7–9 is the language of coronation for those members of the dynasty who could call themselves a dynastic “son of David.” The formula of adoption as son intensified one-half of the core covenant promise: “I will claim you as my own people” (Exod 6:7). It indicated inheritance rights to the throne on Zion, God’s holy hill. And the notice today indicated that it came into effect at coronation. It didn’t not occur at conception as result of some extraterrestrial cohabitation. It was a covenantal statement about relation to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Final Son of David
For the Son of David, its impact was declared in multiple stages: First, its impact was felt at Jesus’s baptism. Peter said, “he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy'” (2 Pet 1:17).
Second, its impact was felt at Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:33–34 = Ps 2:2). John saw a heavenly vision of this:
9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen.”
Eternal Royal Glory
Finally, this will be declared in glory: “I, Jesus, … am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
The expanded formula of adoption said, I have become your father. This intensified the other half of the core covenant promise, “I will be your God” (Exod 6:7). It asserted God’s own patronage as Father in heaven, whose kingdom is coming into effect as he does his will on earth as it is in heaven.
Old Testament Inheritance
“Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession” (Ps 2:8). During the ascendancy of Israel’s monarchy, this indicated that the Davidic dynasty would be a world-class power. Under Solomon and during some of the other kings’ reigns, the military and economic clout of Jerusalem reached the ends of that world’s civilizations, though actual political power never went that far.
New Testament Inheritance
When the Son of David began his reign, world evangelism became the chief agent of activating this inheritance of the nations. As the Son of David departed for his coronation on high, he sent out his ambassadors telling them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Isaiah had prophesied that there come be a servant of the Lord who would “do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). And in a sermon at Antioch, Paul quoted that text from Isaiah to explain Gentile missions (Acts 13:47).
We should be faithful to our calling in the lineage of the servant of the Lord, as members of the body of Christ. Our call is to take this salvation to the ends of the earth. We can ask God to make the nations our inheritance via fulfillment of the missions mandate imposed at the inauguration of the Son of David.
Old Testament Manifestation
“You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots” (Ps 2:9). They are words about ongoing sovereignty, messianic rule. God would give to every faithful heir in the Davidic dynasty the power to preserve the peace and to impose justice.
New Testament Manifestation
Romans 13 and Millennial Sovereignty
Romans 13 talks of God’s mode of maintaining that kind of civil control in the time between the King’s ascension and his final return in power. The book of Revelation describes the millennium as a period when the Son of David fulfills this promise.
This will be a time of imposed righteousness that forces even rebels to bow and to confess that Jesus is Lord. The Son of David will impose God’s standard of righteousness even if he has to use an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. Egyptian coronation and jubilee rituals included a royal demonstration of worldwide power during which the Pharaoh would symbolically smash earthen vessels bearing the names of foreign nations.
This violent note should remind us that it will not do to think of the millennium itself as the blessed hope. It will be a time of enforced but not always heartfelt observance of God’s standards of justice. It will be a time when the unwilling will rebel at the first opportunity that arises at the end of the millennium.
Saints’ Coregency with Christ
These words about forceful rule are also words about Christian coregency with Christ. Revelation alludes to Psalm 2:9 two times in reference to Jesus Christ’s rule (Rev 12:5; 19:15). But the book of Revelation also alludes to Psalm 2:9 in reference to believers themselves: “To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots” (Rev 2:26–27).
Does this mean “overcomers” have the authority to knock heads and impose a theocracy today? Some brands of Christianity make plans along these lines; however, most who work with this model of ramrod Christianity are post-millennialists bent on bringing in the millennium through the efforts of the church. We would do well to note that this “authority over all the nations” is granted to believers after the fact, granted to those “who are victorious, who obey me to the very end” (Rev 2:26)—we are talking of authority that is ours in the end.
Does this mean I’ll be carrying a tire iron in the millennium, that “ARA Christians” will be packing heat again? Could be, at least the shepherd king will be packing a rod. This is no shepherd’s crook to help the little lamb that fell off a cliff when it followed Mary to school; this shepherd uses it to smash the nations like clay pots (Rev 2:27).
God warns of the consequences of revolt (Ps 2:10–12)
10 Now then, you kings, act wisely!
Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the LORD with reverent fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
or his anger flares up in an instant.
But what joy for all who take refuge in him!
Call for Submission
Serve the Lord
God says, “Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth!” (Ps 2:10). History has a record of foolish monarchs and political figures who either claimed divinity themselves or discounted divinity at all. But they have all ended up on the sulfuric ash heap. The kings who were engaged in conspiracy to throw off the fetters of the Lord’s king are advised to reconsider and take a wiser course of action. God says, “Serve the LORD” (Ps 2:11), probably indicating that they should recognize their vassal status as kings who have authority but are subservient to the King of kings and to his anointed one. They’re told, “serve him with fear” (Ps 2:11). I could write a whole lesson on the fear of the Lord, but I will just give you the biblical reminder that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” the essential elementary principle of wisdom.3
Rejoice in Fear
And when you celebrate the goodness of the Lord, “rejoice with trembling” (Ps 2:11). Our churches need a new return to the fear of the Lord. Micah said, “Fear the LORD if you are wise!” (Mic 6:9). When you celebrate God’s goodness, remember that you must submit to God’s royal son4 or he will become angry (Ps 2:12). When you celebrate the Lord’s watchful care over you, remember to approach him with due caution, or you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities (Ps 2:12). Realize that his anger flares up in an instant (Ps 2:12).
This talk of messianic fury may be the elementary principle of wisdom, the starting point for right living in the kingdom of God; however, it is not the bottom line. God is indeed a good God. His use of the iron scepter to execute righteous judgment is not only vengeance against the wicked but also vindication for the oppressed: As the returnees from exile told their Persian lords, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him” (Ezra 8:22).
Living in Safety
Good rule means happy subjects: “Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader and whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk” (Eccl 10:17). So the psalmist exclaims, what joy for all who take refuge in him! (Ps 2:12). But those who oppose God’s good rule will seek refuge under the rubble of destruction:
Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” (Rev 6:15–17)
But loyal subjects of the Lord and of his anointed one can take refuge in him. This kind of language in Scripture is what leads us to sing “Rock of Ages, let me hide myself in Thee.”
Living in Hope
This promise helps us live in hope (Ps 91):
1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
. . .
9 If you make the LORD your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
. . .
14 The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”
How will you order your future? What will you do today? Will you set your jaw, set your own agenda, and set your future on fire with the flames of Hell? Or will you kiss the Son, walk in the Spirit, and take refuge under the wings of God Almighty? Where will you be when the kingdom of the Lord and of his anointed one comes into full visibility? Will the Lamb lay a rod of iron in your hand or up alongside your head? Will you fall at his feet in obeisance or ask the mountains to fall on you?
Why not announce your loyalties as you finish reading this blog?
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him, ‘Lord of all.’
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him, ‘Lord of all.’
After the fashion of a homily, I’ll close this blog with a benediction from Jude 24–25 (NLT):
24 Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.