Was Jesus Both Lord & Son of David? Studies of Mark, Pt. 55

One of the trickiest pericopes of Mark’s Gospel (but one of my favorites) is located at 12.35-40. There are a many nuanced interpretations of these verses but for the most part, they can be summed up as follows: 1) Jesus is rejecting the title “Son of David” here (e.g. He is asking the crowds, “Seriously, how do they say the Messiah is David’s Son? that is illogical!”, or 2) Jesus is accepting the designation “Son of David” and proceeds with an explanation.

It is my view that Jesus is accepting the title all the while going on to explain it (even if He does so with another eventual question). As of late, Achtemeier has done a good job defending the other position, however, I do not share his overall view. For instance, he asks of the scene in Mk. 2, Why Jesus doesn’t appeal to His Davidic lineage to support His action? I think, however, that Jesus is, even if indirectly, doing just that. Otherwise, why appeal to that OT scene and why appeal to particularly to David? Jesus could have used any other story or analogy, He could have even appealed to various Jewish laws but He didn’t, He appealed to David with the purpose of aligning Himself with David or placing Himself in David’s stead.

Achtemeier also asks why Jesus, when He is rejected by His hometown in chapter 6, doesn’t appeal to His Davidic heritage? First of all, the scene doesn’t necessitate it. Second of all, I would say that the people reject Jesus there because they are jealous of Him. If He were to argue that He was the “Son of David” that would have fired the people up even more; it would have done no good. Achtemeier also contends that in chapter 11, when Jesus passes by Bartimaeus who is shouting “Son of David” but eventually changes his shout to “Rabbi”, that this is proof that Bartimaeus realized the first title or designation (e.g. Son of David) was wrong and so, went on to correct the problem. I do not share this opinion. Jesus does not rebuke the guy but in fact, after Bartimaeus calls Him “Son of David”, responds positively to Him.

Achtemeier also finds the approach to the Temple, where the crowds are shouting a Davidic designation upon Jesus to be a scene where Jesus rejects the nomenclature by not paying attention to it. This seems to overlook the obvious to me. While this festive moment may have had political overtones, and while Jesus may have been signaling that He was a different kind of Messiah / King than usual (or the expected Davidic one), He certainly is not turned off or angered at it all. He could have hopped off the donkeys, turned them around and left or just told the people to stop. But He didn’t; He kept riding. He embraced the title.

Thus, when we get to 12.35-40, I would argue that He is doing the same: embracing the title. One point He is attempting to make here is: Those who have the Spirit are enabled to speak correctly about the Messiah. (See my earlier post on this by clicking the following link: Speaking in the Spirit.) Thus, David spoke a correct word about the Messiah’s identity. In chapter 13, Jesus says that when the disciples are handed over to be tried and are interrogated about the Messiah’s identity, the Spirit will give them the words to say about that very subject (not just any old subject!).

So, how does this relate to Jesus’ comment/question about the Messiah being both the Lord and descendant/son of David? I think one way to answer this question, which none have yet to do, is to read it through the lens of Jesus’ characterization of Himself, His followers and the Jesus Movement overall. We need only go back a few verses in Mk. to get what I’m referring to. If we go back to 10.42-5, we find Jesus saying (paraphrase): “We are not like the political and religious rulers, lording power/authority over people. Instead, our power comes from above as we serve one another. When you serve, you become great. The first move to last place and the last move to first place. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”

Thus, the Messiah is not a figure who would rule with the iron fist as many expected. Instead, He would rule with the towel and basin. The Messiah can be both over David and under David at once by being a servant of God. Jesus' citation of Psalm 110 allowed Him to make 2 points (with a couple of creative exegetical twists!): 1) The Spirit enables persons to speak truth about the Messiah, and 2) Some who were opposed to Jesus would eventually find themselves at His feet (could this be a reference to feet washing instead of being trampled on, I wonder?). Either way, those who thought they were powerful, will eventually find themselves in a position of lower status and rank!

Interestingly, Jesus beckons the followers of this Messianic vision to make themselves least and last. They are promised to be moved from last to first if they do so. In John’s Gospel and in Paul, they are also promised the name “children (sons and daughters) of God” too. If my thesis here is correct, I think this makes great sense of the next scene where Jesus lays into the scribes, speaks of their impending destruction and points out the corruption of the religio-political system. The goal is not to “lord” power over people, to take advantage of widows, to be deceitful or whatever, it is to serve. However, the Temple has become a place of extortion and evil and it is about to crumble in on itself. If its leaders were doing what they were supposed to, it would not cave in on itself. If it were a house of prayer or servants rather than a den of politics and thieving, it would be okay. But that’s the point—it’s not okay.

The point Jesus is making then, is twofold: 1) The Spirit enables people to speak truth about the Messiah, and 2) One truth is that the Messiah can be both Lord and Son of David at the same time when the Messiah is not a military warrior but a peacemaking servant. No wonder the people were delighted in hearing Jesus speak; it was not the usual religio-political propaganda, it was a message about sharing power and serving one another. May we follow the lead of our Messiah!

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