A sermon preached
As we know from various NT references
and from a number of Christmas and Advent Carols,
Jesus was often referred to as “Son of David” or of David’s line –
someone from the root of Jesse
who would go back to Bethlehem at Census time.
Tonight I want to ask several related questions –
1. What had happened to the line of David,
2. What were the expectations of Jesus contemporaries about a Son of David?
3. Was Jesus actually descended from David – and does it matter?
4. What was Jesus’ understanding of the title Son of David?
Then conclude with a few words reflecting on this
in the context of the Holocaust Memorial events
on Thursday and Friday this last week.
1. What happened to the Royal Dynasty, the line of David?
The line of David and Solomon
from the political map with the exile to Babylon.
Though when the Persians allowed
the exiles to return to rebuild Jerusalem,
they put a Governor in charge of Judea, Zerubbabel,
who was very active in the rebuilding of the temple around 520/515 BC.
Zerubbabel was of the line of David,
and became a focus for the hopes of a full blown restored Davidic monarchy
That however was not to be
and it was until the 2nd C BC that Israel again boasted a King.
But these new Kings were Hasmonaean Priest Kings –
and were opposed by many Jewish factions,
including the Pharisees and from the Dead Sea the Essenes.
2. Were Jesus’ contemporaries expecting a Son of David?
In a nutshell, those who opposed
the Hasmonean monarchy
found a potent symbol and rallying point in a new Son of David
who would restore the true monarchy.
A literature began to build up
originating from the Pharisees
and the writers of the Dead Sea scrolls.
they understandably looked for a return of the good old days
and the coming of a King from the Line of David
So the Psalms of Solomon, written
just before the time of Jesus (PsSol 17)
is the first document we know of
which looks forward to a coming Son of David –
a new King would be of David’s line
and would purge Jerusalem of the sinners
who had set up a false monarchy
represented by Herod the Great and the Hasmonean Dynasty.
(see Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Geoffrey Chapman 1993, pp505-12)
Into this political and religious
came the first Christians with their belief
that Jesus was the answer to Israel’s hopes and dreams.
So perhaps not surprisingly
they began to refer to Jesus Christ as the Son of David –
for he was the one who was the true King of Israel,
who would fulfil the law and the prophets and restore God’s holy rule.
Our epistle tonight from Romans 1
already refers to Jesus as Son of David –
this passage was written around 58 AD -
but seems to be quoting an even earlier Christian credal statement –
so from very early times the Christians were saying
“If you want the true heir of David, the new Ruler of God’s Kingdom,
then look to Jesus.”
3. Was Jesus actually descended from David?
We don’t know. According to the NT he certainly was.
Though it is possible that the theology came first
and the genealogy second.
I.e. it could be that the early
Christians first saw
that Jesus was symbolically the heir of David,
the fulfilment of all the hopes for a revived Davidic line -
and then later invented a genealogy such as the one in Matthew 1
which traces Jesus’ ancestry back through Zerubbabel
and all the way back to David.
Having said that,
it seems more likely that
Jesus was actually of the House, the Clan of David.
After all, when Paul wrote Romans
there were clearly plenty of Jesus’ blood relations around the place.
Paul had a bit of a love hate relationship
with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem
and I doubt he would have called Jesus “Son of David”
if he thought that Jesus’ brothers and cousins would disagree with the title.
matter? Not really.
How much Davidic DNA there was in Jesus physical makeup misses the point –
what mattered and does matter
is that Jesus was the legitimate and rightful heir
to the hopes and aspirations of an Israel
who were looking for the new King,
the new Anointed Chosen one, the Messiah.
4. What was Jesus’ understanding of the title Son of David?
You don’t get the feeling Jesus
was keen on the title –
he certainly doesn’t flaunt it.
“Son of David” was closely allied
and you sense Jesus had the same ambivalent attitude to both titles.
Yes in one sense he wanted to lay
claim to the fact
that the Kingdom he proclaimed
was that for which the Israelites had been waiting.
Yet in another sense he wanted to
from any idea of narrow nationalism.
In that rather tricky passage from
he seems to be reminding people that
the one who comes may in one sense be the Son of David
(a fulfilment of Israel’s history),
but in another sense he will transcend the mere national throne –
he will be David’s Lord not just his son…
Jesus’ idea of Messiahship
and Royal Kingship
comes out of but transcends the expectation.
It is though he says to the Jews –
You have been waiting for a Chosen
who will throw out the Romans,
enter Jerusalem on a warhorse,
and restore the old Israelite Kingdom of Imperialist David.
But I come as a Chosen one who
suffers alongside you on a Roman cross,
who will enter Jerusalem on a donkey,
and will inaugurate God’s new reign of Love and Peace.
Let me finish with a brief
this week we have remembered
(as we do at the end of January every year) the Holocaust.
When we think of the ghettos of
Poland and elsewhere,
we think not of the Crown of David, but the Star of David –
sewn on the clothes of those who were marginalised, vilified and persecuted.
Jesus came as Son of David –
But ultimately that meant not the
military rule of a Davidic empire,
but something quite different –
identification with and suffering alongside the outcast and the suffering.
Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do unto one of these my brethren, you do into me”
In saying that, Christ says
“Are there those who must wear the Star of David –
a symbol which may lead to the gas chambers?
If so, then I am a Son of David too –
because that it how God’s promises are fulfilled and his rule inaugurated –
not with orbs and sceptres and crowns and thrones –
not with the violence of imperialism for this nation or that -
but with love and care.
So let us rejoice in the Son of David, brother of all who suffer.
Let us care for the needy,
lest perchance we crush the royal crown
beneath our thoughtless feet.
Let us rejoice that when our lives
are at their lowest,
there in the gutter we meet the King of Kings,
great David’s greater Son.