Read Psalm 110.
When it comes to taking hold of the Bible’s message, the biggest challenge may not be trying to understand the notoriously difficult passages. What’s more critical to reading the Bible well is something much more basic: believing what Scripture plainly teaches. Whether it’s a side effect of our sinful nature or something in the air we breathe, most of us have a tendency to see what we want to see when we come to the Bible.
It’s why otherwise literate adults can deny the Bible’s supernatural elements. It’s why some people just can’t fully accept that the all-knowing Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of Scripture. God breathed out the book of Genesis with the book of Revelation in His mind. He composed Isaiah’s prophecies with Matthew in view. Though the Bible is a library of sixty-six books, God the Holy Spirit is behind it all.
Still, some people have difficulty reading Scripture this way. Jesus knew this to be true, and He often challenged the status quo, not by doing mental gymnastics with difficult Old Testament texts, but by quoting Scripture directly and insisting that the Hebrew Bible means what it says.
One example from Jesus’ ministry is His use of Psalm 110. Jesus highlighted it to reveal that He was much more than a teacher from Nazareth.
David writes, “The LORD says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” (Psalm 110:1). It could be that David penned these words for others to say. In that case, the “lord” that God speaks to is David himself or any other king who would later sit on his throne. Or it could be that David was thinking of the Messiah who would come from his line. This second option seems to have been the view of many Jewish people in the first century, because Jesus discussed this passage after asking a group of Pharisees, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42).
The Pharisees readily admitted, “The son of David” (v. 42). But then Jesus pointed to something odd in the text: “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’?” (v. 43). If the Messiah were just one of David’s descendants, it would be an odd thing for David to call him “Lord.” They’d be equals—kings of Israel—and David would deserve the greater honor as the progenitor of the dynasty.
Jesus was zeroing in on something strange in Psalm 110, not to explain it away, but to let the passage speak for itself. David does call the Messiah “Lord,” and he was “speaking by the Spirit,” so it wasn’t a mistake. What was Jesus getting at? The Messiah is greater than David. He isn’t just another king like David or Solomon.
Reading the account in the Gospels, it isn’t exactly clear what, in particular, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to see about Him. Was He giving a subtle nod to His divinity? Perhaps He was alluding to His coming death and resurrection. Or maybe He was hinting at His rightful place as head of all things. He certainly wasn’t denying that He was a son of David; He welcomed that title. Instead, Jesus was insisting He was also something more.
As king of Israel, no one was David’s “Lord” except God Himself. This means that in David’s mind, the Messiah would somehow be God and yet also be distinct from God, since it is Yahweh who addresses the Messiah in Psalm 110. It’s a strange formula, confusing for anyone expecting a mere human Savior, but in light of what the New Testament reveals to us about the fully divine, fully human Jesus, it makes perfect sense.
The Bible says what it means and means what it says. Jesus’ words about Psalm 110 remind us of that. Over the course of many centuries, the Holy Spirit carefully crafted the Bible from beginning to end, working through many different people. None of these men had the full story in view, but the Holy Spirit did. That’s why every detail in Scripture matters. There are no mistakes—just the fingerprints of the divine Author who wants you to get to know Him.