8. — New Testament use of the Second Psalm

We have already considered the Psalmist's remarkable testimony to the Sonship of Jehovah's Anointed One, recorded in the words of the Son Himself: "I will declare the decree: Jehovah has said to Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee." First, Jehovah makes the unqualified acknowledgment ("Thou art My Son") of a relationship in the Deity before the foundation of the world. Then, Jehovah says next, "This day have I begotten Thee." In this clause He specifies an epoch or point of time, "this day," in which the Son's birth takes place.

Jehovah's King, therefore, was Jehovah's Son before He was begotten in time, and appeared among men to establish Zion's long-promised kingdom of righteousness and peace. This Anointed One came into the house and lineage of David by no ordinary procedure. And while He was truly the Son of David because Mary, of David's royal line, was "found with child of the Holy Ghost," He was with equal truth David's Lord (Adonai) because He was Jehovah's Son from all eternity. As born into the world, He was that Son; while before that birth He was the Son, a fact which could be true of no creature, and of none beside Himself.

The truth of the eternal Sonship bestows an exalted and incomparable character upon the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, and the fact of His personal glory as Son of Jehovah aggravated Israel's sin of rejecting Him beyond description. The Messiah sent to them was not only Jehovah's Servant, Whose exceptional dignity and excellence Isaiah depicts, but Jehovah's Son, as David by the Spirit testified in this Second Psalm. Jehovah sent Him as Servant to collect the fruit of the vineyard, but as His Son to receive the reverence of the husbandmen, saying, "They will reverence My Son" (Matt. 21:37). But in wicked unbelief, the nation despised the Sent One as Servant and crucified Him as Son.

Parabolically, was not the Sent One the Son of the Lord of the vineyard before He was despatched on His errand? Was He not in the parable presented as the Son abiding in reserve till other lesser means had been tried with the husbandmen, and had failed? Most truly so; He came to them, not as a Son newly become such and provided for the occasion, but in His own inherent personal right. This the husbandmen knew, for they said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him." And their crime against the Son, not the murder of the Lord's servants from Abel to Zacharias, was the specific cause of the wrath of God, that fell upon them to the uttermost (Matt. 21:33-41; Matt. 23:34-36).

We will now look at the citations of Psalm 2:7, found in the New Testament, and, by marking the connection in which they are quoted, seek to discover the special significance of the prophetic words as they are there brought forward. The passage is once quoted by Paul in a spoken discourse to Jews in the synagogue at Antioch (Acts 13:33) and twice in his Epistle to Hebrew confessors of Christ (Heb. 1:5; Heb. 5:5). In all three cases we shall find that the purpose of the quotation is to establish the Sonship of the Messiah on the basis and authority of the divine utterance recorded in the Second Psalm. The One Whom God sent, not only came to exercise His mediatorial functions as the Begotten-One of Jehovah, but was Son in His own personal right before that day of His incarnation. Oh, how great the sin to refuse such a One as He!

(1) God's promises are fulfilled in the Son

Paul announced to the congregation of Jews in the synagogue at Antioch that God had brought to Israel, of the seed of David, a Saviour Jesus (Acts 13:23). He showed that though the nation rejected and slew Him, God had raised Him from the dead, and that now there was forgiveness, and also justification for all those who believe.

But a brief examination of the structure of his discourse shows that the apostle's appeal to the audience rested upon the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, which truth was from the first the special feature of Paul's ministry (Acts 9:20), in distinction from Peter's preaching, setting forth the crucified Nazarene glorified in heaven.

The Structure of Paul's Address

After alluding to the Jewish national history from the land of Egypt to the reign of David, the apostle declared that the raising up of Jesus was the actual fulfilment of God's promise of a Saviour for them. He referred to three main historical facts concerning Christ: —

(1) His forerunner (Acts 13:24-25);

(2) His advent and His crucifixion at Jerusalem (Acts 13:27-29)

(3) His resurrection (Acts 13:30-31).

In connection with their rejection of the "Saviour Jesus," Paul mentioned two of its moral features. By denying and slaying Him, they (a) were guilty of the sin of ignorance (ver. 27) and (b) had fulfilled the scripture in condemning Him (vers. 27, 29). The same two features are found in Peter's charge against the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 3:17-18).

The Quotation of Old Testament Scripture

Having thus briefly stated what was true historically, the apostle in verses 32-37 applied to two out of these three facts the light of the Spirit's witness in the Old Testament. Passing over (i) the prophecies of old, relating to the Baptist as the forerunner of the Saviour, he adduced the written witness of the divine oracles to the personal glory of Jesus Whom God had raised up. (2) In Him, said the apostle, was the fulfilment of the promise: "as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee" (ver. 33).

Then the apostle applied further scripture to the third historical point also (3) — to His resurrection (vers. 34-37). The raising of Jesus from the dead no more to return to corruption was foreshadowed in Isa. 55:3; Ps. 89:1, 19; Ps. 16:10. This prophecy, Paul said, could not refer to David, and is therefore fulfilled in his Seed.

Mark now, in the light of this preceding context, the force of Paul's exhortation which follows: "Be it known to you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins …" (Acts 13:38).

The index-finger of the inspired speaker was pointing to "this Man." Paul was setting forth One to Whom, as he showed, both recent history and ancient prophecy had witnessed. It was recent history that Jesus was born in the city of David, was hanged on a tree outside Jerusalem, and was laid in the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea. This was the apostle's brief description of the "raising up" of the One in Whom the promises of God were Yea and Amen, and of His reception by those to whom He came.

But what had the Psalmist said concerning the Messianic King? David recorded an echo of His personal glory out of the timeless past. Before all worlds Jehovah had saluted the Coming One. Jehovah did not say to Him, "Thou art My King," or "Thou art My Anointed," and thus, because of the majesty of the Giver, magnify the mediatorial office given Him, but Jehovah said to Him, "Thou art My Son," dwelling only upon His personal relation in the Deity.

We learn from the doctrine of the Incarnation as it is foreshadowed in this verse of the Psalm that the Person gives unique dignity to the office. When the Son becomes the Servant, how that service is magnified! Let us consider this word of prophecy a little further.

The Application of the Second Psalm

The apostle, by this quotation, established the identity of "this Man," Whom he was announcing, with Jehovah's Son, foretold by the Spirit. The One Whom God "raised up" to fulfil His promise had been personally indicated in this prophecy. The Jesus of the Gospels is the Son of the Second Psalm. Jesus, "of the seed of David according to the flesh," was the Son of Jehovah in His own proper, personal, and underived nature, to Whom Jehovah said, "Thou art My Son."

It will be observed that the second member of Psalm 2:7, "this day have I begotten Thee," also bears with illuminating effect upon the fulfilment of the promise made to the people of Israel. As the first part intimated Who would fulfil the promise (the "Son"), so the second shows the manner of its fulfilment (His incarnation). The fulfilment of the promise is plainly declared to be in His "raising up." The apostle's words are, God has "raised to Israel a Saviour, Jesus" (ver. 23) , and "God has fulfilled the same … in that He raised up Jesus" (Acts 13:33, R.V. the adverb "again," is to be omitted). This "raising up," or bringing into the world, satisfied the prediction, "This day have I begotten Thee." By His incarnation, He Who was the Eternal Son was in due time "born King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2).

The context of Acts 13, then, in which this quotation appears, when duly weighed, makes it clear at what time the predicted "begetting" of the Psalm took place. Paul's audience were instructed that it took place at that point of time when Jehovah's Son appeared in the line of promise. From David onwards, the Messianic seed was preserved and continued in unbroken succession until Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as the genealogies in Matt. 1 and Luke 3 show. By that birth, Jehovah introduced His Son into the royal line of promise, and the written word, which had long been awaiting fulfilment, became true in fact: "This day have I begotten Thee."

"Raising up" and Resurrection

Some confusion in the interpretation of this verse (Acts 13:33) and of the one following has arisen through the unwarranted assumption that "raising up" signifies resurrection, when it is a rendering of the Greek verb, anisteemi. On this ground, it is argued that because this verb occurs in the two verses (33, 34) , the resurrection of the Lord must be referred to in each case.

But this inference will not bear examination. In the latter verse (Acts 13:34) , it is so, because its meaning is restricted by the qualifying phrase, "from the dead." When we read, "He raised Him from the dead," the resurrection of Christ is certainly stated. But the general meaning of the Greek verb is that of setting a person, or causing him to stand, in a certain position or office. And the verb is employed in this general sense in verse 33: the Lord Jesus was set in the position of the Fulfiller of the promise: "God … has raised up Jesus" (the R.V. omits "again").

The same verb is used in this general sense in Acts 3:22 also, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you" and again in Acts 3:26, "To you first God, having raised up His Servant, has sent Him …" These two passages do not refer to the resurrection of Christ, neither is there anything in their contextual subject to restrict its meaning to that event, as there is in Acts 2:24, 30, 32, where undoubtedly Peter's subject is the resurrection of the Lord.

But in verse 34 of this chapter, the phrase, "from the dead," confines the application of "raising up" to the particular act of resurrection. In like manner, it may be observed that a different verb, egeiro, is used with and without a qualifying clause in verses 22 and 30. In the former case, the significance is the general one, "He raised up to them David." But in the latter the reference is to the resurrection of Christ which is shown by adding the modifying clause, "God raised Him from the dead."

The resurrection, then, was God's answering act to the guilt of the Jews, who slew the Fulfiller of His promise. He by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus secured to them "the sure mercies of David," so that it is to the raised One, Who is "no more to return to corruption," that the apostle applies the further scriptures quoted from Isaiah and Psalm 16. In the Holy One raised up from the dead the confirmation of the promises was made objectively. And "through this Man" was preached the good news of the forgiveness of sins, and of justification from all things for all that believe.

What a mighty demonstration the apostle gave! The truth of the Sonship of Jehovah's Anointed is the sure foundation on which the whole fabric of God's grace and God's government is reared. And it was to this One that Paul's testimony was rendered at Antioch of Pisidia in the deafened ears of unconverted Jews. Moreover, seeing his hearers still refused to believe on the Son of God, the apostle turned the gospel invitation to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46), according to the saying of Jehovah to His Servant, Who is His Son (Isa. 42:6; Acts 13:47).

(2) The more excellent name of son

In the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the quotation from Psalm 2 is introduced by the Holy Spirit to establish the personal glory of God's Spokesman Who has appeared in these days. The Epistle presents to the believing Hebrews a goodly array of witnesses from their scriptures concerning Christ and His work. Standing at the head of that noble line of unimpeachable testimony is Jehovah's own utterance to Him: "Thou art My Son this day have I begotten Thee" (Heb. 1:5).

By these words quoted from the holy oracles in the opening statement of the Epistle, it is proved that God has last of all, "spoken to us [in the person of the] Son" (vers. 1, 2). One had now appeared Who inherits the "more excellent name" of Son. Others among His predecessors had borne the title of prophet or priest or king. Angels, too, had been intermediaries of divine communications, and that One, more distinguished than them all, "the Angel of Jehovah," had at times spoken to men in the past. But now, God has spoken to us in the Son.

Angels Superior to Man but Inferior to the Son

We know that in the various grades of created beings the angels have a status superior to that of man (Ps. 8:5). Is Jesus Christ to be ranked in the angelic order? Nay, the Holy Spirit will not permit such a debasing thought even to arise in our hearts through lack of instruction. He witnesses of the Lord Jesus that, having made purification of sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, become "so much better than the angels, as He has inherited a name more excellent than they" (W.K.). He has become "much better" now, as in the past His name was "more excellent," than the dignitaries of the heavenly host.

This testimony, like that of Stephen's, is concerning Jesus Who is now in the glory of God. He Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death is now exalted, "angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him." But along with this glorious investiture on high, displaying how He is lifted far above angels, the Holy Spirit couples His intrinsic worth founded upon the truth of His Person and Name. The Name exists before all titles, and is the basis on which the titles rest for comparative dignity.

The Son has "become so much better than the angels," not merely by reason of the acquired glories attendant upon the eternal redemption He has obtained for us, but by reason of what He is essentially in contrast with all the angels. He has "inherited a more excellent name than they." He possesses in His own personal right the name of Son, which angels do not. No doubt, the "more excellent name," besides "Son," includes "God" and "Jehovah," as shown later in the chapter (vers. 8, 10), but we are just now concerned with the first only of these names.

The "Excellence" of non-creation

What then is the peculiar "excellence" or superiority of the name, "Son," as belonging to God's Spokesman? Taken in the sense of derivation by creation, "son" is elsewhere applied to the angels (Job 2:1; Job 38:7). They, in virtue of their origin as intelligent beings and "ministering spirits," appointed to the service of heaven (Ps. 103:20), are as a class described as the sons of God, Who "is a Spirit." The One presented in Hebrews 1 is Son also, but we are warned by the Holy Spirit that in His case it has a significance of pre-eminence that theirs has not. He is the Son in His own eternal right, while the angels are sons by reason of the status and functions assigned to them as created spirits in the scheme of creation. They, as sons to a father, owe their intelligent existence to God, as creatures to the Creator.

The corroborative quotation made from the Second Psalm establishes the immeasurable superiority of the Eternal Son above all the angels, though they be called "sons of God." "For to which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?" Jehovah saluted the Son as Son in the eternal immutable relations of the Deity. No angel, not even one of this most exalted order of created beings, was ever addressed by God in such a manner.

To Adam who was a son of God by divine inbreathing or to an angel who was a son of God as a created spirit, God might say, after he was brought into being, "Thou art My son"; but it seems incredible that God should say this to either of them before he came into the sphere of creation. But Jehovah could and did address His own Son in this manner. And the entire force of the quotation from the Psalm depends upon its unique application to the Son, Who was the Eternal Son without begetting, and of Whom it was, therefore, true before His begetting in time as the Incarnate Son.

By this conclusive witness, the personal glory of the One in Whom God has spoken is maintained. The Son does not differ from the angels merely in degree, as an archangel might differ from the hosts of angels he governs; the immeasurable difference is that between the Eternal Uncreated Son and those who became the sons of God by their creation. And when He is "begotten" in time, and is made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, His eternal relationship of Son in the Deity remains unimpaired. He does not acquire the name of Son by reason of the mediatorial functions assigned to Him, but inherits and retains it in His own personal right.

(3) The eternal sonship and the priesthood

Psalm 2:7 is a powerful witness to the Eternal Personality of the Son and of His incarnation as the Christ. In Heb. 1 the passage is cited in connection with the One in Whom God has come down to us; it is again cited in Heb. 5:5, but here in connection with our approach to God, for which we need the priesthood of Christ. "Jesus, the Son of God," is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession: as Apostle He has come from God to us, and fully declared Him: as High Priest, we come to God by Him. He is God and man in one Person, and He is therefore unique in His competency to represent both God to man and man to God. This twofold truth in its divine fullness is the special topic presented variously in this Epistle.

In Heb. 5 the subject is the induction of Christ into the office of priesthood, considered in relation with Aaron's. God made the appointments to the Levitical office, choosing Aaron as the head of the priestly line. No one took the honour of priesthood to himself, as Korah sought to do. Neither did our Lord usurp this office. In His subjection to God's authority, Christ Jesus was perfect. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience" in all things.

In the matter of assuming the office of priesthood, His submissiveness was manifest also. "Thus the Christ also glorified not Himself to be made high priest, but He that spoke to Him, Thou art My Son; I to-day have begotten Thee; even as He says also in another [place], Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek" (W.K.) Christ did not glorify Himself to the priesthood, but was glorified to that office by Another, and to a priestly office superior in its "order" to that of Aaron.

Why are there two Quotations from the Psalms?

Who, then, glorified Him? The two passages cited from the Psalms (2 and 110) show that Jehovah made this appointment. It was Jehovah Who said to Him, "Thou art My Son," and also, "Thou art a Priest." In the case of Aaron, Jehovah said to Moses, "Take thou to thee Aaron thy brother … that he may minister to Me in the priest's office" (Ex. 28:1). But in glorifying Christ there was no mediator, for Jehovah spoke direct to His Son, saying, "Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."

This verse from Psalm 110 appears to be quoted with express reference to the preceding statement that "Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest." Why, then, is the quotation from Psalm 2 interposed? Is not the Holy Spirit citing His own witness to those personal glories of the Son which were antecedent to His priesthood? Before saluting Him as High Priest, Jehovah had in eternity addressed Him as "My Son." And before He was made High Priest, He was "begotten" in the fullness of time, becoming the Incarnate Son. In His incarnation He is named Jesus; in His own proper Person, His Eternal Name, He is the Son of God; and, blending these glories, it is as "Jesus, the Son of God," that we see our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14).

Brief Summary

We have endeavoured, in the light of the context in which each of the four occurrences is found, to ascertain the special significance of this marvellous passage. As the pure gold woven into the ephod of the high priest gave unity, strength, value, and permanence to the whole texture, so the Eternal Sonship is in these fourfold testimonies closely and inextricably woven together with Jehovah's Begotten One. Like His seamless coat, His divine and human glories may be said to be "woven from the top."

(1) In the Second Psalm, Jehovah commits the righteous government of the insurgent world-kingdoms to His Anointed King, Who is His Son in absolute personal relationship, and in due season Jehovah begets Him that He may sit on His holy hill of Zion in governmental power and glory.

(2) In Acts 13, the theme is the fulfilment of the Davidic promises in "Jesus" Whom God raised up, sending Him to His own people, who rebelliously crucified Him. The Person Who came is He of Whom the Psalmist wrote. "Jesus," Whom they had crucified, was Jehovah's Son and Jehovah's Begotten One, in accordance with that witness from their own oracles.

(3) In Heb. 1, the personal glories of the One in Whom God now speaks are unfolded in view of the disappearance of the temporary Mosaic system, "ordained by angels." The Son is in exalted contrast with angels, inasmuch as He is addressed as "My Son" by the One Who alone knew the personal relations subsisting in the Deity.

(4) In Heb. 5, it is shown that Christ is called or saluted of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, an order not successional like the Aaronic. To this order Christ is glorified in virtue of His Eternal Sonship, which is verified by Psalm 2:7, where both His pre-incarnate glory and His advent in flesh are presented for the faith and adoration of those who confess His Name.