The Messianic Paradox

The Messianic Paradox

The Messianic Paradox
Text: Mark 12:35–37

Main Idea: The Messiah’s surprising identity entails life-changing implications.


I.   An Unforeseen Paradox (Mark 12:35–37)
II.  An Astonishing Prophecy (Psalm 110)
III. Two Fundamental Implications

Mark 12:35–37

Our passage this morning marks a significant transition in the Gospel of Mark, in that, Jesus is no longer defending himself against the withering attacks of the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and scribes. Today, he transitions to the offensive so that he can expose their collective failure and wholesale incompetence as Israel’s spiritual leaders.

Yet, as Jesus presses his attack, he is not interested in subtle questions about the Law. Rather, he presses into their deficient comprehension of the Messiah himself.

An Unforeseen Paradox (Mark 12:35–37)

Jesus is the Son of David

When Jesus asks, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” he is not attempting to dismiss Israel’s expectation that the Messiah will be a descendent of King David. First, the Messiah’s lineage is firmly anchored in OT Prophecy.

The prophet Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 7 that God himself would raise up an offspring from David’s line who would rule forever in righteousness and justice.

And as Israel and her leaders spiraled ever-deeper in to idolatry and rebellion, God’s prophets declared that he would fulfill his Messianic promise through:

  • “a shoot … from the stump of Jesse” (Isa 11:1; cf. 9:2–7),
  • a “righteous Branch” (Jer 23:5; 33:15; cf. Zech 3:8; 6:12),
  • a new “David” (Jer 30:9; Ezek 34:23–24; 37:24; Hos 3:5)

Secondly, Jesus never avoided the title: Son of David in regards to himself.

Mark 10:46–47 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 11:10 [As Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the crowds proclaimed] Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The True Nature of the Question

Therefore, when Jesus asks, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” he is pressing the Scribes into an unforeseen paradox in David’s own prophecy about his promised son in Psalm 110.

An Astonishing Prophecy (Psalm 110)

The Psalm

The first thing I want to point out is that even though Psalm 110 was not very central to Israel’s Messianic expectations in the first-century; it is either quoted or alluded to 33-different times in the NT. And even more, Psalm 110:1 is the most-quoted verse in the entire NT. In other word’s Psalm 110 is a fundamental passage about God’s New Covenant work in Jesus Christ.

And the Second is thing I want to point out is that our English translations of Psalm 110:1 unintentionally obscure both an important assertion about the Psalm and the identity of the individual who is speaking in the Psalm.

Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Regarding the speaker, notice that the first occurrence of LORD in this verse is in “all caps.” And that does not mean that David is yelling. Rather, anytime you see LORD in “all caps” the translators are telling you that the underlying Hebrew word is Yahweh—God’s proper name.

Now you may be wondering, why do they translate it “LORD” instead of “Yahweh.” And the reason is that the Jews in effort to never use God’s name in vain, added the vowels for Adoni (or lord) to the 4-constants of Yahweh to remind them to always say Adoni (or Lord) when they encountered God’s proper name, Yahweh.

And regarding the assertion, Yahweh is not simply speaking to David’s lord as one might talk with their friend, spouse, or checkout clerk at Safeway. Yahweh is delivering a prophetic oracle. What I mean by this is that David does not use the typical Hebrew verb for “said,” (אמר) rather he uses the Hebrew verb נְאֻם. A term that denotes divine oracles and words of prophetic revelation.[1]

Therefore, the original Hebrew literally reads: “An oracle of Yahweh to my lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”[2]

In other words, Psalm 110 is not merely another song or poem by David. Rather—as Jesus points out in Mark 12—Psalm 110 is a record of God’s supernatural revelation to David regarding God’s promises to a future son of David—the promised Messiah. The very one who would fulfil the Davidic Covenant and reign forever in righteousness and justice on his father’s throne (2 Samuel 7:11–16).

The Main Question

So getting back to Mark 12, Jesus’ fundamental question to the Scribes is this: If the prophetic record consistently indicates that the Messiah will be a descendent of David, why would David the very founder of the Davidic lineage relate to his future offspring as if he was somehow subordinate to him by calling him “my lord?” The son of a king is merely the prince until his father dies, only then does he assume his father’s royal status, which means that Psalm 110 is either upside down OR David’s son is somehow greater than David himself![3]

In fact, we see this very emphasis in the original Greek of Mark 12:37, in that, Jesus literally says, “how is he merely his son?” It’s impossible! He cannot merely be David’s son if David refers to him as his superior and calls him lord![4]

Jesus’ main question is this: How do you account for the promise that even though the Messiah is the Son of David, he will enjoy a far greater status than anything David ever achieved?[5]

And what do we see? No one has an answer. No one has a rebuttal. And even worse, no one—not one single Scribe or any other religious leader—steps out of the crowd to ask for the answer. They are loath to reveal their lack of understanding and as a result they remain in the darkness when the answer lies right in front of them.

The Exalted Son

But Jesus isn’t asking them to grasp at straws, he is pointing them toward the proper answer in the second stanza of Psalm 110:1.

Psalm 110:1b Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.

Mark 12:36 Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.

First, God promises David’s future son—the Messiah— that he will exalt him to a position of unrivaled authority as his personal vice-regent. That is what it means to sit at God’s right hand. The Messiah’s authority will not be a function of his political position or military prowess. His authority will be the authority of God himself—like Joseph ruled over Egypt under Pharaoh.

Second, God promises the future Messiah that he will supernaturally subdue every single one of his opponents. In other words, David’s son may face countless enemies, but God will never fail to vindicate his kingship by overcoming every act of hostility against him.

Psalm 110:5–6 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

This is why David rightly refers to his son as “his lord.”

The Son of God

What does Jesus want his listeners to see in his question? He wants them to see that their Messianic categories are wholly inadequate.[6] Answer: The Messiah is far more than the Son of David, he is the very Son of God! Which is the very point that Mark has been emphasizing throughout his entire Gospel and will continue to emphasize until its end.

  • In the very first verse Mark told us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1:1).
  • On more than one occasion, demons recognize that Jesus is the Son of God (3:11; 5:7).
  • Three different times the Father commends Jesus as his beloved Son (1:11; 9:7; cf. 12:6).
  • In a few chapters, the high priest will ask Jesus is he is God’s Son (14:61).
  • And at the very moment of his death on the cross a Roman centurion will recognize that Jesus really was the Son of God (15:39).

But, here is the underlying question: If Jesus really is the Sovereign Lord over all things and God will overcome every act of hostility against him; how should we respond? Is it enough to know these truths or are these truths intended to elicit a particular response?

Main Idea: The Messiah’s surprising identity entails life-changing implications.

Two Fundamental Implications

Hearing gladly is not the same thing as hearing with faith. (Mark 12:37)

What I want you to see is that even though we have been focused on the religious leaders this morning. Jesus is becoming more and more popular with the people.

When I was in my early 20’s I spend a few summers fighting wildfires for the Oregon Department of Forestry. And in our training we learned that given the right conditions; an already dangerous forest fire can turn into a virtually unstoppable inferno known as firestorm, when fueled by heavy winds or it becomes hot enough to start generating its own wind. And when this happens fire fighters can do little more than stand back evacuate its path.

And this is exactly what is happening in the book of Mark. Jesus is generating so much conflict, interest, and excitement in his battle with Israel’s religious leaders that average bystanders are getting sucked into the hand-clapping, glad-hearing, ever-growing crowds.

But, the problem with the crowd is that they are listening to Jesus the very same way the King Herod listened to John the Baptist.

Mark 6:20 Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

And we all know that when Herod had to choose between saving face in front of his guests and saving John’s life, his “glad hearing” was not enough to elicit faith in John’s message or prevent John’s senseless execution (Mark 6:26).

In this short sentence, Mark is hinting at or foreshadowing the fact that Jesus’ popularity with the people will not be enough to protect him from their fickle affections that will culminate in his rejection and imminent execution.

The warning in this passage is that hearing gladly is not the same thing as hearing with faith. My greatest concern for you as your pastor or for anyone who might view this sermon online is that you have never progressed past “glad hearing.”

You enjoy deep Bible study. You enjoy hearing about the promises of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. You enjoy interacting with those who embrace such teaching. You enjoy listening to Christian music. And in your enjoyment you might even be sending your children to Christian school or homeschooling within a Christina co-op.

But, if you have not abandoned all hope of your inherent goodness and embraced Jesus’ offer of complete forgiveness and restoration to God in faith; you cannot and will not enjoy Jesus’ kingdom when he returns. Because, affinity for the things of Jesus is not the same thing as true faith in Jesus. Jesus himself warns in one of the most haunting passages of the Bible:

Matthew 7:21–23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ”

I cannot think of anything worse than the realization that you are self-deceived after it is too late to do anything about it. Faith in Christ is the only way to receive the promises of Christ.

Acts 16:30–31 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Please do not be the person who gladly hears the proclamation of the gospel but never receives promises of the gospel.

Christian Perseverance is Fueled by the Sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ

It’s important to remember that the Gospel of Mark was initially delivered to Roman believers. If these believer’s publicly declared, “Jesus is Lord” they would be charged with sedition and most likely slated for execution because no one was lord but Caesar.

In fact, church history records the brutal truth that thousands of early Christians died with the exclamation “Jesus is Lord” as their final cry and ultimate hope of vindication, fully convinced that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and was reigning at the Father’s right hand (Pss 110:1). And fully convinced that they too will be vindicated when he returns in glory to conquer his enemies and establish his kingdom on earth.

Christian, I may not know what you are enduring today. I do not know if you are being discriminated against at work because of your faith. I do not know if your marriage is stretched to the breaking point because of your commitment to Jesus. I do not know if your relationships with your children or extended family feel hopelessly broken because you are holding fast to Christ’s sovereign Lordship in all things refusing to compromise and call evil-good and good-evil.

In fact, given the current trends in our culture and politics in America it may very well be that—unless God sovereignly intervenes—faithful Christians will be increasing branded as haters and legally prosecuted and incarcerated as such. It is not like Jesus has not warned to expect such treatment… it’s just that for the past 300-years we have been exempt from such treatment.

And when the stakes are this high, glad hearing and good feelings will not be enough to fuel your perseverance in Christ. No.

The only thing that will sustain you through such times is the steadfast conviction in life and death that:

You are not your own but belong—body, and soul, in life and in death—to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

The one who has fully paid for your sins with his blood, and watches over you in such a way that not a single hair can fall from your head apart from the will of the Father.

And that even in death your faithful Savior will raise you to eternal glory and rightly punish those who rebelled against him and afflicted his blood-bought people on the day of his glorious coming.[7]

[1] Allen P Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (90–150) (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2011), 345.

[2] Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (90–150), 337.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 486–87; Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 571.

[4] “His use of the word “my lord” does not necessarily indicate that the kind was divine, only that he is lord and master;” (Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (90–150), 346).

[5] Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 551.

[6] Stein, Mark, 552.

[7] Adapted from question one, “The Heidelberg Catechism” in Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations. Vol. 3. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 307–8.