The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation

Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (January-March 1994): 71-84

The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation
--
Cleon L. Rogers, Jr.

Interestingly the New Testament includes relatively few references to the Davidic promises outside the Gospels, but those which do occur are certainly important. The paucity of references to the Davidic Covenant is because God’s present rule on the earth is expressed through the church, not the Davidic kingdom, as explained in the first article in this series.

The Davidic Promises in the Book of Acts

In the Book of Acts three areas pertain to the promises given to David: those related to the kingdom, to Jesus’ resurrection, and to the Gentiles.

The Relationship of the Davidic Promises to the Kingdom

The Book of Acts opens with the postresurrection ministry of Jesus before His ascension (1:1-11). During this time He appeared to His disciples and was ’speaking [levgwn] of the things concerning the kingdom of God [taV periV th’’ basileiva’ tou’ qeou’]’ (v. 3). Though Luke did not expressly state what Jesus

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taught about the kingdom of God, the general context of the time (see Luke 24:19-26) and the specific context of Acts (as seen in the instructions concerning the coming of the Spirit and the following question of the disciples; vv. 4-6), give good indications of what He taught.

Jesus evidently explained how the Old Testament prophecies concerning David’s kingdom were related to His coming to earth and how they were to be understood in view of His rejection, death, and resurrection. The coming of the Holy Spirit was to establish the basis for the new rule of God on earth through the church, but was also related to the future kingdom of Israel based on the New Covenant. Israel was not rejected forever, but would one day repent and receive the promised Davidic kingdom. With this background it is possible to understand the question of the disciples (v. 6), as well as the transitional character of the Book of Acts.

The disciples asked Jesus if the kingdom was to be restored to Israel at that time (1:6). They did not ask if the kingdom would be restored, but whether Jesus would restore it to Israel ’at this time.’ The word ’restore’ (ajpokaqistavnei’) means ’to restore to the original condition’ and was a technical term for the eschatological restoration of Israel. It would be totally out of context and opposed to the meaning of ’restore’ to understand ’Israel’ in this passage as referring to the church as ’spiritual Israel.’ The fact that Jesus did not in any way rebuke them for asking the question

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demonstrates that they were neither ignorant or carnal, nor did they belong to a group who had not yet realized that Jesus had purged the kingdom of God ’of its nationalistic political elements.’ The question is fully justified and understandable in the light of the context. Jesus’ answer did not correct a mistaken view; instead it was precisely to the point. ’It is not yours to know times or epochs . . . but you shall receive power . . . and be My witnesses’ (vv. 7-8). The length of time until the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was not stated, but the disciples were to extend their witness for Christ to all the world. They were to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit and then preach the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus. Peter told the crowd in the temple to ’repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that the times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he

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promised long ago through his holy prophets’ (3:19-21, NIV). Their ministry, as recorded in Acts, had a ’kingdom-related message,’ for the apostles did not know how long it would be before Jesus would return to set up the Davidic kingdom on the earth.

The Relationship of the Davidic Promises to the Resurrection

Closely related to the kingdom aspects of the promises to David are the passages that apply the Davidic promises to the resurrection of the Son of David. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost he discussed the resurrection of Jesus, using the Old Testament to give scriptural proof of this event (Acts 2:24-35). He quoted Psalm 16:8-11, with emphasis on verse 10. ’You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay’ (NIV). This, according to Peter, could not have referred to David, because he died and his tomb was known. God did, however, swear to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne and rule over his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Ps. 89:3-4, 35-37; 132:11-12; cf. Acts 2:30). Since Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, who is to rule over David’s kingdom forever, the passage must refer to Him (v. 31). An eternal kingdom demands an eternal King.

This does not mean that Jesus is at the present time ruling from the throne of David, but that He is now at ’the right hand of the Father’ until His enemies are vanquished (Acts 2:33-35). He will come again to ’restore the kingdom to Israel.’ The ’right hand’ of God refers not to the throne of David, but to the place of authority, prominence, and privilege (1 Kings 2:19; Ps. 45:9 [Heb., 45:10]; Matt. 20:21; Mark 10:37; 14:62; Heb. 1:13; 1 Esdras 4:29-30; Testament of Job 33:3; Wisdom of Solomon 9:4).

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Paul used the same type of argumentation in Acts 13:34-37 when he preached in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia. In presenting the resurrection of Jesus, he appealed to God’s promises to David and quoted the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 55:3 (taV o{sia DaniVd taV pistav ) in Acts 13:34. God had promised David an eternal kingdom and that his seed would not see corruption; David died, so this must refer to the Messiah, the Son of David, who was raised in order for Him to rule over David’s eternal kingdom. The resurrection of Christ depended on the loyalty of God to His covenant with David. Paul did not say Jesus is now ruling over the kingdom of David, but only that the Son of David is now in a position to rule forever when He returns. Both Peter and Paul referred to God’s faithfulness to the Davidic Covenant in verifying Jesus’ resurrection.

The Relationship of the Davidic Promises to the Gentiles

In the transition from the Old Covenant to life under the New Covenant, the early church faced a number of problems. One major difficulty was the acclimation by the Jews to having Gentiles as equal members of the people of God. The situation became so acute that a special council was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter (Acts 15). After the council heard from Peter how the Gentiles had heard the gospel through him (vv. 7-11) and heard from Barnabas and Paul how God had done signs and wonders among the Gentiles (v. 12), James stated his opinion (vv. 13-21). He acknowledged that God had made provision to take a people

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from the Gentiles for His name, and said that this is ’in agreement with’ the words of the prophets (vv. 14-15).

Without discussing who is quoting (James or Luke), the source of the quotation (Amos 9:11-12 or a ’mixed quotation’), or the text of the quotation (the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, or a Hebrew text not available today), or the method of quoting (literal or a paraphrase), it will suffice to call attention to several significant items. It is important to note that James introduced the quotation by saying, ’The words of the prophets are in agreement with this’ (v. 15, NIV). The word sumfwnou’sin, translated ’in agreement with,’ is not a common term used to introduce a quotation viewed as fulfilled by the event in question. The basic idea of ’being in agreement with,’ or ’being in harmony with’ is used in a number of contexts. The plural subject ’the words of the prophets,’ points to the general message of the prophets. The words ’just as it stands written’ (kaqwV’ gevgraptai) give an example from the prophets to show that their message is in agreement with God’s taking a people from the Gentiles.

Also significant is the fact that James evidently made an interpretive change in the beginning of the quotation. He said, ’after these things’ (metaV tau’ta, Acts 15:16) instead of ’in that

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day’ (awhh^ <)yB^; the Septuagint has ejn th/’ hJmevra/ ejkeivnh/), thus giving the passage an eschatological interpretation, referring to the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. The meaning of ’after these things’ has been interpreted variously. Some may be tempted to make this phrase parallel to the word ’first’ (prw’ton) in verse 14, thus setting up a time sequence: first, the ’visitation of the Gentiles,’ and then the ’restoring of the tent of David.’ However, since the words ’these things’ are plural and come within the quotation, it seems better to view this as a reference to the things that will take place before the setting up of David’s tent, especially the eschatological judgments on Israel.

After these events God will revisit Israel and restore ’the collapsed tent of David’ to its former glory. ’The collapsed tent of David’ is best understood as referring to the ’dynasty of David,’ since there is an obvious allusion to ’the house of David.’ It would be difficult to understand the church as being the ’tent’ for several reasons. First, the eschatological context of

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Amos 9 is against this view. Second, it would be unlikely to say that the church was in a state of ’having fallen down’ (peptwkui’an, Acts 9:16). Third, it is inconceivable that the church could ever be called the ’dynasty of David,’ or, for that matter, any kind of dynasty. James said God’s taking a people from the Gentiles is in line with the prophecies that predict the blessing of the Gentiles in the last days when Israel will be restored.

The Davidic Promises in the Epistles

Two items to be considered in this section are the Davidic promises and the Davidic descent of Christ, and the Davidic promises and the kingdom.

THE DAVIDIC PROMISES AND THE DAVIDIC DESCENT OF CHRIST

In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he explained that God had separated him to the gospel, which was promised beforehand in the Scriptures. This ’good news’ was concerning God’s Son, who ’as to his human nature was a descendant of David’ (Rom. 1:3, NIV). The references to the Davidic Messiah are so few in Paul’s writings that many suppose Paul was quoting here from an early Christian tradition. This may or may not be the case, but at any rate the words, ’who came from the seed of David according to the flesh’ (tou’ genomevnou ejk spevrmato’ DaniVd kataV savrka ), stress the Messiah’s humanity. These words also point

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to His earthly descent as an Israelite of royal ancestry, in whom the Davidic promises will find their ultimate fulfillment. Perhaps this statement was especially intended for the Jewish members of the church at Rome in anticipation of his dealing with some of the Jewish Gentile problems in light of his purpose in writing this epistle. The parallel statement that Jesus is also the ’Son of God’ (1:4) fits Jesus’ teaching recorded in Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; and Luke 20:41-44, where He pointed out that the Messiah is also more than merely human.

In concluding his letter, Paul appealed to Jews and Gentiles to accept each other and quoted several Old Testament passages to support his explanation that believing Jews and Gentiles are to praise God for His blessings (Rom. 15:7-13). His final quotation is an interpretive paraphrase from the Septuagint of Isaiah 11:10, which states, ’the Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him’ (Rom. 15:12, NIV). In the Messiah, the Son of David, both believing Jews and Gentiles find their hope, in the present and the future.

Paul again referred to Christ’s Davidic descent when he told Timothy, ’Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David’ (2 Tim. 2:8, NIV). Some say Paul was again

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quoting from a tradition when stressing the deity of Christ (His resurrection) and His humanity (descendant of David), as he did in Romans 1:3-4. This is possible, but perhaps Paul was linking Jesus’ resurrection to the promises to David, as in Acts 13:35-37, noting that God’s covenant with David and God’s faithfulness to His word formed a scriptural basis for the resurrection.

Though Paul was certainly aware of Jesus’ Davidic descent, he did not elaborate on the promises made to David. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he emphasized the blessings for both Jews and Gentiles through the Messiah in the church, rather than in the coming Davidic kingdom.

In discussing the priesthood of Christ, the writer of Hebrews pointed out that ’it is perfectly obvious’ (provdhlon ) that ’our Lord arose from Judah’ (ejx =Iouvda ajnatevtalken oJ kuvrio’ hJmw’n, Heb. 7:14). This means that Jesus was not qualified to be a priest according to the Mosaic Law, and therefore it was necessary that His priesthood be of another order. The writer quoted Psalm 110:4 to show that Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Aaron (Heb. 7:17). Attridge points

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out that the argument is ’not simply the non-Levitical origins of Jesus, but the fact that the old priestly order and its law have been decisively changed.’ The messianic Psalm 110, which speaks of the Messiah sitting at the ’right hand’ of Yahweh, concerns the ’priesthood’ rather than ’kingship.’

The Davidic Promises and the Kingdom

Regarding the present reign of Christ, it is important to note that Paul elaborated on the teaching concerning the church as the expression of God’s present reign on earth. Jesus said He would build His church (Matt. 16:18), and God revealed to Paul that the church is composed of Jews and Gentiles as equal members of the body of Christ (Eph. 3:1-13). Jesus taught that the rule of God would be temporally removed from Israel and given to another group, and that Israel would some day see Him and the kingdom would be restored to Israel (Matt. 21:43; 23:38-39; Acts 1:3, 6). Paul explained that Israel has been broken off and the Gentiles have been grafted in to God’s rule, but one day ’all Israel’ will be saved and God’s promises will be fulfilled (Rom. 11:11-31). At the present time Jesus Christ is exalted to the place of prestige and privilege, ’the right hand of the Father’ (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22), where He serves as the believers’ High Priest and rules as Head of the church (1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18).

Does the present rule of Christ over the church mean He is ruling on the throne of David over the kingdom of David? Comparing the two ’reigns’ makes it difficult to give a positive answer. Several differences may be noted. First, the church is not a political entity, nor does it have national ties, such as a land or an earthly capital. The nations are not going to Jerusalem for instruction from the Lord as they will do in the Davidic kingdom (Isa. 2:3-4; Mic. 4:1-5). Second, the spiritual aspects of the Davidic Covenant, such as forgiveness, righteousness, blessings for all people, and others, which may have parallels in both the church and the Davidic kingdom, do not mean the two aspects of God’s rule on the earth are the same. In other words, to say that the church participates in the spiritual facets of the Davidic kingdom

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does not warrant the false assumption that similarities mean identity. Third, the descriptions of Jesus’ present reign do not fit His rule over the kingdom of David on the throne of David. ’The right hand’ does not mean the throne of David, nor does ’church’ mean the kingdom of David.

Fourth, the lack of emphasis on the promises to David in the New Testament epistles indicates that the Davidic kingdom is not in view during the present reign of Christ on earth through the church. The references to the Davidic descent of the Messiah stress His humanity rather than His rule as King. Fifth, though it is clear that Jesus has overcome and defeated the forces of Satan (Col. 2:15), the ultimate binding of the devil has not yet occurred. In the present rule of God on earth through the church, there is constant warfare against Satan (Eph. 6:10-17), but in the coming messianic kingdom Satan will be bound and there will be a time of peace (Rev. 20:1-3). For these reasons it seems better to view the church as God’s present rule on earth, without identifying this rule in any way with the Davidic kingdom. Though Christ, the resurrected Seed of David, has the right to sit on the throne of David and to rule over his kingdom, the realization of this right will not take place till He returns.

The Davidic Promises in the Book of Revelation

The future reign of the Messiah and the events preceding the establishment of His kingdom are presented in the Book of Revelation. Just before the judgments of God were described, John was shown a worship scene in heaven (Rev. 4-5). He saw a book sealed with seven seals and was saddened because no one was worthy to open the book (5:1-4). One of the ’elders’ said, ’Do not

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weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’ (v. 5, NIV). The figure of a lion, denoting strength, courage, majesty, fear-inspiring appearance, and intellectual excellence, is a well-known symbol applied to the Messiah. This is the national political Ruler from the tribe of Judah, the Messiah, the Son of David (Gen. 49:9). The other designation in Revelation 5:5 of the One who is worthy to open the book is ’the Root of David’ (hJ rJivza Danivd). This is an obvious reference to Isaiah 11:1, 10 (cf. 53:2) and refers to the lowly beginnings of the Messiah who will rule over David’s kingdom. The ’root’ (vr#v); rJivza) suggests a stump of a tree that has been cut down, out of which develops a ’root’ that eventually becomes a tree again. The connotation here is that the nation of Israel has been ’cut down,’ but now there is One from the dynasty of David who has the right to rule and the ’tree’ will flourish again.

The next section of Revelation describes the judgments of God on the earth just before the Messiah returns to set up the Davidic kingdom (Rev. 6:1-19:10). The Davidic kingdom is briefly described in Revelation 20:1-6 as a time of one thousand years during which Satan will be bound and the saints of God will rule with the Messiah (vv. 4-6). After the judgments described in

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Revelation 20:7-15, the millennial kingdom will merge into the eternal kingdom with the new heavens and the new earth (21:1-22:5). As the Book of Revelation concludes, Jesus described Himself as ’the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star’ (22:16, NIV). Symbolized by the ’Root’ (cf. 5:5), the Davidic Ruler will rise out of difficult circumstances, and as the ’Morning Star’ the Ruler will appear after a ’night of darkness.’ The Son of David will return and restore the kingdom to Israel, occupying His rightful place on the throne of David.

Conclusion

The covenant promises to David will be fulfilled in Jesus, who was born in the line of David in Bethlehem, the city of David. As ’the Son of David’ He demonstrated His qualifications to occupy the throne of His ancestor David. Both He and His forerunner, John the Baptist, proclaimed the Davidic kingdom promised in the Old Testament, but this message was rejected. So the Messiah presented a ’new’ form of God’s rule on the earth, the church, and He informed His disciples that He would die but be raised again. His resurrection was confirmed by God’s oath to David and is proof of His right to rule over an eternal kingdom. The rejection of Israel is not permanent, for the kingdom will be restored when the Son of David returns to set up the kingdom of David. Meanwhile He occupies the place of privilege and prominence, the ’right hand of the Father,’ where He rules as Head of the church and intercedes as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. His followers are called on to be His faithful witnesses in all the world as they await His return, when He will defeat all enemies, assume His place on the Davidic throne, and set up the Davidic kingdom.

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