At the Right Hand

by Ron Julian


Those who lived before the time of Jesus, those waiting for the coming Messiah, did not anticipate a time like the one in which we live. That the Messiah would come and then go away again never occurred to them. The King has come, and yet the world seems very much as it always has. Who could have known? As it happens, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament agree that at least one passage in the Old Testament hints at that very thing. That intriguing passage, one of the passages most quoted by the New Testament, is Psalm 110, a psalm of David.

Yahweh says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
Yahweh will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Your people will volunteer freely on the day of Your power,
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
Yahweh has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses;
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country;
He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He will lift up His head.

Although there are some tricky details in this Psalm (which we will not pursue now), the overall picture is fairly clear. David, the psalmist, speaks of his “Lord,” a man who will be placed at the right hand of God, a metaphorical place of incomparable honor and authority. This man will “sit” in this exalted place until that day when God conquers all his enemies and subjects them to his rule. On that day, this man’s people will eagerly volunteer, presumably to follow him in his conquering army. Intriguingly, he will be not only a conquering king but also a priest representing his people to God—and an eternal priest at that. Yet that day will come when God will go to war to execute judgment on the rebellious kings of the earth and bring them finally and completely under the rule of this man, David’s “lord.”

A man who sits in a place of authority, destined to conquer and rule over all the kings of the earth—that sounds like the Messiah, the Christ, and it is almost certain that the Rabbi’s of Jesus’ day understood the psalm in that way. Jesus himself certainly did, as we see in Matthew 22:41-45:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit, call him Lord, saying,

‘Yahweh said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
Until I put your enemies under your feet?”’

If David thus calls him Lord, how is He his son?”

Jesus is clearly affirming several things. First of all, he asserts that Psalm 110 is talking about the Christ. Next, he says (contrary to some modern skeptics) that David is the author of the Psalm. He concludes, therefore, that David saw the Christ as being so superior to himself that he calls Him “Lord.” The Pharisees, as would have been very typical, thought of David as the founding ancestor of the Davidic line of kings, the most important member of the tribe. The Messiah, as the son of David, would seem to derive his authority from David. Jesus uses this passage to remind them that David saw the Messiah not so much as his descendant but as his superior.

Ultimately, at his trial, Jesus identified himself as that Messiah, that son of David, and he did so with an unmistakable allusion to Psalm 110:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)

Jesus speaks of His future coming by alluding to two famous messianic passages. Daniel 7 speaks of “one like a son of man” who comes in the clouds and to whom God gives sovereign rule over the nations. And of course Psalm 110 speaks of that man whom God seats at His right hand, destined to conquer. So the Sanhedrin would certainly not miss Jesus’ point when he says, “you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” That one whom the Psalm identifies as sitting at the right hand of God is none other than Jesus himself.

The rest of the New Testament authors pick up this exact idea. Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews, and I Peter—all these speak of Jesus currently sitting at the right hand of God. That is what his resurrection and ascension mean: God has raised Jesus to that exalted place of honor and authority at the Father’s right hand. Peter in his very first sermon (Acts 2:32), preached on the day of Pentecost, makes that very clear:

This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into the heavens; but he himself says,

“Yahweh said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
Until I put your enemies under your feet?’”

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

So Jesus, the Messiah, has now arrived at the first stage spoken of in Psalm 110, an exalted place at the right hand of God. But what of the final stage? What about the conquest of the rebellious kings of the earth, figuratively portrayed as sprawled under the feet of the conquering Messiah? That is still to come. As Paul says in I Corinthians 15:23-25:

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Paul essentially repeats the thought of Psalm 110: there is a time coming (but is not yet) when God will put all Christ’s enemies under his feet in subjection.

Thus I think we can say with great confidence that the New Testament universally agrees that God announced His intentions in Psalm 110: Jesus, the Messiah, would reign as God’s exalted King for a period of time, sitting (so to speak) at the right hand of God, waiting for the consummation of history when all rebellion against his rule would end and his conquest would be complete.

This picture helps prevent us from making two opposite errors. On the one hand, we should not think of today as the time when nothing is happening. Jesus is reigning as God’s exalted King now. The rest of the New Testament makes clear that his reign is manifested every time a soul is wrenched from the grasp of Satan, every time the truth prevails over error, every time a follower of Jesus grows in faith. On the other hand, we should not think that this world will just continue on as it is indefinitely. The Father is working to fulfill His promise, that all the enemies of the Messiah, every heart in rebellion against God, will one day finally be brought low, so that the Messiah’s total conquest of evil will extend throughout the earth. For believers, both truths are important. Although it is hard for us to see, Jesus is reigning now, bringing together a people who will love God eternally. And one day his people will see the eradication of all opposition to truth and goodness. On that day real life will begin.

Copyright December 2010 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Ron Julian