June 17: Psalm 110

Iain D Campbell
Priest forever

This Psalm has the distinction of being among the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament. In it, David seems to hear the covenant Lord speak to his Lord, inviting him to sit at his right hand. As Hebrews 1:13 reminds us, it was not to any of the angels that Jehovah issued this invitation; it was to God the Son that God the Father said, 'Sit on my right hand'.

The theology of this Psalm is the theology of the covenant of redemption, in which, for us and our salvation, the eternal Son became the Servant of the eternal Father. He could not die at Calvary as the Son, but he could die as the Servant - Son of God in our nature. And as the God-Man, he could be elevated to a position of eminence and glory. God has highly exalted him.

This Messianic Psalm is the link between the appearance of Melchizedek in the Old Testament story of Abraham (Genesis 14) and the doctrine of Christ's eternal priesthood in the New Testament. As Abraham was returning from battle, there met him one who was both a king and a priest of God, to whom Abraham gave a tenth of everything.

Blink and you miss him - but without that momentary glimpse of Melchizedek in Genesis, our understanding of the work of Christ would be greatly impoverished. This Melchizedek, like the Messiah, fulfills distinctive offices as king and priest before God. Like the Messiah, he receives his priesthood by divine appointment, not by generational legacy. Like the Messiah, he does not pass on that priesthood to any other. And like the Messiah, he surpasses everything that was included in the Old Testament priesthood; with brilliant, penetrating insight, the writer to the Hebrews says that in Abraham every Levitical priest, who was owed a tenth of the goods of the people, paid a tenth to Melchizedek.

Way back in the book of Genesis, in other words, there appears a figure who is a sign that something better than the ministry of the Old Testament is awaited and required. No other priest held onto his office for ever; but Jesus is like Melchizedek, whose ancestry and descendancy are not recorded: he holds his office in perpetuity.

In a sermon on Melchizedek, Spurgeon says that 'he appears but once, and that once suffices'. That is the glory of the great assertion of Psalm 110: the one who is at God's right hand needs to be seen but once, and that is enough. There, at God's right hand, he is a priest still, able to save all who come to God through him, because he lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).