Psalm 16 and Jesus

"You will not let your Holy One see decay"

Christians have generally recognised in a special way the death of Christ at this time of year. We remember the death and resurrection of one whom the angel Gabriel told Mary would "be great ... the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33). That promise was reflecting what God had said long years ago to the great King David, that is, that on his throne descendants would rule, yes even eternally. David and his son Solomon believed that promise of God and conducted their lives in the light of that wonderful truth (cf. 1 Kings 8:25-26). This great truth also pervaded the leadership of the Jews who when asked by Jesus whose son is the Christ replied immediately "the son of David" (Matthew 22:41; cf. Mark 12:35-36; Luke 20:41-43). The expectancy that the promised Messiah is the son of David provides for us the key to seeing that Psalm 16 does indeed identify Jesus as that Davidic Christ and does so by showing that it predicts his resurrection from the dead.

Son of David

We find the apostles Peter and Paul utilising this truth of the Christ being the son of David and of his being raised from the dead to demonstrate to their Jewish hearers that they should see that Jesus is indeed the fulfilment of these promises of God. Both Peter and Paul cite Psalm 16 to their Jewish audience to demonstrate from the Scriptures that God had promised to raise the Messiah from the dead, and that this one is none other than Jesus, raised from the dead. Peter cites Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-28 and Paul cites just Psalm 16:10 in Acts 13:35 (as in the sub-title of this article). Peter affirms that "God raised him [Jesus] from the dead, freeing him from the agony death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:24). He then goes on to affirm what "David said about him" (verse 25) and follows this affirmation by giving David's own words in Psalm 16:8-11:
I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.

David the prophet

Peter argues that this passage with its words "because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One see decay" (Acts 2:27, Psalm 16:10) does not apply to David by saying to his hearers, "I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day" ( Acts 2:29; as does Paul in Acts 13:36 where he says also that David's "body decayed"). He goes on to say that it applies to Jesus the Messiah because David gave this Psalm as prophet knowing "that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay" (Acts 2:29-30).

Peter says that the reason David was able to write as he did is that he wrote as "a prophet", that is as one who speaks the message God has given to him, and thus he was allowed, as it were, to look expectantly to the future to "see", and thus therefore to speak, "of the resurrection of Christ". What David had prophesied, Peter now asserts of Jesus as the one raised from the dead. Thus Peter says explicitly that, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact" (Acts 2:32).

Where did God make such a promise to David? He did so to David when David was hoping to build an house for God. God tells David that he will build an eternal house for David. We find the account recorded in 2 Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17. In both accounts we read that God promises to build that house for David. The account in 1 Chronicles says: "I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever."' (verses 10b-14).

Jesus in the Psalm

Paul picks up on that great promise echoed in Isaiah 55:3 and refers to it in Acts 13:34 in the words "I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David''. He previously echoed the sonship promised by saying "as it is written in the second Psalm: You are my Son; today I have become your Father". All of this truth from the Old Testament Paul says is good news that he is telling them, namely, "What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus" (Acts 13:32-33). He states that the passage in Psalm 16:10 speaks of Jesus by saying that "the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay" (Acts 13:371).

Where did Peter (and Paul) get this great certainty of understanding? Although the passages in Acts do not give any indication themselves, I think that Peter is reflecting the understanding that Jesus himself had given to the apostles as we read of it in Luke 24:44-48. Jesus said there to them that "everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scripture' He told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:44-48). Peter did not forget the understanding that he had been given then and there.

Peter, Paul and Barnabbas

In both Acts 2 with Peter and Acts l3 with Paul, the response of the Jewish people is evidenced and is a cause for rejoicing. Peter concluded his message by drawing out its clear implication and set it forth before his audience: "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). When the audience asks Peter what they should do, we read that "Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (verse 38). Paul had concluded his appeal to Psalm 16 and other Scriptures by saying: "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

The narrative goes on to say that "as Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and the devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God" (Acts l 3:4243). How wonderful it would be for us also to be able not only to rejoice in this fulfilled Scripture but also to speak further about the one of whom it speaks, Jesus the Messiah, and the offer of forgiveness that He gives not only to all nations but also, and particularly, to the children of the fathers, the descendants of Abraham and David, to whom it was originally given.

George W. Knight III is a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the USA and a member of the USA Council of CWI. This article was written for the Spring 98 Herald but shortage of space prevented it being included.

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