1 The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
2 The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
3 Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you
like dew from the morning’s womb.
4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
7 He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.
To read Psalm 110 is to enter into a reality both new and mysterious. The pictures in the psalm invite us to a viewing spot we should not have. To read it is like getting a backstage pass at a concert or being lifted onto your dad's shoulders at the parade so you can see past the crowds. Psalm 110 gives us a picture of Christ, a viewing spot to see him in ways that would otherwise be impossible. That's what this psalm is about; it lifts us so we can see.
But what do we see when we peer through its pictures? First, we see that God the Father says to God the Son (Jesus) that he should sit at his right hand. A ceremony, a coronation, transpires, in which Jesus is enthroned “at the right hand of God.” The right hand in ancient Middle Eastern political systems was the seat of power. Only the highest and most trusted official would sit at the King’s right. So important is the position that ancients did not distinguish between the title of one's office and the person's identity. In other words, to be the King's right hand is to be the King's favored and empowered one. The office and the individual dissolve into one indivisible reality. We can understand this in today’s context too. When Queen Elizabeth II died, Prince Charles became King Charles. There is no "Charles Windsor," who is also not King; the two are one—the office is identity.
Why does the Church care so much about a passage that depicts Jesus’ enthronement? The answer to those questions is what Psalm 110 intends to show us.
So important is the enthronement we see in Psalm 110 that the ancient church used it when constructing a line in the Apostle’s Creed: “Jesus Christ…who sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.” To understand this psalm is to understand something essential about Jesus. And one of the crucial things to know is why this enthronement is even necessary. After all, haven’t all the parts of the Divine Trinity always been co-equal and co-existent? There was never a time when the Father did not exist with the Spirit and the Son. Why does the Church care so much about a passage that depicts Jesus’ enthronement? Hasn't he always been enthroned? And if not, what does he gain by his enthronement? The answer to those questions is what Psalm 110 intends to show us.
To understand, we have to make an important distinction. The man Jesus did not always exist. Jesus is the Divine Logos, the Word of God who was in the beginning with God. But the Logos becomes Jesus, the human man, with a human name and human birth. When he is born in Bethlehem to Mary, he receives the Name "Jesus" by Divine order, and his birth had long been foretold. We are saying that the Third Person of the Trinity, the Divine Logos, has always been with God. But, the incarnation of the Logos as a man was an event in human history; a moment when the Divine "came down" and dwelt among us. Yet there is more! Once God incarnates and is the God-Man Jesus, the only Name by which sinners can be saved – He forever remains that Divine–human man—for all eternity.
What you see in Psalm 110 is the enthronement of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Yes, the Second Person of the Trinity has always been with God, he has always been co-equal, and he has never been without God. But in his incarnation, he took on flesh and became one of us. In his resurrection, he ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of God—as one of us! The enthronement is that of a pauper, a human body, sitting at the seat of authority near God. This is humanity’s enthronement, our elevation above the angels and all other created things. It is the image of God redeemed, restored, refined, and resurrected from sin. And this is only because God became man, died, and rose for us. The remainder of the psalm speaks of the consequences of this enthronement. Briefly, we can see three consequences:
First, Jesus will rule in the midst of our enemies (vs. 2-3). He has already defeated sin, death, and hell. They exist only on borrowed time, inertia, and past energy. The sufferings of today are shadows stretching out before a rising sun. Soon they will dissolve like the morning dew. Jesus is worthy of enthronement but has also earned it with his work on the cross. There, he defeated our enemies and proved his Messianic authority, his kingly power, and his loyal submission to the Father.
When we pray to Jesus, we pray to the King's right hand. We know one who has the Father's ear, respect and trust. And the one who intercedes for us is still one of us, with nail-pierced hands.
Secondly, Jesus is “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (vs. 4). Melchizedek was a character in Genesis who is both a king and priest. Jesus also is a king and priest. The significance, however, is that Jesus intercedes on our behalf as a priest. Because a human sits at the right hand of God, he has an undeniable interest in advocating for humanity. He does not advocate for angels or other heavenly creatures—the God-Man advocates for his own. So, the enthronement of Jesus is the enthronement of humanity to God's right side. It is the place of honor, power, and glory. When we pray to Jesus, we pray to the King's right hand. We know one who has the Father's ear, respect and trust. And the one who intercedes for us is still one of us, with nail-pierced hands. The body that sits on the throne is the same body that rubbed his hands in the spit and mud to let the blind men see. It’s the same body that made new wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, healed lepers, overturned money tables, drew Peter from the swollen sea, and shouted in human speech for Lazarus to rise. That is our intercessor, not one like us but one of us. His coronation is our exaltation because we are in him and all that is his is ours (John 17, 1 Corinthians 3).
The psalm ends with Jesus judging the nations (vs. 5-7). Here we see that though the King is seated on the throne, he will not forever remain stationary. One day, he will rise from his seat at the Father's command and mount his horse, returning to judge the nations. "He will execute judgment," the psalmist tells us. And in so doing, he will establish his Kingdom in fullness. All will acknowledge him, even his enemies, as true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Prince of Peace will usher in eternal Peace. And he will do this as one of us.Psalm 110 is a picture of what the incarnation means. It gives us a heavenly view of Jesus' significance for humanity. It shows God's love, care, and the lavish gifts we possess in Christ. In times of trouble or hardship, it offers us an image of a more authentic reality than we are experiencing. That reality stands above our own, but not so out of view now. We may suffer, but Psalm 110 catapults us to a deeper, better reality. One we do not see yet with our bodily eyes that which is already active. When we pray, we exercise the truth of this psalm in faith. We pray knowing that who we pray to cannot help but be on our side. And we are reminded that God's love for humanity has given us the incarnation, the cross, and our exaltation in Christ.