The New Testament writers considered Psalm 110 to be one of the key Old Testament texts that Jesus Christ fulfilled. This psalm states that a heavenly priest-king will reign with God and defeat the enemies of Israel. There was already a certain Messianic expectation in the 1st century due to the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27, but “the sirens went off,” so to speak, after Jesus walked the earth. Numerous early Christians saw Psalm 110 as a clear reference to Him. He ascended into heaven as a heavenly king, He resurrected from the dead in defeat of death, and He offered bread and wine as a priestly sacrifice to God.
Psalm 110:1 reads,
The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’
The first verse of this Psalm provides a personal word from the LORD, God of Israel, to “my Lord.” This title, “my Lord,” is oftentimes a title for the Davidic king of Judah (ex. 1 Kings 1:20-21). God is likely speaking to the king and is commanding him to sit at God’s right hand. To sit at the right hand of God ultimately means that the king will be seated literally next to God in heaven, for God’s throne is in heaven. This king will reign with God in a sort of co-regency, for the right hand is the position of power. Scripture scholar Joel Marcus states, “A seated position at the right hand of a deity implies co-regency with him…[and] implies that ‘my lord’ stands in relation of near equality with God.” The “my Lord” figure is truly a mighty king in heaven – not just some average Davidic king in Jerusalem.
In the first century, Psalm 110:1 was considered an unquestionable reference to the Messiah. This can be seen, for instance, with Jesus’s quotation of it in Matthew 22:41-46. Jesus refuted the Pharisees by quoting Psalm 110, causing Matthew to comment: “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Mt 22:46). Since the Jewish people had been without their Davidic king for centuries, Psalm 110 probably held much significance to them.
Jewish-Christians like Peter (Acts 2:32-35; 1 Peter 3:22) and Paul (Ephesians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 15:25) also quoted from this passage. These early Christian writers quoted Psalm 110 because they understood the passage to refer to Jesus’s ascension into Heaven. For only a true heavenly being could physically lift off from the ground (Luke 24:51). He left this earth to sit down next to God’s right hand in heaven. Yet Psalm 110 refers to a king, so how could this be Jesus? Well, as Matthew 1:1-17 shows, Jesus was born according to the lineage of king David. So, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the heavenly right hand of God as king. After that, His “enemies” became His footstool.
The first and primary enemy was the Devil. This can be seen based on Jesus’s war against him through Jesus’s exorcism ministry (ex. Mark 9:14-29). When Jesus died upon the cross, though, it had seemed that His enemy had won the war. For the Devil holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). However, that power of death was defeated when Jesus was resurrected from the dead. With the enemy defeated, Jesus needed to sit at the heavenly right hand of God – that way His enemies would be placed underneath His feet (Psalm 110:1).
The next Messianic aspect of Psalm 110 is verse 4, which reads,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’
Psalm 110:4 contains the second Divine oracle from God (the first was Psalm 110:1), and this oracle states that the king will be a priest. This priest-king is said to be after the order of Melchizedek, who was the old king of Salem (Genesis 14:18). According to Scripture scholar Tremper Longman, to be king of Salem probably meant that he was king of Jeru-Salem – the city on Mount Zion. This makes sense, for Psalm 110:2 refers to the king’s scepter in “Zion.” Melchizedek was priest-king on Mt. Zion, and following his legacy, the king of Psalm 110 will also be priest-king on Mt. Zion.
How will the priest-king of Psalm 110:4 operate as a priest? Well, to be a priest implies the ability to offer sacrifices to God. Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God (Gen. 14:18), so presumably this priest-king will offer something similar. It is no wonder, then, why Jesus offered the same sacrifice as Melchizedek to God in Luke 22:19-20. According to the early Christian Church Father, St. Jerome, Jesus demonstrated through this sacrifice that He was the “priest after the order of Melchizedek” from Psalm 110:4.
Psalm 110:4 finally says that this “priesthood” will be held by the king “forever.” To hold the priesthood forever ultimately suggests immortality. According to Hebrews 7 in the New Testament, Jesus is this heavenly and immortal priest. For Jesus died and came back to life, suggesting that He lives forever (Heb. 7:16). Jesus then brought His immortal life into heaven by His ascension, again indicating the eternity of His priesthood (Heb. 7:23-25). Jesus therefore is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:4, the true king after the “order of Melchizedek.”
Some Final Thoughts
Jesus Christ is the heavenly king prophesied about in Psalm 110. He conquered the Devil, who consistently has attempted to destroy God’s plans (Genesis 3:1-6). In the very beginning, the Devil attempted to turn Adam and Eve away from God. He succeeded, and humanity’s punishment ever since was physical and spiritual death. Nevertheless, God promised that someone would crush the head of the Devil. Genesis 3:15 says that the serpent-Devil will be separated from a “woman” whose offspring will “bruise” the head of the Devil. Psalm 110:1 probably identifies this serpent-crushing offspring of the woman as the Davidic king of Judah, who’s enemies will be made his footstool. Jesus is that king. Not only did Psalm 110 look forward to Him, but other prophets as well, such as Ezekiel (37:24), Amos (9:11), and Jeremiah (33:15). A future king’s appearance was a staple for Judaic piety. However, Psalm 110 also revealed that this king would be a “priest.” This explains the priestly sacrifice of bread and wine by Jesus during the Last Supper. It also indicates an important truth: every priest who offers this sacrifice is a priest like Jesus. No wonder why Psalm 110 is sung at every priest’s ordination Mass.