Mark 12:35–37

The scribes and Pharisees often tried to catch Jesus off guard with questions about the law of God. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Mark to show how Jesus turned the tables on His opponents, asking them to explain a passage of the Old Testament that declares His deity.


We continue this morning with our study of the gospel according to Saint Mark, and the text for the day is a brief one. We are still in chapter 12, and I will be reading from Mark 12:35–37. I will ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”

And the common people heard Him gladly.

I believe this brief text is one of the most profound texts found anywhere in Scripture. Indeed, to preach on it in one sermon is almost blasphemous because it would take many weeks to touch deeply on all that is contained within this text. But I pray that you will hear what the Word of the Lord says and, as did the common people in Jesus’ day, receive it gladly. Please be seated. Let us pray.

Help us, O God, to begin to probe the mystery of the things set forth in this important text. For we ask it for our sakes and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus Turns the Tables

I had a professor in seminary who talked about a strong Christian apologist. He said that when this apologist was engaged in debate, he would not only win and annihilate the position of his opponent, but when he was through with him, he would dust off the spot where he stood. That graphic imagery of sound victory in debate has stayed in my mind for many years.

I could not help but think of that image when I came to this portion of Mark’s gospel. We have seen the threefold interrogation to which Jesus was subjected, first by the Pharisees and Herodians, then by the Sadducees, and then by the scribes, which we have already considered in previous weeks. These groups sought to entrap Jesus, and of all things, to defeat the very incarnation of truth in a debate about truth.

If any adversaries of truth were annihilated in debate, it was these groups. Indeed, Jesus dusted off the spot where they had stood. Not only did He win the debate, but He seized the arena of the debate, turned the tables on His adversaries, and became the interrogator. He became the One who subjected profound theological questions to them. He said while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?”

Let us look at that question. The first part of the question is, “Why do the intellectuals, theologians, and rabbis of Israel come to the conclusion that the coming Messiah would be the Son of David?” Most of the people to whom Jesus spoke were well aware of the manifold texts of the Old Testament that predicted the coming Messiah would be from the line of David, a descendant of David, born in the city of David, of the seed of David.

The Davidic Golden Age

If we go back to the pages of the Old Testament, we realize that Israel’s most illustrious king was King David. He extended the boundaries of the nation from Dan to Beersheba, was the greatest military genius in Israel’s history, and had the finest public works program of any king who ruled over the Jewish people. He was a shepherd, a poet, and a brilliant administrator. He personified the greatest statesman of that historical era. So, the reign of David was considered by the Jews to be the golden age of Israel.

We know what happened upon the death of David, when his kingdom was inherited by his son Solomon. Under that reign of Solomon, with all his wisdom—and at times lack of it—the golden age of Israel began to be tarnished a bit. By the next generation, the kingdom was divided between Jeroboam and Rehoboam, and the glorious golden era turned to rust.

As time went on, the decay continued. It got worse and worse as corruption penetrated every dimension of the monarchies in both the north and the south. The people longed for the good old days, the days of the golden years under David, and God gave them the promise that the fallen house of David would be restored and the monarchy promised to David would last forever. Generation after generation, the Jewish people pinned their hopes on the coming Messiah, who would be the Son of David, one of David’s descendants.

By the Holy Spirit

Jesus went on, saying:

How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:

“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’”

Therefore David himself calls Him “Lord”; how is He then his Son?

Let us look at the beginning of this quotation, where Jesus said, “David himself said by the Holy Spirit.” Just in passing, let us notice the Lord Jesus Christ’s view of sacred Scripture. He did not regard the lyrical poetry of David the musician and literary giant of antiquity as simply produced by one uniquely gifted with artistic inspiration. Rather, when He quoted from the Psalm, He said that David said what he said and wrote what he wrote by the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus, those who were God’s spokesmen spoke not by their own wisdom but under the supervision and influence of the Holy Ghost.

The former prime minister of the Netherlands and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, Abraham Kuyper, once remarked that we live in a time not simply of biblical criticism but of biblical vandalism, where every conceivable hostile attack against the normative authority of the Bible has been launched in the last one or two hundred years. Those who continue to hold to an inspired text of Scripture are, in many circles, considered to be backwoods fundamentalists and theological obscurantists with no academic or scholarly credibility.

We say, as Luther said to skeptics of his own day, “Spiritus Sanctus non est skepticus”—“The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic.” That which He declares is more certain than life itself. Our Lord had no problem with the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture, and neither should we.

I mention simply in passing that Jesus said that this affirmation by David was by the Holy Spirit. In other words, David’s testimony was the testimony of the third person of the Trinity. It was a divine assertion and affirmation, and He was quoting what David wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a portion of the text of Psalm 110:

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

The Importance of Psalm 110

Jesus’ quotation comes directly from Psalm 110. You may be surprised to learn that Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament. To say it another way, there is no other statement found in the Old Testament Scriptures quoted more often than the text of Psalm 110. Including direct quotations and allusions, the New Testament refers to Psalm 110 no less than thirty-three times.

I have already said that this text is so rich and profound that it is worthy of much more attention than I can possibly give it this morning. The New Testament writers refer to it thirty-three times, so they clearly understood the gravity of how important this text is to understand the person and work of Jesus.

When all the debates were over, when Jesus answered all their questions, He dragged His adversaries to this text, the supreme text of Messianic expectancy among them. He said: “Notice what David is saying about His Son, the Son that you are expecting as your Messiah; David himself said by the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord.’”

God’s Name and Title

“The Lord said to my Lord”—there is the first part of the conundrum. Here you have “the Lord”—with small capitals—referring to Yahweh, who is having a conversation with someone who is given the title Adonai, or “Lord.” That is strange enough because in most cases in the Old Testament, whenever the title Adonai is used, it describes an office or title that belongs to Yahweh. In Psalm 8:1, for example: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth,” the text reads like this: “O Yahweh, our Adonai.”

In Isaiah 6, the word for Lord is found in two ways. First, it is spelled out L-o-r-d, when Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). Later in the text, the reference to the Lord is L-o-r-d (Isa. 6:3). When the Scriptures refer to God as Lord—with small capital letters—that is the English translation of the sacred name of God, the memorial name, the ineffable name, the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in the Midianite wilderness when He said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). That has been translated into the term Yahweh.

Yahweh is God’s name. It is not His title. The supreme title given to God, translated in English by “Lord,” is the title Adonai, which means “the One who is absolutely sovereign.” So, in Psalm 8 we read, “O Lord, our Lord,” or “O Yahweh, our Sovereign, how excellent is Your name in all the earth.”

Back in Psalm 110, we have Yahweh calling somebody else “Adonai.” That is enough to cause us to scratch our heads, is it not? Who is addressed in this Psalm by the Lord God omnipotent as Adonai? It does not say, “The Lord said to Himself, Adonai.” Rather it says, “The Lord said”—and David is writing this—“to my Adonai.”

Who is David’s Adonai? Who is sovereign over the king of Israel? In Hebrew categories, that would be God. So, it seems God is having a conversation with Himself about David’s Lord, David’s Sovereign, David’s Adonai. The Lord speaks to somebody else, who is identified in Psalm 110 as David’s Lord. Jesus was saying to these scholars: “What do you think of this text? What is the Holy Spirit saying? What is it that the Lord said to David’s Lord? ‘Sit at My right hand.’”

The Session of Jesus

When we go through the biblical narrative of the work of Jesus, there are special moments in the life and ministry of Jesus that we extrapolate and recognize as moments of supreme importance in redemptive history. We celebrate Jesus’ birth. We take very seriously the death of Jesus on the cross, which is central to our salvation. At the end of Holy Week, we join in great joy and glory celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the day of Pentecost, and we are almost preoccupied today with the return of Jesus.

But there is an element in the work of Christ historically that is almost completely forgotten among us, and it is called the session of Jesus. In the polity and governmental makeup of Saint Andrew’s, we are ruled by a body of elders that we call the session. Why are they called the session? When they meet to deliberate, to establish policy, to give supervision to our spiritual lives, they do not meet standing up. They sit down and discuss. That is what session simply means: “being seated.”

When we say that Congress is “in session,” we mean that our representatives are assembled, and they do not stand all day. Though many of the decisions are made in the cloakrooms, the votes are taken while they are in their seats.

The most important session of all time is the session seated in heaven. Psalm 110 says that Yahweh says to David’s Lord, “Sit at My right hand,” which means, “Be seated in the highest place of authority in the universe according to My delegation.”

The point this prophecy makes is that the Messiah who was to come, after He finished His labor in the world, would be exalted into heaven in ascension and enthroned at the right hand of God. We say it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He ascended into heaven”—and then—“and sitteth on the right hand of God.” That confession of faith from the early church testifies to the importance of the session of Christ.

Faithful to the King

What does the session of Jesus mean for us now? What did it mean for the church in the first century? It means that Christ has been enthroned in the highest seat of political power and authority in the universe. We pride ourselves in living in a democracy or republic, but as Christians, we do not reside in a democracy or republic. We live in a kingdom—in which we have a King who has been enthroned already. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. His reign is not something that will take place in the distant future. Rather, it has started already. Jesus is our King right now.

One of my favorite stories of all time is Robin Hood. I love it. I keep on my TiVo the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood. I have been waiting patiently for them to re-release an even older version called The Bandit of Sherwood Forest but have not been able to find that yet. But I love the story.

You know the story: Richard the Lionheart must leave his country, his realm, his domain, because he is going off into a foreign battle to try to defeat the Turks and liberate Jerusalem from the infidels, so he goes off on the Crusades. While he is gone, the wicked Prince John takes charge of the realm, and anybody who wants to be faithful to Richard is banished as an outlaw. Robin and his men live in the forest, trying to escape the wrath of the corrupt Prince John.

Robin Hood’s men are called “a band of merry men.” They are known for their joy, but they are also known especially for their loyalty. They wanted to protect the realm until their king came home. My favorite part of the story is at the end, when Richard returns to England disguised in the garb of a monk. He is seated in his disguise at an inn and hears people talking about Robin Hood, Prince John, and all that is going on.

So, on his way back, Richard travels through Sherwood Forest. Suddenly, out of the trees jump Robin and the merry men. They stop the group of monks, and Robin tries to relieve Richard of his purse. King Richard’s face is hidden from Robin Hood, and he says to Robin Hood, “Why are you doing this?” He says, “Because of my loyalty and allegiance to my king.”

Then Richard pulls apart the monk’s garments, displays the lion and cross on his chest, and throws back his hood. Instantly, Robin recognizes him, falls on his knees, and says, “My liege.” Then in the final moments, Richard knights Robin Hood “Sir Robin of Locksley” because of his faithfulness during the absence of the king.

Do you see why I love that? It serves as a metaphor for the church. Our King is already seated at the right hand of God, but He has gone to heaven temporarily. In the meantime, He looks to us, His people, to remain loyal to Him when the whole world goes for Prince John. But our King has been seated at the right hand of God.

The Son Exalted

The author of Hebrews makes much of the session of Christ when he writes of the supremacy of Jesus in Hebrews 1:13:

But to which of the angels has He ever said:

“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?

Earlier in that same chapter, the author cites Psalm 45:6–7:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions. (Heb. 1:8–9)

Who is anointed? It is to the Son that these words are spoken. Do you wonder why the New Testament would have thirty-three allusions to Psalm 110, which gives us such a magnificent view of the unique, transcendent majesty of Christ, who is the Messiah?

The point is that, yes, the Messiah will be the Son of David, but in Jewish categories, the son is always subordinate to his father. The son is never greater than the father. So, you would expect that as marvelous as the Messiah might be, if He was David’s son, He could not be greater than David. But David himself, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, calls his son his Lord. Jesus is not simply the son of David; He is David’s Sovereign. He is David’s Adonai. He is David’s King, before whom even David must bow. Therefore, David himself calls Him “Lord.”

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in chapter 2, he writes what is called the “kenotic hymn,” in which he enjoins the Philippians to have the mind among them that was also in Christ Jesus. Even though He was in the form of God, He took His equality with God not as something to be prized, jealously guarded, grasped, or held onto, but He emptied Himself, not of His deity, not of His attributes, but of His prerogatives, of His glory, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, a slave, and He became obedient even unto death.

Paul concludes: “Therefore”—that is, because of this—“God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Listen to Christian hymnody. Listen to the spiritual songs, the praise choruses. They all celebrate the name of Jesus as the name that is above every name, but Paul says that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess not that He is Jesus, but that He is Adonai, that He is Kyrios, that He is Lord. That is the supreme title. That is the name that is above every name. The name reserved for God in the Old Testament is now given to His Son, who is now called Kyrios kyrion, the Lord of the lords, the Sovereign One whom God has seated at His right hand.

Think of the implications of that. Think of the implications that Jesus has been given this name, and the giving of that name was foreshadowed already by the Holy Ghost in Psalm 110, when Yahweh speaks to David’s Adonai, when the Father says to the Son: “I have prepared a throne for You. Sit at My right hand until I make all Your enemies Your footstool.” He may tarry in a foreign land, but He has never lost that authority.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.