And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds…(Rev. 1:5-7, NRSV).
In this third and final installment of the Church of the Firstborn series (see Parts I and II), I will be diving into another messianic mystery tucked away in the OT. There is a fascinating text in Psalm 110 that contributes to our understanding of the NT revelation of Christ and the Church. This particular verse has a confusing textual issue, as we’ll soon discover. However, with some biblical sleuthing and the right interpretative framework, you might be surprised by the picture that surfaces once we piece together the available evidence.
As Christ’s body we are graced with titles and privileges ascribed to the Savior himself, and we can find a few of these associations in the passage of Revelation 1:5-7. John’s summary of prior biblical revelation sets the stage for this study in Psalm 110:
Jesus is uniquely the firstborn of the dead (Rev. 1:5; cf. Col. 1:18)
Jesus is uniquely the Priest-King forever (Rev. 1:6; cf. Heb. 4:14; 5:5-6; Zech. 6:13)
Jesus is uniquely the Son of Man who returns with the clouds (Rev. 1:7; Matt. 26:64; Dan. 7:13)
And while Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, is the preeminent Firstborn, Priest-King, and Son of Man flanked by the clouds of heaven, the same descriptors can also be applied secondarily to the Church by virtue of being one in Christ (Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 4:15-16; Col. 3:11):
The Church is also identified as the firstborn (Heb. 12:23; Rev. 2:28; Rev. 12:5; Isa. 66:7-8)
The Church is a royal priesthood, a.k.a. priest-kings (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 1 Pet. 2:9)
The Church is among the Son of Man’s cloud army (1 Thess. 4:17; Heb. 12:1; Rev. 1:7; 3:4; 4:4; 19:7-8, 14)
All three of these elements—(1) Firstborn (2) Priest-King (3) Cloud Army—can be found in Psalm 110. However, you won’t see all of them by simply reading one particular English version, nor can you see the full picture by an uncritical acceptance of the Masoretic Text either. It’s gonna take a little excavating, but there is some hidden treasure in this hill.
Raised Up and Seated with Christ
Psalm 110 has the most citations, quotations, and allusions in the New Testament of all the psalms. Along with Psalm 2, it is highly messianic and finds fulfillment in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. The book of Hebrews reveals the immense implications of Jesus’ superior priesthood and ties Psalms 2 and 110 together twice: (1) They are the first and last OT quotations which bookend the opening argument (Heb. 1:5, 13), and (2) They are linked again in Heb. 5:5-6, where the Father is the One to appoint Jesus to His exalted position.
To reiterate something I touched on in Part II, it is important to grasp when the Father officially declared Jesus “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” and said the words “today I have begotten you.” Historically, the Father’s declaration of these two OT prophetic statements (Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4) was made official only after Jesus had been raised from the dead and taken up to heaven. Acts 13:33-34 crystallizes this point.
So why is this a big deal? Well, for the purpose of our study, the timing of the Father’s words is essential in order to define and clarify the oft-used and oft-misunderstood term “begotten.” The Greek term gennao in the context of Psalm 2:7 and its numerous NT citations is best understood in the sense of the new creation. In other words, the Father’s “begetting the Son” means that Jesus became the “firstborn” of a new creation at the time of His bodily resurrection and, ultimately, His triumphant return back into heaven to be at the Father’s right hand. And like Jesus, the head of the body (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18), the Church will also experience a second “birth”, a supernatural “begetting” by the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father.
Perhaps this creative use of language is why some are stuck when it comes to Revelation 12:5 and cannot fathom how this text could refer to anyone else other than Jesus. Sadly, many are short-sighted in their interpretation and are only thinking about a historical birth in the sense of Mary and a baby in swaddling clothes. In context, the “begetting” and “birth” of this male-child in Rev. 12:5 is the corporate Christ (Jesus and His body), and it’s not a natural/physical birth being depicted—it’s a supernatural/spiritual birth (i.e. the resurrection/rapture of the Church).
At times I wonder if some Christians feel they aren’t worthy enough to be identified with Christ in such an exalted manner. It’s as if they understand that Jesus is both an eternal King and Savior, but they fail to grasp the significance of texts such as Revelation 2:26-28. Is it low self-worth, doubt, guilt, fear, or even pride? Some folks, I guess, are still waiting on their pastor to get to this text in Revelation in order to explain it…and they keep waiting…and waiting…
Well, my fellow heir and co-ruler with Christ, I often tell others not to read themselves into certain texts, but I’m going to go ahead and give the green light to any born-again believer in Christ to read yourself into this one:
He [the Father] also raised us up with him [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavensin Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7, CSB).
We really struggle to grasp the weighty truth of this passage, because we are currently in a stage of tension, the already-but-not-yet. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul isn’t playing games with words and neither is God. We really will be raised up and seated with Christ in the future—as a complete and glorified body in heaven!
Do we find such a scene in Scripture where the entire body of Christ is raised up and seated with Christ in heaven? Yes, and here’s an on-point quote from Greg Lauer:
Paul comes right out and says that Christ will raise us up and make us sit with Him in the heavenly places. How do you allegorize this away? How do you make this mean something different? If this is not being fulfilled right here in Revelation 4, then by all means—please indulge me and show me where it is fulfilled” (“The Gang’s All Here,” article #5, 2015, emphasis his).
And so, even though there is an already-but-not-yet fulfillment (positional sanctification, as it’s called), Ephesians 2:6 finds ultimate fulfillment in Revelation chapter 4. There in God’s throne room in heaven, we see the complete and glorified Church: the firstborn, the priest-kings, and the white-robed “clouds” who sit with the Lamb right before He stands up, takes the scroll, and begins to judge the earth. Gary’s written on this too, so if you missed it, check out “Who are the 24 Elders?”
Again, I will often tell brothers and sisters in Christ under the New Covenant not to read themselves back into the “Old Testament” era. But if you are my brother or sister in Christ, then go ahead and read yourself into this next one too.
But first, we gotta do some detective work in order to clear up some confusion and uncover the mystery hidden in a 3,000-year-old psalm…
A Prophecy of Christ and His Church in Psalm 110
Before I go any further, I owe a debt of gratitude to one of my seminary professors, Dr. Larry Waters (now with the Lord), who introduced me to a highly influential and stimulating book called The Messianic Hope by Michael Rydelnik. I have cited Rydelnik in previous articles, and I am compelled to share his thoughts once again in this piece.
Rydelnik provides an outline of Psalm 110 that will help us to establish the proper context. He includes a chart that illustrates how Psalm 110 thematically unifies Psalms 107 through 113 (pg. 171):
108 “Pleas for Deliverance”
110 “The Messianic Deliverer”
112 “Praise for Deliverance”
You can read through these other psalms in order to see the connection for yourself. The placement of Psalm 110 as an answer to pleas and prayers of deliverance goes to show that the collection and arrangement of each and every psalm was a careful, deliberate, and Holy Spirit-guided process. For a brief example, Psalm 109:31 flows quite seamlessly into the next psalm (see Psalm 110:1)!
Next, Rydelnik adapts an outline of Psalm 110 from Derek Kidner’s commentary (pg. 171). The psalm has three units of thought that each depict some aspect of the ultimate Messiah, the Son of David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:11-13; 1 Chron. 17:11-14):
(1) 110:1-3 – The Messiah is a Divine King
(2) 110:4 – The Messiah is an Eternal Priest
(3) 110:5-7 – The Messiah is a Righteous Judge/Victorious Warrior
When you read through this psalm and study the flow of thought, you’ll discover that the book of Revelation is a thorough expansion of this ancient prophecy. There is a sure and steady move of the Messiah from His exalted position in heaven, at the right hand of God (YHWH, the LORD), back down to earth in order to wage a righteous war against His enemies (cf. Rev. 19:11-16).
And, as you know, the Messiah isn’t alone—He has a “body” with Him. Remember, Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation “with the clouds” (Matt. 26:64; Rev. 1:7; cf. Dan. 7:13). Well, just as you might expect, “the clouds” can be seen in Psalm 110:3 and linked closely with David’s “Lord” and King (cf. Matt. 22:41-46).
However, it’s at this juncture where the Hebrew and Greek versions differ drastically, especially in the second line of verse three (Psalm 110:3b). First, here is an English translation of verse three that more or less adheres to the Masoretic Text (Hebrew):
Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew” (NASB).
Second, here is an English translation of the same verse from the LXX (Greek):
With you is authority in the day of your might, with the splendor of the holy ones. From the womb, before the morning, I begat you” (The Lexham English Septuaguint).
As you can see there are major differences, and it’s no small task to try and piece this textual puzzle together. At first blush, I find it intriguing that verse three has the most difficult textual problem of all the places in this psalm. There is something monumental going on this verse, and if the original text is some kind of combination of both the Hebrew and Greek versions, then parallel passages containing “resurrection/raised-up-to-rule” imagery abound in Scripture and the implications for the Church are immense.
Here is what Rydelnik says about this significant verse:
David M. Hay correctly notes that the last phrase of 110:3 is ‘virtually unintelligible.’ The MT reads ‘from the womb of the dawn, your youth [yalduteyka] are to you as dew’…leading to a variety of strained and unlikely interpretations since these words make virtually no sense. Booj describes the phrase as ‘especially problematic and indeed…meaningless.’ He concludes that ‘some deformation must have crept in.’ Although a canon of textual criticism is that the harder reading is to be preferred, there is a difference between a harder reading and an incoherent, impossible one. For this reason, Sigmund Mowinckel and other scholars prefer the LXX, which reads, ‘from the womb of the dawn, I have begotten you,’ a translation based on the same Hebrew consonants but with different vowel pointings [yelidtika]. Additionally, Bentzen has suggested that the corruption of the MT resulted from deliberate scribal efforts to obfuscate the meaning and its plain allusion to Ps. 2:7. Since the LXX reading is preferable, it leads to a strongly messianic interpretation, describing in Hay’s words, ‘the birth of a divine child’ as King” (Messianic Hope, pg. 174-175, bolded emphasis mine).
Now, I don’t want anyone to become disheartened or overly suspicious every time there is a difference between English translations that highlight an underlying disagreement between the Masoretic Text and any other version, especially the Greek (LXX). The MT is a solid and reliable transmission of the entire Hebrew Bible, but you do need to be aware that the MT is dated around AD 1000 whereas the LXX manuscripts go as far back as 2-1 BC.
What does this mean? It means that the Masoretes, who were Hebrew scribes (i.e. non-Christians) and gatekeepers of a text transmitted down through the centuries post Pentecost AD 33, would certainly want to avoid any association with Jesus as the Messiah and “begotten Son” of YHWH (cf. John 1:14; 3:16).
Therefore, it is entirely plausible to suggest that the surviving Hebrew text (MT) contains a deliberate attempt to disassociate and avoid the clear link between Psalm 110:3 and Psalm 2:7. Chalk it up as just another “conspiracy theory,” if you wish, but Rydelnik’s explanation accounts for the confusion and incoherence between the Greek and Hebrew versions. Additionally, there is evidence from other ancient Hebrew manuscripts and the Syriac version that support and uphold the Greek inclusion of the Father’s words “I have begotten you” in Psalm 110:3 (Messianic Hope, pg. 175, footnote 42).
In summary, neither the Hebrew or the Greek versions have the original text, and we need both of them in order to reconstruct what was lost in transmission. William Brown, a scholar at Union Theological Seminary, agrees and honors both Masoretic and non-Masoretic witnesses. Here is his suggested rendering of the original text of Psalm 110:3b:
In holy splendor, out of the womb, towards the dawn go forth! Like dew, I have begotten you” (“Critical Notes: A Royal Performance” from Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 117.1, year: 1998, pg. 96).
Wisely and conservatively, Brown incorporates the reference to “dew” found in the MT but omitted by the LXX. He also includes in a footnote his suggestion that the “womb” refers to Zion, which is frequently associated with maternal imagery. For evidence he cites Isaiah 66:7-9 and Psalm 87:4-6!
So, putting the pieces all together now, Psalm 110:3 looks something like this (based loosely on the ESV + the scholarship cited above):
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power dressed in holy splendor/garments; from the womb [and] before the dawn, like [the] dew I have begotten you.”
Next, take a look at the verses that come before and after verse three:
The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!…[t]he LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:2, 4, ESV).
And, voilà! Now we have all three of our messianic associations listed in Revelation 1:5-7: (1) Firstborn, (2) Priest-King, and (3) Cloud Army. Here are the thematic elements along with verse quotations from 110:2-4:
(1) Firstborn – “…from the womb before the dawn, like [the] dew I have begotten you” (110:3b)
(2) Priest-King – “…You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (110:4b), and “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (110:2b)
(3) Cloud Army – “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power dressed in holy splendor/garments” (110:3a)
The Begotten, Not Forgotten Ones
One day, and one day soon, the LORD will “remember” His covenant promise to the Church. The Head of the body has already gone before us as a forerunner, the prototype of what is to come. One day, and one day soon, the earth will not be able to contain the dead any longer and will bring forth (give “birth”) to the new creation (Rom. 8:22-23). One day when the fullness of Gentiles has come in (Rom. 11:25), the Father will say to us too, “Today, I have begotten you.”
Thus, as we have discovered in this study, a key prophetic text in Psalm 110:3 helps to complete the mystery of Messiah and His body. There are elements in this text that align beautifully with other passages that depict the “birth” (resurrection/glorification) of the Church.
Isaiah 26:19, 21 – The earth gives birth to the dead in Christ, “Your dead will live…” And here we find the presence of “dew” imagery again. Dew is symbolic of renewal and blessing—especially an early blessing such as the pre-dawn (Day of the LORD) resurrection and rapture before the earth is judged.
Isaiah 66:7-9 – The “birth” before Zion’s “labor” is the “begetting” of the Church, the male (Grk. arsen). Christ was begotten first, but His body is not far behind. The male (arsen) who is born from the earth is a collective, a nation of priest-kings resurrected and glorified in one day. Check out 2 Esdras 4:40-42 for a thought-provoking backdrop to these texts in Isaiah about the coming earth-birth of God’s children.
Revelation 12:5 – This one, solitary verse is pregnant (pun intended) and full of hope for the one who knows the backstory. It should come as no surprise, but we find Psalms 2 and 110 synced up again in this verse. The Firstborn (Church) is given authority to Rule (Ps. 2:7-9; Ps. 110:2) and taken up to God’s throne…just…like…Jesus, the preeminent Priest-King (Ps. 110:1; Eph. 2:6)!
Feel free to search for more Psalm 110:3 alignments, ’cause I’m sure there are many other passages that affirm the reconfiguration shown in this study. Hopefully, this will suffice for now, and I pray that I accomplished my aim in the Church of the Firstborn series: The Church goes first! We will be raised up, seated with Christ in heaven, and then return with Him to rule and co-shepherd the sheep nations with an iron rod.
Keep watching and waiting, brothers and sisters. Our “Begotten Day” will be here soon. Come, Lord Jesus! (Click to Source)