Why is Jesus Called the Son of David?
In the first verse of the first gospel as it appears in our New Testament, Matthew calls Jesus Christ “the son of David” as if it were a sort of preface to the genealogy he is about to write, and perhaps, a preface to Matthew’s entire testimony of the Savior. Following this preface is the line of royal descent from Joseph, Mary’s husband, back to David, King of Israel (Cf. Matthew 1:1-16). Because Joseph is listed as a descendant of David, Joseph can also be called a son of David.
Joseph treated Jesus as if He were his own son, and by those who knew not of His divine origin Jesus was presumed to be “the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23), or “the carpenter’s Son” (Matthew 13:55). It may be said, then, that Jesus is the adopted son of Joseph. However, Joseph was not Jesus’ literal Father. As James E. Talmage explained,
“That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the “Son of the Highest” (Jesus the Christ. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1922. 82).
Hence Christ is called the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh; he had a mortal mother and an immortal Father. Therefore, in order for Jesus to be a literal descendant (and therefore a son) of David, Mary must also have been of Davidic descent. Talmage explained further that:
“A personal genealogy of Joseph was essentially that of Mary also, for they were cousins. Joseph is named as son of Jacob by Matthew, and as son of Heli by Luke; but Jacob and Heli were brothers, and it appears that one of the two was the father of Joseph and the other the father of Mary and therefore father-in-law to Joseph. That Mary was of Davidic descent is plainly set forth in many scriptures; for since Jesus was to be born of Mary, yet was not begotten by Joseph, who was the reputed, and, according to the law of the Jews, the legal father, the blood of David’s posterity was given to the body of Jesus through Mary alone” (Jesus the Christ. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1922. 87).
Jesus is therefore a son of David. But because the title “son of David” recognizes the genealogy of Jesus Christ means it must have a deeper meaning. In order to find out what this deeper meaning is, the title itself must be defined.
David was the great king of ancient Israel. His reign “was the most brilliant of Israelitish history, for (1) he united the tribes into one nation, (2) he secured undisputed possession of the country, (3) the whole government rested upon a religious basis, and the will of God was the law of Israel (Bible Dictionary: David). Because David was king of Israel, his descendents, under the patriarchal order, were entitled to the throne. However,
“At the time of the Savior’s birth, Israel was ruled by alien monarchs. The rights of the royal Davidic family were unrecognized; and the ruler of the Jews was an appointee of Rome. Had Judah been a free and independent nation, ruled by her rightful sovereign, Joseph the carpenter would have been her crowned king; and his lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Ibid. 88).
Finally, perhaps the analysis can go one step further if we distinguish “son of David” with a lowercase ‘s’ from “Son of David” with a capital ‘S.’ The lowercase ‘s’ version denotes any son or descendant of David. Absalom, Amnon, Solomon, and others are given this title (Cf. 2 Samuel 13:1, 2 Chronicles 1:1). But the title “Son of David” with a capital ‘S’ is reserved for only one being that has ever walked the earth. It is applied only to Jesus of Nazareth, usually when asked to perform a miracle. Hence, by addressing “Jesus as Son of David” one “demonstrates . . . belief that He was the Messiah of Israel” (Ibid. 335).
Messiah is an Aramaic word that means “the anointed” (Bible Dictionary: Messiah). In Old Testament times, kings were anointed to their offices, as were priests, high priests, and prophets (Cf. 1 Samuel 10:1, Exodus 40:15, Leviticus 21:10, 1 Kings 19:16). It is, therefore, fitting that Jesus is called Messiah—the Anointed One—for He is Prophet, Priest, and King. David was anointed when he became king of Israel, and he, as heretofore quoted, “united the tribes into one nation, . . . secured undisputed possession of the country, . . . and [made] the will of God . . . the law of Israel” (Bible Dictionary: David). David, in a sense, delivered Israel. It is therefore also fitting that the Anointed One—the Messiah—“denotes the King and Deliverer whose coming the Jews were eagerly expecting” (Bible Dictionary: Messiah). The Jews were “eagerly expecting” that Deliverer because the Old Testament is full of references, types, shadows, and prophecies of the coming of One who would unite Israel once and for all, give them the law of God to live by, and deliver unto them their nation. This Deliverer was and is Jesus the Christ, the Son of David.
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