The King Who Rules the Nations
Topic: Advent Passage: Acts 13:13–43, Psalm 2:1–12
Advent is upon us. Apart from one message that Dale will preach Christmas Eve, Acts 13 will be our headquarters. Each Advent Sunday we’ll come to Acts 13. Paul will then send us to several Old Testament passages to identify the resurrected Jesus as the ultimate heir to David’s throne. So we’ll get a bit of Easter as well during Advent, the resurrection with the incarnation.
But with how things played out, Jesus’ resurrection became a key turning point for the disciples understanding the Old Testament.[i] The resurrected Jesus taught them how the Old Testament points to himself. Jesus also sent his Spirit to illumine their understanding. They preached Christ according to the Scriptures. The Old Testament passages we’ll cover reveal who God’s Son is and why God’s Son came. This will help us celebrate Jesus’ first coming more rightly and more fully.
For instance, when you consider the nativity, does it ever cross your mind that this child was born to dethrone you? When you consider the baby in a manger, does it ever occur to you that God gave him to overthrow your self-rule? That God sent him to replace your kingdom with his own? That God became man not because the world was so great, but because the world must stop pretending to be so great?
Part of God’s grace in the incarnation is that he gives us a Son who overturns our corrupt rule to replace it with his perfect rule. Is that what you think about at Christmas? It’s certainly something we should think about. Advent is God sending the rightful King to exalt his throne above all others. What’s so striking is that he does it in a manner the world would never expect—the King first sets aside his right to be seen as glorious and becomes a child, a servant of all. But still, he’s born to rule. We’ll see that today from Paul’s use of Psalm 2 in Acts 13.
Acts 13: Paul Preaches Jesus as the Ultimate Davidic King
But before we get there, we should catch up to Paul and his companions. They’ve been in Cyprus spreading the gospel. Now verse 13 says that...
Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.’
Okay, we have Jews, the Law and Prophets read, a captive audience, and the leader asks if they have something to say. That’s called a “softball” in evangelism. Of course they have something to say! Paul stands up and begins a word of encouragement. But before I read this word, we need to understand its character and its placement.
In terms of its character, this word shares several similarities with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Both preach that God fulfills his promises in Jesus. Both preach Jesus’ righteous life, Jesus’ atoning death, Jesus’ resurrection. And both preach Jesus as the ultimate King in David’s line, even using the same psalm, Psalm 16.
That’s important, because some scholars read the New Testament and conclude that Peter and Paul don’t preach the same gospel. They’d even say that Paul corrupted the religion of Jesus and the disciples. But here Paul preaches the same gospel, and does so from the same Old Testament texts. The similarities are also important in terms of placement. As Acts shifts from Peter to Paul, we see that the gospel that saves Jews is the same gospel that saves Gentiles; Jesus’ kingship for Israel is also for the world. With that in mind, let’s walk through Paul’s message. Verse 16,
Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
Paul begins with an overview of Israel’s storyline. It stretches from Abraham all the way to David. His primary goal is this: God shows grace to Israel throughout their history. God chose you, God made you great, God led you out, God was patient with you, God fought for you, God gave you a land and judges and a king. And when that king rebelled, God gave you a better king, David. Grace, grace, grace.
Now, it’s also true that after David dies, his son Solomon eventually sinks Israel into great wickedness. The nation forsakes the Lord and the Lord judges them. Israel proves that sin rules them just like sin rules the world. Truly, they need a Savior. Paul races them to David to show that the story of God’s grace didn’t end with King David. Rather, the story of God’s grace climaxes with King Jesus. Verse 23…
Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I’m not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I’m not worthy to untie. Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead…
So, what does Jesus do? What makes him Savior? He lived the perfect life we could not live—they found no guilt in him. He died not for sins that were his own; he died for our sins. He died in our place as a curse—God said, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” He took our punishment. God then raised him from the dead to vindicate Jesus; and that’s the good news Paul announces. But as we keep reading, the good news gets even richer as Paul sends us to several Old Testament passages. Verse 31…
…and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore he says also in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.”
What’s going on? Paul preaches Christ, and identifies him as the fulfillment of several Old Testament passages. Psalm 2, Isaiah 55, and Psalm 16—all of them anticipate God raising up a unique king in David’s line. The whole of Israel’s salvation (and ours!) hangs on God fulfilling these promises. So I want to take the next three weeks to understand the promises bound up in these three Old Testament passages. By doing this, we’ll better understand who God’s Son is and why God’s Son came.
Psalm 2: The Reign of the Lord’s Anointed
So let’s go to Psalm 2 and see what we might learn about God’s Son and why God sent his Son into the world. We’ll return to Isaiah 55 and Psalm 16 in weeks to come. You can find Psalm 2 on page 448. Psalm 2 is one of my favorites. Alongside Psalm 1, it introduces the Psalms and what they’re all about—God manifesting his reign through his anointed King and why that compels our worship!
Scene 1: Hostile rulers plot against God
Psalm 2 develops in four scenes. Scene one, hostile rulers plot against God. Verse 1, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”
Essentially, these people hate the rule of God’s word. We’re told in Deuteronomy 17:18-19 that Israel’s king was to copy God’s law by hand into a book. He was to read in that book all the days of his life. He was to soak in God’s word. Or, let’s use the language of Psalm 1: he was to delight in God’s word, and on his law meditate day and night. By delighting in God’s word, the king would fear the Lord. He wouldn’t grow proud. He’d lead the people as God intended. In other words, as his king governed by his word, God’s heavenly rule would manifest itself on earth.
These hostile nations want none of that. They plot their own little coup. Interestingly enough the word behind “plot” is the same word in Psalm 1 for “meditate.” Instead of meditating on God’s word, these rulers meditate on ways they can resist God and eventually overthrow his rule. They rage against God’s anointed king (his Messiah); and in so doing they rage against God himself.
The only thing is that their plots are comical. When it says, “Why do the nations rage…,” it’s not a genuine question; it’s a rhetorical one. David is baffled by the nations’ insanity: “Why in the world would you do that?!” in other words. Why’s their plotting so insane? David tells us in the next two scenes.
Scene 2: God laughs with absolute sovereignty
Scene two: God laughs with absolute sovereignty. Verse 4 says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” That’s the first reason their plots are so silly.
David lifts our gaze from earthly plots to God’s heavenly rule. God laughs because the scene couldn’t be more lopsided. I mean, the Creator versus these little grasshoppers of a people? He holds their atomic structure intact and gives them breath, and would they conspire to overthrow him? It’s like the Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels. They’re but the size of Gulliver’s little finger, and yet they march around proudly tying him down, hoisting their ladders upon his shipwrecked body. With one swipe he could smash them, but Gulliver plays along.[ii] The Lord doesn’t play along.
In jealous passion for his glory, he tolerates no rebellion. He roars from heaven; and notice his declaration, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Zion represents the place of God’s authority. It’s the mountain he chose for his dwelling and throne. It’s holy because God’s presence sanctifies it. The decree falls like a gavel silencing the chaotic chatter of the nations’ court room. Kings and nations chatter their plots, peoples rage, but God gets the final word. The Almighty calls “Checkmate! Lay down your king. My King reigns.”
Scene 3: God decrees his Son’s world-wide dominion
Scene three then gives another reason their plots are so silly: God decrees his Son’s world-wide dominion. Verse 7, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
If scene two was the heavenly declaration of God’s rule; scene three is its historical manifestation. This king will exercise God’s heavenly rule in history. This king will have God’s Yes every time he prays for the nations. This king will spread his kingdom to the ends of the earth. This king will rule the nations with unstoppable power. And, O yes, this king will be God’s Son. In what sense, though?
The best help comes from 2 Samuel 7:14. We have good reason to believe that 2 Samuel 7:14 stands behind Psalm 2—Hebrews 1:5 connects both passages to make the same point about Jesus being God’s Son. When you read 2 Samuel 7:14, it falls right in the middle of God’s covenant with David—God will make him a dynasty, he will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. But something else was this: God promised to relate to the future Davidic king as a father relates to a son.[iii]
The point was this: as a son imitates his father, the Davidic king was to imitate God’s rule. When God tells the Davidic king in Psalm 2, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you [or today I have become your Father],” it speaks to the promise of the Davidic kingship. For God to become his Father was for God to install him as the Davidic king, as representative Son.
But can we say more? Should we see more? A few clues suggest we should see more. David’s kingship didn’t always represent God’s rule perfectly—like when he took advantage of Bathsheba. David never quite inherited all the nations. David’s kingdom never covered the ends of the earth. David never exercised universal judgment. David’s son Solomon could boast none of those things either, nor could any other king in Israel.
Meaning, however often Psalm 2 might have been spoken for other kings in David’s line, it ultimately points to a future King who’d actually fill these shoes: a King who represents God’s rule on earth perfectly; a King against whom the nations rage because of his faithfulness to God; a King who will manifest God’s presence and authority fully; a King whose rule would cover the earth; a King who is God’s Son.
All of a sudden Psalm 2 starts sounding a whole lot like other prophecies we emphasize at Christmas. Like Isaiah 9:6, the child to be born, the son given, the government on his shoulders, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace—that’s him! That’s the coming Son-King in David’s line (cf. Isa 9:7).
The New Testament then identifies Jesus Christ as this King. Consider Luke’s birth narrative, for instance. Luke 1:32-33, the angel tells Mary, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus was born to rule like the Son of Psalm 2.
And where do you suppose the climax of nations raging against God occurs? At the cross of Jesus Christ. Acts 4:25-28 applies Psalm 2, when Herod and Pilate and the Jews and Gentiles all gather to crucify Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus is the epitome of the world’s rage against God. And yet Jesus remains faithful even to the point of death. He dies to see his Father honored in the deliverance of rebels. He entered a world where nations rage against him; but he willingly died to inherit them.
Where do you suppose the climax of God installing his Davidic King occurs? Most decisively, at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s Paul’s argument in Acts 13:33—“We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…” And then he quotes Psalm 2: “You are my Son; today I’ve begotten you.” God installed Jesus as ultimate heir to David’s throne at his resurrection.
It’s not saying that Jesus was less than Son prior to his resurrection—some have tried to argue this way before. Rather, God sent him as Son and confirmed throughout his earthly ministry that he was in fact his Son. But there’s another sense in which the Son had a mission to complete as a man, as the representative Son of David, and of Israel, and ultimately of all humanity in Adam. Inheriting the nations as his possession was contingent on him obeying his Father as a man in his role as David’s heir.
In other words, the right to rule the nations wasn’t given him simply because he was God—in that sense, the Son always ruled the nations. But also Jesus earned that right as a man. God rewarded his Son’s obedience with an inheritance of nations and world-wide dominion. He was born to live, die, and rise again to replace our corrupt rule with his perfect rule over the nations. The moment the world thought they dethroned Jesus, he was in the process of dethroning us and replacing every evil that ruled us with his own perfect rule.
Philippians 2:6-10 puts it like this: “Though Christ was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” That means he didn’t cling to his rights to be seen as the glorious One. “But [he] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore [note that: therefore, based on that obedience] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Jesus is the ultimate Davidic King of Psalm 2.
Scene 4: The Lord summons all to obey the Son
What does that mean for you and me, as well as everybody else in the world? That brings us to scene four: the Lord summons all to obey the Son. Verse 10, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
If God reigns and gives world-wide dominion to Jesus Christ alone; if he has the universal power and the authority to consume you with his wrath, to dash your life to pieces, the response is pretty straightforward: quit rebelling against him and surrender yourself to him. Forsake your quest for autonomy, forsake your quest for power, forsake your quest for status, forsake your quest for sinful pleasures, and surrender yourself to the true King with humility.
What does that look like? He tells us to serve the Lord with fear. The word behind “serve” is sometimes translated as “worship” or “honor.” The idea isn’t just to do the Lord a service, but to recognize his kingship with your entire existence.[iv] If your belief in Christ doesn’t give way to worshipful obedience, then you really don’t believe in Christ. You really haven’t felt the weight of his glory. You don’t revere his holiness. You don’t fear his word rightly or see what he’s done for you clearly.
He is the absolute Sovereign, and we must serve him when he says love one another and show hospitality and flee sexual immorality and speak the truth in love and don’t be harsh with your wife and forgive one another and contribute to the needs of the saints and make disciples. That’s not to say it’s some kind of bare obedience without relationship. It comes from a heart that rejoices in the Lord’s rule. “Rejoice with trembling,” he adds. That is, “Celebrate his rule with trembling.”
He continues in verse 12 with submission to the Son: “Kiss the Son.” Other translations have, “Pay homage to the Son.” That is, you’re so overwhelmed by the King’s worth, you can’t believe you’re standing in his presence, you can’t believe he would have you unworthy as you are, and you kiss the ground before his feet. It’s not so much a kiss of affection as much as it’s a kiss of submission.
John the Baptist knew of Jesus’ greatness. We read it earlier—he said he wasn’t worthy to untie the strap of his sandal. Only slaves removed sandals. We don’t even deserve to be called Jesus’ slaves. It’s like the parable Jesus tells in Luke 17:7-10 about the slave obeying his master—all we can say at the end of our obedience is, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
Serve, submit—the passage also tells us to shelter in the Son. Verse 12, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” You rage against Jesus, you get his holy wrath. You run to Jesus for shelter, then you get his holy blessings. Those are the only two options the world has. But consider that amazing truth for just a little while longer.
This very King who manifests the presence and power of God. This very King who can consume the nations in a moment. This very King who will cover the earth with his rule. He is a refuge for those who kiss him. He is a refuge for those who serve him. He is your place of safety and defense. When you’re against him, all his power stands against you. When you’re with him, though, all his power works for you. He blesses you with his presence and grace to live for his kingdom. He spreads a feast for you and says, “Come and eat from my Table; my blood has fit you for my kingdom.”
At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that to side with King Jesus will mean the nations will rage against us as well. But just like the early church took comfort from God’s sovereign rule in Psalm 2 when they were persecuted, so can we. The nations will continue their rage against God. But we can be confident that he has installed his King on Zion. Jesus reigns from God’s place of authority.
And he must reign there until the rest of his enemies are placed beneath his feet. Psalm 2 continues to point us to the future as well, when Jesus returns to rule the nations with a rod of iron. And guess what that’ll mean for us? We will be made kings too. That’s what it says in Revelation 2:25-27. We will rule as we were supposed to with justice and purity and truth.
Who is God’s Son, Jesus? He’s the ultimate heir to David’s throne. Why did he come? To inherit the nations and spread his rule from sea to sea. He came to dethrone all our corrupt rule that rages against God, and to enthrone himself above all. How will you respond to this Son God gave? Will you continuing plotting against him, or take your refuge in him? Only the latter leads to his blessing.
[i]E.g., John 2:22; 12:16; 20:9.
[ii]The illustration from Gulliver’s Travels comes from Bruce K. Waltke, “Ask of Me, My Son: Exposition of Psalm 2,” Crux 43.4 (Winter 2004), 6.
[iii]That promise builds on the way God related to Israel as a father relates to a son (Exod 4:22-23; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1). Psalm 89:26 also shows the future Davidic king relating to God as his Father: “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
[iv]Waltke, “Ask of Me,” 12.
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