The “throne” covenanted to David’s Son was the throne of the universe, not the throne of earthly Israel. —Philip Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom (1927)
God’s Promise to David
In 2 Samuel 7, God made an incredible promise to David:
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (vv. 12-13)
A later Psalmist, reflecting on this promise, calls it an oath and a covenant (Ps. 89:27-29, 34-37):
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.
His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me.
It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.
It should be clear that Yahweh swore a covenant oath to David, promising him that his Seed, his Son, would reign forever; that His reign would actually be eternal. This promise is echoed throughout the Psalms and Prophets (Ps. 2; 72; Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5; Ezek. 37:24). Even the angel Gabriel alludes to it in his Annunciation to the virgin Mary:
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)
The question is, what does the promise mean?
On David’s Throne
It was the day of Pentecost. The risen Christ had poured out His Spirit upon His fledgling Church (Acts 2:1-4). The disciples had gone out into the streets to announce His reign. They spoke the good news in foreign languages, languages new to them but familiar to the Jews who had come together from the four corners of the empire (v. 4-13). Many in the crowd were intrigued; some scoffed and accused the disciples of simply being drunk. But Peter stood up and preached the first Christian sermon. Beginning with the prophecies of Joel (v. 16-21), he preached Christ.
Peter came quickly to the death of Jesus. He ascribed that death to human wickedness and to the decree of God (v. 23). But without a breath, he moved immediately to the reality of the Resurrection. It wasn’t possible for death to hold Jesus. Why not? Peter appealed to the words of David: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption” (vv. 25-28; cf. Ps. 16:10). David prophesied resurrection. But whose?
Peter spoke frankly to his audience. King David was long dead. Everyone knew exactly where his sepulcher stood. Obviously David wasn’t talking about his own resurrection. But David was a prophet, and he had a promise. Yahweh had sworn with a covenant oath that He would raise up David’s Seed to sit on his throne. David understood this to mean the resurrection of his greater Son, the Messiah (the Christ). The Messiah would die, but Yahweh would not leave his soul in Sheol: He would restore Him to life in His very presence, at His own right hand: “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for ever more” (Ps. 16:11).
Here are Peter’s words with regard to David:
Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:30-32)
After this, Peter’s next word was “therefore.” That is, what he was about to say followed necessarily from what he had just said. There was a logical and unavoidable connection between the two facts.
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. (v. 33)
Since Jesus had indeed been exalted to the Father’s right hand, He had poured out the Holy Spirit just as the prophets said He would (Joel 2:28; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Zech. 12:10). And this meant He really was the promised Son of David, the true Messiah, and that God had kept His word. In other words, Peter identified the Messiah’s exaltation to the throne of David with Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. In case anyone missed this, Peter drove the point home with another quotation from David:
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool (vv. 34-35; cf. Ps. 110).
The throne David was describing was the throne of God Himself, nothing less. Since Jesus was now sitting on that throne, God’s promise was fulfilled: Jesus was enthroned as Lord and Messiah, as Ruler of the universe (Matt. 18:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Rev. 1:5).
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ (v. 36).
The Sure Mercies of David
Peter isn’t alone in his interpretation of God’s promise to David. The apostle Paul in his sermon in Antioch of Pisidia made the same connections. God had raised up David to be Israel’s king. “Of this man’s seed, “ Paul said, “God according to his promise has raised up a Saviour, Jesus” (Acts 13:23).
And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. (v. 34)
The reference is to Isaiah 55. There, those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty are invited to come to Yahweh for life. They are promised “an everlasting covenant…even the sure mercies of David” (v. 3). “Mercies” is chesed, covenant love and faithfulness. Isaiah wraps us the gospel promise with God’s faithfulness to David. They amount to the same thing.
Paul continued his sermon with an appeal to Psalm 16: “Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (vv. 34-37). David died; he saw corruption. But Jesus didn’t. God raised Him from the dead. And on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection—that is, on the basis of the fulfilled Davidic Covenant—Paul preached forgiveness of sins and justification by faith to both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 38-48).
An Eternal Throne, an Eternal King, an Eternal Reign
The key word in this whole discussion is eternal or everlasting. Kings and empires aren’t eternal because all men die. To reign forever, a king would have to defeat death, both for himself and for his people. But death is the just and proper consequence for sin. To defeat death, a king would have to defeat sin; that is, he would have to satisfy the righteous wrath of God against sinners. Furthermore, he would have to free his people from the power of sin and give them new life. But this is exactly what Jesus has done. God’s covenant with David is the promise of the gospel. David understood this. In his “Last Words” he said, God “hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire…” (2 Sam 23:5).
When Solomon ascended the throne of David, he “sat on the throne of the LORD” (1 Chron. 28:5; 29:23); that is, as God’s adopted son, he sat as co-regent with Yahweh, ruling the house of Israel. What is highlighted is Solomon’s covenantal relationship with God, his judicial position in God’s economy. What kind of chair he sat on is covenantally irrelevant.
Of course, the words “throne of David” never referred to a specific, literal chair in any case. They spoke rather of David’s reign over God’s people. “Throne of David” like “throne of England” is a metonymy, a figure of speech in which one thing stands for something larger of which it’s a part. We don’t care what earthly chair David sat on when he was king of Israel: we care about his godly reign. We care about the promises of God wrapped up in that reign. We care about the covenant, the gospel, and the hope of resurrection. For the grace of God doesn’t come to us as earthly thrones and scepters and crowns: it comes as resurrection life in Jesus Christ. This is the gospel.