I’ve been pondering a few things lately, and one of them is the relation of Psalm 2 to Revelation (especially chapters 4-22). While I may not and will not fully express my thoughts here – saving that up for later – I wanted to start publicly formulating them so that I may receive guidance, or help, and to test these thoughts:
When you bring up the book of Revelation, you bring up with it everyone’s exegetical work, thoughts, and ideas (which generally are relatively new in the history of Christianity and biblical interpretation). I am not trying to dismiss the notions of many that this book pertains to the End of Days, as I think that the book itself reveals itself as something which points to the final act of human history; however, we should be able to examine it free from the human quest to ‘figure’ out what it ‘prophetically’ means. I want to examine it in its socio-political and historical contexts. I say socio-political because if my theory proves true, then Revelation presents a very political approach to Jesus Christ, in which first introduced to Him as little more than one among many, who steps forward to open the seals of the book, but ends up on the throne of God which then becomes the Throne of God and the Lamb. It is a process that not only takes place in heaven, but on earth, where the nations slowly come to see Christ as the Occupant of the Throne. Revelation, I hope to show, like the second Psalm, in which both writings are seen in light of enthronement and validation.
Historically, the second Psalm is thought of as an enthronement psalm because it fits into the Near Eastern method of placing a king on the throne. We might, in the West, best understand this theory as the divine right of kings espoused by the British Monarchy centuries ago. Could the kings of the ANE appeal to a long and royal blood-line? Hardly, as David who is the titular progenitor of the Israelite throne was nothing more than a dirty shepherd boy just a few years before be became king, yet he is seen as the herald of the Messiah. David, for all of his faults and failures, is a man ‘after God’s own heart.’ He is a song-writer, a prophet, a muse, and a man who fathered the Messiah’s line. Yet, he still had to be coronated, as did his children. Even today, we feel that a proper ceremony validates almost anything. From the time of the first American President until now, the ceremony has grown, because it is used to validate a man into the office, much more so than the few words of an oath of office. The second Psalm should be seen as an appeal to Heaven for the validation of Israel’s king, especially in an embattled kingdom, surrounded by all sides with those who would dispose of the King. So to Revelation.
Psalm 2 has a long history of usage in early Christian history, starting with the Gospels. Every Gospel has the account of the baptism of Christ, the anointing by the Spirit, and the recognition that the Man in the water is the Son of God. (Mark 1.10; Matthew 3.16; Luke 3.22; John 1.32-34). Each account mimics Psalm 2 in which the King suddenly becomes the Son of God. Luke uses it as well in Acts 4.-25-26 when Peter and John, freed from their punishment for teaching in the name of Jesus, found support among the local congregation who saw the troubles as a fulfillment of Psalm 2. Further, John’s Apocalypse is replete with references to this Psalm, starting with Revelation 2.26-27 which quotes Psalm 2.8-9. In Revelation 19.5 is an allusion to this Psalm as well. Not only that, but throughout Revelation, we have the writer focusing his story around the kings of the earth (Psalm 2.2; Revelation 1.5; 6.15; 17.2, 18; 18.3, 9; 19.19; 21.24) the nations (Psalm 2.1, 8; Rev. 2:26; 10:11; 11:2, 9, 18; 12:5; 14:8; 15:3; 16:19; 17:15; 18:3, 23; 19:15; 20:3, 8; 21:24, 26; 22:2) , and the Son with the Rod of Iron (Psalm 2.9; Revelation 2.7; 12.5; 19.15).
This is was not an uncommon practice for the old Christian community, to take a portion of the Scriptures and apply it to its fulfillment in the life of the New Community. One only has to read Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews for the very weighty evidence of that fact. Moving past the New Testament writers and interpreters in the Apostolic and Church Fathers, we find an abundance of quotes from those writers, including writers as early as Clement of Rome (90) and Polycarp (140). They were not the last to use Psalm 2 as a lens in which to see the Christ-event through, as it was used well past the Nicean age.
It is also not uncommon to see the Eschatological Ascension of Christ as something which is ongoing. It was in Peter’s Speech at Pentecost (Acts 2.35) where he quoted various Scriptural passages, but in this instance, quoting Psalm 110, which according to Luke, Christ quoted in Luke 20.13. But, the allusion to this part of Psalm 110 doesn’t end at Pentecost, but can be found in the epistle to the Hebrews as well. In this homiletic work, the author starts with a quote that shows the superiority of Jesus Christ to the angels in much the same way in which Psalm 2 is used to show the superiority of the Israelite throne to those of the nations surrounding it. The same author in Hebrews 10.12-13, while showing that Christ is superior to the Levitical Priests, is shown sitting in the Glory of God, awaiting the eschatological victory. According to Paul, this final victory will take place when the last enemy is destroyed. That enemy, is death:
But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:23-28 NASB)
Paul is quoting, possibly, Psalm 8.5-6 along with the thought in Psalm 110.1 about the Anointed King ruling having final dominion. It is here as well that Paul has a twisted theology of sorts. The Son is now reigning, perhaps because of the enduring Sacrifice as we have seen in Hebrews 10, but when Death is destroyed then God will be ‘all in all.’ Death, according to the Apocalypse, is destroyed in Revelation 20.14. When this happens, there is a magisterial change, evident in Paul’s theology and in the Christology of Revelation. There is biblical support for the process of enthronement when it applies to Christ, with the writers seeing that in the end, the Majesty will be different than what is presently thought.
Revelation serves a political purpose in that it shores up the New Community of Christ against persecution against itself, and against the memory of the Crucified Messiah. Psalm 2 shored up the Israelite Throne against the nations which sought to destroy it constantly, with God promising to protect the one who sat there, as well as perceived weaknesses of the crown who was suddenly now the Son of God. The author of Revelation used Psalm 2, along with other Psalms, treating them Messianicly as well as casting them from the present into the future with the eschatological bent. Christ was still King, but He must extend His rule beyond the orders of the Church into the whole earth, conquering the Kings of the Earth and the Nations, ending in destroying Death. Psalm 2, however, was not the only ancient song to make it into the author’s literary worldview. In Psalms 76, 89, 102, 138 and 148, we find again the Anointed King at odds with the Kings of the Earth and the nations which surrounded Israel. It is easy then to see how the early Church could replace the historical setting with then-current political climate. Jesus become the Anointed King, the Church Israel with the Caesars and Rome in their respective places.
Beginning in Psalm 76.7, after validating Israel and Israel’s God, we encounter an angry God, angry against those who oppose Israel and the Anointed King. God then judges the earth, ‘arising to do so’ (Psalm 76.), and saves the humble and in doing so, turns the wrath of humanity into a cloak of praise of Himself. If we look at this Psalm through John’s pen, we can find a connection between Psalm 76.12 and the ending of Revelation where the spirit which created the ‘sons of disobedience’ is cast into, along with death, the Lake of Fire. (Ephesians 2.2; Revelation 20.10). The Psalmist leaves a short statement in which God destroys what infects Israel’s enemies, is feared by the Kings of the Earth, allowing John’s interpretation to expand the meaning eschatology. While this Psalm gives little to John, the 89th Psalm creates a path for further theological speculation and eschatological development.
The 89th Psalm begins with a song to the LORD and is filled with poetic theologies, such as the Divine Council (Psalm 89.7-9) and Creation (Psalm 89.11-12.) In verse 19, the author picks up the story of the Anointed King, starting like John does in Revelation 4.1, with a vision. In the ensuing dialogue, God promises great things, protection, and a royal line to the one would become His firstborn (Psalm 89.27). It would be this firstborn who would reign over the Kings of the Earth. A new covenant (vs28) would be formed which would last forever. (vs29) The Son is seen as David, or perhaps the Son of David. The promises (Psalm 89.19-37) is followed by a lament from those who had rejected God and His Anointed King, waging war in disobedience. The middle section promises to the Son of David a time which will last forever, in which the Throne would tower above all the earth. This is mirrored in the 102nd Psalm, where the writer speaks about a time in which Zion will be built up anew. During this time, the nations will fear the name of the Lord along with the kings of the earth who fear the Glory of the Lord. (Psalm 102.12-17). The picture of the Kings of the Earth praising God is seen again in Psalm 138. 4-6. Finally, in Psalm 148, a song of praise, completes John’s expansion of Psalm 2 when we read that the Kings of the Earth and all nations join in the praise of God. This happens when the Name of the Lord is alone exalted (148.13). In Revelation 22, the kings of the earth and the nations are separate from the Saints, as is the picture in Psalm 148.14.
In a brief note about literary structure, I want to point out in Psalm 2 that God does three things to the people of the Earth
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, (Psa 2:4-5 NASB)
The Lord of Heaven laughs/scoffs, speaks to them in anger, and then terrifies them. In Revelation, we have the trumpets from heaven, the seals, and then the bowls of wrath.
While this idea is not fully fleshed out, I am still working on collecting sources on use of Psalm 2 in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament, as well as other concurrent apocalyptic writings. If it is proved that Revelation is an expansion of Psalm 2, it doesn’t have to take away from the prophetic element many people see in it; however, I maintain that Revelation is an example of what may be an early Jewish-Christian Midrash or Targum of Psalm 2 in light of the socio-political experience of the New Community. It enthrones the Crucified Messiah as King of Israel, protects against persecution, and shows through history that God is in control. Just as Psalm 2 sets up the Anointed King as God’s king, defends the sovereignty of Israel, and warns the others that God is in control.