You may recall that before there was an Apostles’ Creed, the earliest Christian confession was simply, “Jesus is Lord!” When the early Christians said that, they were declaring that Jesus, the one who had been rejected and crucified, had been raised from the dead. But not only had God raised him from the dead, Jesus had also been exalted to God’s right hand and enthroned as Lord and King.
The foremost reason, then, that the first Christians kept citing Psalm 110:1 was because it underscored the fact that Jesus is Lord. Devout Jews at the time of Christ believed this verse, along with the entire psalm, referred not only to Israel’s past Davidic kings, but also to the future Messiah who was to come.
Convinced Jesus was that Messiah, the early Christians therefore boldly applied it directly to him. Peter, in fact, declared it in the sermon he preached to the crowd gathered on the day of Pentecost. After his earthly ministry, he proclaimed Messiah Jesus, Son of God and Risen Lord, ascended and returned to his Lord an Father in heaven, who said to him, “Sit at my right hand, until I make all your enemies your footstool.” God, therefore, has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:32–36).
The New Testament writers, therefore, kept returning to Psalm 110:1 in order to proclaim the resurrected Christ’s exaltation to the place of honor at God’s right hand and his installation and enthronement as Messiah and King. As the writer of Hebrews put it, alluding to this verse, “When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3).
His time of humiliation and death was over, so too were his resurrection appearances. His earthly ministry was complete; now his heavenly ministry had begun. Paul magnificently summed it up in the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians. God displayed his great power in Christ “when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. . . . And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:20–23).
For the New Testament writers, Psalm 110:1 was foundational in understanding who Jesus is and fully and properly exalting him. He is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme. All things—in the world, politics, society, history, culture, their personal lives—were to be viewed from the vantage point of the ascended Christ, “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, withangels, authorities, and powers made subject to him” (1 Peter 3:22). That was the horizon that shaped and determined everything else. Instead of relegating him to the past or the future, it situated him in the present and the center.
I write about the significance of Psalm 110 and what this means for Christians in my book, The Unseen Real: Life in Light of the Ascension of Jesus. Get it here.