32 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:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
No textual difficulties between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26.
- 1. Gabriel tells Mary that her Son will be great.
- 2. He will be called "Son of the Highest".
- 3. The Lord God shall give to Him the throne of David.
- 4. David is His father.
- 5. He shall reign upon the house of Jacob forever.
- 6. There shall be no end of His kingdom.
- 1. The phrase "he shall be great" has been covered in the first of these studies (this is the third).
- 2. The issue of the duality of the "sonship" of Mary's Offspring was covered in the second study.
- 3. The issue before us in this study is that of Mary's Son's reception of the throne of David.
- a. This statement from Gabriel says next to nothing about the impending life of Jesus in Israel as the "Lamb of God" (there is only the oblique reference to His "greatness" that only carries some of the "first coming" issues once the idea of "greatness" in the servant kingdom comes into play). There is nothing here, nor is there anything in Gabriel's message to Zacharias, to dissuade Mary from latching onto the "Messiah ben Judah" theology of Israel; in fact, everything said pushes her in that direction except the fact that her espoused is "Joseph" (the son of Jacob, according to Matthew 1), which would make her "son to come", by adoption, "Messiah ben Joseph". The point is: the words of the angel could easily be understood to mean that the "coming Son" was going to take up the rule of David.
- b. This issue has recently come to be important in dispensational circles in that there are those who are now claiming that Jesus "received the throne of David" at His ascension and is now exercising the rule of David from his (David's) throne in heaven.
- c. Ultimately, this is an hermeneutical issue [how do we understand verbal communications?], but it has all kinds of Theological/theological ramifications.
- 1) The central question is how language communicates meaning (the verbal creation, in the understanding of the recipient, of the meaning that exists in the originator's mind by use of words that have commonality between originator and recipient and referents that also have commonality).
- 2) Then there is the question of whether specific referents can "shift" (over time and circumstantial changes) while the same "meaning" is maintained.
- a) If I say to a friend, "You can use my car anytime you need it" and, at the time I say it, I am driving a '64 Chevy II wagon, can he still "use my car" later that month after I have traded the Chevy II off for a Corvette? The answer depends upon what "my car" and "any time you need it" meant when I made the offer. Though the specific 'referent' at the time of the offer was the Chevy II, was the 'referent' only the Chevy II, or was it actually the Chevy II's place in a different meaning: 'whatever I am using for transportation'? The answer depends entirely upon what my meaning was when I made the offer to begin with, because my meaning is determined by me. The problem is that my words do not expose my meaning beyond the barest sense. Clearly, if I am honest, I will loan the Chevy II to my friend as long as I have it, according to my words, but what is not clear is what "my car" meant once I have traded the Chevy II for the 'Vette. Can my friend come to me a couple of days after the trade and say "I would like to borrow your car, according to your words"?
- i. At this point, we are no longer actually discussing "what I meant". That was determined by me, and the expression of my meaning was expressed by me according to the words I chose to express it, but what I meant and how I expressed it in words are not at issue when my friend returns to borrow "my car".
- ii. At this point, we are discussing "my friend's understanding of my meaning". What will guide that?
- a) First, the words he heard: they are all he actually has to go by in terms of verbal communication. But, these words are an ambiguous expression of my meaning. So, my friend will wonder what I meant when I made the offer. He will not wonder if I would loan him the Chevy II if I still had it; he will, rather, wonder if I will loan him the Corvette.
- b) So, he will go immediately to our "context" as friends. If he has noticed over the duration of our friendship that I have had only a limited willingness to be of help to him, and he has noticed that my Chevy II had very limited value to me, he will likely assume that my "offer" was limited to the Chevy II. This assumption will impact his interpretation of my words. Also, if he knew that I had always wanted a "cherry" Corvette, and that there was a good probability that its value to me would transcend my willingness to help him, it is probable that he would not assume my meaning included the 'Vette. He would assume that I will not be willing to let him "use my car". But, if my friend knows from our "context as friends" that he is more important to me than any vehicle that I might own, the purchase of the 'Vette will not substantially alter his assumptions regarding the meaning of the offer I made. Thus, the unstated extent of my offer (determined by my unrevealed inner character and values) could easily be misunderstood as time goes by and circumstances change (because understanding requires that the hearer know of my inner character and values). But, my true meaning never did change because that meaning was not "you can use my car anytime you need it" [those are just the words I chose to express my meaning]; rather, the true meaning was "I will always help you as long as you are more important to me than the thing is that you need". However, the words are all my friend actually has to go by, so he cannot know what my meaning included and excluded unless he seeks clarification from me. His assumptions have no real place in the process of attempting to discern my meaning. He can legitimately say, "Is the offer of your car still good? If so, I would like to borrow it." But he cannot say, "I would like to borrow your car according to your words." This latter statement is built upon assumptions of meaning that transcend the verbal expression of that meaning and, is, therefore, illegitimate.
- b) When God promised David that his "son" would sit upon "his throne", did He mean the specific piece of furniture that David was using for a "throne" when He said what He did, or can the pieces of furniture be changed over time and the 'referents' of the words of God "shift" along with the circumstantial changes? [When Solomon replaced the throne upon which David actually sat with a more elaborate one, was he, when he sat down "sitting upon David's throne"?] Or, did God have David's physical furniture in mind only as a physical symbol of the 'authority' which 'David's throne' signified at a level different from the physical realities? Or did God have the physical furniture in mind at all? [Had the word "throne" already moved outside of the strictures of the field of meaning it had when it was coined to describe a certain piece of furniture?] Was David 'sitting upon his throne' when he was in his chariot leading his men into battle? If I say "David sat upon the throne of the house of Jacob for 40 years", I certainly cannot mean "sat" and "throne" and "house" in any "physical" sense.
- 3) Then there is the fact that some words carry more specificity than others ["Eat this apple" is far easier to grasp than "I love you"].
- 4) And then there is the reality that every specific utterance is "informed" as to meaning by the whole of the reality that gave birth to the utterance in the first place. "Intentionality" on the part of the utterer involves the whole character of that utterer.
- a) Linguistic ambiguity is real. What a word-creator means by the specific words he chooses to express meaning is as open-ended as the word-creator is because his meaning is not isolated from himself. Some word-creators are extremely sloppy in their attempts to communicate and that results in poorly chosen "shared words" and "shared context". Others are very careful in word choices, but no matter what the care level is, the result is invariably a carrier of several levels of ambiguity. Even "eat this apple" does not tell us if the speaker's meaning includes the stem, core, seeds, and skin, or, if not, which parts are excluded.
- b) The ambiguity is increased when the amount of "shared context" is very low. When two people from different cultures, languages, geographical locations, and intellectual development speak to one another, the level of communication of meaning is extremely superficial. When a man and a woman who have lived together in compatible harmony for 50 years speak to one another, the level of communication of meaning is significantly profound.
- c) The infinity of God and the finitude of man make man's understanding of God superficial. The "shared context" is very small and even though God chooses His words with extreme care and wisdom there is a heightened ambiguity that infinity cannot overcome in its dealings with finitude. The most that can be achieved is something somewhere along a continuum between total ignorance and omniscience with the "somewhere" being a lot closer to total ignorance than it ever will be to omniscience.
- i. Thus we have constant, and on-going, theological debate among men about the meaning of God's words, with men normally assuming a greater grasp of infinity than they have.
- ii. This does not, however, mean that men cannot "know" God. There is a core-central clarity that does not exist out at the outer fringes, but it does exist at the center. So, how do we address these issues in a way that accepts the "clarity" of God's Self-expression? First, let's recognize that all of God's sayings have, by the very nature of them, at the very minimum, "dark fringes" that are impossible for men to understand. After all, how does omniscience fold itself into finitude so that a finite, ignorant, creature can "understand"? The answer seems to be that finitude, as God has created it, CAN understand central core things even when the fringes are completely beyond the possibility of intellectual comprehension. For example, even a baby can tell when it "hurts" or "feels pleasure". This is core-central. Why something hurts or creates a sensation of pleasure may be impossible to explain to it, but the baby understands the core-central issue. In growth to greater understanding, the core-central reality never changes; only the grasp of the processes that are connected expands (the fringe darkness recedes to some degree but never goes away because all that is from God is ultimately unbounded in infinity because He is). Thus, growth in understanding is, in reality, an expansion of the central core by a receding of the darkness of the fringes.
- d. That brings us back to the words of Gabriel to Mary in describing the greatness of her son.
- 1) The words include three elements...
- a) The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David.
- i. There is nothing in the context to intimate that the "throne of David" isn't within the same ball-park of meaning for Mary that it was in the days of David...i.e. the "throne of David" is "the privilege/responsibility of exercising rule over God's nation within the type of meaning established by David's rule over God's nation". This pretty much takes the notion of a "rule from heaven" out of the picture...unless it can be established that the "location" of rule is not a part of the type of meaning involved with "the throne of David".
- ii. This statement also sets up the "expectations" of Mary for Jesus to become the Son of David. [By "become" I refer to the movement from the physical identity of being of the seed of David, to the 'performance-identity' of taking up his behavior as king.] This is the most problematical issue in the overall story: there is no sense of Jesus as "David's Ruling Son" in the earthly life of Jesus except for the "prior to the throne persecutions" that He endured just as David did. No one that I have ever read has argued that Jesus was "sitting upon David's throne" while He was exercising His power for His ministry while on this earth.
- (a) This raises this question: what is Gabriel's 'point' in telling Mary that her Son was to be given the throne of His father, David, if her Son wasn't going to have that throne in her lifetime? What does this information do for Mary? While Jesus was doing His work as an adult, Mary was clearly confused regarding His prophesied identity. That it was important for Mary to look through the "lens" of "Jesus is David's Son for Rule" seems clear from the fact that she was told to look at Him in this way by Gabriel. That this "lens" caused all sorts of problems with understanding is without debate. So, the issue is "why this lens at this time?" The answer seems to be this: Jewish theology had two different Messiah concepts that had translated into two different persons who would fill the bills of those concepts. This was fundamentally erroneous and opened the door to some form of deception that made a false Messiah possible. The coming Antichrist will be able, if he seeks to do so, to appeal to the two Messiah theology and claim that Jesus was the "Messiah ben Joseph" and he is the "Messiah ben Judah". Thus, it is crucial from the outset to know that Jesus is the Messiah ben Judah even while He is living out the reality of Messiah ben Joseph.
- (b) This also contributes to the debate over the timing of His reception of the throne from the Lord God. Unless it can be shown that Jesus is presently fulfilling the type of meaning involved in "the Davidic King", we must continue to do as Mary was expected to do -- put our hopes on hold without giving them up. Jesus will be given the throne of His father, David, in a way that we can immediately see is a fulfillment of the "throne of David" meaning. But, before we can "immediately see", we must have a "type of meaning" clearly in view.
- b) He will rule over the house of Jacob forever.
- i. Because this next prophecy of Gabriel's continues along the same vein, we may legitimately assume that he is still addressing the type of meaning he introduced with his "the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David" words.
- ii. As a continuation of the development of his meaning, this phrase gives us more clarity: as David's Throne-Heir, Jesus will rule over the house of Jacob forever.
- iii. From the time the House of Jacob ceased to have a national identity (circa A.D. 70) until the House of Jacob received its national identity once more (A.D. 1948), there was no historical "House" over which to bear rule. This makes it pretty much impossible for anyone to "rule over the house of Jacob". This assumes that "the house of Jacob" is to be understood in terms of a national identity. This assumption is buttressed by the term "rule". It is pretty much impossible to rule a "kingdom" unless the things that make a kingdom a kingdom are in place. If a "kingdom" does not include a specific land mass with identifiable boundaries, then Jesus can be a King over a kingdom with His subjects simply being dispersed people who give their loyalty to Him. But, if the concept of "bearing rule as a king" does involve a geographical sphere, then Jesus can't be a King until the land is brought under His dominion. To argue that Jesus, Himself, before Pilate, dismissed the geographical sphere with His words "my kingdom is not of this world" may be to miss the meaning of those words altogether. Rather than dismissing the geographical sphere, Jesus may have only been dismissing those geographical spheres that were "of this world" -- i.e. that received their boundaries by the actions of the lords of this world.
- iv. There is no significant point to the biblical prophetic picture of the restoration of the House of Jacob if it can exist without such a restoration. If it exists without restoration, it cannot be restored because it never ceased to be. The type of meaning involved in "the House of Jacob" must involve an earthly national identity before any talk of a restoration can be done. That Jesus never exercised kingly rule over the House of Jacob during His earthly life and ministry stands without debate as long as the words are not moved completely out of their connections with concrete historical reality.
- c) There will be no end to His kingdom.
- i. This claim is actually made twice: Gabriel says "He will rule over the House of Jacob forever" and he says "of His kingdom there will be no end".
- ii. What is the point of the repetitious statements?
- (a) First, that once initiated, His rule will never cease.
- (b) Second, that once re-established as a House/Kingdom under the Son of David, the House/Kingdom will never cease. [In its most basic terms, this is the promise of "eternal life"]
- 1. As mentioned above, it is absolutely crucial that believers know that there is only one Messiah. The mental bifurcation of the biblical teaching regarding the functions of Messiah ("suffering under the rule of others" as opposed to "exercising rule over others") only leads to a kind of spiritual bifurcation that refuses to meld ruling with servanthood. As long as men do not see that the King is essentially a Sufferer, they will retain their evil notions of "the privilege of lordship" as "the right to compel others to serve me" and will never come to grips with the reality that "lordship" is "the ability to meet the true needs of others". The retention of these evil notions is the spirit of Antichrist.
- 2. There is somewhat of this false spirit alive in the debate over whether Jesus has received, or will yet receive, the throne of David. There has always been a driving desire in men to be noticeable in the eyes of men (novelty in theology is a way to pursue this goal and championing the established traditions is another). The question is this: how do the answers to the question of Jesus' current function move men? Are they moved yet deeper into the reality of "servanthood as love", or are they moved yet deeper into the delusion of "dominion as satisfaction"? What real difference do the answers to the question of Jesus' current function make? Is it much to do about nothing, or is it a seed-form debate over what those will do who believe the proclaimed position? It is the latter. The debate introduces antithetical positions. One, or perhaps both, are erroneous. Error is the seed of death. The problem is that seeds seldom reveal their true nature until after a long period of dormancy, sprouting, and growth. The fruit only comes from the mature plant. This often makes it exceedingly difficult to discern what that fruit will be. In the seed stage, the possibilities can seem innocuous; in the fruit stage there is no stemming the tide that has been unleashed. Because the issue in this debate is hermeneutical, there will be extensive damage done downline because one cannot plant the seeds of "how to understand God's words" without harvesting the downline fruit of "constrained understanding". If the way we approach the words of God is misguided, the meaning and significance that we end up with as the guides of our lives will only be the fruit of that misguided approach. And, since it is our lives that are going to be fundamentally directed, the damage of error becomes the inevitable experience of disaster.