Question: When does “David” mean “Jesus” in Scripture
— and how do we know?
Old Testament prophecy often refers to the Messiah, Jesus, as sitting on David’s throne. Perhaps the most well known is rehearsed in churches every Christmas:
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Probably the most singular example of biblical prophecy where David may not refer to the Messiah is Ezekiel 34:23-24:
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
The setting is the Millennial Kingdom when Christ will reign for a thousand years on the earth (Rev. 20:6). He will restore Israel as a people to Himself and to the Promised Land (Jer. 23:5-6), and from Jerusalem in Zion He will restore and govern the entire earth (Micah 4:2). Here, taken at face value, Ezekiel prophesies that during the Messiah’s Millennial reign: I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David… and my servant David will be prince among them — ruling over the descendants of Jacob. Hosea, speaking of the same time period says, Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king.
Throughout prophetic Scripture, when the Messiah is linked to king David’s throne, He is David’s Seed (Is. 6:13), David’s descendant (Ps. 132:11-12), the righteous Branch (Jer. 33:15), etc. A distinction is always carefully made between David Himself and the Messiah to come. But in Ezekiel 34, David himself is said to sit on the throne with the very limited task of ruling over restored Israel. And to emphasize the point that David is not to be metaphorically confused with God, Ezekiel 34:24 says, “I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince…”
The passages in Ezekiel and Hosea do not stand alone. Jeremiah also prophesies of that Millennial Kingdom: Instead, they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them (Jer. 30:9).
A straightforward reading of Scripture is always the best guide to it’s own meaning. Unless the Bible itself clues us in that terms are to be taken symbolically (Seed, Branch, etc.), let the Bible say what it means and mean what it says. It should not be surprising that David will serve such a role in the Millennium: Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6)!