Christians: What is the Davidic Covenant?
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:1-5
Because God was faithful to his covenant with Noah, sinners continued to live and increase on the earth. Because God was faithful to his covenant with Abraham, his descendants became a nation. And because God was faithful to his covenant with Moses, the nation settled in their Promised Land, which set the stage of history for the establishing of a kingship to rule over the kingdom of Israel. In 2 Samuel 7:8–16, God chooses David to be the next covenant head:
Thus says the LORD of hosts . . . I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. . . . Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
David was rightly overwhelmed by the gracious covenant promise that not only would a former shepherd boy be a king, but that from him would come a King whose kingdom would endure forever and be ruled by none other than the Son of God. David’s humble response to God’s covenantal grace is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:18–19:
Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD!”
David rightly understood that he was chosen by God for no good reason apart from the grace of God. And, we should each respond in the same way if we are honest about who we were when God saved us.
The Davidic covenant promise of an eternal kingdom was so treasured by God’s people that they worshiped God in faith that he would be faithful to the covenant promises as he had been to Noah, Abraham, and Moses. One example of this is found in Psalm 89:3–4, which declares, “You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: “I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.”’”
Scriptures continue to record how God poured a special measure of his grace on Israel in the days of David to lift his people to greater heights of dignity. He transformed the nation from a loose confederation of tribes into a strong empire. David, as well as many of his sons, accomplished much as they ruled over Israel.
Nevertheless, the Old Testament records a sad end for the house of David. The sin of David’s sons caused God to remove the throne from Jerusalem. The nation and its king went into exile in Babylon. The prophets foretold that a descendant of David would restore the nation.
As we see the disarray of Israel’s kingdom today, we have to wonder what happened to God’s promises. Did God not assure David of an unending dynasty? Whatever came of the kingdom blessings promised to Israel?
The New Testament answers these questions by identifying Jesus as the heir of David’s throne. Matthew and Luke composed extensive genealogies to demonstrate that he was the descendant of David.1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as God’s providence brought pregnant Mary there to register for a governmental census.2 As David’s final heir, Jesus brings incomparable kingdom blessings to God’s covenant people. He fulfills all the hopes of honor associated with the royal line in ways that go far beyond what David and his other sons accomplished. The angel declared in Luke 2:11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The blessings of Christ’s kingdom encompass a vast array of benefits for God’s covenant people.
To gain a glimpse into what Christ does for us, we will focus on three blessings that came through the line of David during the Old Testament period. Then we will see how Christ brings these gifts to God’s people in the New Testament age.
- David’s house was to provide protection for Israel against evil. David and his sons had the responsibility of safeguarding the nation. Even when the offensive conquest of the land subsided, the royal house had the responsibility of providing ongoing security. For this reason, the kings of Israel erected walls and maintained armies. Every responsible member of David’s house devised ways to protect the people.
- The royal line of Judah was to ensure prosperity for God’s people. Within the walls of royal protection, Israel prospered beyond measure. Righteousness prevailed when the king enforced the law. People could live and work without fear of criminals. Economic conditions improved as David’s sons did their jobs properly. When kings ruled over the land in righteousness, the people prospered. The house of David not only protected God’s people from their enemies, it also brought prosperity to the land.
- David’s house was divinely ordained to ensure the special presence of God among the people. David spent his life preparing for the temple, a permanent edifice for the presence of God. Solomon constructed the temple and centered his kingdom on it. The kings of Judah always bore the responsibility of maintaining the proper functioning of the temple. Without the presence of God, all the efforts of royalty were in vain. There could be no protection or prosperity without the presence of God. The prayers, sacrifices, and songs associated with Israel’s temple were the sources out of which all kingdom benefits flowed.
The kingdom blessings of protection, prosperity, and divine presence did not cease with the Old Testament. These ancient realities anticipated greater benefits to come in Christ. But we must remember that Jesus bestows these kingdom blessings in two stages. He brought protection, prosperity, and divine presence at his first coming, which we now enjoy, and he will bring them at his second coming, which we are awaiting by faith.
Samuel anointed David as king of Israel,3 but it was a long time before he began reigning on the throne.4 In the meantime, David gathered followers who were loyal to him, influencing life in the kingdom ruled by the evil Saul until the day David began his reign on the throne. In a similar way after his resurrection and ascension, Jesus rose to the right hand of the Father as anointed king. From that place, he will one day return to earth as reigning king on the historic throne of David. In the meantime, he is gathering faithful followers who will continue the mission to bring people into the glory of the kingdom. From his exalted position, Jesus bestows kingdom benefits on the people of God.
At this initial stage, Christ’s blessings are primarily spiritual in nature. Jesus guaranteed his followers’ protection: “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”5 As 1 John 4:4b says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Neither human nor supernatural forces can rob us of our salvation in Christ. As our king, Jesus protects each one of his covenant people.
Christ also blesses his people with spiritual prosperity. Paul said we have been “blessed . . . in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”6 Jesus said he came “that they may have life and have it abundantly.”7 Christ guarantees spiritual prosperity to the people of his kingdom.
Finally, Christ provides the presence of God among his people. When Jesus left for heaven, he removed his physical presence, but he sent the Spirit to comfort his followers with the assurance of God’s nearness: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”8 For this reason, he could promise his apostles, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”9 The kingdom blessings that we enjoy today are grand, but we must remember that they are primarily spiritual. Christ does not promise us protection from all physical evil in this stage of his kingdom. In fact, he warned that his followers would receive persecution and suffering: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”10 Moreover, Christ’s kingship does not guarantee physical prosperity and health today. The trials of poverty and physical illnesses remain with many of us, as the book of 1 Peter continually communicates. Finally, Christ does not give us his physical presence at this time either. He is present in the Spirit, but we long to see him and touch him again. The church now cries out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”11
Amidst the pain, death, and injustice of this world God’s people long for the coming of the Kingdom. Today, we have the firstfruits of the kingdom, which make us long for the kingdom in its fullness.12 While Christ guarantees us only spiritual blessings today, his protection, prosperity, and presence will extend even to physical levels when he returns. Within the new creation we will be protected against all forms of evil, physical and spiritual. The enemies of God will be utterly destroyed and we will have nothing to fear:
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.13
In the fullness of Christ’s kingdom we will receive glorified physical bodies. All illness and grief will be gone: “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”14 Finally, when Christ returns we will no longer yearn to be in his physical presence because he will be among us. We will know Christ’s presence both spiritually and physically. As John said, in the New Jerusalem he “saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”15
Thus, Christ inaugurates the fulfillment all the hopes of the Davidic covenant. He brings the blessings of God’s kingdom to all who serve him faithfully. David and his sons brought outpourings of tremendous benefits for God’s people, but those Old Testament blessings fall short of the dignity for which we were designed and the fullness of God’s covenantal grace. Christ alone brings full covenantal kingdom blessings in his second coming.
Revelation 21:3-5 explains the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant saying:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I lam making all things new.”
In summary, the human mediator of the Davidic covenant was King David. The blessings of the Davidic covenant centered on a kingdom and a King who would come through David’s family line to rule over all people for all times. The condition by which the Davidic covenant was to be enjoyed was participation in the nation of Israel and the worship of God, who was present in the temple. The internal sign of the covenant was faith in God’s promises to establish an everlasting King and kingdom; the external sign was the throne, the symbol of the Davidic covenant and ultimately the seat of Jesus Christ, as is mentioned in fourteen of the twenty-two chapters of Revelation. The covenant community took the form of a kingdom. The promise of Jesus was that he would come from David’s line as the King of kings to rule over all creation forever, bringing peace and prosperity with him.
Indeed, the Davidic covenant is fulfilled as the nations come to know Jesus Christ as King of kings through evangelism and church planting. This explains why the great prayer of Psalm 72 that speaks of Jesus’ kingdom includes this echo of the Abrahamic covenant in verse 17: “May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” It is amazing that God’s covenant grace is nothing short of a global gift.
What practical difference does it make to see Jesus as your only King and his Kingdom as your only home?