Check out this quote by George Guthrie, from the chapter on Hebrews in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
“The early church understood Psalm 2:7 to refer to Jesus’ induction into his royal position as king of the universe at the resurrection and exaltation.”
As I was reading it, I was suddenly struck by what a crazy idea this is. Imagine it–a group of people meet someone who does some pretty amazing things, then gets killed, and after that they say he’s the king of the universe.
King of the universe.
How does anyone even start to think thoughts like that–especially about another person they actually knew?
First, as Christians around the world celebrated this past Sunday, he didn’t stay dead. It was the fact that they actually saw him, talked with him, touched him, ate the breakfast he cooked–all after he had been killed and buried that set off this radical change in how they saw him. The New Testament is clear in many places that is was exactly these experiences (over the course of 40 days) which convinced them that Jesus was, in fact, way more than any other human they’d ever met.
But think about it, even if you did have a friend who rose from the dead, would that make you think he or she ruled the whole universe? I’ve never had another friend rise from the dead and come talk to me, so I can’t say for sure what my reaction would be. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t leap from “Great, you’re back! Wow, how’d this happen?!” to “You must be king of everything!”
And this get’s us to the second reason Christians made this leap. Jesus didn’t come out of nowhere. The first Christians were Jewish people who had been raised on the Hebrew scriptures, which consistently predicted someone who would come and end up to be ruler of the whole world. In fact he’d be Mighty God, and king over the whole created order. Hence, king of the universe. (See, for instance scriptures like Isaiah 9:6-7, Zechariah 9:10, Daniel 7, Psalm 72.) Specifically, when the first Christians saw Jesus rise from the dead, they realized he was fulfilling the prophecies contained in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.
In other words, it wasn’t just that something amazing happened when Jesus rose from the dead, it was that God had prepared the nation of Israel with words to interpret the events of Jesus life, including the cross and the empty tomb.
So here they were, with a risen Jesus standing in front of them. Amazingly, in all of his pre-cross life, Jesus did nothing to make them think he couldn’t be this person. Instead everything he did and said added up to only one conclusion–he must be the promised one, whom their scriptures had pointed forward to.
And even after he ascended, and the Holy Spirit began his ministry, though the first believers didn’t (physically) see Jesus on the throne now, they had seen him ascend to sky, and figured (under the divine guidance of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that he must be the cosmic king of everything, like Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 said.
It’s crazy! But it’s true! And in the end, when you understand the story of the world, and the context Jesus emerged out of, it’s actually not crazy at all. It’s what God always said would happen, and it’s what we all should have been expecting, given the greatness and large-heartedness of God.
And that’s why Christians ended up writing things like this:
In these last days God has spoken to us by His Son,
whom He has appointed heir of all things,
through whom also He made the worlds;
who being the brightness of His glory
and the express image of His person,
and upholding all things by the word of His power,
when He had by Himself purged our sins,
sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
God was working in Christ when He raised Him from the dead
and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all principality and power and might and dominion,
and every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
And He put all things under His feet,
and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,
which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
God also has highly exalted Him
and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven, and of those on earth,
and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.