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Why is Jesus called “the Son of David”?

Last updated on August 31, 2022

He began to cry out and say, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent …” (Mark 10:47-48)

Jesus on his way to Jerusalem

Just before his death, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem. At the same time, many other people were on their way to Jerusalem to attend the feast of Passover. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was in the middle of a big crowd moving slowly towards the city (Mark 10:1). During their journey, they passed the city of Jericho. On the edge of that town, a blind man tried to catch Jesus’ attention shouting “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:35). According to the Gospel of Mark , they came across the blind man when they left Jericho (Mark 10:46). Moreover, according to the Gospel of Matthew (20:29-30), there were two blind men. Anyhow, many people got quite upset by the shouting and told the blind to shut up. This article tries to explain what the crowd may have thought hearing the words “Jesus Son of David”.

Bible verses that mention Jesus as the Son of David

Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9; 21:15; 22:42.

Mark 10:47-48.

Luke 1:32; 18:38-39.

The Hebrew expressions “sons of” and “son of”

The expression Jesus the Son of David indicates that there was a family relationship between King David and Jesus. This does not necessarily mean that David was the biological father of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:6-16) makes clear that Jesus did belong to the family of David via Joseph, the husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Yet, Jesus and David were separated by a total of 25 generations spanning a period of about a thousand years.

In Hebrew, the expressions “sons of” and “son of” may refer to family relationships over many generations. For example, the priests in the temple in Jerusalem could be called “sons of Aaron” (2 Chronicles 13:9), although Aaron, the brother of Moses, had passed away hundreds of years earlier. In a similar way, some of the Levites could be called “the sons of Korah” (Psalm 42:1) and others “the sons of Asaph” (2 Chronicles 35:15; Ezra 3:10), although their common ancestor might have lived centuries earlier (Numbers 26:9-11; 1 Chronicles 15:16-17). In the same way, the successive kings in Jerusalem could be called “sons of David”, referring to their common ancestor King David, who, in the distant past, had made Jerusalem his capital (2 Chronicles 23:3).

In Hebrew, the expressions “sons of” and “son of” may also indicate that a person belongs to a certain group of people other than a family. So, the common expression “the sons of Israel” refers to all Israelites, family or not. The expression “the son of the foreigner” may refer to any person of the category “foreigner” (Isaiah 56:3). And when Amos states “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet”, he not only states that he doesn’t come from a family of prophets, but also that he doesn’t belong to that category (Amos 7:14). Sometimes, Bible translations avoid the expressions “sons of” or “son of”. For example, the expression “the sons of Israel” may be translated as “the people of Israel”, the expression “the son of the foreigner” as “the foreigner”, and the Hebrew expression “the sons of the bridechamber” as “the wedding guests” (Matthew 9:15).

The expression “Jesus the Son of David” does not only refer to a family relationship between Jesus and David. It also suggests that Jesus stands in the tradition of the kings of Jerusalem. And that is where the crowd in Jericho became nervous. What if the Roman occupying forces in Jerusalem were informed that a big crowd was on its way to the city and among them was somebody with the title Son of David? How would the Roman authorities react?

27 generations
from David to Jesus

Matthew 1:6-16
1. David,
2. Rehoboam,
3. Abijah,
4. Asa,
5. Jehoshaphat,
6. Jehoram,
7. Uzziah,
8. Jotham,
9. Ahaz,
10. Hezekiah,
11. Manasseh,
12. Amon,
13. Josiah,
14. Jeconiah
15. Shealtiel,
16. Zerubbabel,
17. Abihud,
18. Eliakim,
19. Azor,
20. Zadok,
21. Akim,
22. Elihud,
23. Eleazar,
24. Matthan,
25. Jacob,
26. Joseph,
the husband of Mary,
the mother of Jesus.

The promise of a new king

Long before Jesus visited Jerusalem, the Davidic kingdom had come to an end. The city was destroyed and many people, among them the royal family, were forced into exile. The city and its surrounding area called Judah were reduced to a small province dependent on the big empires which successively ruled it. Finally, it became part of the Roman Empire.

Several prophets foresaw the end of the exile period. The people in exile would come back. Some did indeed come back (Ezra 2; 7). And in line with an old promise (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the prophets envisioned that the kingdom of David would be restored by one of his descendants (Isaiah 9:5-6; Jeremiah 30:18-21; Micah 5:1-4 and Zechariah 6:12-13).

The promise was waiting to be fulfilled. At the time of Jesus, there were strong expectations that the revival of the kingdom was about to happen (Luke 2:25-26). It was a blind person who saw the promise being fulfilled (… Jesus, Son of David …), while others were merely afraid of the consequences when somebody would claim the throne of King David.

The Roman mistake during the feast of Passover

From non-Biblical sources, we know that the Roman Empire annexed the area called Judah in the year 63 BC. They renamed it “Judea”. For a short period, during the reign of King Herod the Great, the Roman authorities allowed Judea some independence. After King Herod’s death, shortly after Jesus’ birth (Mathew 2:19), riots broke out in Jerusalem during the feast of Passover. The Roman army reacted by killing about 3000 people within the temple area. The relationship between the Roman authorities and the Jews continued to be tense until, in the year 67 AD, a massive Jewish revolt broke out. The Roman army responded by destroying Jerusalem including the temple.

During the period of growing tension between the Jews and the Roman occupiers, Jesus walked around in Galilee, Samaria and Judea. Afraid of repercussions by the Roman army, the Jews around Jesus were very cautious about anything that might be interpreted as riots or rebellion. Shouting “Jesus Son of David!” could easily be seen as a provocation of the Roman authorities, and therefore the blind had to be silenced as soon as possible.

Still, the blind at Jericho were those who saw Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for who He really was. And the Roman authorities were the ones who crucified Jesus in Jerusalem a few days later.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed three aspects of the expression Jesus the Son of David.

  • First, the expression implies that David was an ancestor of Jesus, not necessarily his biological father.
  • Second, the expression implies that Jesus could be called a rightful king in Jerusalem.
  • Third, the expression implies that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that God would send a new Davidic king to restore his kingdom.

The people around did not want to use the expression, afraid of what the Roman occupiers might think of a new king in Jerusalem. But the blind shouted even louder seeing who Jesus really was. How about you? What is your response?

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