The purpose of this blog post is to examine Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 with a view toward grasping Peter’s understanding of the throne of David concept.
Acts 2 describes the baptizing and filling ministry of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. This is all related to Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, who currently is at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the One who has poured forth the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The culmination of Peter’s argument in Acts 2 is found in his declaration that God has made the resurrected Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Three quotations from the Psalms are found in Acts 2:29-36 — Psalms 16, 132, and 110. The focus of this blog post, though, is on Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 and how this relates to the throne of David issue. Peter declared:
And so, because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:30).
Much debate exists on the implications of this verse, mostly concerning whether it implies that Jesus is currently sitting upon David’s throne today in heaven. Does Peter’s quotation of Psalm 132:11 indicate a change or advancement concerning the concept of David’s throne from a physical-earthly reality to a spiritual one. This topic involves both how Peter uses Psalm 132:11 and what this means for understanding the throne of David.
To understand Peter’s uses of Psalm 132:11 I will present both the context of the Old Testament passage and the New Testament situation in which Psalm 132:11 is quoted. I will argue that Peter quotes Psalm 132:11 contextually, and he is not transcending or changing the meaning of the throne of David from its normal meaning of an earthly throne. Thus, Acts 2:30 is an example of a New Testament person quoting an Old Testament prophetic text contextually with the expectation that this Old Testament text will be fulfilled literally in the future.
Psalm 132 is a psalm of ascents where the psalmist pleads with God to remember David and the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Sam. 7). As The Moody Bible Commentary states, “This psalm is the climax of the Psalms of Ascents. In it the psalmist emphasizes that all of Israel’s future hopes are dependent upon the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant” (p. 866).
After noting the humility of David (vv. 1-9) the author of Psalm 132 states:
For the sake of David Your servant,
Do not turn away the face of Your anointed.
The Lord has sworn to David
A truth from which He will not turn back:
“Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.
“If your sons will keep My covenant
And My testimony which I will teach them,
Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever” (vv. 10-12).
Peter will focus mostly on verse 11 and its statement that God will set a descendant(s) upon David’s throne. The context of the Davidic Covenant and Davidic throne is 2 Samuel 7 (cf. 1 Chron. 17). Second Samuel 7:16 states, “Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” Thus, Psalm 132:10-12 is reaffirming key aspects of the Davidic Covenant first given in 2 Samuel 7.
An inductive study of various Bible passages reveals that the throne of David is related to both function and location. Functionally, it will involve both kingly authority and rule. Concerning location, it will involve an earthly geographical realm. The one who functionally rules from David’s throne will do so from and over the location of Israel. These two aspects are found in Luke 1:32b-33 when the angel Gabriel told Mary:
the Lord God will give Him [Jesus] the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:32b-33).
- Function: “He will reign”
- Location: “over the house of Jacob”
On multiple occasions, the throne of David is linked geographically with Jerusalem and Israel. Second Samuel 3:10 speaks of “the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” With 1 Kings 9:5 God told Solomon, “then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” Jeremiah 17:25 links the throne of David with “Judah” and “Jerusalem.” On nine occasions David’s throne is called the “throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:4; 8:20, 25; 9:5; 10:9; 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12; 2 Chron 6:10, 16), emphasizing that this throne is earthly in location. It should also be noted that this throne in Israel will eventually impact the whole world. Psalm 72:8 indicates that the reign of the Messiah will extend throughout the whole earth:
May he also rule from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
This locational emphasis concerning David’s throne is important since some have tried to argue that this throne is only about function, not location. But this is not true and is a false dichotomy. Both function and location are important.
Also, since the Davidic throne is established by God it is called “the throne of the Lord” in 1 Chronicles 29:23. This indicates the throne of David has the Lord as its source. It is the Davidic throne that the Lord has established on earth. First Chronicles 29:23 is not a statement that the Lord’s throne in heaven is blurred into the Davidic throne so that there is no distinction between them.
With Acts 2, Peter argued that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah and Lord who has poured out the Holy Spirit upon His people. Just prior to Acts 2:30, Peter quoted Psalm 16 to show that David consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-29). Then with Acts 2:30-32 Peter stated:
Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
Peter said David was a “prophet” who consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, we have inspired commentary from Peter concerning what David believed about the coming Messiah. David possessed a specific messianic hope and predicted the resurrection of the Messiah we now know as Jesus.
With Acts 2:30-32 Peter quotes both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 16:10. The former is a Davidic Covenant verse, and the latter emphasizes God’s “Holy One” who will not undergo decay.
Concerning Psalm 132:11, Peter draws upon the truth that God swore to David to sit one of David’s descendants on David’s throne in Jerusalem. So when Peter combines Psalm 132:11 with Psalm 16:10 he seems to be saying this:
Since David knew the Messiah is destined to sit upon and reign from David’s throne forever, the Messiah must be raised from the dead. A dead Messiah cannot sit upon David’s throne, so the Messiah must be resurrected.
Peter is not saying that Jesus currently is upon David’s throne, but the resurrection means God’s promise to seat a descendant of David upon David’s throne forever is alive and well.
Peter’s understanding of the Davidic throne in Acts 2 is consistent with the meaning of Psalm 132:10-12 and 2 Samuel 7. Nothing in Acts 2 indicates a change or addition has occurred concerning the Davidic throne concept.
Addressing the Heavenly Davidic Throne View
This understanding above concerning an earthly Davidic throne seems natural and likely. But not everyone accepts it. Some believe that Peter’s quotations of Psalm 132:11 (in Acts 2:30) and Psalm 110:1 (in Acts 2:34-35a) indicate a reinterpretation of the Davidic throne from an earthly reality to a heavenly reality. This is often seen in non-dispensational understandings of the kingdom in which physical realities are often spiritualized or reinterpreted to spiritual realities. For example, concerning Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 2, George Ladd said: “This involves a rather radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament prophecies, but no more so than the entire reinterpretation of God’s redemptive plan by the early church” (A Theology of the New Testament, 373).
For some theologians, David’s throne is now a heavenly entity and no longer refers to an earthly throne or position of authority in Jerusalem. Another view is that Peter is adding a spiritual dimension to the Davidic throne while not denying an earthly aspect of it in the future (some Progressive Dispensationalists). Both understandings, though, affirm that a heavenly Davidic throne is in view in Acts 2:30-36.
The argument that Peter is viewing David’s throne as a heavenly reality in Acts 2:30-36 is sometimes linked with the fact that Jesus’ session in heaven coincides with Peter’s reference to David’s throne in Acts 2:30. This understanding seems to rely on the following logic:
- The resurrected and ascended Jesus is now heaven.
- Peter quotes a passage involving the Davidic throne
- Therefore, Jesus must be sitting upon David’s throne in heaven.
But instead of simply linking heaven with David’s throne, it is more likely that Peter is making a cause-and-effect argument here. Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a step in the process to Jesus reigning from David’s throne in the future, which is what Psalm 110:1-2 actually predicts. Thus, the correct link between Jesus, heaven, and David’s throne is this — the resurrected Jesus who currently is in heaven is destined to reign upon David’s throne.
Notice that Peter does not say Jesus has been exalted to the throne of David in Acts 2:33. Instead, Peter says Jesus has been “exalted to the right of hand of God.” The Scripture consistently presents God’s throne as existing in heaven. Isaiah 66:1a states, “Heaven is my throne.” Psalm 11:4 declares, “the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” Yet David’s throne is consistently presented as an earthly reality involving Israel and the nations upon the earth (2 Sam. 3:10; 1 Kings 2:12; Jer. 17:25; Luke 1:32-33; Matt. 25:31).
Also, Peter’s emphasis in Acts 2:33b is not on Jesus reigning. Instead, Jesus is receiving and pouring forth the Holy Spirit. One would expect a statement about Jesus reigning if Peter linked the right hand of God with the Davidic throne. In addition, after Acts 2:30-36 there are thirteen statements that Jesus is at the “right hand” of God, but none say He is sitting upon the throne of David. The New Testament writers seem intentional about identifying Jesus as being at the right hand of God but not on the throne of David.
Thrones and Sitting
Another argument for the heavenly Davidic throne view concerns the issue of sitting, which Peter mentions concerning both David’s throne and the right hand of God:
- David’s throne: to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts2:30).
- God’s throne: “Sit at My right hand, (Acts 2:34).
Since both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 110:1 speak of the Messiah as sitting in these contexts some think the Davidic throne of Psalm 132:11 and the right hand of the father of Psalm 110:1 must be the same. Or to put another way:
- Psalm 132:11 speaks of a descendant of David sitting on David’s throne.
- Psalm 110:1 speaks of the Messiah sitting at the right hand of God.
- Therefore, David’s throne and the right hand of the Father are the same.
But the act of sitting alone does not imply the two thrones are the same. The act of sitting can apply to the Father’s throne in heaven (Psalm 110:1) and David’s throne in Jerusalem (Psalm 132:11). In fact, Jesus makes such a distinction in Revelation 3:21:
He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne [David’s throne], as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne [Father’s throne].
So the two thrones are distinguished. Also, it appears that the act of sitting applies to two different thrones at two different times. Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father now (“I also overcame”), and will in the future grant to overcomers the right to sit upon the throne of David (“I will grant to him”).
Another point to consider is that Jesus himself placed His Davidic throne assumption in the future in Matthew 25:31:
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
Here Jesus’ sitting upon His glorious throne must be future since it is linked with His coming in glory with His angels. Matthew 25:32 then links this throne with the judgment of the nations, which is a future event on earth.
Matthew 19:28 also teaches that Jesus’ Davidic throne reign is future and connected with other future events such as the coming “regeneration” or renewal of the earth (palingenesia) and the rule of the apostles over the twelve tribes of Israel:
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Finally, Psalm 110:1-2 explicitly teaches that the Messiah would have a session at God’s right hand in heaven “until” the time Messiah begins His earthly reign from Jerusalem. So why would a quotation of Psalm 110 by Peter be taken to mean that Jesus is upon David’s throne in heaven now? Psalm 110 predicted that a session of the Messiah at God’s right hand (v. 1) will eventually lead to a reign from Jerusalem (v. 2). Also, Hebrews 10:12-13 states that Jesus is at the right hand of God “waiting” to reign:
but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.
The right hand of God is linked with God’s throne in heaven. It is not simply a place of authority with no regard for a locale. In Acts 7:49, Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1 saying, “Heaven is My [God’s] throne.” Then while being stoned we are told that Stephen saw “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and then he said, “‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God at God’s heavenly throne. So just as David’s throne has a locale in Jerusalem, the right hand of God has a heavenly locale at God’s throne in heaven. These thrones are not the same — one is heavenly and the other is on earth.
The purpose of Acts 2:30-36 (and all of Acts 2) is to show the people of Israel that the resurrected Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. Jesus is at the right hand of God and He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon His followers. Peter is not stating that Jesus has assumed a transcended, heavenly Davidic throne to rule over a redefined spiritual kingdom.
In sum, Peters’ quotation of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 is contextual and relies upon the literal meaning of Psalm 132:11 which speaks of a descendant of David sitting upon the Davidic throne in Israel. Peter argues that Jesus is the One destined to reign upon the Davidic throne on earth. Because of this, Jesus could not remain dead after His crucifixion. He must be resurrected. So Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 is an example of a New Testament person (Peter) relying upon the literal meaning of an Old Testament text (Psalm 132:11), and seeing the fulfillment of this passage as needing to occur in the future.
This understanding does not mean there are no Davidic Covenant implications in this age. Jesus, the ultimate Son of David, has been manifest and we know who He is (Matt. 1:1). He is now at the right hand of God in heaven as David predicted (see Psalm 110:1). Also, the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit which stems from the Messiah is being poured out on all believers today. Gentiles, in addition, are experiencing messianic salvation as Gentiles in this age (Acts 5:14-18; with Amos 9:11-12). But to hold that Acts 2:30-36 indicates Jesus is sitting upon and reigning from David’s throne in this age goes beyond what Peter in Acts 2 is saying.
Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. (Twitter: @mikevlach) is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary where he has been teaching full time since 2006. Michael specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. Dr. Vlach was awarded the “Franz-Delitzsch Prize 2008” for his dissertation, “The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism.” He blogs here.