By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice November 2006)
Psalm 82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
'GODS' MEANS JUDGES First of all, a quick word on the word 'Elohim', a Hebrew plural translated as 'God' in verses 1 and 8 and 'gods' in verses 1 and 6. The word in its plural form means God as in the Almighty, its meaning in most of its occurrences and 'gods' in the sense of pagan deities. It also means 'judges' and 'magistrates', in other words, earthly rulers. It is translated in this way in Ex 21:6 in the King James Bible.
The latter is, I believe, the meaning in context here, especially in the light of verse 6. A quick search finds only 'The Message' rendering the word as 'judges' in verses 1b and 6, which is curious, but I maintain that making it mean 'gods' as in 'pagan or demonic spiritual powers' is not possible in the context. The Psalmist is saying that Almighty God judges among the judges of the earth.
The Psalm is credited to Asaph, one of David's head musicians. It could be a divinely-inspired call for justice in David's kingdom, but is more likely to be contrasting the inferior and unjust political systems of surrounding nations with the righteousness of David's. However, the final verse is suddenly outward-looking. Asaph assumes God's rule over all the kingdoms of the earth, and calls on God to judge them, secure in the knowledge that God will inherit them all.
A PRESENT REALITY A future aspiration becomes a present reality in David's old age. God has revealed Himself to the king as something more than one amongst many competing local deities. Monolatry (the worship of one God, without denying that other nations have other gods) which we see from time to time in the early books of the Old Testament, has now become assertive monotheism (the belief in one all-powerful God alone and that other so-called ‘gods’ are demonic entities or impostors or both). The omnipotence of God and His dominion over all the nations is the overwhelming theme of the Prophets, but David's final prayer predates them by centuries. For David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, God has to be regarded as Lord of all the earth. He is exalted over all. He reigns over all. He gives strength as He pleases to all, and His name is so holy and glorious by verse 13 it is not even necessary to add 'above all others':
1 Chr. 29:10 Wherefore David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israelour father, for ever and ever.
11 Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.
12 Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.
13 Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.
BOTH LORD AND CHRIST Whether God is ruler of all or just another deity is not even an issue in the New Testament. On top of that, it does not take the Apostles long to realise the reality of the ministry of the itinerant teacher they knew as 'Yeshua'. Less than two months after His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and having seen His glorious Ascension, Peter stands up in
Therefore let all the house of Israelknow assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts )
Jesus is both supreme in authority, maintains Peter, and He is Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah. And none of Peter's listeners disagrees. They were 'pricked in their heart' and wanted to know what to do. In his first letter, Peter develops the theme whilst speaking of:
the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Pet. 3:22)
His ascending into heaven has secured His rightful position, and the Lord Himself prophesied the same thing in the parable of the talents in the version recorded by Luke:
He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. (Luke 19:12)
ALL POWER Some modern commentators have an idea that the Apostle Paul invented a new religion at odds with the message of Jesus. Personally, I cannot see a gnat's-wing of difference between the epistles of Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude and the words of the Lord Himself as recorded in the Gospels on any doctrine whatsoever. This subject is no exception. We have heard the words of Peter. Here are those of the Lord, just before His Ascension:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matt. 28:18)
That must mean all power, and all authority, giving Jesus Christ, Yeshua Meshiach, the ultimate rule over absolutely everything. I have written before, albeit too briefly, on the libretto of Handel's Messiah, where the words of the Apostle John are to the fore, and not just in the Hallelujah Chorus. John stood enthralled as he heard an echo of the words of king David, 12 centuries before:
Rev. 5:11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
It did not stop there. In words which had a dramatic effect of the confidence of the early Christians, as John's Revelation was taken around the young Church, he recalls God moving in judgment, in the name of Christ:
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)
TEMPORAL POWER And when Jesus Christ goes forth to war, the outcome is assured, and His revealed title allows no compromise:
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:16)
These words will not permit any idea that the power and authority of the Lord Jesus is merely spiritual, figurative, heavenly and of no earthly importance. King of kings was a normal title for the ruler of an earthly empire in Biblical times. It was a political statement. In Genesis 14:1 we read of 'Tidal, king of nations'. Jeremiah describes God as 'king of nations' in an earthly sense. Daniel addresses Nebuchadnezzar as a king of nations in Dan 4:1 and as 'king of kings in Dan
, although the emperor protests that God is a Lord of kings, whilst Ezekiel describes him as 'kings of kings' in Ezek 26:7. Artaxerxes is 'king of kings' in Ezra 7:12.
What we are seeing in the New Testament is the fulfilment and development of Isaiah 45:23, where God says the 'unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue swear.' The Apostles are saying that time of universal kingship and obedience is right now.
KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS Just to prove that the Apostle Paul is not being left out, he also tells Timothy that Jesus Christ is 'the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords' (1 Tim
). On top of that, possibly the most dramatic statement of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is given to Paul to write to the Christians in
. There is now no future promise that every knee 'shall' bow and every tongue 'shall' swear, as we find in Isaiah. The well-educated Paul is very aware of the prophecy of Isaiah, but in the light of the work of Jesus Christ, the future tense has become a Greek aorist subjunctive, a kind of imperative, a declaration of how things should from now on rightfully be:
Phil. 2:9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is important for us to recognise just how radical and challenging a word that is. The early Church took it to heart and saw what it meant. The twenty-first-century comfortable Church has been blinded, and needs some spiritual eye lotion.
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD Christians in the
were not persecuted for holding private devotions to just another god.
tolerated that. They were not put to death for celebrating communion quietly in a room somewhere. The Roman Emperors were cool with all kinds of weird and wonderful mystery religions. No, they were thrown to the lions for declaring 'Jesus Christ is Lord.' And if Jesus Christ is Lord, it followed, Caesar wasn't. As Caesar said he was, conflict was inevitable. Just as King of kings was a political statement about Artaxerxes, so it is of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In a 1952 film called 'The Robe', a young Richard Burton plays a Roman centurion who becomes a Christian. The final scene has Caesar in the shape of a rather camp Jay Robinson demanding to be worshipped as Lord.
's Marcellus acknowledges Caesar's temporal authority, which is not a problem for any Christian. But he will not renounce the claims of Jesus to be King of kings, and tells Caesar, 'There is one higher than you, the Lord Jesus Christ.'
I have noticed that secular humanists are as happy as Caesar with Christianity as a 'private matter'. They want us to keep quiet and not frighten the political horses. They don't want us to bring our faith into the public arena. They want politics for them alone. But Christianity will not be confined to a front room, or a church building, or a Sunday morning. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, everywhere, all the time.
If Jesus Christ is Lord, as we have seen, Caesar isn't. And in our own day, the Civil Service isn't, the Prime Minister isn't, the Queen in Parliament isn't, the Scottish Parliament isn't, the National Assembly of Wales isn't, and Stormont isn't. By the way, if you are reading this overseas, just state the name of your president or chief minister followed by the word ‘isn’t’. And, with a few radical exceptions, today’s earthly rulers are as uncomfortable as was every one of the Caesars with the revolutionary concept that God in Jesus Christ is higher than they and that God requires the justice of Psalm 82.
So let's tell them, loud and clear. Jesus Christ is Lord!