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10 February 2020

Why do the Nations Rage? – (Psalm 2:1-6)

SYNOPSIS: The New Testament applies the plans of the rulers of the nations to destroy the Son described in the second Psalm to the conspiracy of the leaders of the Jewish nation to slay Jesus.

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The second Psalm is recognized as messianic and applied to Jesus by the New Testament several times. But precisely when did he fulfill the predictions of this Psalm of David (e.g., Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:6)?

According to some interpreters, the fulfillment of the promise to install the Messiah on the throne of David lies in the future, along with the predicted “rage” of the nations against him. In contrast, in his gospel account and the book of Acts, Luke applies the Psalm to the arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection of Jesus.
(Psalm 2:1-6) - “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed; Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us. He that sits in the heavens will laugh: The Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak unto them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion.”
After an early attempt to suppress the newly formed church by the Temple authorities, the Apostle Peter led the church in prayer for boldness to proclaim the gospel despite the opposition of the rulers of the Temple. In doing so, he recounted how the same men had conspired so recently against Jesus, using language from Psalm 2:1-6:
(Acts 4:23-28) – “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the nations rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
Peter largely follows the Greek text of the Septuagint version of the Psalm. The Greek verb rendered “gathered together” is sunagō, the same term used in this chapter when the Temple authorities hauled the apostles before their gathering for examination:
(Acts 4:5-7) - “And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?”).
The same group of Jewish leaders that conspired to put Jesus to death came together to stop the newly formed church dead in its tracks.  In doing so, they continued their “rage against the Lord and his anointed.” In his prayer, Peter attributes the conspiracy to destroy Jesus to Herod, Pontius Pilate, the nations, AND the people of Israel; all of them “gathered together” against the “holy child” and the “anointed one.”
This same language is used in the synoptic gospels to describe the plot by Jewish leaders to destroy the messianic upstart, Jesus (compare Luke 20:9-20):
(Luke 22:1) – “And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might put him to death.”
(Matthew 27:1-2) – “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pilate the governor.
The imagery from the second Psalm lies behind the parable that Christ told the Temple leaders about a man who planted a vineyard and leased it to “husbandmen” (Luke 20:9-20). The owner of the vineyard represents God and the husbandmen” the leaders of Israel. In due season, the owner sent a servant to collect what was due. In reaction, the “husbandmen” beat the servant and refused to pay what was owed. They did the same to other servants sent subsequently by the owner. Finally, he sent his “son” in the belief that the “husbandmen” would respect his son and heir. On seeing him, “they began to deliberate one with another, saying — This is the heir. Let us slay him that the inheritance may be ours.” And, so, they murdered the “son” and heir. That very hour, the scribes and high priests attempted to seize Jesus to destroy him, for “they perceived that, against them, he told this parable.
Similarly, in Acts 2:23-39, only a few weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter preached to a crowd of Jewish pilgrims about “Jesus, the Nazarene,” whom they slew. Yet God raised him from the dead and exalted him to rule from His throne, having made him “both Lord and Christ,” the very one whom “you crucified.”
Likewise, in a sermon in a synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, the Apostle Paul declared to his Jewish audience how “they who were dwelling in Jerusalem and their rulers,” though they found Jesus guilty of no crime, delivered him to Pontius Pilate to be executed. However, “God, raised him from among the dead,” thereby, He fulfilled the “promise made unto our fathers by raising up Jesus: as also, in the second psalm, it is written — My son you are, I, this day, have begotten you” (Acts 13:23-36, Psalm 2:7-9).
The same promise from the Psalm features prominently in the book of Hebrews (“You are my Son. This day, I have begotten you”). The opening paragraph declares that God has spoken with fulness in His Son who, having achieved purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of God to rule. As elsewhere, Hebrews coordinates the exaltation to Jesus to rule on the messianic throne with his past resurrection from the dead and cites Psalm 2:7 to substantiate this (Hebrews 1:1-4, 5:5-8).
In the book of Revelation, from the outset, Jesus is declared in the present tense to be the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This exalted position is linked to his death, the one who “loosed us out of our sins with his blood, and he made us a kingdom, priests unto his God.” The last clause of the passage alludes to Psalm 2:2, “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed.”

In response to the kings who “set themselves” against God’s anointed, Yahweh declared, “I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). In the Psalm, rather than destroy the kings that resisted the Son, they are admonished to make peace with him, “Therefore, be wise, O kings, serve Yahweh with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.”

In the second Psalm, Yahweh also promised to give the Son the “nations for your inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The book of Revelation applies this promise to the Son to his present position:

(Revelation 2:26-27) – “He that overcomes and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations; and he will rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.”
(Revelation 12:5) – “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”
Thus, the New Testament applies the second Psalm to the plans by the leaders of Israel to destroy Jesus by using the Roman authorities to execute him. In response, God raised him from the dead and installed him to rule hand over the nations, indeed, over the Cosmos (Revelation 5:5-12).

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