Why do the Nations Rage?

SYNOPSISThe 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 – Psalm 2:1-6.

Photo by Barth Bailey on Unsplash
By Barth Bailey on Unsplash
The second Psalm is recognized as a messianic prophecy and applied consistently to Jesus by the New Testament. However, according to the New Testament authors, precisely when did he fulfill the predictions of this Psalm of David?

According to some interpreters, the installment of the Messiah to reign on the throne of David still lies in the future, along with the predicted “rage” of the nations against God’s Messiah. 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) - “Wherefore have nations assembled in tumult? Or should peoples mutter an empty thing? The kings of earth take their station, and grave men have met by appointment together—against Yahweh and against his Anointed One [saying]: Let us break asunder their bonds—and cast from us their cords! He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh—My Lord will mock at them: Then will he speak unto them in his anger, and in his wrath confound them: Yet I have installed my king—on Zion my holy mountain.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

After the Temple authorities attempted to suppress the fledgling church in Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter led the church in prayer for boldness to proclaim the gospel despite this opposition. In doing so, he recounted how the same men had conspired so recently against Jesus, using language from the second Psalm:

(Acts 4:23-28) – “But when they had been let go, they came unto their own [friends] and told as many things as, unto them, the High-priests and Elders had said. And they, having heard, with one accord uplifted voice unto God and said—O Sovereign! Thou art he that made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are herein: Who by our father, through means of the Holy Spirit, even by the mouth of David thy servant, said—UNTO WHAT END DID NATIONS RAGE, AND PEOPLES BUSY THEMSELVES WITH EMPTY THINGS? The kings of the earth stationed themselves, and the rulers were gathered together with one intent against the Lord and against his Christ. For they were gathered together, of a truth, in this city against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou hadst anointed—both Herod and Pontius Pilate with them of the nations, and peoples of Israel;—To do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel marked out beforehand to come to pass.”– (The Emphasized Bible).

Peter largely follows the Greek text of the Septuagint version of the Psalm. The Greek verb rendered “gathered together” is sunagō (Strong’s #4863), the same term used in this episode when the Temple authorities hauled the apostles before their gathering for examination:

(Acts 4:5-7) - “And it came to pass upon the morrow, that THERE WERE GATHERED TOGETHER of them the rulers and the elders and the scribes in Jerusalem; Also Annas, the high-priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of high-priestly descent;—And setting them in the midst, they began to enquire—In what manner of power or in what manner of name did ye, do this?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

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:

(Luke 22:1-2) – “And the feast of the unleavened bread, which is called a Passover, was drawing near. And the High-priests and the Scribes were seeking how they might get rid of him; for they feared the people.
(Matthew 27:1-2) – “Now, when morning came, all the High-priests and Elders of the people TOOK COUNSEL AGAINST JESUS, so as to put him to death: and binding him, they led him away and delivered him up unto Pilate the governor.

The imagery from the second Psalm lies behind the parable that Christ told to the Temple leaders about a man who planted a vineyard and leased it to “husbandmen.”  The owner of the vineyard represented God, and the husbandmen” the priestly 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 they owed. They did the same to other servants sent 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” (Luke 20:9-20).

Likewise, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost only a few weeks after the crucifixion, 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” (Acts 2:23-39).

Likewise, in a sermon in a synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, the Apostle Paul declared to his Jewish audience, “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,” and, 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.” Note well; in the Psalm, the installation of the Son to be king is coordinated with the declaration by Yahweh, “I, this day, have begotten you” (Acts 13:23-36, Psalm 2:7-9, 110:1).

(Psalm 2:6-9) – “Yet I HAVE INSTALLED MY KING—on Zion my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree—Yahweh hath said unto me, MY SON THOU ART, I, TO-DAY, HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE: Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and as thy possession the ends of the earth: Thou shalt shepherd them with a sceptre of iron—as a potter’s vessel, shalt thou dash them in pieces.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The same promise from the second 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 fullness in His Son who, having achieved the purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of God to rule. As elsewhere in this letter, its author coordinates the exaltation to Jesus to rule on the messianic throne with his past resurrection from the dead, citing Psalm 2:7 to substantiate this:

(Hebrews 1:3-5) – “Who, being an eradiated brightness of his glory, and an exact representation of his very being, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places: By so much becoming superior to the messengers, by as much as, going beyond them, he hath inherited a more distinguished name. For unto which of the messengers said he at any time—MY SON ART THOU, I, THIS DAY, HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE?” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Hebrews 5:5-8) – “Thus, also the Christ glorified not himself to become a high-priest, but he that spake unto him—MY SON ART THOU, I, THIS DAY, HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE” – (The Emphasized Bible).

From the outset in the book of Revelation, in the present tense, Jesus is declared 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 and Resurrection. He is “firstborn of the dead” and the one who “loosed us out of our sins with his blood.” The clause alludes to the second Psalm in which “THE KINGS OF THE EARTH set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed.” After his resurrection, the Son is installed to rule over the very kings that previously sought to destroy him (Revelation 1:4-6).
In response to the kings who “set themselves” against Yahweh’s anointed, He declared, “I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” Rather than destroy the kings that resisted the Son, God admonished them 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.”
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 shepherd 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 shepherd 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, using the Roman authorities to carry out his execution. In response, God raised him from the dead and installed him to rule hand over the nations, indeed, over the Cosmos. The New Testament consistently portrays this messianic reign as a present reality (Revelation 5:5-12).

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