Whose Kingdom, Which King, And Why Do The Nations Rage?

The first time I remember reading Psalm 2 it was in my hometown newspaper, now known as the Lincoln Journal Star. If memory serves, it appeared every week, probably in the Sunday edition, which, as every paper carrier knows, is the largest and heaviest paper of the week. I was probably 14 when I first read Psalm 2. A religious group, perhaps Romanist, published it as part of an advertising campaign. I was not a believer when I first read it and then saw it weekly thereafter. I remember being irritated: “Who cares why the nations rage?” I thought.

In 1975 the nations were not raging in quite the same way they had been in 1968 or in 1942 or in 1915. Still, things were unsettled and unsettling. Richard Nixon had resigned in 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Impeachment (indictment) by the House and conviction in the Senate seemed almost certain. The Vietnam War was winding down and with it massive anti-war demonstrations and a wave of anti-war, anti-government violence including bombings. Little did I know, however, when I read Psalm 2 in the newspaper (of all places) that another revolution was yet to come. In 1976 the Spirit began to open my eyes, give me new life and true faith.

Given all that has transpired since last March and especially in the last 9 days, the continuing relevance of Psalm 2 may not be doubted. What is in question, however, is how it is relevant and what it intends to say.

Psalm 2 says:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (ESV).

In Acts 4:25 the Apostles attribute Psalm 2 to King David. The original setting is not entirely clear. Some regard it as a coronation Psalm but Derek Kidner thinks that it recalls a “subsequent time of trouble.”1 Because we have a Spirit-inspired interpretation we should not be in doubt as to the meaning of Psalm 2. Let us go back to Acts 2 where, in vv. 25–28 Peter says quotes Psalm 16:8–11 to refer principally to the ascended Jesus. It is he, not David (or any other earthly king) who is at God’s right hand. It is he who did not see corruption—David’s body is in the ground (Acts 2:29). In Acts 2:34, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter interpreted Psalm 110 (as does the rest of the New Testament) to refer principally to the ascended Jesus. It is he, not David, who is at God’s right hand, which means (contra some Dispensationalists) that he is reigning over his Kingdom right now. That is the point of say “at the right hand.” It is royal imagery. Of course, this is how Jesus is pictured throughout the Revelation, as seated on his royal throne, ruling the nations (e.g., ch. 4 [all]; 22:1). Between the Pentecost sermon and the quotation of Psalm 2 in Acts 4:25, the Apostles, against much opposition, have been announcing Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of sinners and performing wonders (they were apostles). The Jewish authorities had just warned them not to speak of Jesus any longer (Acts 4:18).

In Acts 4:25 the Apostles quote Psalm 2:1–2. The Jewish and Roman authorities are the “kings of the earth” and they have set themselves against Yahweh and his Anointed. Jesus, as the ascended King is that Messiah, the Anointed One (Acts 4:27). They mention Herod and Pontius Pilate “along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel” (ESV). They prayed for boldness to carry on the mission of announcing the obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension of King Jesus (Acts 4;28–31).

At Antioch in Pisidia, in the synagogue, Paul and Barnabas reviewed the history of God’s saving acts and announced that Jesus of Nazareth is the seed of David (Acts 13:23). They announced Jesus as the one of whom David was speaking in Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” As the other apostles had done earlier, Paul and Barnabas also appealed to Psalm 16:10 and made the very same argument, that King David, for all his glory, “saw corruption” (Acts 13:36) but Jesus did not because God raised him from the dead (Acts 13:37).

Preaching to the Jewish Christian congregation (Heb 1:5), which was tempted to apostatize by going back to the Old Testament types and shadows, the pastor reminded them that it is Jesus, not angels (Heb 1:4), who is the radiance of God’s glory (Heb 1:3), who has made purification for sin, who is seated at the “right hand of the majesty on high” (Her 1:3; ESV). Not to angels but to God the Son incarnate the Father has said, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7). As part of his argument that Jesus is the final and supreme high priest (and thus the Jewish Christians should not go back to earthly priests) he again quotes Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” as proof that Jesus is priest by divine appointment. By implication he is a divine priest-king, which he confirms by quoting Psalm 110:4.

What does Psalm 2 mean by “begotten” and how do the Apostles understand it? It seems fairly clear that it refers to the accession of the King to his throne. It is a metaphorical, royal begetting. Is there an allusion to the truth that the Son of God is eternally begotten? That seems possible but the focus is on a moment in redemptive history: the ascension and royal accession of Jesus, God the Son incarnate, upon the throne, whence he is to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Ps 2:9).

In other words, we must read Psalm 2 to refer principally to the ascended Jesus who is ruling all the nations right now. It is he against whom the nations are raging and plotting. It is he who sits in the heavens and laughs (Ps 2:4). It is he who will speak to them in his wrath (Ps 2:5). It is of him that David spoke when the Father is quoted as saying to him, “Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance” (Ps 2:8). The Kings of the nations are to be wise (Ps 2:10), serve Jesus (Ps 2:11), and “[k]iss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (Ps 2:12).

For some in the Reformed tradition, these latter verses have been taken as warrant for saying that all secular kings are morally obligated to acknowledge the “crown rights of King Jesus,” i.e., that he is “mediatorial king” not only over the church but over the state. Others in the Reformed tradition (e.g., Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie) rejected this theory and argued that Christ is sovereign generally over all things and savingly (specially) over the church. This view accords better with Psalm 2 as interpreted in Acts and Hebrews.

Why to the nations rage? Because we live in a fallen world and the Evil One seeks to overturn the heavenly and eternal kingdom of Jesus (Mark 1:15). He tried to dissuade Jesus from the cross by offering him an earthly kingdom (Matt 4:8). What blasphemy. By his obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus earned what that liar Satan offered him. Jesus came not to establish an earthly, civil kingdom but to inaugurate an eternal kingdom the keys of which are the gospel, the sacraments, and church discipline (Matt 16:13–20; 18:15–20). No earthly king has anything to say about this kingdom and its keys. Nothing any earthly king does can change the course of Christ’s kingdom or its consummation.

The New Testament boldly and clearly announces that Jesus is ruling and reigning over all things. He is the sovereign Priest-King of Psalm 2 but nowhere does the New Testament infer from Psalm 2 that the Roman caesars under whom the Apostles labored and by whom some of them were martyred were illegitimate because they did not acknowledge Jesus as King. Yes, earthly kings should bow to King Jesus and one day every single one of them shall do but so shall everyone else (Phil 2:10). The authorities who sought to silence the Apostles in Acts 4 were not literally kings. Jesus is not sitting on a literal throne. He is not on a literal holy hill—the New Testament knows nothing of a coming literal, earthly millennial Messianic kingdom—these are images and metaphors. They refer to the powers of this age.

Surely we are to understand that everyone ought to “kiss the Son” in faith and submission? Psalm 2 is not a political program. In its own context it was an announcement of a coming King, in whom David trusted and for whose kingdom he waited. David was anointed to be the king of Israel for a time but he knew that he was not the Messiah. As he breathed his last he knew that his hope was not in bloodshed, revenge, and earthly kingdoms. They all pass away. Like all  Christians, David was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10; 11:32). He was one of those who, “through faith” conquered kingdoms and put foreign enemies to flight (Heb 11:34). He was one of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38). He was looking upward to heaven and forward in time to Jesus the Messiah. The Apostles confirm this understanding.

Thus, when Psalm 2 says “Blessed are are all who take refuge in him” it means all and not just civil rulers. That blessedness includes righteousness with God by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). It entails progressive, gracious sanctification wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). This is vital to know every day but especially when everything is in turmoil. This essay will reach readers across the globe who are doubtless shaking their heads as they look at American Christians. To our brothers and sisters across the globe, we ask for your prayers and we will pray for you as some of you are facing circumstances that most of us can hardly imagine. In our country, however, some Christians have become greatly confused. Some have spoken as if a president of the United States is more than a chief executive of the American federal government, a kind of Christ-figure. Others have come to regard him as a kind of anti-Christ. Some have given up Christian orthodoxy for a mess of conspiracy theories (the nations do rage and plot but the apostles peddled no conspiracy theories) and myths and secret knowledge (Gnosticism) about what is “really” happening behind the scenes.

It is true that, in certain ways, for the last four years, Christians have had temporary relief. Fewer agencies have been levying fines for “speech code” violations and the like. Christian schools have had some relief from years of pressure from the federal government and accreditation agencies to compromise their ethical convictions. The current president has given aid to the pro-life cause. The courts seem more sensitive to the first amendment protections of religious and civil liberties. The extreme rhetoric of the election season and the incoming cabinet is not promising but whatever transpires, Christians everywhere should know that Christ reigns and nothing happens without his control and permission. He was reigning when the authorities arrested and jailed the Apostles. He was reigning and ruling when the apostles were martyred. He was reigning and ruling during the Neronian, Decian, and Diocletian persecutions and he is reigning and ruling now and, unlike some of our brothers and sister, American Christians face nothing like those troubles. In his general providence he is disposing all things according to his good purposes and we have every reason to trust our good and gracious King, even as the nations rage because whatever they plot it is indeed “a vain thing.”

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


1. Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, D. J. Wiseman, ed. (Leicester UK/Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 50.


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  1. Something that has been a great help to me during these trying times is this most excellent essay by Greg Beale: https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/48/48-1/48-1-pp005-031_JETS.pdf
    To me, at least, it puts the entirety of the OT from creation through the prophets and the NT, which harkens back to what was predicted in earlier centuries. Having read of this I feel like I have a better grasp of what has happened since creation (and Eden), the fall, the struggle/failure of the Israelites, and finally the new covenant in Jesus Christ. I’d recommend it to everyone.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for writing this short historical essay, another reminder that Jesus’ reign over His Kingdom, in Psalm 2. I am grateful He reigns and not the globalists who rage against Him and His people in every nation. As one chosen in Christ by God before the foundation of the world, I am laboring to comprehend who I am in Him with my national lenses, since I live in a community, in a city and in a county with governments of people elected – my neighbors. But as a Christian, in a community in a state of the United States of America, my identity does not seem to clarify my responsibilities as a citizen of a nation under siege at all levels.

    What are your thoughts regarding the distinction: Biblical Citizen? As a Biblical Citizen I have responsibilities based on God’s Word: I live the 10 Commandments, study and live out the doctrines identified in the Creeds, Catechisms, and Confessions, and work to be a guardian of freedoms established in Scripture.

    However, as I look at the history of ‘indoctrination’ in the United States of America (almost 200 years) the greatest loss is the standard of the Bible. Only in the Bible do I find the Ten Commandments that conform my life to God’s Standard for His creatures in His Creation. Only our nation is an exceptional nation because we have a Constitution of the United States and The Declaration of Independence, documents based on the standard of Biblical Truth and responsibility to live rightly with our neighbor.

    Unfortunately, during my life time (I am not too close to 100 years old) my lenses have been gradually scratched a little more each year with ‘isms’ (socialism, materialism, communism), so that it is very difficult to see the principles of self-governance, protecting the rights of others, maintaining civil discourse, protecting life, teaching the Truth of God’s Word, praying for God’s Wisdom and Guidance before every meeting, etc.

    Because the United States of America is under siege we need prayer and we need to pray. As for me, I need to see and recognize the dark ideas of the ‘isms’ that have cunningly and treacherously redefined and limited of my Biblical identity in Christ.

    I am grateful God, our King who reigns, sees this attack from within and outside this nation. I am grateful I see this opposition to God is God’s Will. He has thrown light on the darkness. And I, as a citizen, am seeing that I have been captured by a shadow identity of Christ, as ‘a man without a chest’ (C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man), At the same time, God is waking me up. It is a challenging time and great opportunity to trust Him and His Providence. He is the King who reigns.

    • Catherine,

      It’s a long answer to respond properly but the short story is that the USA, as a government, under the constitution, has always been a secular (not secularist) republic. Christians, of course, had a prominent place in the Colonies and, after the Revolution, in the Republic for a long time. We no longer have that place and it’s a difficult adjustment.

      We do still have our civil rights and liberties but I think we need to learn to defend them from grounds that make sense to everyone living in the Republic, Christian or not. The USA is not the church and the church is not the USA. We live in both spheres simultaneously. I think we should appeal to natural law (which in substance is the Ten Commandments) but we need to make clear to our (mostly) pagan neighbors that we’re not asking the state to impose Christianity. That has not always been clear.

      We will always be at odds with our neighbors theologically and spiritually but I do not think that has to translate into civil tensions. I am well aware that there are hostile pagans, who want to crush Christianity and Christians in the USA. I am also aware that we have a written constitution with written guarantees that, eventually, are usually vindicated in court.

      We need to be engaged in our communities as good, fellow citizens with our pagan neighbors. We need to persuade them that we are seeking the common good and not a leg up or some advantage for our religion.

      It will be really useful if we can learn to see ourselves as having a twofold citizenship, on this earth yes but also in heaven. If we can learn not to confuse them, we will be more useful to our neighbors and perhaps more able to talk to them about Jesus and his kingdom.

  3. The commentary that you cited by Kidner, although no longer in print, is considered to be the best available on the Psalms. You cited him just to make collectors of commentaries envious, right?

    Thanks for your close attention and thoughtful responses to these current events. I will add that much of the rhetoric that we hear on TV at present is virtually unchanged from what was being offered around the Angela Davis controversy that you profiled not long ago. I pulled up some video from the time (circa 1970) and was astounded to hear many of the same arguments that we hear today.

    In terms of history, I don’t think we ever know exactly what is around the corner. Nobody ever saw Babylon falling to the Medes and Persians. What we do know is that God is faithful, regardless of the course of this world.

    If I were a world leader today, I would “Kiss the Son” rather than endure his anger.

    • Derek Kidner’s commentaries on the Psalms are available as a reprint from IVP Academic. Look for ISBN-10 : 0830829377. My set came in two volumes, 1-72 and 73-150. Should be on Amazon as well.

  4. I found Alistair Begg’s Jan. 10, 2021 morning and evening sermons, Behold, your God!”, very encouraging. Beginning in 1983 people brought him political pamphlets urging him to preach on those topics. Alistair didn’t.

    What Alistair did do on Jan. 10th was quote various verses from the book of Isaiah. “The G8 leaders say they rule the world. God says they are drops from a bucket. When you wash your car do you call your wife to help you save drops of water that splash from that bucket? They are insignificant. I am old enough to remember when you weighed potatoes. When you removed the potatoes dust was left behind. That dust didn’t move the scale. Behold, your God!!”

    • All well and good, yet aside from political rants and partisan diatribes most definitely polluting the pulpit ministry as well the church, one is still reminded of the couplet from the title page of yet another Alistair Begg in his Anarchy in Worship (1875):

      “When nations are to perish in their sins
      ‘Tis in the Church the leprosy begins.”

      No doubt mileage might vary according to Two Kingdom theology, but the remark is not without its own wisdom.

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