They’re both Messianic titles, but they have nuances that need to be explored.
Let’s get right to the biblical data.
If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
The Son of David
This is a Messianic title that was popular among the Jewish people. It is used as such in the Four Gospels about 10 times, and in most cases ordinary Israelites used it. For example, in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9, 15). However, Jesus does not use it about himself. In this light, we focus on Jesus’ correction of this popular usage. The Pharisees believe that the Christ is the Son of David, but Jesus clarifies matters.
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matt. 22:41-46; cf. Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)
This passage in Matthew comes after the triumphal entry during which the people acclaimed him the son of David. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110:1, and the entire psalm was considered by the Jews as Messianic before Jesus was born. In Jesus’ interpretation, God is speaking to David’s Lord, that is, David’s superior, who is Christ. If the Lord Messiah is superior to David, how can the Lord be subordinate as a son? Thus, the title “son of David” is ultimately inadequate; Jesus is the Lord even of David himself, the greatest king of Israel.
Meaning “the Anointed One” (anointed by God and his Spirit in Acts 10:38)), this title is used of Jesus 54 times in the Four Gospels. Mark’s Gospel has it only seven times; Matt. sixteen; Luke twelve; and John nineteen. (In Acts and the Epistles and the Revelation it is used numerous times, as in “Jesus Christ.”) So we do not have the space to list all the different speakers and contexts. Instead, only two passages are cited here, in which Jesus accepts someone else’s correct definition.
First, according to Peter’s famous confession on the true identity of Jesus, the Messiah is the Son of God. After Jesus privately asks his disciples who the crowds of people believe he is, he asks them who they think he is. Peter strides forward with the correct answer.
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:16-17; cf. Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
It should be emphasized that in the context of these two verses, some among the crowds take Jesus for a prophet. He does not explicitly deny this, but he also reveals his fullest nature to his key disciples: the Christ, the Son of God.
Second, the high priest, during Jesus’ trial, understands the implication of Messiahship in the context of Jesus’ ministry and first-century Israel. He asks Jesus plainly:
61 Again the high priest asked him “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62; cf. Matt. 26:63-64; Luke 22:66-71; cf. John 19:7)
Jesus answers the high priest plainly. He is more than a Rabbi, Teacher, and Prophet, though he had functioned in all of these callings before the people.
Why did Jesus not use the title of Messiah widely, such as in the Gospel of Mark, which has the title only seven times (it is the shortest Gospel)? He uses it often enough, but not as many times, for example, as the Son of Man.
This brings us to the question:
How does knowing this deepen my relationship with God?
Three reasons explain why he did not use the title Messiah widely.
First, in his day, the term was associated with a military and political figure, and Jesus did not identify with this. For example, the people almost forced him into being a king (John 6:15).
Second, plenty of wandering prophets and messiahs crisscrossed the eastern half of the Mediterranean world, so he avoided this trap.
Third, he came as the Suffering Servant Messiah (Is. 53), to die for the sins of the world. When he comes back a second time, all worldly accounts will be settled under his rule as Messiah.
Besides, it is not the number of times a term is mentioned that matter in the final analysis, but it is the meaning of the term, especially when Jesus imbues a title with his definition.
And Messiahship ultimately and most accurately means Sonship (see below for the link to that title).
Now you know Jesus better through these titles.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE “TITLES OF JESUS” SERIES
3. Titles of Jesus: The Son of David and the Messiah