Millions of Christians regard Jesus as the son of David, that is, the Messianic king promised in the Jewish scriptures who would arise from among the descendants of King David.
Conversely, millions of Jews do not recognize Jesus as that messianic descendant of David.
The Baha’i teachings reconcile those conflicting interpretations. Baha’u’llah claims to be the return of Jesus, promised throughout the Gospels. But he also goes further than that, claiming to be a descendant of King David and fulfilling the Jewish promises about the messianic king.
While Jesus was called the “son of David” in all of the synoptic gospels, he never once refers to himself as such. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew (22:44) and the Gospel of Mark (12:35-36) he refers to this allegation and cites Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” His explanation touches on the relative non-importance of genetic descent, and the much greater significance of the spiritual context of this statement in the Psalm.
In Matthew 22:45 Christ says, “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” Mark 12:37 says “David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?” These verses clearly imply, in nearly identical terms, that it is the spiritual rank of the one addressed that matters—not the ancestry.
Jesus was not the “son of David” in any genetic sense. His stepfather Joseph was a descendant of David (Matthew 1:20; Luke 2:4). But, according to the synoptic gospels, his only father was God.
In his commentary on verses 1-10 of the book of Isaiah—the exact same passages cited by Jews in reference to the Messiah, and by Christians to Jesus—Abdu’l-Baha referred to this theme, and commented on Baha’u’llah’s claim to rule “upon the throne of David:”
The Most Great Law is come, and the Ancient Beauty ruleth upon the throne of David. Thus hath My Pen spoken that which the histories of bygone ages have related. At this time, however, David crieth aloud and saith: ‘O my loving Lord! Do Thou number me with such as have stood steadfast in Thy Cause, O Thou through Whom the faces have been illumined, and the footsteps have slipped!’
The Breath hath been wafted, and the Breeze hath blown, and from Zion hath appeared that which was hidden, and from Jerusalem is heard the Voice of God, the One, the Incomparable, the Omniscient. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 89.
Here’s the full context of Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation, along with the Biblical quote:
In Isaiah 11:1-9 it is said:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
This “rod out of the stem of Jesse” might seem to apply to Christ, for Joseph was a descendant of Jesse, the father of David. However, since Christ had come into being through the Divine Spirit, He called Himself the Son of God. Had this not been the case, this passage could have indeed applied to Him. Moreover, the events that are said to occur in the days of that rod, if they be interpreted figuratively, came to pass only in part, and if they be taken literally, failed absolutely and entirely to take place in the days of Christ.
For instance, we might say that the leopard and the kid, the lion and the calf, the sucking child and the asp, represent the various nations, the hostile peoples and contending kindreds of the earth who in their opposition and enmity were even as the wolf and the lamb, and who through the breezes of the messianic Spirit came to be endowed with the spirit of unity and fellowship, were quickened to life, and associated intimately one with another. But the condition referred to in the statement “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” did not materialize in the Dispensation of Christ. For to this day there are various hostile and contending nations in the world: Few acknowledge the God of Israel, and most are deprived of the knowledge of God. Likewise, universal peace was not established with the advent of Christ; that is, peace and well-being were not realized among the hostile and contending nations, disputes and conflicts were not resolved, and harmony and sincerity were not attained. Thus, even to this day intense enmity, hatred, and conflict prevail among the Christian peoples themselves. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 71-73.
The differing Jewish and Christian interpretations of these verses from Isaiah led to centuries of conflict and antipathy. Can those conflicts be resolved by the appearance of a new messenger from God? In the next essay in this series, we’ll see how the Baha’i teachings answer that crucial question.